When the shooting ended on the moonlit night of Jan. 28, 1918, the crumpled bodies of 15 unarmed Mexican boys and men between the ages of 16 and 72 lay scattered in the brush downriver from Porvenir.
After the killers rode off in the darkness, the panicked women, children and other survivors fled across the Rio Grande. The next morning, an old woman came from Mexico with a horse cart to retrieve the bodies.
Days later, the cavalry soldiers returned to the remote Texas border hamlet — which was home to 140 people — to knock down and burn the abandoned dwellings.
“The quiet little village of Porvenir with its peaceful farms and happy homes was no more. The Rangers and four cow-men made 42 orphans that night,” was the bitter summary of Henry Warren, the local schoolmaster, whose father-in-law, Tiburcio Jaquez, died in the massacre.
While the dogged efforts of Warren and others to find justice for those slain ultimately proved futile, the ghosts of Porvenir have refused to fade quietly into history.
Recent archaeological work, including analysis of slugs and shell casings found at the scene of the executions, is turning the long-accepted historical narrative of the event on its head.
The Texas Rangers had maintained they were fired upon from the darkness when they approached the village, and shot in self-defense. The U.S. Cavalry claimed it didn’t kill anyone, but instead found the victims’ bodies the morning after while on patrol.
The new findings tell a different tale.
“Artifacts on the ground where the massacre is believed to have taken place suggest that both the military and civilians participated. The .45 long Colts were typically used by civilians and Rangers. The .30-06 weapons were typically carried by the cavalry,” David Keller, an Alpine-based archaeologist who has made several visits to Porvenir, told the San Antonio Express-News (http://bit.ly/1UDxJgK ).
In November, Keller led a team of four archaeologists on a three-day scientific dig at Porvenir. They were joined by photographers, documentary filmmakers, a historian and others.
“The majority of the artifactal evidence we found is military, which is not what we should have found there according to the prevailing story, that the crime was committed by the Texas Rangers and local vigilantes,” Keller said.
The bullets and cartridge casings they recovered, plus others found years earlier, later were turned over to battlefield archaeologist Douglas D. Scott, best known for his work analyzing the Little Bighorn Battlefield, site of Custer’s last stand.
Last week, Scott, also a firearms expert, released his findings on the ballistic evidence.