The Oblate Fathers of the Rio Grande

Oblate Cross

Oblate Cross

The Oblate Fathers arrived in Texas in 1849 to serve as missionaries, and soon became known to Mexican ranchers in the Rio Grande Valley as the “Cavalry of Christ.” The padres, young men from the big cities in France, wore an Oblate cross over their plain black, ankle-length, long-sleeved soutanes (cassocks). In addition to mastering Spanish and English, they faced the added challenge of learning to ride horses and burros on 100 to 150-mile circuits. They traveled over dusty, mesquite-choked trails to reach ranches scattered along the Mexican

Oblate "Cavalry of Christ"

Oblate “Cavalry of Christ”


The Mexican-American War ended the year before the Oblates reached the Valley, throwing the new arrivals into a tumultuous period of cattle rustling and general lawlessness. Both the United States and Mexico became embroiled in civil wars and the region was plagued by natural disasters like yellow fever and periodic hurricanes.

Residents along both sides of the river loved their French padres, especially Father Pierre Yves Keralum, known to the Mexican people as Santo Padre Pedito for his humility, his obedience, and his kindness. He’s also remembered for the mystery surrounding his death.

Father Keralum, an architect and master builder, combined preaching, baptizing, and marrying people with designing and constructing Gothic Revival style churches all along the Rio Grande. In 1854, he was assigned to Roma, a new mission center covering a large area upriver about halfway between Brownsville and Laredo. As part of his ministry, Father Keralum designed and constructed of Our Lady of Refuge Church.

When an Oblate superior who had started the design of the massive church at Brownsville, drowned at sea, the Oblates called on Father Keralum to take charge of the building project. He modified the plans and in 1859 completed Brownsville’s massive Immaculate Conception Church (designated a Cathedral in 1874) with its beautiful vaulted ceiling. (In 1960, fire and smoke damaged the hand-polished mesquite alter and pulpit and some of the chandeliers.) In addition to the church he also designed the convent, priests’ house, and the college building.

Along the Rio Grande, many tiny chapels survive on former ranches and at mission stations where the Oblates stayed during their long circuit rides. One of the mission centers, La Lomita, which served about sixty-five area ranches, sits on land the Oblates inherited from René Guyard, a fellow Frenchman. The reconstructed chapel is south of Mission, a citrus-growing center that was named for La Lomita and spreads over much of the Oblates’ original ranch.

San Agustin Cathedral, Laredo

San Agustin Cathedral, Laredo

The Villa de San Agustín de Laredo (city of Laredo) was established in 1755 around the present plaza. A small stone church served until 1872 when Father Keralum designed and the diocesan priests built the present Cathedral of San Agustín with its 141-foot bell and clock tower.

After twenty years of traveling at least three times annually on horseback, visiting seventy to 120 widely scattered ranches along the Gulf coast and the interior, Father Keralum––age fifty-five––was frail and nearly blind. On November 9, 1872, despite the misgivings of his fellow Oblates, he mounted his horse and rode away from Brownsville. He stopped about forty miles away at a ranch northwest of present Mercedes before he disappeared. His horse was found contentedly grazing. For a time people suspected murder. Over ten years later, some cowhands found his remains, which were identified by his Oblate belongings. Perhaps he followed a cattle trail by mistake, became entangled in a thicket, and dismounted to rest. Speculation suggests a rattlesnake bit him or he simply became lost and died of weariness and starvation.

His legacy, and that of his fellow missionaries, survived in the lives of those they touched and in the handsome churches that dot the landscape of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Immigrants Create a Seaport

In 1844, Samuel Addison White saw an opportunity to make some money and develop his barren piece of property that jutted into the waters between Matagorda and Lavaca bays––a protected area along the Central Texas coast. Prince Karl of Solms Braunfels, an aristocratic emissary representing a group of German noblemen, had shown up on the shell beach where White had built his small house. Prince Karl was desperate. He had been sent to Texas by noblemen who had created a grand scheme to make a fortune by shipping thousands of farmers, craftsmen, and intellectuals to cheap land in Texas.

When Prince Karl reached Galveston in July 1844 and discovered that the 9,000 acres his noblemen friends had purchased was unsuitable for settlement, he was overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of a shipload of colonists. He needed a port for disembarkation and a route that offered easy passage into western Texas where he hoped to settle the Germans. White agreed to allow the immigrants to occupy the beach near his home until the prince could make arrangements for their trek inland.


Prince Karl and White were stunned in late November and December as four more brigs carrying 439 immigrants sailed into Matagorda Bay. Each family had paid the Adelsverein (society of nobility) $240 for transportation to Texas, for 120 acres, and for the necessities until they could bring in their first harvest. Instead, they huddled on the wet gravel shore with only rainwater to drink and no trees for constructing protection from the howling winds of a Texas “norther.”

Prince Karl had secured the services of the Rev. Louis Ervendberg, a German Protestant minister, who conducted Christmas services and offered communion. The group continued their traditional Christmas observances with a small tree—either an oak or a cedar—and the children sang carols. Soon after the New Year, Prince Karl secured fifteen ox-drawn wagons and fifteen two-wheeled carts for the journey into Texas. He rushed ahead searching for a suitable site for a settlement. He found a tract near the fork of the Guadalupe River and the short, spring-fed Comal River that offered excellent waterpower.

The weary settlers arrived at their new home on March 21, 1845, one week after the Prince made the purchase. Despite their disappointment with the Adelsverein and the failure to secure their promised acreage, they named the site New Braunfels in honor of Prince Karl’s home. In less than a month the aristocratic prince abandoned the colony, even before his replacement had arrived.

Meantime, not all the Germans trusted Prince Karl enough to follow him on the inland search for a new settlement. Johann Schwartz (Swartz) and his family were among those who chose to stay at Indian Point. Schwartz purchased property from Samuel Addison White three miles down the bay and built a home on the site that would become the center of the future port city of Indianola.

Neither Prince Karl’s abandonment, nor the Adelsverein’s failure to adequately fund their grand scheme slowed the shipment of more unsuspecting colonists to Texas. Between the fall of 1845 and the following spring, thirty-six ships brought 5,247 men, women, and children to the shore at Indian Point. In the beginning, constant rain made travel impossible and wagons could not reach the coast. Then, the impending war with Mexico over Texas’ annexation to the United States led to the U.S. military troops confiscating all the means of transportation to haul their supplies to the Rio Grande.

Upon hearing from the Adelsverein that more colonists were heading to Texas, Prince Karl’s replacement, Baron Johann Ottfried von Meusebach (who had the good sense to change his name to John before he reached Texas) had tents constructed along the beach for the new arrivals. As the extreme cold of that winter set in, people began dying of respiratory diseases.

The tragedy served as a vehicle to create a community. Dr. Joseph Martin Reuss, who arrived on one of the first ships, began his medical practice by caring for the sick and dying. He also opened an apothecary where he prescribed free medicines. When Heinrich (Henry) Huck, a young German who had settled in New Orleans in 1844, heard about the suffering of those stranded on the Texas coast, he quickly loaded a schooner with lumber and medicine and sailed for Indian Point. Huck opened a lumberyard, helped Dr. Reuss distribute the free medicine, and gave lumber to families for constructing coffins. Henry Runge open the area’s first bank in a tent.

As the summer heat of 1846 descended on the encampment, a steady flow of new arrivals poured in. Rain offered the only supply of drinking water. Sanitation facilities––trenches dug in the gravelly soil––proved inadequate, and a plague of mosquitoes, green stinging flies, and house flies descended on the community. Cholera, typhoid, and cerebro-spinal meningitis swept through the camp. Frau Reuss, Frau Huck, Mrs. White, and some of the other women prepared broth for the sick and cared for children whose mothers were ill.

The number of dead reached such proportions that victims were wrapped in blankets and buried in mass graves. No one knows how many perished; the estimates range from 400 to over 1,200. Many people panicked and began walking to the inland colonies, spreading diseases as they moved along the route. Over 200 died along the way.

Samuel Addison White platted a new town on his land in 1846 and began selling lots to the German families that decided to remain on the coast and begin their new life at Indian Point—a choice that would give them the prosperity and freedom they had imagined when they listened to the false promises of the Adelsverein.

9781491709542_COVER.inddWithin three years, the German village developed into the thriving port of Indianola. The wealth that came from the commerce on the high seas created a seaport that eventually rivaled Galveston. Then fortune changed, and the seas sent a fierce storm and tidal wave in 1875 that crippled the port city. Nine years later, a massive hurricane ripped down the buildings and a downtown fire destroyed the business center edging the port. Indianola was reduced to a ghost town.

I have written two historical fictions that trace the development and eventual demise of Indianola. The Doctor’s Wife chronicles the heartache, betrayal, and business success of German immigrants who play a leading role in the rise of Indian Point from the struggling tent community to the port for U.S. military destined for posts as far west as El Paso. As shipping increases and wharves extend along the beach, commercial interests change the village name to Indianola and welcome hundreds of freight wagons and carretas from the mines in Chihuahua, Mexico, loaded with silver for the mint in New Orleans. Indianola hosts 49ers headed to California and the International Boundary Commission that negotiates the border between the United State and Mexico. By 1853, the German enclave is a cosmopolitan entry-point for people from around the world.

Stein House opens in 1853 as a German widow and her children arrive in the bustling port city of Indianola and face the cruelties of slavery and yellow fever and the wrenching choices of Civil War and Reconstruction. While the Indianola seaport reaches commercial levels that rival Galveston, the family and the characters who board at the Stein House struggle with the threats of weather, murder, alcoholism, and finally the devastation wrought by the hurricane of 1886.

Baron de Bastrop: Diplomat, Legislator, Fraud

Felipe Enrique Neri (1759-1827), a charming gentleman hailed in Texas as the Baron de Bastrop, paved the way for the first Anglo-American colony in Texas. No one knew he left his wife and five children in Holland or that he fled his country with a bounty of 1,000 gold ducats

Baron de Bastrop

Baron de Bastrop

on his head for embezzling taxes from the province of Friesland.

Neri arrived in Spanish Louisiana in 1795, claiming to be the Baron de Bastrop, a Dutch nobleman forced to leave Holland after the French invasion. After ten years of various business dealings, including settling ninety-nine colonists under a Spanish land grant, Neri appeared in San Antonio in 1806 assuming an air of gentility and posing as a loyal Spanish subject, adamantly opposed to the United States’ 1803 Louisiana Purchase. As the Baron de Bastrop, Neri opened a freighting business in San Antonio and soon gained enough respect to be appointed alcalde (mayor) in the ayuntamiento (local government).

If you read my blog on Moses Austin, you may remember that in an odd twist of fate, Austin chanced to meet his old friend Baron de Bastrop, whom he had known in Louisiana, on the plaza in San Antonio after the Spanish Governor flatly refused to even consider Austin’s request to establish a colony in Texas. In fact, the governor ordered Austin to leave San Antonio immediately. Under such contrary circumstances, it is obvious that Baron de Bastrop held considerable influence with the Spanish officials. He convinced the Spanish governor to accept Moses Austin’s grant request by arguing that Spain needed settlers occupying the country between San Antonio and the Sabine River as a cushion against the Indian threat; that Spaniards and Mexicans were not coming into Texas, rather they were leaving; and that Anglo colonization had already proven successful in Spanish Louisiana. Within three days the Spanish governor granted Austin permission to establish his colony in Texas.

After Moses Austin’s unexpected death, his son Stephen F. Austin came to Texas to apply for his father’s grant. In the meantime, Mexico had won its independence from Spain, and the Baron de Bastrop again used his influence with the Mexican authorities to negotiate an empresarial grant for Stephen to continue with the original plan to settle 300 families in Texas.

By 1823 Bastrop won appointment as Stephen F. Austin’s commissioner of colonization with authority to issue land titles. That same year, he tried and failed to establish a German colony on a site where the San Antonio Road (King’s Highway) crossed the Colorado River. However, from all accounts, he faithfully handled his duties for Austin. Even after Bastrop was chosen in 1824 as a legislator representing the new state of Coahuila and Texas, he served as an ideal intermediary for Austin with the Mexican government. He helped enact laws that were in the best interest of the colonists such as an act establishing a port at Galveston.

Mexican law required the salary of legislators to be paid by contributions from their constituents. Bastrop received such sparse payments that when he died on February 23, 1827, he lacked enough money for his burial. Despite the state of poverty in which he died, the Baron de Bastrop still claiming to be of noble birth in his last will and testament, left land to his wife and children.

After Stephen F. Austin fulfilled his original contract to settle the first 300 families in Texas, he secured another grant in 1827 for his “Little Colony,” which allowed settlement of another 100 families in the area that included the baron’s failed grant. Austin had noted in his first trip to Texas, the importance of that river crossing on the Colorado, and he named the community that developed at the site, Bastrop, in honor of his friend who had recently passed.

Although many people in his day viewed the Baron de Bastrop’s origins as suspect—some believed him to be an American adventurer—he held respect for his diplomatic and legislative work on behalf of Texas. In the past fifty years records from the Netherlands revealed the true story of his mysterious past.

Ladies Fought the Second Battle of the Alamo

The second battle of the Alamo began in the early 20th century as a disagreement between two powerful women over the proper way to preserve the Alamo. The old complex had been allowed, after the famous battle in 1836 and the slaughter of the men who fought there, to fall

Adina De Zavala

Adina De Zavala

into an embarrassing state of neglect and disrepair. Adina Emilia De Zavala, granddaughter of Lorenzo de Zavala the first Vice President of the Republic of Texas, was a schoolteacher, a prolific writer of Texas history, and an early advocate of restoration of the missions in San Antonio and other historic structures. About 1889, she organized the “De Zavala Daughters,” dedicated to preserving Texas history, which soon became a chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT).

Although the state of Texas had purchased the main entrance known as the Alamo chapel from the Catholic Church in 1883, the state did nothing to preserve the structure. At some point, a wholesale grocer bought the building north of the chapel, added a second floor, and altered the façade. De Zavala and her friends believed that old building had served as the convent when the complex was a Spanish mission. They were also convinced that it had been used as the long barracks where most of the fighting occurred during the Battle of the Alamo. The De Zavala group secured an agreement from the grocer to give them first option to purchase the long barracks, which they dreamed of restoring to its former appearance and opening as a museum.

1920s photo. Long barracks in foreground. Alamo chapel in right background.

1920s photo. Long barracks in foreground.

Clara Driscoll

Clara Driscoll

In 1903, when the De Zavala group heard that the long barracks might be sold to a hotel syndicate, Adina De Zavala sought the help of Clara Driscoll a nineteen-year-old heiress who had returned to San Antonio after several years studying in Europe. Driscoll was so appalled at the condition of the Alamo that she wrote an article for the Daily Express calling the Alamo complex an “old ruin…. hemmed in on one side by a hideous barracks-like looking building, and on the other by two saloons.” Clara Driscoll joined the De Zavala chapter of the DRT and went with Adina De Zavala to see the grocer who was asking $75,000 for the structure. Clara Driscoll personally gave the owner $500 for a thirty-day option and the ladies set about raising the purchase price. Despite a nationwide campaign and a legislative appropriation, which Governor S.W.T. Lanham vetoed as “not a justifiable expenditure of the taxpayers’ money,” Clara Driscoll eventually paid $65,000 to complete the purchase. Over the governor’s objection, the state reimbursed Clara Driscoll and gave custody of the property to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

Then, cracks began to show in the bulwark of the organization as members divided over what should be done with the grocer’s building. Adina De Zavala and her cohorts believed “a large part” of the original convent/long barracks played a significant role in the Battle of the Alamo and remained hidden under the grocer’s building. Clara Driscoll and her camp believed the walls of the convent/long barracks overshadowed the Alamo chapel and should be replaced with a dignified park.

Members of the statewide DRT and citizens in San Antonio and Texas divided into De Zavalans and Driscollites, each faction determined to have its way. The two groups within the DRT separated from each other and when Clara Driscoll was given custody of the vacant grocery in 1908, Adina De Zavala locked herself in the building for three days as newspaper reporters from around the country gathered to watch the spectacle.

By 1910 the Driscollites seemed to have won the war, but one more battle remained: Governor Oscar Colquitt, became convinced that walls under the modern grocery building pre-dated the Battle at the Alamo. He ordered restoration of the convent/barracks. In January 1912, the governor personally watched as removal of the modern additions revealed arches and Spanish stone work—confirming the De Zavalans’ claim. However, the following year, while the governor was out of state, the lieutenant governor permitted the roof and walls of the upper story to be removed. Fifty-five years later, just in time for the 1968 opening of HemisFair, San Antonio’s world’s fair, the old building finally received a roof and opened as a museum.

Historical footprint of the Alamo complex.

Historical footprint of the Alamo complex.

Adina De Zavala continued for the rest of her life organizing groups that restored, marked and preserved historic sites. When she died in 1955 at the age of ninety-three, her casket draped with the Texas flag was driven past the Alamo one last time. She willed her estate to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word for a girl’s vocational school and a boys town.

Clara Driscoll spent the remainder of her life devoted to historic preservation, state and national politics, civic and philanthropic endeavors. When she died in 1945 at the age of sixty-four, her body laid in state at the Alamo chapel. She bequeathed the bulk of her estate to the Driscoll Foundation Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi.

Interurban Electric Railroads

In 1901 the first electric interurban or trolley, began operating on a 10.5-mile track between Denison and Sherman in North Texas. The thirty-minute trip on the seventy-pound steel rails cost twenty-five cents. The line proved so successful that a second route between Dallas and

Denison-Sherman Interurban Railline

Denison-Sherman Interurban Railline

Fort Worth opened the following year. A fourteen-mile track started between Belton and Temple and by 1909 the original line extended all the way south from Denison to Dallas. In five years the line moved further south to Waco and other lines began between Beaumont and Port Arthur, El Paso and Ysleta, and Houston, Baytown, and Goose Creek.

Houston Station--Galveston-Houston Interurban c. 1915

Houston Station–Galveston-Houston Interurban c. 1915

The interurban between Houston and Galveston started carrying passengers in 1911 after Galveston rebuilt following the devastating 1900 storm. The city constructed a seventeen-foot seawall, raised the level of the island, and opened a new $2 million causeway to the mainland to accommodate the electric interurban, railroad tracks, and a highway. The Houston-Galveston Interurban boasted an observation car and the fastest schedule of any steam or electric railroad. It made the fifty-mile downtown-to-downtown trek in seventy-five minutes with the help of a thirty-four-mile “tangent”—a section of straight track that allowed the carriage to travel at fifty-five miles per hour. Passengers rode to Galveston for an evening on the beach or in the gambling houses and then took the 11:00 p.m. interurban back to Houston.

Other areas offered special excursions between cities. Baseball teams grew up along the interurban, and passengers flocked to see games of the Class C and D Trolley League.

The frequent service, convenient stops within cities, and lower fares of the interurbans overcame all competition with steam railroads. At the peak of the service in 1920, nearly four million passengers enjoyed the trolleys that boasted carpeted cars with lounge chairs, spittoons, and rest rooms. By 1931, ten systems across the state covered over five hundred miles.

Parlor Car Denison-Dallas-Waco-Corsicana

Parlor Car

The advent of the automobile and the convenient travel it offered spelled doom for the interurbans. The lines began closing. Their tracks were paved over to make way for their competition—the automobile. On December 31, 1948, the old Denison to Dallas line made its final run.

Plano boasts a Interurban Railway Museum.

Electric rail car at the Plano Railway Museum

Electric rail car at the Plano Railway Museum

La Réunion, Dallas Commune

On June 16, 1855, residents of the area around the village of Dallas (population 400) declared a holiday in anticipation of greeting about 200 very foreign-looking immigrants from France, Belgium, and Switzerland. The newcomers, who spoke French and wore odd-looking clothing and sabots (wooden shoes) arrived after a twenty-six-day trip from Houston—some walking, others on horseback. They were accompanied by ox-drawn wagons on which they carried household goods necessary to begin a utopian community. Unlike most frontier settlers, La Réunion colonists were brewers, watchmakers, weavers, and shopkeepers—unsuited to the rigors of farm life. Over several months, more settlers arrived bringing supplies such as an organ, piano, flutes, and violins. One wave of newcomers brought thirteen trunks and had to pay ox-cart drivers three cents a pound to haul the load. An elderly man had broken his leg on shipboard and had to pay the freight rate to ride in a cart.

Victor Prosper Considerant

Victor Prosper Considerant

The groups’ founder Victor Prosper Considerant planned a loosely structured experimental utopian community on the banks of the Trinity River in which members shared in the profits based on the amount of capital each one invested in the cooperative and the quantity and quality of work contributed by each participant. Unlike communism, Considerant advocated voting by both men and women—individuals who owned private property. He had been a leader in the democratic socialist movement in France and had been forced to flee to Belgium in 1851 after taking part in a failed insurrection against Louis Napoleon Bonaparte.

Considerant’s travels led him to select North Texas as a suitable locale for establishing a cooperative utopian society. Upon his return to Paris he established the European Society for the Colonization of Texas and published Au Texas (In Texas) in which he praised the ideal climate and claimed the fertile soil well suited for growing tropical fruit.

Considerant sent advance agents who purchased about 2,500 acres on the chalky, limestone bluff near the forks of the Trinity River, three miles west of Dallas. The land was not suitable for farming, even if the colonists had known how to farm. They did plant a large garden, bought 500 head of cattle, sheep, pigs and some fowls. They purchased equipment for mowing, reaping and thrashing wheat and by the following year they had laid out a town site, built offices, buildings suitable for making soap and candles and operating a laundry. They prepared their meals in a cooperative kitchen and built two dormitories for individual families.

Their Saturday night parties, which included music, singing, and dancing, shocked some of their Dallas neighbors whose Protestant faith led them to believe that violins were instruments of the devil and singing should be limited to sacred songs. La Réunion residents vigorously defended their entertainment by insisting that keeping the Sabbath meant worship and pleasure. It wasn’t long before a few of the younger, more independent Dallas residents began attending the parties and romances soon followed.

Although groups continued to arrive, the population never grew beyond 350. After putting 430 acres into cultivation, a blizzard in May1856 damaged the crops and froze the Trinity River. The heat of summer brought drought and grasshoppers invaded to feast on the remaining crops. Settlers began leaving as tensions developed over Considerant’s poor financial management, unclear land deeds, impractical distribution of work, and disagreements over how meals should be served to provide equal sharing. Some headed back to Europe while others moved into Dallas and surrounding communities.

In 1860 Dallas incorporated La Réunion land and the colonists offered their considerable skills to the growing city. M. Monduel opened the first brewery in 1857; Emil Remond experimented with the white rock on the banks of the Trinity and eventually established a cement plant; Julien Reverchon, who became an internationally known botany professor at Baylor University College of Medicine and Pharmacy in Dallas, had been taught by Jacob Boll, who discovered and classified many Texas plants and flowers. Jacob Nussbaumer opened the city’s first butcher shop. Benjamin Long served two terms as Dallas mayor; John B Louckx, created the public school system; and Maxime Guillot’s carriage factory operated for fifty years, leading to Dallas becoming a world center for the carriage and harness-making industry.

Today, the 561-foot Reunion Tower completed in 1978 in downtown Dallas is about three miles east of the old colony and serves as a handsome reminder of the contributions made by the little band of visionaries.

Reunion Tower

Reunion Tower

Immigrant Creates a Food Tradition

In 1892 when Adelaida and Macario Cuellar left their impoverished home, crossed the Rio Grande, and were married in Laredo, they had dreams of working hard and finding success. They did not imagine that their family would eventually head a multi-million dollar food business.

Adelaida Cuellar and the first of her dozen children.

Adelaida Cuellar and the first of her dozen children.

The Cuellars spoke very little English and worked on farms in South Texas as they moved north, eventually settling as sharecroppers on a farm outside Kaufman, a town southeast of Dallas. By 1926 Macario worked as a ranch foreman at Star Brand Ranch and the family had grown to twelve children. Mama Cuellar, as Adelaida was known, decided to add to the family income. She set up a stand at the Kaufmann County Fair to sell her homemade chili and tamales while her five sons, known as Mama’s Boys, played guitars. She not only won a prize for her cooking, she sold out. The tamale stand made $300, the family claims that was more than Macario Cuellar made in a year. Thus began the family’s annual trek to the county fair.

Two of her sons soon opened a Mexican restaurant in Kaufman with Mama Cuellar doing the cooking, but the Great Depression forced them to close after a couple of years. Over the next few years her five sons tried unsuccessfully to operate restaurants in several East Texas towns, until 1940 when sons Macario and Gilbert, using Mama Cuellar’s recipes, opened El Charro in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas. As the restaurant became more profitable, all five sons pooled their resources and expanded to other locations under El Chico Corporation.

In 1961 Angus G. Wynne, Jr. owner of the Star Brand Ranch that had employed Macario Cuellar in the early days, planned to open an amusement park in Arlington to be called “Six Flags Over Texas.” Wynne wanted to serve food representing all the cultures in Texas, and he invited the Cuellars to open a restaurant in the Mexico section of the park. El Chico proved so popular at the opening that it ran out of food and even paper plates and cups.

Mama Cuellar

Mama Cuellar

By the time Mama Cuellar died in 1969, El Chico had expanded into twenty different businesses from canning to restaurant franchising. Over the years the business went public and then returned to the family’s hands several times, each time at considerable profit. Many of the El Chico employees, realizing the growing popularity of Mexican food, opened their own Mexican restaurants. Some facilities were white tablecloth and fine dining establishments, while others served Mexican seafood, and some catered to the post-college boomer crowd.

In 1974 Mariano Martinez, one of Mama Cuellar’s grandsons who owned Mariono’s in Old Town, hit on the idea of refitting a soft-serve ice cream machine to serve frozen margaritas. His invention opened a whole new line of Mexican restaurants and bars and a whole new way to enjoy Mexican food. That original machine is now in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Original frozen margarita machine on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Original frozen margarita machine on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Today the tiny Mexican immigrant’s dream of using hard work to be successful has expanded into almost one hundred El Chico restaurants in Texas and the surrounding states and twenty-seven El Chico Restaurant franchises.