Last Caretakers of the Trinity River

Testimonio of the Last Caretakers of the Trinity River

By Dr. Patrisia Gonzales 

Indigenous Institute of the Americas - Advisory Council

 

Remnants of the Rock House still stand, a place where prayers and ceremony were offered to heal the red-brown people of Fort Worth, Texas, and beyond. My family's home on 308 Franklin Street has been the object of great mystery and urban legends, calling our home “las reliquias” or the relics of Fort Worth

We just called it Grandma and Grandpa’s house. And, there was also great-grandpa Boni’s “Rock House.”  People often wonder about their story as they pass their remains at Heritage Park, but I know the truth and medicine of this place. My grandmother would sit on her back porch and face the river, saying her prayers, braiding her prayers into her hair and the river. When she was upset, she prayed to the river. We were the last to live on the bluff, the last to care and tend to it with ceremony as its neighbor, and the last pray to this Trinity River as a daily ceremony. Water prayers. Water carried our prayers.

Un abuelo Maya (elder) and I once discussed how the human body mirrors the universe: Los ojo son la sol y la Luna (the eyes are the sun and the moon); The breath, viento (wind):  Las Venas  (veins), river, the teeth, stones. ‘Stones have life,’ he said, “they tell of what has come, a stone is almost eternal. It is the stone that can plasmar (form and establish) a message that will last. Stones are concentrated Earth and that's why the ancestors wrote through them….He asked me if I believe that rivers carry a spirit. And I told him I knew of a place where Stones talk to a river. On the ‘pyramids’ of the Chisholm trail, stone ruins along a cliff speak the history of my people. (Gonzales 1993)

My grandfather and grandmother and the mountain of family (when we gathered for Christmas we were more than 80) were the last family to live on the bluff of the Trinity River. We were its caretakers and have offered prayers and ceremonies to this place where at least a dozen of our umbilical cords have been offered as part of our Indian ways. There a shrines like this in Indigenous country, where the umbilical cords are gathered and cared for, in a holy place.

We are part of the untold story of Ft. Worth, of Mexican Indian people who lived in a largely Mexican barrio known as “la Corte.” We lived at 304 Franklin and 308 Franklin (My grandparents and great-grandparents addresses). We are the story of the hidden indigeneity among the Mexican. This story has a deep earth, an earth that my ancestors traversed across great distances to remain who we are as Indigenous peoples. I uncover some earth to tell this story of my Comanche grandmother Rosario, my Kickapoo great-grandmother Irinea, and my grandmother Carmen, who was born near the base of the pyramids known as Chicomostoc, the Place of Seven Caves. My great-great grandparents crossed into and back and forth Old Mexico and back into what

wasn’t even Texas, merging with peoples and  the lands of the Chichimecatl or the Chichimeca, mixing Comanche and Kickapoo blood with the Mexican Indian peoples of my great-grandmpa Boni and also that of the Eagle keepers in the Chichimecatl. From my father’s side, we are also Kickapoo, part of the original peoples of Texas and related to the peoples of the Huesteca.

This is why, as a founding advisor to the Indigenous Institute of the Americas, I came to help the IIA with the ceremony of the 1,000 drums in 2005 at the Forth Worth Stockyards rodeo arena. It was time to summons the ancestors and prayers of the Original Peoples of Texas and Fort Worth, whose story had been erased and disappeared into the state narrative that I often heard growing up: “ain’t no Indians in Texas.” It is said the Spirit People came on their Spirit Horses, rounding a circle of protection.

 As a former syndicated columnist, author and scholar, I have written several articles so that people would know the history of the sacred stones that are the remnants of my grandparents’ home, where Carmen and Jesus Maldonado raised a family of 11 children. Later, at different times, their children lived with their spouses and young families, often keeping the three-story house full of some dozen family members. Next door, in what my mother calls “the Rock House,” my great-grandpa Bonifacio and my great-grandma Rosario lived, doing ceremony and healing. My mother Martha and I lived there in the 1960s with my grandparents and several of my younger cousins and my aunts and uncles. My mother wrote a short memoire of the house for the family in November 2020.

 Four generations of Maldonados lived there from the 1920s until the 1976 in what has now become like ruins that passers-bye wonder about. I have written about “the pyramids I call home” for the Texas Observer (1992), for Fort Worth Star-Telegram 1993, and it appeared in an anthology on Tejanas (2015.) It also has been the subject of newspaper articles (Kennedy 2010).

What was once a three-story house has now been reduced to the stone foundations due to a fire, when homeless people lit a fire with a mattress to keep themselves warm inside our former home. When my grandparents were forced off their land through imminent domain, we were told our family home might be converted into a historic landmark.

The remains of this home has cultural significance because we were the last family to live in a historical neighborhood, which was near the entrance to original the fort (according to the marker at the entrance to the trail that was later built.) The remaining foundation of my grandpa's house was built with the first well of Ft. Worth, according to my grandmother (Gonzales 1992, 1993, 2015). The last homes of “la Corte” are of historical significance because it was a Mexican community and it included Indigenous peoples, such as my grandparents who were Kickapoo, Comanche and Nahua or Mexican Indian and of Mexican, Spanish and Chinese descent. My great-grandfather Sostenes, who descended from Spanish settler colonizers, lived with my Kickapoo great-grandmother Irinea, whom he stole and forced to marry, in a big white house near the Ready Kilowatt building. There were also other Indigenous people who lived in the Mexican neighborhood surrounding our home and they live in the oral tradition of my mother Martha. (See the map drawn by my mother of the numerous families that lived around us.)

 Furthermore, our land base was a place of ceremony and spiritual prayer and healing, as my great-grandfather Bonifacio Maldonado was a well-known curandero or traditional healer and huesero (bone doctor) who did ceremonial medicine. The remaining stone steps that are still visible were often filled with people sitting on the steps waiting to see him, arriving at dawn to ensure that they would get a spot with him. People came as far away as Waco to be doctored by him. My Aunt Irene recalls that great-grandpa was shot at by the husbands of women he healed, as a result of domestic violence. He was shot at not once, but twice by angry husbands. He would administer salves to the women to recover from injuries. One woman was raped by her husband repeatedly, keeping her pregnant. He wouldn’t respect her 40-day lying in period to let her body rest. My tata-abuelo helped her fix that situation. Great-grandpa also had protection medicines, and one of the couples he helped wound up eventually moving away. Through a series of events, this opened the way for him to buy the Rock House where he doctored.

As a child, I played in secret compartments, peeking through passage ways in wonder. My grandmother did ceremonies there for all her children when they were born. In 2005, we conducted a ceremony there in 2003 and we blessed the remaining stones of our home. (Photo attached.)

Additionally, my great-grandfather was the superintendent for all of these properties, working for a man called Mr. Johnson. Great Grandpa Boni would shoot away animals, fix the plumbing, electrical issues, ensure the safety of residents and grew roses all along the river’s edge as well as peach orchards, and he raised pigs for tamales at Christmas. He also got through the depression with a little side business of a still. In his home, he raised three of my great uncles, who all served in World War II. My uncle Fortunato Maldonado passed away in 2020 at age 95, and was a veteran in the Battle of the Bulge. My Uncle Bruno, who was stationed in Japan, received a Purple Heart, according to family stories. My great-grandmother Rosario, who was ill, never knew that four of her sons and two of her grandsons were all away at war in WWII.Jesse MaldonadoI grew up walking up a rock path to downtown with my Grandma Carmen, when downtown was a vibrant place, and in the 70s we continued to frequent downtown and witness its decline. One of my aunts who lived on Franklin street, Aunt Irene Maldonado, was among the first of Fort Worth’s businesswomen, with a name like Maldonado,  and owned three beauty shops and two restaurants in downtown Fort Worth. I remember shopping at the Red Goose, Everybody’s, Wally Williams and the Fair. My mom worked at the Fair and once demanded to be served a coke, when the waitress refused to serve her at W.T. Grant on the corner of 6th Street and Houston. My grandma recalled that there was a time when brown people walked on one sidewalk and White people walked on the opposite side in downtown Ft. Worth.

My grandpa literally poured the concrete for many of the bridges and structures of Ft. Worth, when he worked for the WPA as a dynamiter. It was the most dangerous job, and paid the best. But, he had to take that position to feed his 11 children. He became a well-known contractor, specializing in pouring foundations. My mother Martha remembers that FO 3837 was grandpa’s business telephone number. Now what remains of the house that he built with his own hands is the foundation of the house he built himself with my great grandpa, who had been architect in Mexico. Remnants of the red-tile and one of the two fireplaces remain. Though my grandpa only had a 3rd grade education, he built this house digging out the earth from the slope of the bluff, so that he could build two stories into the curve of it, with the top story being the visible door on Franklin Street. It was a bit of an architectural wonder, according to architects who knew of the home. Our house was one of the few houses to survive the great flood of 1949, in which many homes in the area were lost, and is a testament to abuelo’s craftsmanship.

My grandparents, as children, lived in other parts of the neighborhood , meeting around 1915, when they were children, and my grandpa determined to marry his little child sweetheart at the young age of 7. My great-grandpa grew peaches and had farmland and rosebushes that were irrigated by the Trinity River without an irrigation system. He cared for the land and for the people there. Our home is with the subject of an article by Bud Kennedy, who interviewed me for a column on our home in 2010. The remaining structure was where my great grandpa doctored thousands of people over the decades as a traditional healer. He never charged for his services because it was a gift from Creator and he doctored there into around 1950.

 Mama often told me stories of the people living in that community such as a man known as Juan Garras or John Rags. He lived by the river and he would fish there and bring my grandmother fish for her many little mouths to feed. It took a great amount of time to debone the fish and she once asked him if he could help her do that. From that point forward, Señor Juan Garras would bring her filleted fish. We don't even know if he had a home. All my mother remembers is that he lived by the river and that he was so poor that he was given that name Juan Garras/John Rags. Mr. Juan Garras. Another Indian lived in the neighborhood and was simply known as “el Indio” and people did not know his name, only calling him by that term, which was often how people described my Comanche great-great-grandma Santana– la India. As if they did not warrant being called their name, or their Native identifier stood in for a name. 

My grandparents and great-grandparents chose a place to build their lives, which according to my elders,  was near a Comanche campsite. As I wrote in my articles, this fort was established to defend settlers “against the Indians.” But little is known of what we Indian/Indigenous people thought of the great onslaught of settlers who eventually embarked on campaigns to eliminate hundreds of bands of Indigenous peoples who are the original peoples of what we call Texas. Many of them hid or disappeared among “the Mexican.”  My grandparents were Kickapoo, Comanche, Nahua and Mexican and my grandpa taught us that, in his day, Mexicans were just another kind of Indian (Gonzales 2003). My Comanche relatives call this area Comancheria, a place where my mobile Comanche relatives as great horse people traversed, camped, lived and defended a Comanche way of life.  I think my Comanche great-grandmother Rosario found great comfort in building a home near one of our former campsites. Our relatives say this is the place where we camped long ago, following the water.

In 1976, my grandfather lost his fight with the city and was forced to relocate. I found records in the downtown Fort Worth library of city council minutes, in which my grandfather was testifying in resistance of removal. A news crew came to interview grandpa on his resistance. I wish I had photocopied that article that I found some 30 years ago. We all periodically go back to our home to remember the synergy of dozens of us packed in this home, being family and listening to our grandparents tell stories.

 I return periodically to offer prayers and a ceremony in honor of my relatives and ancestors. See photo attached of a blessing we did for my great-grandpa’s home when I did a book reading of one of my books The Mud People. Several of my tias and tios came with my parents, as did some Chinese-American civil rights leaders (Jackson and Pearl Eng) and my best friend from high school (Amabilia Reyes). I now carry my grandpa’s lineage of medicine and have written two books on Traditional Indian Medicine, based on the teachings he, my grandma, and my mom and aunts left with me, plus other Macehual elders who have taught me the ways and who gave me permission to share some teachings for the good of human kind ( Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing and Traditional Indian Medicine: American Indian Wellness.)

 

I have always respected that Ft. Worth has preserved its historical integrity in its architecture. Now, the last stones standing face withstanding further development as the city develops the park to which we lost our land. In a survey sponsored by the City of Fort Worth, I recommended that the remaining stone structures be salvaged and incorporated into the development plants, with a storytelling area that features the diversity of Fort Worth. Minimally, I believe a plaque there is fitting to recognize the brown people who helped to build Ft. Worth. Currently, some of us are requesting that a plaque be established through Texas Historical Commission Undertold Story Marker program to honor the cultural legacy of my family and the other families that lived on this bank of the Trinity River. 

I have requested that this place where stones talk to a river be recognized as a historic place -- where good strong families were raised and prayers were offered as part of the daily life of human beings who were connected to the spiritual powers of life and to this river. Literally, a piece of our DNA is in these lands, as my grandma offered a dozen of her children’s umbilical cords to Grandmother Earth.  In these houses of ceremony and prayer, a sacred site was established. The prayers don’t disappear. They remain in the  ceremonial and spiritual landscape. We were informed by city planners in September 2021 that the stones will be left standing. Let them speak, let them speak to the Trinity River.

I still have dreams of this house and the great Trinity River. In my dreams, I travel to this place where I could look out our dining room window and see the running river and Ready Kilowatt, the giant lit character on the Electric Company brick building. It looked like a smiling bulb with skinny, lightning bolt legs. Some 62-years-later, I dream that I am still living there, following the water.

"And so my family returns to visit the piedras (stones) ,.. each time my family goes there, for us, it's like a pilgrimage to pyramids, a return to our beginning "a las piramides, a las piedras,"  we say. (To the pyramids, to the stones...)

"Indians believe that stone speak... They even revolted in Chiapas when one spoke.... And when I return to the stones that were my home, the ruins are pyramids, sacred voices from the past, of the builders of the world, from every every heritage.... . I often go back to my pyramid and think about El abuelo Maya. And I wonder what stones he's speaking to now." (Gonzales 1993; 2015, 101-103)

Citations:

Dickinson Maldonado, Martha. Franklin Street House. Family oral history. December 2020.

Dickinson Maldonado, Martha. Franklin Street House-Maldonado-Arteaga Family. Power Point.

Gonzales, Patrisia. December 2016. Traditional Indian Medicine: American Indian Wellness. Dubuque: Kendal-Hunt Publishers. Textbook. Peer reviewed.             

Gonzales, Patrisia. 2012. Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. First Peoples New Directions in Indigenous Studies series. Peer reviewed.

Gonzales, Patrisia. 2015. “The Home Among the Stones.” Entre Guadalupe y Malinche. Austin: University of Texas Press. Eds. Ines Hernandez-Avila and Norma Cantu. Peer Reviewed.

Gonzales, Patrisia. 2003. The Mud People: Chronicles, Testimonios & Remembrances. San Jose: Chusma House Press.

Gonzales, Patrisia. “Home Among the Stones.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram. May 16, 1993.

Gonzales, Patrisia.  “If Stones Could Talk.” Texas Observer. August 21, 1992.

Kennedy, Bud. 2010. “A Bit of Lost Neighborhood Reappears.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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