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-Felton Cochran, my good friend and associate at one of our few remaining independent book shops, Cactus Book Shop in lovely old San Angelo, Texas: greetings. I read your criticism of Federico Villalba's Texas: A Mexican Pioneer's Life in the Big Bend by Juan M. Casas on Glenn Justice's Texas History Blog. Villalba's Texas indeed takes a new turn concerning one aspect of Big Bend history, the Mexican point of view. To my way of thinking it is a subject which time has come; in fact, had it not come along in our generation it probably would never have; therein rests the problem.

Documentation concerning Mexican immigrants into the Big Bend for the 1880-1930 epoch is sparse. While Federico Villalba was a well-lettered man in both languages, the general Mexican-origin population was not. For the most part they were illiterate, in both Spanish and English language systems. The desert Big Bend is a huge place larger than some states -- and isolation was a big factor in record keeping, or the lack of it. The long distances to county record centers and regional scarcity of even Justice (JP) courts had an impact as did fear of deportation, particularly during the World War One/Mexican Revolution period (1910-20). These and other factors kept the Hispanics away from authority, even U. S. Manuscript Census enumerators in many cases.

Scholarly history rests upon documentation. That is, official documents, letters, diaries, interviews with primary-source witnesses, business records, poll tax receipts and the like. When those do not exist, the historian must work with what he/she has at hand.

As a working historian (Master of Arts with a thesis) and author of works in historical fiction I repeat my support for Casas book. I (respectfully) believe that your criticisms, intended as constructive I'm sure, fail to consider the full range of problems in completing a work such as Federico Villalba's Texas.

As you pointed out the work is certainly not "scholarly history."

Also my friend, if I read you correctly, Villalba's Texas could qualify as "historical fiction." Well, okay. "Every cobbler to his last." I know not how Juan Casas might feel, but were I the author of Villalba's Texas, calling the book historical fiction would make me grin all over. The key word, naturally, being "historical."

As to the "scholarly" approach, such a history, iterated by Spanish-speaking people who immigrated to the Big Bend from northern Mexico, probably cannot now be compiled. We historians are to blame. In our ethnocentricity we waited too long, and the old ones who could have supplied documents and first-person imagery are almost all gone to their "last home."

It took a Juan Manuel Casas to set the matter aright. God bless him.

Glenn Willeford
Cd. de Chihuahua, Mexico

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