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Once again it is happening at Candelaria. Nothing-new when innocent law abiding folks come under the gun of politically motivated military style repression. Fear and intimidation is always the common element and the bad guys end up smiling. This comes as no surprise to those of us who study and interpret the past on a daily basis. A drug war in Mexico has again brought the powers of the U.S. government to make ill informed border policy decisions that simply make matters worse to the considerable benefit of lawbreakers.

Candelaria is a tiny remote Texas-Mexican border village located in the rugged Presidio Valley of the Big Bend. A muddy stream known as the Rio Grande River separates Candelaria from San Antonio del Bravo, Chihuahua. Very few outsiders understand that these are not two separate villages; they are simply one community with a sluggish stream of water in the middle. The problem is, however, the watercourse has been an international boundary since 1849.

The Candelaria/San Antonio community has been in existence for centuries. The original inhabitants were people the Spanish called Jumano. In the early 1500's, when the Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca made his way through the Presidio Valley he was the first European to observe these peaceful but resilient farmers and traders who depended on the Rio Grande to exist. But the Jumanos were anything but peaceful when it came to defending their lives and homes from outside intrusion. The Spaniards brought the horse and about half a century after Cabeza de Vaca began introducing military solutions to dominate the land and enslave the people. The Spaniards were not the only outside intruders. When the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 took place other Native American groups from far away became mobile on the horses the Spanish brought. Empowered Apaches and Comanches came to raid and steal and the Jumanos fought back as best they could.

In 1848 the Mexican War resulted in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago and the watercourse in Candelaria and San Antonio became an international boundary. Suddenly the United States acquired most of the northern lands of Mexico when the despot Santa Anna cheaply sold out his country to save his hide. Having little knowledge of their new land, the U.S. government launched an era of exploration and mapping. In 1849, Lieutenant William Henry Chase Whiting set out to discover and map a practical wagon route between San Antonio, Texas and El Paso. In the spring of the following year, he entered the Presidio Valley and passed through what we know today as Candelaria/San Antonio del Bravo. Fortunately for Whiting, the native inhabitants of the community had moved into the Sierra Madre to escape the searing summer heat. Had he arrived a few months sooner his scalp might well have ended up swinging in the wind from a lodge pole. Now Candelaria/San Antonio was on a map.

About 1881, the Candelaria Catholic church received a new bell. Sometime after that, Candelaria got a school. In 1901 Candelaria post office opened and a store serving the needs of a vast area of Texas and Mexico began to prosper. You could buy groceries, beer, hardware, clothing, gasoline, guns and ammunition. In those days, the Rio Grande flowed wonderfully and farming in the Presidio Valley offered new hope of better times. Cotton farming was introduced in the valley and good water and high cotton prices fueled the establishment of cotton gins. Candelaria had two gins and soon a two-story hotel complete with a barbershop. There was also a saloon and billiard parlor. The 1910 Census counted 543 residents of Candelaria. Also, in 1910 a revolution, the first great revolution of the twentieth century, brought war to Mexico. Landless peons, small landowners, merchants, artisans and tradesman took up arms and followed leaders like Pancho Villa into battle. Isolated in Chihuahua, Villa depended on the Mexican border for a steady flow of arms and the materials of war. An arms for cattle trade fueled Villa's armies. More than a million people died in this war. Border raids into the Texas Big Bend brought the U.S. military into the picture. Candelaria merchant J. J. Kilpatrick pleaded for help to defend his town and in 1917 the Eighth Cavalry built a new border outpost overlooking Candelaria. Most of the people moved away to escape the violence. Fear was everywhere. Not many bandits or outlaws got caught and the military ran roughshod over a lot of harmless peaceful people in the Presidio Valley. The military didn't stay long and departed Candelaria in 1919 after U.S. cavalry galloped across the Rio Grande at Candelaria drawing more innocent blood during the last American punitive expedition into Mexico.

There have been smugglers plying their illegal trade since the Rio Grande became the border. Without the designation of the Rio Grande as an international boundary smuggling could not exist. From the beginning of the twentieth century smugglers have trafficked a variety of items including prohibited liquor, guns and ammunition and more recently people and drugs. In the early 1980's, the U.S. government managed to drive the Columbian cartels out of south Florida to the Texas Big Bend. Drawn by the remoteness of the Big Bend, the drug smugglers prospered bringing their loads into the United States. Today in Mexico there is a new war being fought. The drug war is fueled by an arms for drug trade.

As the Mexican drug lords struggle to control their turf across the river, a wave of immigration has come to the forefront of American politics. Again we hear calls to militarize and close the border. Some demand a wall be built between the United States and Mexico. It's a simple but poorly thought out solution to a very complex issue. Just recently a powerful someone in Washington found out about that Candelaria still has a bridge and ordered it immediately removed. Few have really considered the impact of tearing it down. When the Border Patrol closed the crossing at Lajitas a few years ago, the action resulted in the economic death of Paso Lajitas the little village just across the river. Tourists no long came, the restaurants went out of business and the school closed. There was no work for anyone, the people moved away, and the town became abandoned. Today there are no watchful eyes of good people living there and the smugglers have the perfect vantage point watch the Border Patrol coming and going across the river.

With the little footbridge at Candelaria gone, both towns will wither. The closing the border will devastate the local economies on both sides of the river. Children cannot go to school, good people who need their jobs will have no work. The San Antonio medical clinic will have no way to call for help. There will be nobody to work cattle or fix fence on the ranches. And this only plays into the smugglers hands giving them an empty abandoned countryside to operate in unobserved. The Border Patrol comes, the smugglers stay on the Mexican side, the Border Patrol leaves, the smugglers cross and go about their business. And who is hurt worst by this? Good and decent people who deserve better treatment and more understanding. And the fear and intimidation continues.


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The below photos of the Candelaria footbridge have been graciously provided from Clara Long for Thanks Clara! Gj

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Some blame individual United States Border Patrol agents for the recent order to destroy the Candelaria, Texas, footbridge across the Rio Grande. This may be misleading. The removal order probably came through a maze of bureaucratic channels before reaching the desk of Sector Chief Smietana at Marfa; nevertheless, the harm that could result from the fulfillment thereof remains ominous. Border residents in the Chihuahuense village of San Antonio del Bravo as well as the several hundred United States citizens who reside in and near Candelaria will be adversely affected should access via the footbridge be denied. Moreover, a bridge closure will result in an exodus of la gente to more populous areas such as Odessa, Texas, and Ojinaga, Chihuahua. The Red Sea never parts for the poor and dispossessed. Such an out-migration from the already sparsely-populated desert would be advantageous neither for the families involved, for the region itself, nor for the stability of the receiving cities.

One wonders, then, whether there remain any lawyers willing to work pro bono, that is: "without compensation for the public good." The myriad of large landowners in southern Presidio County, mostly distant city dwellers with no traditional or familial connection to the region, may care little about the bridge issue; regrettably, certain of them may even favor it. Certainly folk who reside along the Rio Grande, most of whom bear Hispanic surnames, cannot afford to pay astronomical legal fees. Therefore, so much for Equal Justice Under Law, the famous motto engraved over the portico of the United States Supreme Court. "Equal Justice," is obviously reserved for those who can afford it.

A lawsuit defending the rights of traditional Candelaria residents, perhaps class-action in scope, timely filed, could result in an injunction that would stop enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security's order for removal of the bridge. In other words, it would buy time. It seems certain that by early next year the Washington power structure will have shifted. Then this supposed "problem," exacerbated by politicians who know nothing about acculturative factors at work along the "forgotten Rio Grande" may, like a votive candle, have melted away.

The question at hand is more profound than it first appears to be. Consider history: first, the displacement of Mexican-origin people along the Rio Grande border that began with choplogic interpretations of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (the Treaty) in 1848-49 (signed by both countries on February 2, 1848). Second, takeovers and outright swindles, often under coverture of interpretations of the Treaty, Article X (land grants), beginning in the "Magic [lower Rio Grande]Valley" of Texas a century ago; acquisition by sale, the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 for example; another, under the heavy hand of vengeful White ranchers and their agents, those being certain companies of bloody-minded Texas Rangers (the Porvenir Massacre comes to mind); the pandemic of Spanish influenza in 1918 during which 3% or more border dwellers of Mexican-origin died; or as cannon fodder in a series of twentieth-, and now twenty-first century "rich man's war, poor man's fight" scenarios, and otherwise since 9/11 under the guise of "Homeland Security," (a catholicon if ever one existed).

One thing seems certain. If something isn't done to stop the accreting vacantness of the Chihuahuan Desert in the United States above Terrell County, Texas, the region will become a desplobado, or "no man's land." Several centuries of progress for the area will be ended and the process of acculturation brought to a standstill. If that's what a handful of people really want, then shame on them.

Glenn Willeford
Alpine, Texas & Cd. Chihuahua, Mexico

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In a strange turn of events Chief Patrol Agent John J. Smietana, Jr. of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on May 20th. Fed Exed the following letter demanding Fred Nelan of the Coal Mine Ranch tear down or block the Candelaria footbridge in 60 days. While Fred is an owner of the Coal Mine Ranch, he owns no property on or near the river at Candelaria or has anything what so ever to do with the bridge.

The letter reads as follows:

300 Madrid Street
Marfa, TX 79843

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

May 20, 2008

Presidio Properties
760 Rinconada Lane
El Paso, Texas 79922

To Whom It May Concern

The purpose of this letter is to request that you facilitate the U.S. Border Patrol's enforcement duties by removing the bridge on your property near Candelaria, Texas that spans a channel of the Rio Grande or securing it so that no one can cross illegally from Mexico into the United States. Title 8, United States Code, Section 1357(a) authorizes Agents to enter upon private lands located within 25 miles of the border without a warrant to pursue the investigation of illegal activities. Your property is within that 25-mile area and due to the close proximity of your land to the border, it is likely that unlawful entries into the United States occur on your property. Because we must prevent the illegal entry of terrorists, aliens and/or drug traffickers into the United States, I am asking that your assistance to either remove the bridge or at the very least, secure it so that no one can cross over from Mexico into the United States.

Based on patrolling activities of Agents in the area, it is known that numerous people cross illegally into the United States in the area of Candelaria, Texas. Therefore, within the next sixty days, please initiate measures immediately to secure, seal or completely remove the bridge from your property to ensure that you are not aiding and abetting these individuals illegal entry into the United States. See18 U.S.C. 2 (Principals); see also 8 U.S.C. 1321 (Prevention of Unauthorized Landing of Aliens), 1324 (Bringing In and Harboring Certain Aliens), and (Aiding or Assisting Certain Aliens Aliens to Enter the United States).

We appreciate your assistance and will continue to avoid interference with any rights you have with respect to your property. Our goal is to work with all persons who live along the border in a peaceful and cooperative manner. As discussed above, however, we cannot allow your bridge near Candelaria, Texas to provide as a means for people to illegally enter the United States.

If you have any questions, please contact Loraine Reynolds, Patrol Agent in Charge, U.S. Border Patrol, Marfa Station, Marfa Sector, at P.O. Box I (300 Madrid St.), Marfa, Texas, 79843 or via telephone at (432-729-4250. We look forward to your compliance and support of our law enforcement mission.


John J. Smietana, Jr.
Chief Patrol Agent

cc: Asset Forfeiture Office
A. U.S.A. James J. Miller, Jr.

The above only leaves Fred and a lot of us wondering what in the world is going on. How is this achieving the Border Patrol's stated goal to, "work with all persons who live along the border in a peaceful and cooperative manner"? Gj

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Some years ago, the Border Patrol closed the Lajitas crossing. The effects were terrible on the good and decent local people just across the river. Please take a look at the film: ... ssing.html

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April 19, 2008 -- The footbridge between Candelaria, Texas and San Antonio del Bravo, Chihuahua may be one of the last "informal" crossings along the eastern U.S.-Mexico border.

The two communities connected by the bridge, which crosses a diminutive Rio Grande on gapped wooden planks suspended by repurposed car chassis, are situated, literally, at the end of the road.

Texas Highway 170 dissolves into rough dirt ranch tracks at Candelaria, leaving the river unaccompanied by road for a 200-mile stretch upstream known as the forgotten Rio Grande. On the other side, San Antonio del Bravo is a bumpy three-hour ride on an unmaintained dirt road from Ojinaga, a bustling outpost for Mexican ranchers.

Dr. Maribel Aquino, 32, works alone in San Antonio del Bravo's rural medical clinic with no phone or internet connection. She describes how the majority of San Antonio's women and children spend the week in Candelaria in order to send their American-born children to the school in Presidio. San Antonio del Bravo's schoolhouse sits empty; most women in the community decide to give birth across the border so that their children become American citizens.

A sign near the footbridge advises crossers that it is illegal to enter the United States at Candelaria, but residents of the community say the warning is un-enforced. If it were, says Dr. Aquino, the community would not survive.

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Few outsiders really understand the impact of the Departmant of Homeland Security's order to tear down the Candelaria bridge. The only nearby medical clinic is at San Antonio del Bravo just across the river from Candelaria and the bridge is a vital link to many of us who never know when we need medical care. Please take a minute and view the excellent short documentary film by concerning the bridge and the clinic. ... ctora.html


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To Congressman Ciro Rodriguez: subject, the recent Homeland Security ordered dismantling of the suspension footbridge across Rio Grande at Candelaria, Texas, in Presidio County.

Sir, we met at Rocksprings, Texas, a few months back when you graciously attended the homecoming for former Edwards County Deputy Sheriff "Gilmer" Hernndez after his release from federal prison for "violating the civil rights" of a fleeing violator. You will recall that Hernndez shot at a tire on the suspect vehicle in an effort to protect himself and do his job.

Permit me to now express dismay at the short-sightedness being displayed by bureaucrats in Homeland Security. The isolated, economically-depressed region situated forty-odd miles upriver from the Presidio (Texas) Port of Entry has long been a point of acculturation between people of both Mexican and United States origin. One of the factors that have made this interaction possible has been the footbridge which was built by folk of both countries many decades ago at no cost to taxpayers. Candelaria faces San Antonio del Bravo, Chihuahua, a poor Mexican community which has relied upon its connection with the United States in order to survive for more than a century. Everything from sending and receiving mail, making store purchases, summoning help or ambulance services in an emergency up to attending school has been dependent upon the availability of la puente twelve months a year no matter what the weather.

There is no evidence that any Arab terrorists have ever or would ever enter the U.S. at such a place. (If they did, the locals would probably save both governments any trouble and take charge of the matter in their own quiet way. Besides, Canada and Logan International and JFK work better.) Smuggling, always a problem along any border, will not be stopped by removing a one-lane suspended footbridge. What will be stopped, or at minimum greatly interrupted, are the current incessant opportunities for cultural interchange and a significant amount of legitimate commerce that depends upon year-round access a el otro lado.

I ask that you become involved in stopping this untoward effort to further drive a wedge between the people of neighboring nations who want nothing more than to be friends and partners in progress.

Glenn Willeford (historian and novelist)
Alpine, Texas and Cd. Chihuahua

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Recently the Department of Homeland Security sent a letter to the Candelaria owners demanding the little foot bridge across the Rio Grande be removed. Details are sketchy but the owners met with federal agents to discuss their concerns about tearing down the bridge. One report I have heard says that at least one of the owners vehemently opposed the action. Homeland Security agents simply replied that Washington officials have only recently learned of the existence of the bridge and issued orders to have the bridge destroyed. The footbridge has been in existence for many years and is a vital link between the two communities of Candelaria, Texas and San Antonio Del Bravo, Chihuahua. It was built by folks from both sides of the river in a community effort. It should be obvious that tearing down the bridge will accomplish little except causing an extreme hardship on good, honest local people who need the bridge so that they can get their mail, gasoline, groceries and send children to school. Anyone interested in opposing this thoughtless, politically motivated action should speak out now. I am told that U.S. Representative Ciro Rodriguez might be willing to take up the cause. Please contact him at:

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Gode Davis is a wonderfully talented filmmaker and writer. I have known him since 2002 when he contacted me about the Porvenir massacre and came to west Texas to film Juan Flores and document first hand that terrible day in 1918 at Porvenir. Gode is producing a documentary titled: "American Lynching: A Strange and Bitter Fruit". Davis intends to include the Flores account and the story of the massacre in American Lynching. While this is not a popular topic, it is certainly one that must be seen so that this grim and terrible side of American history will not be forgotten. It is also a topic that for many reasons makes it difficult to produce. The agendas of academia are not helpful and politics play no small role in raising the money. Gode has been able raise some money to finish the film but needs about $10,000 more to get the documentary completed and aired. Gode is also an excellent speaker and is available to speak for a modest fee to help him cover expenses. He lives in Rhode Island so his travel expenses to Texas are not small. Take a minute and check out Gode speaking about his documentary at where you need search Gode Davis to bring it up. He can also be seen speaking at his

Also,you may get information, contact him or make donations to Gode at his website or simply call him at: 401-828-4435.

I don't normally work to solicit money on the blog but I feel this is a very worthy effort that should not be swept under the table for any reason. Please help Gode with a donation no matter how small. Perhaps there is someone or an organization out there that can help with a sizeable contribution. If so, now is the time. Gj

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