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Borderman: The Memoirs of Federico José María Ronstadt

Part 1

Before I say anything about myself, I wish to note down a few things about my father and my mother. My father, Frederick Augustus Ronstadt, was born in Hanover, Germany, and educated at the university of the same city. His father's name was Godfrey Ronstadt, and as far as we knew he had only one sister, named Henrietta. He came from Germany with a group of engineers to Buenos Aires, from there by muleback across the Andes to Chile and by water to San Francisco; from San Francisco overland to San Diego and Arizona & Sonora in the early fifties. In the records of the Arizona Pioneers' Historical Society there is a paper telling of a report made by my father at that time on what was then the Ajo Mine. Mr. Sam Hughes knew about this, and he told us about this paper. In Sonora my father found ready occupation, not only in mining work but in managing the large haciendas for some of the leading men of that state at that time. He took charge of General Gandara's Hacienda de Topahui between Ures and Hermosillo and here he built a cotton and wool mill, a flour mill, and tannery & made cotton & wool fabrics, leather, soap, candles, sugar, flour & other food products; also lumber and iron things needed were all made there by native labor from raw materials produced in the same place. He made many friends, and when the country needed trained soldiers he was given command of Mexican troops to fight Indians and revolutionists. He served as an officer in the Mexican army during the French invasion when Maximilian tried to establish his empire (1864-1867) and also during the 3 years' war of the Reforma (1858-1860). When General Pesqueira, then Governor of Sonora, General Garcia Morales and their staffs had to change the state capital from Ures to Tubac on account of the Maximilian supporters (1865-1866), my father came with them and happened to be the only one of the entire party who escaped the malaria that attacked all of them soon after they arrived at Tubac. He had to take charge and doctor the sick with large doses of quinine until they could help themselves. It was here that Governor Pesqueira commissioned my father to negotiate a loan from the people of Tucson pledging the revenue of the state of Sonora and his own personal wealth as security. My father obtained some $24000.00 from Sam Hughes, Tully & Ochoa, Hiram Stevens and other Tucson citizens. Firearms, ammunition, provisions and other materials were purchased to equip a troop of Mexican volunteers, and with these as a nucleus they incorporated more as they marched to Hermosillo where Maximilian sympathizers were in control. The morning of May the 4th they attacked the city from the Cerro de las Campanas and drove the traitors out of Hermosillo and soon after from the entire state. The Governor appointed my father State Treasurer and Tax Commissioner with power to collect revenues and pay off the various loans due the citizens of Tucson. After that my father served the State of Sonora as Prefect and Military Commander of every district in Sonora at different times, the last time during the revolution of General Serna in 1874 when he was transferred from the Altar District to Guaymas. By this time he had given 22 years of service to the Mexican Government, much of this during periods when the soldiers had to procure their own living as best they could, and he decided to retire to private life. He accepted the management of a group of copper mines in the southern part of Lower California belonging to Mueller & Co which several years later were sold to the French Co known as Sta. Rosalia - El Boleo.

From Sta. Rosalia my father took a prospecting expedition over the entire peninsula to Ensenada near San Diego. He returned to La Paz and later to Sonora. His last years he was Perito de Minas (Mining Inspector) & mining advisor for the district of Magdalena and also helped the Sta. Fe R.R. to secure the right of way through northern Sonora when the road was built from Guaymas to Nogales & Benson (1880-1882). He took care of claims against the R.R. until his health broke down entirely about 1886. By that time I had started a carriage shop of my own in Tucson and had my father, mother, brothers & sisters come here to make a home for me.

My father died and was buried here in 1889 (see page 141). He told me many interesting episodes of his active life but he never wrote anything. The Mexican government owed him a small fortune for his service in the army as captain & colonel during the Maximilian war & others but he never made any special effort to collect the claim.

We have in some of his records his certificates of commissions and his "hoja de servicios" (record of service) in the army.

My mother's name was Margarita Redondo. Her great grandfather, Don Francisco Redondo, came from Spain and settled the Hacienda del Ocuca about 30 miles southeast of Altar. We have a record of his work while he developed his homestead and raised a large family. They had to produce all the principal needs of life like all the old pioneers. They had their private school, a chapel where they gathered for prayer at morning and night, including the servants, and torreones (adobe circular two-story forts) from where they could defend their places against the Apache Indians, very numerous & ferocious in those days.

The Ocuca is still one of the best ranches in Sonora, with wonderful mesquite forests, rich valleys, running water from its own warm spring sufficient to irrigate hundreds of acres of bottom lands. Its area has been reduced by dividing much of the original land now held by various new owners.

My mother's father, Don Jose Maria Redondo, was a successful gentleman farmer, stockman, and merchant. He happened to be Prefecto of the District of Altar when the filibustering expedition of Crabb invaded Caborca. He had a reputation for extreme kindness & patience. My mother's mother, Dona Jesus Vasquez, died during the cholera epidemic in 1848 when my mother was only 2 years old.

My grandfather Redondo died in 1879 at the very advanced age of 92. His brothers and cousins were many. Some located in Yuma, Ariz. The Martins and Rebeils of Tucson are descendants of these Redondos on their mother's side.

I was born at "Las Delicias," the hacienda and home of Gen. Pesqueira near Cananea in 1868 when my father was working the original Cananea mine of that time. I can remember when I must have been between 2 & 3 years old an assay room that my father had across the street from where we lived at a mining town called Banamichi not far from Cananea. I filled my cap with flakes of silver from a mound on the floor one day and ran with it across the street for home. I don't remember any more but it is almost sure that my disciplining must have started from that day.

On account of my father's mining work we never lived long in one place. About 1872 my father was working Las Planchas de Plata mine near Nogales and we lived in Magdalena.

There is where I went to school the first time. My teacher was a hunchback. I do not recall any more about him only that gave me a silabario, a sort of kindergarten first reader with the alphabet and a few short words to spell. The size of the little book was about 2 1/2 x 5 inches bound in paper. I was there only a short time. After that I was sent to a larger school (all private). The teacher, a Sr. Torres, was very severe.

My first day he punished all the boys, and this frightened me so that I crawled under my table and would not come out until one of the boys coaxed me out. I remember a few incidents of our residence in Magdalena at that time.

One day I saw some masons building an adobe wall and boys carrying the mud to them in buckets. One of the men asked me if I wanted to work (I was 4 years old). I agreed to do so and in a few minutes I reported for duty with one of my mother's copper kettles that I took from the kitchen.

Every day after the noon hour we had to take the dreaded siesta. Most of the time I would sneak out to play with neighboring boys. I remember when they had a feast during Noche Buena (Xmas) and a boy fell from the church tower while they were ringing the bells. I never see the old mission at Magdalena but what I remember this incident. I can see the boy sitting on the sill of the upper tower window on the south side, his legs hanging out over the wall, and suddenly slipping off.

Our next residence was a farm home near Pitiquito. This was the property of my mother and not far from one of my grandfather's haciendas, "La Muralla." The name of our farm home here was Las Margaritas. The old house can still be seen from the Pitiquito side of the river. They now call it "La Casa Blanca" and it is owned by an Amarante Martinez. At this place my father gave me a black colt which, of course, I was not big enough to ride.

One Sunday while my father had gone to some mine in the family spring wagon, my mother, my two half sisters, their grandmother who made her home with us, and a maid decided to visit my grandfather's home at Altar only 10 miles away and make the trip in one of the ox carts driven by a Yaqui stable boy who worked for us. It was fun to go and have dinner at grandfather's, but on the return trip a summer thunder storm overtook us on the road. The oxen could hardly pull the heavy cart over the soft ground full of water. I remember the prayers of the old lady with us and the fright at the flashes of lightning & thunder in the darkness. About half way the mayordomo from our farm, a man named Daniel, met us with my father's saddle horse, a fine gentle gray, and my black colt newly broken to the saddle. My two half sisters rode the gray and Daniel placed my mother on the black colt and he mounted back of the saddle to hold her and guide the horse. Dona Andrea, the old grandmother, the maid, with my brother Dick, a baby, and sister Emilia and myself stayed in the ox cart with the young Indian driver. After this we felt more secure, and I don't remember how we got home, but I heard my mother say that my black colt bolted and ran through the brush for a good distance before Daniel could control him and she escaped the tree branches with a lot of bad scratches.

From this farm we moved to Altar. There I attended three different schools in a period of two years.

Here they had an epidemic of scarlet fever that killed many children. My little sister died from it. Dick was very bad, and I was not expected to live. Two boys, sons of uncle Don Luis Redondo, died at that time. They made brick vaults for their bodies and provided a receptacle for mine. Many times I was shown my bobeda (receptacle) after I recovered when visiting the graveyard.

The first school I attended this time was the private one of my mother's aunt, Dona Maria Antonia de Pompa. She had a tutor for her five boys, Miguel, Joaquin, Luis, Ernesto and Abram. The tutor's name was Don Pablo Gallardo. He was a small man and they called him Don Pablito. I remember him when he called at our home. He had a good voice and played the guitar. I still remember one of his songs, a beautiful melody to the story of a boy exiled from his own country and anxious for a home in a foreign land.

The second school was conducted by a different type, a Don Felix Rodriguez, extremely severe and autocratic. One day he came back to the school room from a horse race and found all the boys jumping and cheering for the winning horse announced by someone passing by the school. The boys were paralyzed as Dn Felix walked in the school room. He made us all line up and went over the entire line with his rawhide switch and no one escaped two or three good sharp swats on the back.

The 3rd school was also a private one conducted by a Don Enrique who had a rubber foot. By that time I was 6 years old and could join the older boys in their games and devilment. I remember two things very clearly of this period. My mother left her trunk open one day and looking for candy which she usually kept in this trunk I found in a little box a pile of gold coins. I did not know the value of them. They were onzas, $16.00 pieces. I took one and went out on the street to try to buy something. I tried to buy a pocket knife at the store of Don Evaristo Araiza (he is still living at Altar nearly a 100 years old). He immediately sent word to my home that I had a $16.00 gold piece, but by the time they found me I had bought a watermelon with it from a 19 year old boy nicknamed Chichipichi who was sacristan for Father Suastegui, the town parish priest.

I was questioned at home and a messenger sent to Father Suastegui's home and the gold piece recovered. I knew I had committed a crime. I was given a good sermon and a better switching, and Don Enrique was instructed to keep me confined in school for two weeks. At recess hours I was made to sit inside of the school room fire place and a screen was placed over it so I would be concealed. At night I slept in the teacher's room. My meals were brought to me from home. I did not serve my full two weeks. I had been sitting on a rawhide chair one afternoon and for nothing better to do I would reach under to break slivers from the chair frame to chew them, with one of the slivers came a red ant and stung me in the end of the tongue.

This trouble was not enough to get me liberty but a few days later Doctor Harvey, an English doctor friend of my father who had a room with us at home, brought a gray horse that looked like my father's gentle gray. Brother Dick mistook him for the gray that he knew, attempted to play with him and got a kick that broke his right arm near the shoulder. This accident softened my mother's heart and I was brought home from my school jail.

We lived at a house owned by Don Pedro Zepeda right across the street from Don Jose M. Salazar. His two boys, Jose Jr., older than I, and Rodolfo, about my age, were my playmates. Rodolfo and I would frequently fight.

One day we were clinched in the middle of the street pulling each other's hair with all our might. My father pulled me away and gave me a whipping. After that Rodolfo and I were more careful as he had a similar experience after our hair pulling match.

One birthday we had a party at home and several of the guests present gave me dimes for singing a little comic song that I knew.

A la noche voy a verte
escondido del tio
Dime si estaras despierta
Para cuando te haga 'phish.

After this a whistling strain, etc.

While the party was going on I went across the street, bought firecrackers with all the dimes I had, invited Rodolfo to a back lot, and we had a celebration.

A party of Americans stopped a few days at our house. They had mining business with my father. There were no hotels there, so they were invited to visit with us. One of them, a young man not very tall, used to amuse me by turning summersaults and walking on his hands. He was a fine athlete, and we boys used to admire him immensely.

About this time the Serna revolution, started at Pitiquito, was in full swing. My father was in charge of the District of Guaymas, and we were waiting to go to Guaymas when the government troops and the Serna revolutionists had their first battle two miles south of Altar in Los Puertecitos. We had seen the Sernistas well mounted, three or four hundred strong, ride out of Altar to meet Col. Altamirano's Red Shirts. The civilian men in Altar were conspicuous by their absence so we only had women and children and a few old men. The boys large enough to be out were all on the house roofs trying to get a glimpse of the battle.

We did not have long to wait. First we heard the shooting and next the Sernistas running their horses for dear life through the town in the direction of Tucson. Next the Red Shirts of Col. Altamirano shouting Viva Pesqueira! Muera Serna! (Death to Serna!). The next thing was sacking the closed stores by the soldiers. One of the officers happened to be a friend of my father and came to our home for living quarters. His son, a lieutenant, had been shot in his right arm. He also stayed at our home for several days.

On account of all the stores being closed for several weeks the homes had been out of sugar, coffee and other staples. After a family consultation my mother bought a sack of coffee and some sugar from the sacking Red Shirt soldiers.

The next thing I remember is a spring wagon taking us to Guaymas. After several days of travel we arrived at Guaymas. My father had a house ready for us located a few blocks from the bay.

I was anxious to see the sea and climbed to the roof at daylight the following morning expecting a great thrill. I could only see the clear blue sky in the horizon and the same clear blue of the mirror-like bay. I was clearly disappointed, not being sure that there was any sea near us. My father took me over to the edge of the water after breakfast. I made sure that the water was salty by tasting it.

At Guaymas I was sent to what was then considered to be the best school in Sonora, a private school conducted by Prof. Leocadio Salcedo, a native of Peru who had been in Sonora for several years educating many young sons and daughters of the leading families of Sonora and Sinaloa. I was 7 years old then. Prof. Salcedo was a friend of my father and made me feel at home. Here I started to take English. The method was Carrenos Ollendorf. Jose M. Maytorena who was Governor of Sonora during Madero's administration was my schoolmate and chum. His home was a few doors from ours in the same block. In the garden they had a fence made of steel rods about 5/16" and about the right length to make a sword by looping one end for a handle. We stole a good many rods from the Maytorena garden fence to arm boys of our party. We had a boys' revolution. Our gang was Pesquerista and the opposing gang Sernista. I remember being captured one night and placed in "cepo de campana." This was tying one on a pole across and under the knees and elbows so it was impossible to move.

Another time a vicious dog was turned on us and I happened to be the victim. The dog was a large black one and he threw me on my face and chewed my back before they could drive him off.

General Pesqueira had left his younger brother Pepe as acting governor against the wishes of many of his friends. Pepe Pesqueira was known to be incompetent for the place. He sent a troop of mounted Red Shirts under a captain with a letter to my father asking him to arrest 18 or 20 of the leading citizens of Guaymas including Prof. Salcedo and several personal friends of my father, claiming that they were Serna sympathizers. My father refused to comply with the request and sent a reply to Pepe Pesqueira stating that since he had not sent him an official order for this arrest but only a private letter requesting that it should appear as a voluntary act on the part of the Prefect of the District (my father), he was not duty bound and furthermore considered the idea preposterous and extremely unfair and dangerous for the Pesqueira party. He also sent his resignation. A few weeks later the same captain came back with 20 mounted soldiers and an order for my father to turn over his office to Don Plutarco Elias. Don Plutarco Elias was the father of the present Mexican ex-president Plutarco Elias Calles. Don Plutarco became prefecto of Guaymas on my father's resignation. He immediately ordered the arrest of 18 or 20 of Guaymas's leading citizens. They were confined in the rooms of the Prefectura adjoining our home. In the meantime my father had accepted the management of the copper mine "La Ley" owned by Mueller & Co and sailed for Sta. Rosalia, Lower California. The ladies of Guaymas appealed to Col. Rangel who was commanding the 15th Battalion of Federals at Guaymas. Col. Rangel decided it was time for the Federal Army to take charge, and with a troop of Federal soldiers formed in front of the prefectura, he demanded the surrender of the prisoners to his care. Don Plutarco could do nothing else but comply, and the men were saved. This incident, when reported to the President of Mexico, caused him to declare the State of Sonora under federal control, and sent General Mariscal to take charge of the situation. This ended the Serna-Pesqueira revolution in Sonora. Mariscal remained in charge until Porfirio Diaz was made President.

Soon after my father arrived at Lower California he arranged for us to sail from Guaymas. We took passage in a two-masted Mexican schooner named the Rambler. For 24 hours we had a dead calm and could see the lights of Guaymas from just outside of the bay. The third day in the evening a hard noroeste (northwesterly storm) came. There were no cabins on this boat. We were all on deck and the captain tied some heavy canvas over us to guard us against heavy seas washing over the deck.

Next morning we were anchored at Mulege across the Gulf. From there to Sta. Rosalia was a short sail along the Lower California coast. My father was there waiting for us. We had a meal of dates and goat's milk at the Company's warehouse, the only building there.

My mother & the two children, Dick & Emily, remained here while my father rode his saddle mule to the mine 10 miles away to get mules for us all. He took me along riding behind him and tied to his waist with a scarf. The country here is mountainous and the only roads were mule trails. We passed two or three mines, the Cerro Verde, the Purgatorio and the Limbo which later was acquired by my father. Before getting to "La Ley" mine we had to go through a very narrow passage in the mountains called La Angostura. The sides were almost perpendicular of smooth gray granite and the box not over six feet wide in places. La Ley had only one building made of rough lumber. This contained the Company's store and my father's office and assay room. The warehouses were tunnels blasted on the side of the mountain. The mess room was also in a tunnel and the houses of the miners were all of stones, piled up, and brush. Some had thatched roofs made of tule, brought from Santa Agueda, a village 9 miles away. The water had to be brought in 10 gal kegs from a well 6 miles toward the sea on mules & burros. They had a regular chinchorro (a herd of 20 or 30 pack mules and burros with leather aparejos (pack saddles)) making a daily trip for water. The ore was all handled by hand, with wheel barrows running in and out of tunnels by men, like an army of human ants. The water was brackish & with a taste of copper, difficult to drink. My mother had to boil it and filter it through ollas.

Acknowledgements | Foreword | Maps | Introduction |
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 |
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