Porvenir, Texas is Roo Tale approved y’all. The movie is directed and produced by an Austin College family.

Austin College Trustee P.B. Hill made it clear to all those who would listen. On a disgraceful day in Sherman, TX with very few heroes, one exception was his friend and fellow Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.

It was true.

The 1930 lynching of Mr. George Hughes by the citizens of Sherman was one of the most outrageous acts by any community in Texas history. Hughes, an African American, had been unfairly accused of a crime. The rumors that began to spread, combined with the knowledge that Hughes was being tried downtown, led to an ever-growing mob presence. Frank Hamer was dispatched to defuse it.

Hamer’s arrival briefly helped. He announced that unless the crowd dispersed, many of Sherman’s citizens might be going home in body bags. He fired warning shots to keep the crowd at bay. At first the tactics seemed to work, as no resident had any desire to take on Frank Hamer and his deputies. But there was one enemy that Hamer could not fight. Fire.

Sherman citizens burned their own courthouse down. Hamer’s men attempted to douse the flames, but locals cut the hoses of firefighters. Hughes, locked in a vault inside for his own safety, suffocated on the smoke. Residents spent hours working to extract his body, before parading it around town in a macabre spectacle seen in every lynching. The Governor of Texas declared martial law in Sherman and Hamer departed, noting that “he had never been so disgusted in anyone more than [the citizens of] Sherman.”

The recent movie “The Highwaymen” tells the story of Bonnie & Clyde from the perspective of Frank Hamer, the man who ended the criminal run of the famous pair in May of 1934. Hamer was ably played by Kevin Costner. The ties of Bonnie & Clyde to Austin College & Sherman, TX were so great that I turned the story into a Roo Tale last spring, complete with clips from the movie. The tale was prompted by the writing of a number of Roos, including Ruth Nuckols Cox Williamson, Tom Nuckols, Claude Webb Jr., and Dr. Light Cummins. Claude’s mention of the book “I’m Frank Hamer” led me to my own copy; within it, the story of Hamer’s time with the Texas Rangers during World War 1 is told from the perspective of the famous Texas Ranger.

Just weeks after the deaths of Bonnie & Clyde, an editorial appeared in a national newspaper lauding the efforts of Frank Hamer, the hero who had taken out the outlaw bandits. The author, an acquaintance of Hamer, criticizes press coverage of the final shootout and reviews Hamer’s past with the Texas Rangers. One particular incident was mentioned in detail: the 1918 events in a sleepy border town called Porvenir:

“’I never could get Frank Hamer to talk about the fight at El Porvenir, a deserted bunch of adobes – a ghost town – on the Rio Grande. He took two other rangers in there on the tip that two outlaw-killers were holed up among the shacks. In place of two, they bumped into 16, all notorious smugglers in a gang that had killed more than one border patrolman. The outlaws opened fire. Hours later the rangers rode out, all wounded, but behind in the shacks and streets of El Porvenir they left 16 dead outlaws and Texas had 16 fewer ‘problems’ for criminal-coddlers to worry over.’”

The editorial author made it clear to all those who would listen. On a late summer’s day in Porvenir, TX with very few heroes, one exception was his friend and fellow Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.

It was all a lie.

On the night of January 28th, 1918, Texas Rangers entered the town of Porvenir. They awoke the families, separated 15 men and older boys from the rest, and ordered them to march just outside of town. There, the 15 were executed in cold blood.

The Mexican revolution broke out in 1910, and contributed to an increasingly chaotic border for most of the decade. The Rangers were responding in January 1918 to a crime in a neighboring community when they arrived that night at Porvenir. There is zero evidence that the residences of Porvenir were guilty or even aware of the recent crime. There is ample evidence that the Texas Rangers were motivated by retribution based on racial animus. Porvenir, which means “future” in Spanish, became a Texas Rangers “My Lai.”

And now, there’s a film about Porvenir. Even more amazing? The film was written and directed by an Austin College Kangaroo family.

The PBS documentary “Porvenir, Texas” is the creation of Andrew Shapter, a writer and filmmaker who sadly passed away earlier this year. Andrew’s spouse Christina Fernandez Shapter produced the film; Christina was an Austin College Kangaroo in the early 1990s with me. A review of Shapter’s prior work is an incredible testament to the passion he brought to his craft. I did not know Andrew, but those with whom I’ve spoken have mentioned their awe about the man and his work.

The movie was released on September 20th, 2019; I watched that same day. It is very well done, and is recommended viewing for those interested in Texas history. The film officially celebrates its release tomorrow, October 1st, at the Paramount Theatre in Austin not far from the State Capitol. The movie goes into detail about the aftermath of the Porvenir Massacre at that very Capitol.

Representative J.T. Canales, the lone Texas legislator of Hispanic descent in 1918, courageously decided to hold hearings to bring the actions of the Texas Rangers to light. He feared for his life, with good reason. One Texas Ranger made death threats against him, and stalked the lawmaker around the city of Austin brandishing his pistol. Canales bravely went forward with the hearings anyway, and mentioned the Texas Ranger by name. His name was Frank Hamer.

Laura Tolley’s spouse Joe Holley wrote a piece in the Houston Chronicle last spring about “The Highwaymen.” In it, Holley discusses the history of the Texas Rangers along the border:

“[Monica Munoz] Martinez, author of “The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas” and co-founder of the nonprofit organization Refusing to Forget, insists that our infatuation with the myth blinds us to the Rangers’ history of racial violence against ethnic Mexicans, African Americans and Native Americans. “‘The Highwaymen,’” she wrote in the Post, ‘threatens to further this mythology at precisely the moment when many in Texas are beginning to grapple with this appalling history.’”

“It’s a story that needs to be told — and is being told by Martinez and her group in their books and research and by former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. He’s the producer of “Porvenir Texas,” an upcoming documentary about an early-20th-century border massacre that involved the Rangers.”

While writing the Bonnie & Clyde Roo Tale last spring, I came across this sordid past of Hamer during his time with the Rangers. Little did I know that an incredible Austin College family was at that time working on a film exploring the very topic.

Texas is Hispanic. Mexican families in Texas have generations that go back well before the 1820s when the namesake of Austin College first arrived. The US has more Spanish speakers than either Spain or Columbia; thanks to Austin College and Shelton Williams directed study abroad opportunities in Spain & Mexico, I count myself as one of them.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, dedicated to the victims of lynching in the United States such as Mr. Hughes, opened in 2018. There, Americans can reflect on past injustices such as the Sherman Riot of 1930. In the movie “Porvenir, Texas,” descendants of the Porvenir Massacre ask that Texans do something similar:

“My grandfather survived a massacre, and by him surviving the massacre, I’m here. At least a letter from the government in the state of Texas saying ‘we’re sorry’ to the families, the surviving families.”

– Dan Mesa, descendant

Christina, thank you for your family and for this movie. Andrew’s body of work is incredible; Dianne and I plan to take all of it in over time. I know this year has been extremely difficult. I hope time heals all wounds, and slowly brings your family a more joyful porvenir.

Thanks Leslie Carroll Walker for the heads up. And Go Roos.