Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pueblo de Las Juntas and Firebaugh, a bit more info...

In my post "Las Juntas Cemetery and The Pueblo de Las Juntas - Part Two" I wrote this:
Various pieces of local property began changing ownership beginning with a ferry by a man named McIntyre. He sold it to Andrew Firebaugh (who called it Firebaugh's Ferry)
... who later sold to a man named Hoffman. 
Mr Hoffman and a man named Turner also owned the store, the hotel business, well, actually, the entire town site of Firebaugh!

Recently a news article was shared on the Firebaugh Memories group pages on by Debbie Rebecchi Hoover. This article, regarding the capture of Andrew Firebaugh and his wife Susan by Tiburcio Vasquez, written by Samuel Edgecomb, caught my attention for one of the most outlandish comments I've read in a long time 
... so I had to share it with you!

Edgecomb wrote "Vasquez and his gang roared out of the hills one day and captured Andrew Firebaugh and his wife, Susan. They took her gold watch and made preparations to string up Andrew.  However, a group of Spaniards from Las Juntas, a village between Mendota and Firebaugh, intervened and told Vasquez if he killed Firebaugh the ferry and the trading post would no longer exist. Vasquez was obviously a good businessman. No trading post, no stores to rob; no ferry, no stage coaches to hold up. So he turned Firebaugh loose and returned Susan's watch." 

History tells us that Vasquez was responsible for only one death in his career as a the notorious gang leader, he made it a point to never kill in his raids.

So I know what you're asking ... where'e the outlandish comment?? Hang on... 
In that same news article is this:
From the Westside Progress Review, published by Moton Holt in 1941, an article by Louise Williams
... a writer who should have done his homework before making such a ridiculous statement wrote:

"The Valley (San Joaquin) was never occupied by Spaniards. It was unpopulated when California became a state. The San Joaquin Valley was the back country to the Spanish Californians." 

... phooey! 
Did Mr Williams never pick up any history book or read anything about California??!! 
... Ever?????

We do have another version of the story, and this one matches with the historical records of the time and area ... this story is by Westside historian Ralph Milliken who claims it was Mr Hoffman and his wife who were threatened by Tiburcio Vasquez.

Mr Milliken identified Hoffman as a former Atlantic Steamboat purser who succeeded Andrew Firebaugh as the owner-operator of the Ferry. According to Milliken "It was while Hoffman was the storekeeper in Firebaugh that Vasquez and his gang of outlaws captured the town and robbed right and left. They even took the gold watch belonging to Mrs. Hoffman, but she put up such a determined plea for its return - 'You wouldn't rob a woman, would you?' - that Vasquez very chivalrously returned the keepsake to her."

I'm guessing that Vasquez probably robbed the Hoffmans, but I'm also guessing that the townsfolk of Las Juntas, OUR families, also helped out in the rescue! 

That's what families do, right??

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Las Juntas Cemetery and The Pueblo de Las Juntas - Part Three

... and so we continue

From “Fresno County ~ The Pioneer Years” by Charles E. Clough & William B. Secrest, Jr, page 43:
It is unfortunate that the majority of details of the Californianos or Hispanics is about the outlaw element, as they were outnumbered many times over by constructive settlers who made a positive contribution to the development of the county. It is hoped that additional informaiton about their work is to be found somewhere in written form and that it will eventually be made available to future generations.”

And this is exactly what I am doing … and have been doing for years!!

So yet again our families moved. Yet again the move was to better their lives
… they would now be property owners, not all of them, but many.

There was work in and around Firebaugh for every person willing to work. Sheep-shearing was seasonal, but there were other jobs to keep them busy, keep them paid, and keep food on the tables until the shearing season began again.
… and for the women there was always the keeping house, and cooking.
Cooks at the sheep-shearing camps were often under appreciated, but always needed.

Life continued
… and life ended.
As in all communities, when a life ended the community mourned.
In Firebaugh, where most of the families were related, the loss was often felt by so many more than just the immediate family.
… the funerals helped with healing
… the cemetery created a gathering place.
For the folks of Firebaugh their gathering place was the old Las Juntas Cemetery.

The Las Juntas Cemetery had been the final resting place for so many years, for so many of the earliest settlers of the area, for so many of the members of the gangs
… and for so many of the residents of the Pueblo de Las Juntas during its final years.

Even after moving from Las Juntas to Firebaugh the residents continued to bury their loved ones in the Las Juntas Cemetery. The Pueblo de Las Juntas may have been destroyed, but the cemetery was still there, still a place to heal
… until Firebaugh had its own cemetery in 1920.

Those who died after Amadeo Landucci and Pompelio Giomi established the cemetery location were buried in the Firebaugh Cemetery. For twenty-something years families had buried their loved ones in Firebaugh, yet still mourned for those in the Las Juntas cemetery. In the mid 1940s this was resolved by relocating the remains of those buried in the Las Juntas cemetery to the Firebaugh Cemetery.
For unknown reasons one grave, one headstone was left to mark the location of the Las Juntas Cemetery.

The site of the old Las Juntas Cemetery is on private property. The owner states that there are no indications of any other graves, only the one, carefully fenced.

Here are some of the families who lived in Las Juntas during the last years 1874 - 1877:

Fernando Moreno * and his wife Barbara Francisca Solorsano, *
Indian from San Juan, and at least 5 children: Estefana, 20 *, Jesus, 6 *, Pancho, 16
Their last two sons, Agusto * and Alberto * were born in Las Juntas.
Fernando and Barbara married in 1876 while living in Las Juntas before Fernando died in 1879.

Escolastico Borboa
* who arrived in Las Juntas in about 1870, according to his marriage record to Quirina Buelna, * daughter of Juana Bojorques in 1875.
Both residents of Las Juntas at that time.

Jose Montenegro and Juana Jimenes

Jorge Garcia and Juliana Cervantes
Juan Arias * and Josie Serna *
Jose Arredondo and Teodora Munos/Martinez
Juan and Juliana Higuera
Ambrosio Urias and Matilde Ynigo *
Louis Rodriguez and Eduvigis Olivas, and their newborn son Jose Bibiano Bisente
Domingo Zaragoza *and Josefa Madrid,* and newborn son Francisco *
Jose Moraga* and Virginia Solaca *, and newborn daughter Martina *
Juan Valencia and Jesus Bojorques, and newborn son Valencio
Jorge Onorario and Feliciana Cervantes, and newborn daughter Genoveva
Pedro Aguirre and Audelia Melendez

Jose Maria Ochoa
* and daughters Margarita, 12 * and Filomena, 9. * His wife died in childbirth in Pajaro in October 1870. He moved with the other families to Las Juntas.

Manuel Enriques * and Juana Bojorques *
along with her Castro sons: Jose Raymundo * & Hipolito *; Juana's son Francisco Palomares *, and the Enriques children: Florencia *, Juliana *, Jesus *, Bernardino *, Manuel *, Mary *, and Clemencia *

Jose Raymundo will marry Margarita Ochoa, as residents of Las Juntas.
Florencia Enriques * will marry Manuel Castro Estrada, * in 1876 as residents of Las Juntas.
Juliana Enriques * will marry Francisco Dobales, the Justice of the Peace in Firebaugh in 1875.

The above names, about 54 who lived in Las Juntas and then moved to Firebaugh for a better life, make up quite a percentage of those said to have been in Las Juntas at its ending. Almost all these folks are in some way related to Juana Bojorques
... her families
... MY family!
* indicates they lived in Las Juntas and then in Firebaugh)

Noted author Frank F. Latta said that for 40 yrs, between 1920 – 1960, he carried a 3 ring binder with all his notes of interviews with so many of the people of the Firebaugh and Las Juntas areas.
Some of his informants were Lizzie (Chevoya) Corona, Ramon & Cayetano Chevoya, Jesus, Frank, and Albert Lopez, along with Hipolito Castro.
Lizzie Chaboya married Adolpho Corona. One of their daughters was Trinidad who married my grandmother's brother Nemecio “Mechie” Gonzales of Firebaugh.
Mechie and Trinidad had one daughter – Genevieve.
Genevieve celebrated her 91st birthday this week!
She and her husband Tony Barragan still live in Firebaugh.

Ramon and Cayetano Chaboya were Lizzie's brothers.

Jesus, Frank, and Albert Lopez were long time residents of Firebaugh.
Albert was the Constable. Frank was the contractor who relocated the graves.

Hipolito Castro, a mule team driver for years, respected as being one of the best drivers, able to control the team over very steep and winding roads, “jumping” the reins as they went.
Tio Polito was my great grand uncle, the last child born to Juana Bojorques and her first husband Antonio Maria Castro.

When my great grandmother Florencia Enriques married Manuel Castro Estrada in Sep 1876 they were both residents of Las Juntas.
The witnesses for their marriage were
Ambrosio Urias and his wife Matilda Ynigo
... the same Matilda who was the two month old baby clutched in her mother's arms
... riding from Mexico to Las Juntas on horseback in 1857.

Not long after her husband Ambrosio Urias died Matilda married Jose Rivera, a cook for Joaquin Murrieta, and later a tamale maker!
... Ambrosio was buried in the Las Juntas Cemetery. His mother in law Teodora Arredondo performed the ceremony as she had done for nearly all others buried there.

Dn Jose Rivera and his wife Dna Mathia lived their final years quietly in the growning town of nearby Madera, California at 208 South O Street
... just two houses from where my mother was born and lived until she married in 1948.

Dn Jose and Dna Mathia had no children but adored the little girl down the street
 giving her treats and gifts, and tons of love.
How fun that one of Mom's neighbors was so connected to both Las Juntas AND to Joaquin Murrieta!

... and how awesome for me to sit across the table from my own mother, listening to her stories of growing up two houses down from Doña Mathia
... someone who lived in, actually grew up in, the Pueblos de Las Juntas!


Las Juntas Cemetery and The Pueblo de Las Juntas - Part Two

Continuing with the story...

1874 … our families had had enough!
They, along with so many of the other mixed families... Californio and Indian... moved out of the Pajaro Valley area, over the mountains now known as Pacheco Pass, and into the little town of Las Juntas.
They moved all their belongings and children, many very tiny babies. Some of the women were pregnant.
For the safety of the families they moved.
At any given moment mostly the men, but even the women were in danger of being killed by the “protection society”
… so our families moved.

and this is important to remember
...our families in Pajaro don't know and won't know until it's too late!!

1866 – 1871 in the San Joaquin Valley
During this time and due to John Bensley and the Miller & Lux company, the present day Central California Irrigation District was begun. In the early 1870s Henry Miller made a deal with Bensley's new corporation to purchase irrigation water for his vast holdings. In 1871 Miller subsidized the canal company for a discounted price on water for irrigation and his livestock. This would be the beginning of the first permanent dam which would have a huge impact on the flow of the San Joaquin River and the Fresno Slough.
and without knowing what has happened in the past, not knowing what might await them in their new home-town
… our families moved to the Pueblo de Las Juntas in the San Joaquin Valley!

So here's some background on this Pueblo de Las Juntas...

This rowdy town of Las Juntas was possibly the first white settlement in the San Joaquin Valley, having been occupied since before 1800.
The houses were still made of mud and brush walls with thatched roofs, similar to those of the Yokuts Indians who lived in the area years earlier, much like those of the village of Pajaro where our families had lived.
Pueblo de Las Juntas was located about three miles northeast of present day Mendota, on the west bank of the San Joaquin River where the river and the Fresno Slough met.

According to one of the long time residents of Las Juntas, Theodora Arredondo, she and her first husband Gregorio Ynigo made the trip between Sonora Mexico and Las Juntas several times on the El Camino Viejo, the old highway.
She said their trips began as early as 1847.

While her husband packed for Joaquin Murrieta when in Las Juntas and rode with the gang for about 3 years, Teodora was with him on many trips. In 1857, just after their only child, Matilda, was born Gregorio Ynigo was killed in an argument over the ownership of some horses the gang had.
Teodora quickly remarried... she had an infant to support
... and just as quickly she left with new husband Jose Arredondo on horseback clutching her two month old baby as they rode once again all the way to the Pueblo de Las Juntas.
Baby Matilda (Ma-dthee-uh) was raised in Las Juntas from her arrival with her mother and stepfather in 1857. She lived in Las Juntas until her marriage in 1874 to Ambrosio Urias.
… until she was forced to leave with the other residents.
What? Forced to leave, you ask??
...hang on, you'll know why very soon!

And then there were the rowdies in and out of the town
... it was reported that gambling, horseracing, drinking, murder happened almost daily
... just as it had been in Pajaro Valley.

The active gangs of the area, including both the Vasquez gang and Joaquin Murrieta's gang were able to get their supplies in Las Juntas with little or no worries about lawmen. This town was so bad that the American lawmen rarely went there. Many of the regular banditos of the Pajaro Valley area used Las Juntas for the same purpose.
The families who lived in Las Juntas were either directly related to or related by marriage to many of these bad guys
... and probably because of these close ties, they survived!

It was along about this same time that Henry Miller, with his vast holdings had been forced to fence his land to comply with the new “No-Fence Law” of the State. This was the law that helped end the terrible battles between the farmer and the ranchers.
Ranchers finally had to fence IN their cattle and no longer allow them to run free, but fencing was a major expense!
This is when barbed wire made it's successful appearance.

Miller felt the townsfolk of Las Juntas were on his land, this land he had just started fencing and they were stealing too much of his livestock
... and he wanted them gone
... he referred to them as “... those Mexicans and half-breed Indians”.
… and with his interest in the newly formed Canal Company, he wanted them GONE!

And then something interesting happened...

Various pieces of local property began changing ownership beginning with a ferry by a man named McIntyre. He sold it to Andrew Firebaugh (who called it Firebaugh's Ferry)
... who later sold to a man named Hoffman.
Mr Hoffman and a man named Turner also owned the store, the hotel business, well, actually, the entire town site of Firebaugh!
Hoffman and Turner sold everything to Jacob Meyer.

Yes, this same Jacob Meyer who had allowed the families of Las Juntas credit tabs for groceries and other supplies from his store in Las Juntas. He realized that if Miller had his way, and the townsfolk were all evicted, scattered around the county, Meyer would lose all the money owed to him.

Being the shrewd businessman he was, Meyer offered FREE lots in Firebaugh to any of the people who owed him money if they would simply move into Firebaugh
... and of course they accepted and moved into Firebaugh, Meyer's town.
...and now they were solid, property owning, upstanding citizens!

Needless to say, Henry Miller was furious but could do nothing at the time.
Eventually most of the same people became his employees for years!

Many of these early families of Firebaugh were also descendants of the earliest Hispanic families in California. They helped keep the old traditional lifestyle alive in the western part of the San Joaquin Valley much longer than other parts of California.
Many of the families of Pueblo de Las Juntas and then later in Firebaugh held onto their culture and traditions
... from the language of the Californios
… and the “sarsa”
… and old style tamales tied on the ends, often sold to pay the bills!
And we still do!!!

Some sources claim Firebaugh jumped from 50 to 250 residents almost overnight. Ralph Milliken's “One Man Show” says only about 12 – 15 of the 30 families residing in Las Juntas moved to Firebaugh. Knowing many of the families had 10 or more kids, the numbers could add up quickly. We know that the families of Juana Bojorques totaled over 50 when they moved out of Las Juntas!

Milliken states that the families were Mexicans who intermarried with the Indians and that Miller probably didn't have the right to evict them
… and that's probably true
… but that was the way of life in the late 1870s.

Remember... Mexicans and Indians had no rights, or so it was thought.

From Fresno County~The Pioneer Years, Charles W Clough & William B Secrest, Jr wrote about Firebaugh:
"By 1875 ... stages and mail service ran daily to the town (population 25), since it was on the Gilroy-Berenda route. There were two homes, two saloons operated by Jesus Bernal and Joaquin Cabrera, and a private school operated by a Mr Hadsell. Francisco Dubalos [sic Dobales] was justice of the peace and Jeremiah Noonan constable.
For a town of twenty-five, it had an impressive array of services!"
[Francisco Dobales married Julia Enriques three years later. Julia was the daughter of Juana Bojorques and Manuel Enriques.]

"Firebaugh experienced a sudden population jump in 1879. The San Joaquin and Kings River Canal Company had previously purchased the Las Juntas town-site, and it ordered the residents to vacate. Firebaugh merchant [Jacob] Meyer began offering lots in his town for one dollar, which attracted almost all the people from Las Juntas.
They swelled Firebaugh's population from (approximately) 50 to 250"
By 1885 "...Most of the Las Juntas refugees, who made up the bulk of the town's population, were Miller and Lux employees." 

And they were property owners!

Nearly every male descendant of of my great, great grandmother
Juana Bojorques was in some way connected to the sheep-shearing business in Firebaugh from the 1880s to well into the 1950s. Even though the pages of the books claim Firebaugh was a rough and almost lawless town, Juana's families - MY family survived, and have thrived!

From “Fresno County ~ The Pioneer Years” by Charles E. Clough & William B. Secrest, Jr, page 43:
It is unfortunate that the majority of details of the Californianos or Hispanics is about the outlaw element, as they were outnumbered many times over by constructive settlers who made a positive contribution to the development of the county. It is hoped that additional information about their work is to be found somewhere in written form and that it will eventually be made available to future generations.”

And this is exactly what I am doing
… and have been doing for years!!

Recently I was contacted by someone wanting to “rewrite” the history of Pueblo de Las Juntas. I asked why, what's wrong with the history of the town?
I was told it should be about the vaqueros, the cooks, the farmers, etc, etc and not about the outlaws.

These people of the Pueblo de Las Juntas, our families of the Pueblo de Las Juntas
... were hardworking, never give up people.
They were creative
… they were innovative!

They believed in God, they taught their children honor and respect
... and they lived it.
Hospitality was the code of ethics
... and in so many of the current families it still is.

Family meals, small or huge, are still the most enjoyable Gatherings!

Re-write? I don't think so
... the history, OUR history is exactly that
... it's OUR history!

Please read Part Three...

Las Juntas Cemetery and The Pueblo de Las Juntas – Part One

In my last post, the one about the Firebaugh Cemetery and the missing headstones I mentioned another story
... a story about a nearby cemetery.
This is the story about the Las Juntas Cemetery
... and about the Pueblo de Las Juntas, the little town near the cemetery.
This is about how they came to exist, and why they no longer exist...

Before I tell you more about the Las Juntas Cemetery I need to give you a bit of the history of the Pueblo de Las Juntas... and even though this story of how the town came to be starts more than 13,000 years ago, I won't take you THAT far back!
Let's start in about the mid 1500s...when the first Spanish and British explorers arrived and when the California Indians met their first outsiders.

Not all California Indians met the European explorers at that time, most didn't have any contact until the late 1700s and into the early 1800s. The Yokuts tribes of California covered the largest territory... mostly down through the center of California from as far north as present day Antioch in Contra Costa County to as far south as Bakersfield in Kern County. These tribes were spread from the Coast Range mountains clear across the San Joaquin Valley and up into the foothills of the Sierras. An area of about 300 miles long and more than 75 miles wide was home to probably 60 or so individual Yokuts tribes, some with as many as 600 tribal members.

Two significant Yokuts villages were near present day Firebaugh in west Fresno County, California
... and the now non-existent town of Las Juntas.
The names of these two villages were Kawatchwa and Tape (Tah-pay) as reported in 1772 and 1776 by two early Spanish explorers, Captain Pedro Fages (Fah-hez) and Fr Juan Crespi. Both men kept excellent and very detailed diaries of their travels to the interior valleys of California.
Thank goodness they did!
Because of their diaries, and the peer pressure causing each man to write as much detail as possible, we know about these Yokuts people...their family life, foods eaten, clothing worn, home structures, and government of the tribes.
We also know that in the short span of 30 odd years the lives of these peace loving Yokuts would be destroyed.

Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga visited this same region of the San Joaquin Valley, and so named the valley, along with the Merced River and many other locations during his explorations in 1805 – 1808. It was during this time that the Yokuts were being taken from their homes to work at the Missions, specifically Mission San Juan Bautista, already home to many of the Mutsun tribe of that area.

In spite of the cruelties endured, the foreign diseases, and the huge loss of family units, culture, and traditions due to the Spanish rule, many of the California Natives survived. These survivors intermarried with other relocated tribal members along with descendants of those first Spanish settlers to live in California.

A major turning point in the lives of these early families of California came in 1833 when Mexico decided it wanted out of the business of running the Missions
... the natives living at the Missions were told to just go home
... but they had no homes …
… their original homes had been destroyed years earlier when they were captured, or entirely taken over by other non native people during the previous decades.
Their current homes were on the lands now being purchased by the Anglos eager to buy up all the lands formerly belonging to the Catholic Church and the Missions.
Many of these now pretty much homeless family men began working as laborers on the farms of the newly arriving Anglo landowners.
The poorly paid farm laborers had families to raise, children to feed, lives to be lived with as much of their culture and traditions as they could save.
… and save they did!

However, even the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 between Mexico and the United States declaring that all who stayed in California, including the Indians, would be allowed to be citizens of the United States failed to protect the people.
The version of this treaty that was finally ratified by the United States Senate on March 10, 1948 eliminated Article X, the guarantee that all land grants awarded to citizens by both Spain and Mexico would be honored by the United States.
And we know how that turned out.

By the time the Gold Rush was in full swing many of our family members had moved from the Mission San Juan Bautista area towards Watsonville... more precisely, Pajaro. The families who lived near the river and across the bridge, you know, that “other side of the tracks” area
... these families were OUR families.
WE lived across the bridge of present day Watsonville.
WE lived near the banks of the Pajaro River in the shanty town of tents and brush/mud houses.
And OUR families endured the mind-set of those who published articles in the local newspapers that declared “All Mexicans and Indians can be shot on sight.” and “… while their cattle raised themselves the people enjoyed their fandangos and idyllic life until they met the superior race and had to change their ways...”
What?? Superior race???
Hey, these are OUR families they're writing about!!!

Our families were also forced to endure the Pajaro Property Protective Society.
Formed on February 26, 1870 this “society” vowed to protect their ranches because the “Law” wasn't doing the job. There were so many lynchings, often after tying up the on-duty Jailer or Sheriff to get to the poor hapless prisoner and haul him out to the nearest tree branch or bridge beam.
Of course, these lynchings were almost always “Mexicans and Indians” who were perceived guilty because of where they lived and who they were.

OK, to be fair it must be mentioned that the townships of Pajaro, and nearby Whiskey Hill, later renamed Freedom, were somewhat safe-havens for many of the banditos and roaming gangs of that time.
Gangs who probably caused the creation of the Pajaro Property Protective Society
... gangs who felt safe in the small settlements filled with family members.
Yeah, OUR families. Being related to the various “bad guys” meant some protection, some small amount of safety.

Another researcher claims “At the time, the village of Pajaro consisted of a motley collection of makeshift shacks located among the willows on the sandy banks of the river. “
… and yes, these people were OUR families. But there was still honor and courtesy and values in our families. This is evident by another quote “It had long been a practice of the poor Spaniards of Pajaro village to do their laundry by setting up a washing platform among the rocks in the swift running river. Afterward, they would stretch their clean clothing on drying lines attached to posts which were placed in the side of the sandy embankment. Each family staked out its section of the stream and was expected to honor the territory of his neighbors.”

Honor, morals, ethics
... a handshake meant something
... a promise was kept.
This was the mid 1870's.

During the next generation things would begin to change, slowly, but they would change
... but not before the "local inquisition" caused the families of the Spanish and Indian victims to pay the unimaginable price of the losses of so many loved ones.
Our families.
Our loved ones.

... 1874 ... our families had had enough!

They, along with so many of the other mixed families... Californio and Indian ... moved out of the Pajaro Valley area, away from the river, over the mountains now known as the Pacheco Pass, and into the little town of Las Juntas. Pueblo de Las Juntas

They moved everything they owned.
They moved their extended families, tiny babies, pregnant women.

For the safety of the families they moved.
It was very apparent that at any given moment ANY man, even some of the women were in danger of being stalked, captured, and lynched by the "protection society"
... so our families moved.

To Be Continued...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Firebaugh Cemetery... then and now

After a really fun visit with my newly found cousins in Firebaugh (and one quirky trip to the cemetery at midnight with cousin Tootie Borboa!) … and learning that so many other cousins lived right there in town…
I just HAD to make another trip, or a few, to Firebaugh!

However... it was the summer of 1998 and I had recently become a Grandma, something that took up quite a bit more of my a very good way! Tiny new grandson was somewhat, no, make that VERY, demanding but, of course, what Grandma can resist?? I spent the first couple of weeks of his new little life helping as often as I could by allowing my daughter to take some much needed long naps while tiny new grandson and I spent many of our afternoons napping together. Nothing better than a newborn baby sleeping across your chest, right? Soft skin, soft breath, wonderful smelling tiny baby. Perfect for kissing the top of his gorgeous little head.
Yeah, yeah, OK, I know, I’m like every other new grandmother. MY grandchild is gorgeous.
Really... he was! … he still is. (so are his two brothers!)

As I looked at this little miracle I knew I had to continue my search to find our Juana Bojorques. This small child is our 9th generation to be born in California.
Juana is his Great, Great, Great, Great-grandmother.
For my tiny new grandson I knew I had to continue ... for him, and for his future siblings!

Now, let's get back to my visits to Firebaugh! There were so many new cousins to meet and "interview” so I found it was always best to call ahead, to schedule a time. This also worked well because some of my newly found cousins didn't often see eye to eye with one another. I made sure I let each one know I was meeting with the others... just to be sure they ALL knew I was there only to learn about the history of our families ...not the family feuds!
I did NOT want to get into any family politics.

Um, yeah ... that didn't work so well.
Good ol' Tootie... of the cemetery at midnight trip... he just seemed to attract a lot of negative stuff.
To this day I still don't know why he was always in such hot water, but boy, talk about causing drama! Just the mention of his name could light the fires!

Another trip to Firebaugh a couple of weeks after my exciting adventure to the cemetery at midnight found me back at Tootie's house. Tootie had tons of details and he loved having a brand new audience ... someone so interested in all the details of the town and the families. Tootie didn't care that I had my little tape recorder going all the time... he said what he thought, ... what he passionately felt. He told me he'd say the same stuff to anyone...
Oh  kaaayy... and it was becoming easy to understand why and how he caused all the drama!

As we sat in his living room going through a box of photos and documents Tootie showed me some news clippings from the Fresno Bee. These were from during the time he was running for City Council in Firebaugh years earlier. Seems Tootie wasn't all that happy about the City's proposed park on the property where the cemetery was located.

There was a tomato processing plant coming to town and it meant many new jobs would be available, but it also meant the cemetery was about to become just a park
... next to the parking lot.
Tootie was livid!
Tootie contacted the newspaper and the local radio and TV crews... the whole thing became a really hot topic in Firebaugh... really HOT!
Needless to say, Tootie didn't win the election for a seat on the City Council.    Drama.

So Tootie asked me if I'd like to see what had happened to all the headstones that were in the cemetery.
YES! ... of course I wanted to know what happened... Heck yeah! … let's go see the headstones!!!

But this road trip to the cemetery would turn out to be a very sad road trip.

I drove the two of us to the area behind the water treatment plant just outside Firebaugh as Tootie directed. He was guiding me to a place behind some buildings.
I parked the car on the dusty gravely roadway, waving to a City worker Tootie knew, and we got out.
This was mid July.
The entire area was hot and dry.
And full of weeds.
And very quiet.

We walked towards a somewhat steep embankment, then inched our way down over the crunchy dried brown grass and weeds. The dirt was so soft and dry and crumbling under our feet.
Once again I was holding Tootie's arm as his short bow-legs and old worn boots were keeping him from tumbling down face first!
As we reached the bottom of the hill Tootie made a sweeping motion with his free arm for me to look around us...

I was stunned. I could not speak. I just could not think of a single thing to say.
Tootie told me that all the headstones had been scooped up and deposited here.
Dumped behind these buildings to be covered over with weeds and dirt.
THIS is what had angered Tootie so much.

We drove back to Tootie's home in silence. I gathered my stuff and then as a last minute thought I asked Tootie if he'd like an early dinner... it was a little after 4pm. He said yes and we went to one of his favorite Mexican restaurants in town. Great meal... food and service were both so good... but our conversation was quiet. Tootie gave me a few more details about the incident, we finished our food, paid the nice owner and I drove Tootie home again.
Then I drove home... deep in thought, and oh, so sad.

On August 24, 1998 I went back to Firebaugh.
... this visit was with Casey Borboa and his bride Lee on their 47th wedding anniversary!
We celebrated with some goodies Lee brought to the kitchen table while Casey told me wonderful stories of the earlier days and the family. Casey's full name is Escolastico, named for his grandfather Escolastico Borboa, husband of Quirina Buelna who was the daughter of Juana Bojorques!
Casey had great tales, and Lee showed me photos of so many family members. I was writing as fast as I could and trying to remember the names and how they all connected
... and of course my little tape recorder was on and sitting there in the middle of the table.

At the end of my visit with Casey and Lee I asked about Casey's cousin Clemmy... this was Tootie's younger brother who was Mayor of Firebaugh at that time. Casey said I should talk with Clemmy about a list of names of those buried in the cemetery before the headstones were removed. Casey said I could find Clemmy at the City offices... and so off I went, wishing them Happy Anniversary, sharing hugs, and promising to visit again.
Sadly, Casey died a little more than four months later.

I did what Casey told me to do... I drove straight over to the City offices and asked for Clemmy.
The nice lady behind the glass window politely informed me that Mr. Borboa was out of town until the following week but I could make an appointment if I wished. I told her I really just wanted to talk with someone about a list of names of those who were buried in the cemetery before all the headstones were taken away and the one stone monument erected. Her face seemed to drain of all color. She picked up a phone and while carefully cupping her hand over the mouthpiece she loudly whispered to the person on the other end “I don't know who she is, she's just asking about the cemetery and the old headstones!”
… and she kept staring wide-eyed at me through that glass window,
that glass window with the hole in the middle like at the movie theaters.
Didn't she realize I could hear her???

After slowly and carefully putting the phone down she looked right at me without saying a word
.... and my brain was racing ahead thinking was I about to receive a police escort out of town!!
But no... she just quietly said “You need to talk with the Fire Chief”
… huh?? Fire Chief? Why the Fire Chief??? This is way too weird. Drama!

I walked out the door, down the steps, turned to the right, and right into the next building just as she had instructed. The first thing I saw was a man in a chair leaned way back with his feet propped up on a paper strewn desk, his hands carefully clasped behind his head, barely touching his precisely combed hair, as if he had posed himself just in time for my arrival. He stared at me without moving a muscle, then he gruffly asked why I wanted to know about the headstones. Hmmmm, well hello to you too!
I thought we might at least say hello, or something before getting into all this.
Nope... straight to the point. OK. So here we go.

I started by telling him I'd heard  headstones had been removed when the parking lot was being built, and the one stone marking the spot of the cemetery didn't have all the names engraved on it. He frowned and said I must have heard wrong, no headstones were ever removed... and then, even more gruffly, he asked who I was and why I was so interested in this whole cemetery thing.
Ahhhh, now we might have some pleasantries!

As quickly as I could say the words I told him I was his cousin and had just spent the last four or five hours with his dad and step mom at their home celebrating their anniversary and sharing family stories and pictures and his dad said I should talk with Clemmy about the cemetery stuff and so I came over here and asked the lady behind the glass window and she called someone and then said I had to go talk with the Fire Chief.

I finished running all those words together without taking a breath and I watched him as he just stared at me.
He stared at me for just a couple of milliseconds.
… and then ya shoulda seen how fast those feet came down off that desk and hit the floor!
It was kinda hard not to laugh out loud.

Seems that when the Mayor wasn't in town the Fire Chief took over. OK, I guess that works.
Fire Chief Borboa didn't have any answers for me either... no one seemed to have any answers when those questions are asked. Or maybe I just hadn't asked the right person yet.
Apparently the only list of those who were buried in the Firebaugh Cemetery before it was converted to a grassy park was from the list of names created from the remaining headstones themselves.
However, according to the folks in City offices, ALL the families of the people who were buried there were notified that the headstones were to be removed so they could claim them. I'm not sure how that worked out... if there's no list of the original burials how could all the families have been notified?
To prevent any more drama... and that possibility of being escorted out of town, I quit asking.
Well, I quit asking people connected with City Hall.

Fast forward to August 2007...

There is an online website called Find A Grave. On that site is the Firebaugh Cemetery created by "MPerry" who posted a photograph of the memorial stone located near the front of Toma-TEK Inc at 2502 N Street just south of Firebaugh. This photo, taken in 2007 has two more names on the stone than in the photo I took in June 1998. MPerry created a memorial page for every person on the stone, with all the information that was available which was ...simply their name.
No birth date. No death date. Nothing but a name. Yet they deserve much more. So much more.
With a major amount of digging (no pun intended!) I have been able to add details to most of the memorial pages for those in the Firebaugh Cemetery. (An ongoing very time consuming project!)

Fast forward again, this time to 2013...

To be fair to those involved, much more research on this entire Firebaugh Cemetery issue has provided additional information on the background of the “grassy hill park” proposed by the City.

According to the news article in the Fresno Bee, 17 Nov 1988... the Firebaugh Cemetery had been neglected for years... weeds overgrowing the grave sites, and no one seeming to take care of, or even cared about the cemetery. According to City Manager Perry Powers (1988) the city had not intended to violate a burial ground, they only wanted to clean up the mess and create a memorial for the dead who were still buried there. There had not been a burial in the cemetery since the 1970's. The cemetery headstones had been terribly vandalized, knocked over and strewn about making it nearly impossible to know who was buried where!
Local teens often partied there after dark, the soft and sinking dirt adding to the creepy-ness.
The City Manager reported “We don't even know how many people are buried there”.

The City had owned the cemetery property since late 1981, according to the news article, but just didn't have enough money to fund the memorial project. Taxes from the new tomato plant were to be used to create what Powers called “a rolling, hilly park with a memorial listing all the people who are buried there”.
Originally, according to onetime Firebaugh City Councilman Renato Landucci in this same Fresno Bee article, his father, Amadeo Landucci and Pompelio Giomi established the cemetery in 1920. Mr Landucci also said it was a burial ground for the early settlers of Firebaugh as well as for the poor or transients. Both Landucci and descendants of the Giomi family had deeded the cemetery to the City of Firebaugh.

An important note here regarding the time frame of the Firebaugh Cemetery.

Mr Landucci said the cemetery was established in 1920. In the Fresno Bee article is the mention of a headstone, one of those dumped behind the water treatment plant, for a Reyes Espinosa who died and was buried in 1905. I've seen that beautiful shiny black headstone... it was still in one piece the last time I was there … and yes, Reyes Espinosa was buried in 1905.
Reyes Espinosa was originally buried in the Pueblo de Las Juntas Cemetery, as were so many other early Firebaugh folks!

… and with that said, we're just about to get into another story
... the story of the Pueblo de Las Juntas Cemetery.

But before we go there let me add that in the 1940's or so, long time Firebaugh resident and building contractor Frank Lopez was hired to move the remains of some of the people buried in the Pueblo de Las Juntas Cemetery
… and place them in the Firebaugh Cemetery.

So there ya have it.
My original anger at the City of Firebaugh, anger fueled in part by Tootie's outrage,
and my sad feelings due to my perceived terrible treatment of the old Firebaugh Cemetery
have now been replaced with just sadness.

Sadness that even though there IS a memorial stone identifying many who were buried there,
and even though the City made a huge effort to honor those now long gone citizens of early Firebaugh, and those of the Pueblo de Las Juntas ...
... we no longer have the beautiful, old, and often thought provoking epitaphs of those early pioneer residents of Firebaugh.
We'll also never know if our Juana Bojorques was buried here, will we?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Red Tailed Squirrel ... was it really a squirrel, or ...???

A couple of messages back I mentioned a red tailed squirrel.
I said the story about that red tailed squirrel would follow later and I like to keep my promises.
Well, that "later"    is now!

Here's the story about the red tailed squirrel.
The exact way it happened, no embellishments, just the facts.
I really need to say that right up front because by the time you get to the end of my story you're gonna be saying "yeah, right" and probably not believe a word of it.
But if you've ever had the experience of looking everywhere for something, looking several times in the same places and then a bit later you find it, in exactly the spot where you've already looked... you'll know what I'm talking about. You'll know about that tingly feeling.
... and you just might believe my story about the red tailed squirrel.

On a beautiful Spring morning in March 1998 I drove to Fresno in hopes of finding some records about my family. Something, anything at all... I just wanted to document those names and dates in Nana's Little Red Book.

What a gorgeous day! Sun shining brightly as I walked up the sidewalk on Tulare St in Fresno CA towards the Hall of Records. For some odd reason I turned to look off to my left at another building fronted by a very green lawn dotted with many shade trees. From way out on the sidewalk where I was something caught my attention.
A small squirrel was sitting upright, paws clasped together as if it might be saying prayers... and it was looking right at me.
The stare was so intense that I almost launched myself forward onto my face as I tripped on a bumpy part of the old sidewalk. Catching myself just in time, I stopped to look again at that squirrel. It was still staring... and I swear it was staring    right   at   me.

I was mesmerized.

Two pedestrians quickly walked past me, one of them commenting none too nicely that I was blocking the way... I looked one more time at the squirrel ...
... just in time to see it scamper up a nearby tree, showing off it's brilliant and bushy red tail.
And then it was gone.

I shook my head, kinda laughed to myself and continued towards the Hall of Records. The strange mesmerizing feeling began to fade and by the time I climbed the stairs and found my way to the room with the records, I had forgotten all about the red tailed squirrel.

I didn't have much luck in the Hall of Records... a couple of death certificates but not as many as I hoped to find, nor as many details listed on those I purchased. Ah, well.
Maybe a trip out to the cemeteries along Belmont Ave might be better. I had my camera to capture images of headstones.

My first stop was at a small cemetery office to find a map, or some live person, or somehow begin to find the graves of a few of my family members. big sigh here. Not so much luck here either! Not necessarily because they didn't have the information but more because it was lunch time and everyone was gone!
I saw one groundskeeper on his lunch break and mentioned the name Hallahan. He motioned with his sandwich in hand towards a nearby area. I thanked him and headed towards that area thinking I'd find something... sounded like a plan to me!
But first I needed my camera. 

Just as I came around the corner of the office, heading towards my little black pickup parked under a big shade tree, what do I see? A squirrel jumping down from the open window!
Yikes... what was that squirrel doing in there??      and guess what?
Yep, he had a brilliant red bushy tail. Nahhh, that just had to be a coincidence, right?
I laughed to myself as I drove instead of walked towards the area the kind groundskeeper guy had suggested for me.

I know I've mentioned it was a beautiful Spring day, bright sun shining. This seemed such a gorgeous day to be walking around in a cemetery ... oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that the previous week, and even just days before had been rainy. Not just rain. It poured. And poured!
The grassy cemetery grounds were still wet... soggy wet. 
In some places it was just plain icky mucky muddy wet.

Once off the asphalt driveway I oh so carefully watched where I stepped on the muddy ground. I was looking for a large Hallahan plot. There were several buried in the same large plot so it should be easy to find, right?

I was so carefully intent on where I was walking that I nearly jumped out of my skin when the loud and extremely agitated sounds of a squirrel were suddenly right behind me!
I whirled around to see what the heck was going on ... and there, on one of the long overhanging branches of a large tree was a really noisy squirrel.
Not just any old squirrel, oh, no. This one had the same brilliant bushy red tail. 
This one seemed plenty upset with something.
Or someone.

I laughed out loud. Took a deep breath to calm my rapidly beating heart, and turned to walk away.
That squirrel had other ideas. Do you have any idea how loud one of those little guys can be??!
I might not have understood squirrel language but the unmistakable TONE of the chattering told me to pay attention.
Right now!

This time I looked right at those bright little squirrel eyes. They stared right back at me.
Ooooohh, there's that strange tingly feeling again, very much like the feeling I had earlier in the day while walking towards the Hall of Records.
Goose bump time.

The squirrel turned and ran along the long branch, down the tree trunk, and onto the wet grass... not towards me but at an angle away from me.
OK, so now the squirrel is gonna do it's little squirrel things. I had headstones to find.
Little red tail squirrel had other ideas.

My one step away from the tree, away from that squirrel brought on another onslaught of racket!
Geesh, what's going on?? I stopped to watch the squirrel run up the tree, out on the long branch, and chatter at me, and then repeat this run up run down and chatter three times. 
The third time the chatter was still loud but without the attitude.

Something told me I should go towards the squirrel... for some reason I needed to walk that direction.
To walk into the area I thought I'd already checked for the Hallahan plot.

I did. I went towards the squirrel who sat calmly on the branch watching me.
I stopped not far from where the squirrel had been on the wet grass. 
Ya know what was right in front of me, don't you? You must have guessed it by now. 
Yep, the VERY large square Hallahan plot, complete with a raised curb with rounded edges.
The name HALLAHAN was engraved in large letters right in front of me. There are probably 6 people buried in this large plot surrounded by the raised concrete curb.
Did I mention this plot was large? How in the world did I miss this??? 
I walked through this area, walked right past this plot. Did I walk with my eyes closed???

I turned to look at the now silent red tailed squirrel but the branch was empty.
The cemetery was silent. 
Tingly feeling again.
Goose bump time.

OK, this is silly. I said that quietly to myself and I tried to shake off that very strange tingly feeling.
I kept telling myself that my often overactive imagination was enjoying this cemetery stuff way too much.
I fumbled with my camera, took some shots of the Hallahan plot, the individual headstones within it, and decided to hurry up and move on to the next cemetery down the road.

I had other headstones to find. I needed to shake this creepy feeling.

Driving from one cemetery to the other was just driving out onto Belmont Ave and then back in the next driveway.
This time I was looking for the Borboa plot. 
From what Aunt Hilda told me years ago, and from what I re-read in my notes the day I interviewed her in Firebaugh... I should find a tall headstone that has the names of Aunt Hilda's grandparents listed.
Aunt Hilda said I couldn't miss it.
Uh huh.

So I walked, and I drove... the cemetery is not very big.
The early afternoon sun was shining brighter, the grass was drying, and there were very few trees to be seen anywhere. The tall headstone wasn't to be seen either.

In frustration I threw my hands in the air and just said, out loud this time ... "OK Juanita, I need some help here... show me where your daughter's is, Please?!!"
Um, yeah, I've been talking to Juanita for years.
Not that she's ever answered me, but I talk to her.

Still frustrated and now getting hungry, I got back into my little pickup, starting to drive slowly forward.
And slammed on the brakes!

A red tailed squirrel had run across the drive right in front of me.
From out of nowhere.
Across in front of me, running right towards the area where I had been. Again. And it stopped.
Right near where I had been.
And it stared at me.

This time I didn't hesitate, I just got out of the pickup and started walking towards the squirrel. 
Oh, forgot my camera! Turned back, reached inside the pickup and grabbed the camera, and turned to head back towards the squirrel after remembering to roll up the window.

Yes, of course the squirrel was gone. No trees around for it to climb and hide.
Nothing but flat green grass with an occasional tall headstone... TALL headstone????

You guessed it again! Right near the driveway, very close to where I'd been standing while asking Juanita for some help. Right there in totally plain sight was the tall, slim headstone surrounded by a concrete raised curb with the name BORBOA engraved in large letters.
I was thinking I must be going blind.
No squirrel looking at me this time.
Just me, standing there, hands on my hips, turning around slowly, and thinking "am I on Candid Camera??"
Strange creepy feeling.

Time to get out of these two cemeteries. I'm headed down the street to a larger cemetery. 
I know my grandparents are buried here, I attended their funerals and have seen their headstone. 
This is the Nana who started me on my journey when I found her Little Red Book.
Just to be sure I didn't miss them I drove very slowly, carefully watching out the driver side window.
Nana and Papa's headstone is close to the driveway, and yes,  In    Plain    Sight!
And I drove right past it.
At the end of the driveway I just backed up... no other cars in here.
In fact, there are no other people anywhere around.
It's very quiet here. Very quiet.

I begin to drive forward again, having backed up almost to the entrance gate at the corner.
Slowly    Slowly    STOP!   Hit the brakes. Don't hit the squirrel!!! Again??? Yes.  Again.
A red tailed squirrel ran across the driveway in front of me, but I know this isn't the area.
I've been here several times ... well, yeah, I've been here but it was many years ago.

Ahhhh, but it IS the right spot.
Not only is this the right spot but this time I don't even have to get out of my pickup to take my photo!
I told myself, actually said the words out loud... this is crazy, don't think about it. 
Coincidences, right? Right???

I had one more photo to take. One more grave site to find. Then I'd be outta there!

The last one would be more difficult. I'd never been there. 
Mom told me where she thought it was, but that was a memory from long ago.
Once again I was driving slowly.
I think I was looking more for some darned squirrel than headstones!

I didn't have to look for very long. Out of nowhere a red tailed squirrel dashed across the driveway and scampered across the grassy grave sites and up a small hilly area around several rows of headstones
... and stopped.
It was very still. Not moving. Just staring.

[This is the part kinda like when you watch a scary movie and the dumb person goes INto the dark room, or OUTside the house, or wherever and you just know something is about to happen. My brain was telling me don't get out of the pickup. Don't walk across that grassy area. Don't go up that small hill. 
But of course I did.]

I grabbed my camera, rolled up the window, locked the door and walked with a definite purpose up that hilly area, across all that now dry grass... right towards that darned little red tailed squirrel. 
It wasn't gonna scare me away!

And there it sat, right on top of the gravestones marking the two graves... one for my great grandmother and the other for my great grandfather.
I had never been there.
Had never seen those stone markers.
Had no idea of exactly where they were buried.
But the red tailed squirrel knew.

And just so you know, this is not something I talk about often, although my husband thinks it's a great quirky story and wants me to tell it whenever we meet new cousins.
I rarely tell the entire version, most often it's just something about a squirrel helping me.

I've written it here because I mentioned it in an earlier post... the red tailed squirrel ran across in front of me as I started to turn out of a convenience store the first time I drove to Firebaugh to meet Tootie and Barry.
I would have been lost, but with the help of the red tailed squirrel I drove right up to the front of their house.

I know. Most of you are rolling your eyes. 
You're probably thinking this was a cute (or just plain hokey) story that I made up.
Nope. It happened exactly as I wrote it.
No embellishments.
That day happened years ago but in my mind the images are as clear as if they're happening right now.

Now for some final comments:

The red tailed squirrel has shown up a few other times in my search for pieces of information, always with the same results. When I see the critter I know I'll find something exciting, some bit of information to continue adding to Juanita's immediate and extended families.
But to fully understand what I'm finding I need to listen with my heart, not just see with my eyes.

Perhaps our ancestors use furry little friends to guide us instead of suddenly just appearing in front of us.
Perhaps this is just an easier way for our ancestors to help us find the stories of their lives.
I'm certain most of us would entirely miss their point. 
Yeah, we'd miss it if we were frantically running and screaming like terrified maniacs in the opposite direction
... having just seen such a long gone apparition!

Perhaps our ancestors really ARE in touch with our world?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Firebaugh Cemetery at Midnight!

[If you haven't read the previous post, Road Trip to Firebaugh, this would be a good time to read it!]

What a great finish to my road trip to Firebaugh to meet these two cousins!
A nice warm evening in early June 1998 for a BBQ in their back yard, then sharing photos and stories for hours... right up until midnight!

What could be better than a trip to the cemetery at midnight? 
I can’t think of too many things so when my newly found cousins Tootie Borboa and his son Barry offered to show me the cemetery in Firebaugh… at midnight… I just had to say YES! 

As I’m climbing into the back seat of their two door big ol’ car, and they’re both getting into the front seat, I noticed the overhead light isn't working.
It’s pretty dark in here.
… and the teeny tiny voice in the back of my head is telling me to figure out an escape route out of the backseat of this dark two door car. Have a plan.
MY teeny tiny voice wasn't shrieking like my very pregnant daughter’s voice was on my cell phone earlier in the day, but it was pretty persistent. 
Naggingly persistent.

I’m looking out the windows to watch for any identifiable landmarks, just in case I might need them later. Just so I know, these are good things to know, right?

Here we go, driving away from the house, away from town on the highway headed towards the Firebaugh Cemetery.
I’m looking for the familiar headstone covered and fenced in areas of a cemetery. 
Not this one. We pull off the highway and drive up to a gravely parking lot. Barry swings the car around so the headlights are aimed up a small hill. 
Not really a hill, just a large mound. On this mound, at the top, in the middle, is a flag pole and at the base of the flag pole is a large but low stone-like slab… a monument.

Tootie tells me this is all that remains of the Firebaugh Cemetery… this is where the headstones were, where so many of our relatives are buried. I’m just stunned. We've climbed out of the car and I’m helping Tootie maneuver across the lawn and up the slope… his very old turned-up-toe cowboy-style work boots are sliding on the wet grass so I hold onto his arm. (he might be old but this dude has some muscles!) While Tootie and I are making our way up the slope Barry is turning off the sprinkling system so we won’t be so drenched.

I quickly take a few pictures of the monument, the flag pole, the entire scene.

I’m looking at the names and recognizing so many from my interview with Aunt Hilda. Tootie is telling me stuff about almost every one of the people listed… all 30 names. 
Wait a minute! I thought there were tons of relatives buried here… where are all the other names? Tootie shakes his head and with a very sad voice says these are the only names that were inscribed when the monument was erected. He’s telling me as he swings his arm across in front of him and motions towards the grassy area that this whole section was once the cemetery. He’s telling me of the hassles with so many officials and so many families. He’s telling me about the beautiful headstones being scooped up and hauled across the road and being dumped behind the water treatment plant.

I can’t get over how suddenly sad it is to be standing here. How sad. How silent.

Oh, oh… that silence is blown away with the booming voice of some guy in a uniform shining a flashlight at us! He’s REALLY not happy with the water being turned off. He’s none too happy about us standing out there on that wet grass either so Barry’s telling him I’m from out of town and they wanted me to see the cemetery.
The uniformed guy is ordering us off the grass and back into the car.
He’s telling us he could arrest us!

Oh, oh… my imagination does a fast forward to a scene of me in a jail in the middle of the night in a far away town making a phone call and trying to convince my very pregnant very unhappy daughter that someone should come down here and bail me out!!

Whew, the guy just kinda yells at Barry a bit more while Tootie and I are climbing back into the car and we drive away. We’re laughing, I’m having a great time.
…and now we’re headed back to the house so I can gather my stuff for my drive home, right? Nope, Tootie’s telling me they’re giving me the tour of Firebaugh.
Oh kaay. Change of plans just a bit, no problem.  

Tootie’s telling me all about this house and that house and who lives here and how long they've been living here, and who their parents are and all about the stores downtown… how did we get downtown, I thought we were looking at neighborhoods? I need to pay attention. I’m listening to as much as I can and Tootie continues to tell me about the families of Firebaugh.

…and before I know it we’re on a dirt road. Sort of like a levee road. Feels like a levee. It’s dark outside, after 1am. Hey, where are we going? Barry and Tootie just look at each other and smile and tell me they want to show me something. Yeah, well I’m not too sure about this.
We’re now driving past a sign that says “Authorized Vehicles Only Beyond this Point”
… oh, oh. Where are you taking me, and why???

Yeah, my overactive imagination is trying to kick into overdrive and I’m trying to keep it in check, watching for whatever things I can see out the windows. I can’t see ANYTHING! I can tell we’re driving on a dirt road and we’re up higher than the surrounding areas. But I can’t see anything outside the windows. Barry slows the car, backs up a bit while turning the car and Tootie is telling him to be careful and not go too far. Yikes!! Where the heck are we??? Barry gets the car turned so we’re now sideways on the road. I don’t understand… what’s going on?? 
Barry turns the headlights on bright.
There in front of us is an old building. A very small old building. The old jail!

They wanted me to see the really old jail building that was hauled from downtown out here to the edge of the park, near the river so I could see some of the history of Firebaugh! Tootie says the guys who were locked up in this tiny little building so long ago were either too drunk or too dumb, or both, to know it had a dirt floor.
They coulda dug their way out! He’s laughing, a big hearty laugh. Barry’s laughing.
I’m laughing too, just not at the same thing.

Their house is a short distance away and after a quick trip into the bathroom … and yes, I leave the seat UP just as I found it … I load all my stuff into my car, say my goodbyes, and promise to see them again soon. VERY soon! It’s 2am.

My trip home is fast. My brain is rerunning the video of the entire afternoon, evening, and night. Every single detail. Almost like a freeze-frame show.
I’m home and in my bed by 4. Thankfully I don’t work on Mondays and can sleep in!

Very pregnant daughter calls very early to be certain her insane mother is home and OK. I assure her I’m fine, had a great afternoon and evening with my newly found cousins and I plan to visit with them again.
I leave out all the details of the night adventure.
Very pregnant daughter is still very upset with her genealogy obsessed mother.

Less than 2 weeks later very pregnant daughter presents me with my beautiful grandson.
I am a Grandma!

Road Trip to Firebaugh!

Things sure have changed since that interestingly weird afternoon in 1986 when my mom and I drove to Firebaugh. We had such fun visiting with Aunt Hilda Borboa Flores at Genevieve’s home.

It’s hard to believe twelve years have flown by!

In 1987 I opened a business and ten years later, in 1997 I closed my square dance and western wear manufacturing business. Both my children had married and I was about to become a Grandma! The thought of becoming a Grandma, a Nana, gave me the big push I needed to once again dig into the past! I wanted to leave a legacy for my grandchild and any siblings who might follow … and for any potential cousins too!

Now, in the Spring of 1998 I’m ready to find my Juana Bojorques… determined to learn all I can about her…and EVERYTHING I can about her family.

Hmm, so how do I start? Aunt Hilda is no longer with us so I can’t just ask her again, and sadly, her nephew Richard Borboa is gone,too. So now what? Well, I can write letters!
I begin to write letters.
I write lots of letters to lots of people, mostly the people living in Firebaugh with any of the names I knew from Aunt Hilda’s tales.

Did I mention I have access to the Internet now? With the help of my computer I’m able to find so many addresses throughout much of CA, mostly in the Fresno, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin Counties. These Borboa folks are everywhere! I find some Dobales families, and some Gonzales, Alviso, Castro, Manzo, and a bunch named Preciado and some Bojorques too! I send a gazillion letters, and then I wait.   and wait   and wait

[sound of crickets chirping here]

Typing, typing, typing… another envelope to seal and stamp, another letter to type… pretty much the same wording on all the letters. I tell the person who I am, that I think we’re cousins and we share some ancestors, and I list the names, and if any of the names sound familiar would they please either call me or write to me? And yes, naive as I am, I put my home phone and address and full name… the whole mess on the letter. Hey, how else will people think I’m serious??

As I’m typing out yet another letter my phone rings… my house phone that's sitting right next to my desk. Loud ring in a quiet house on a Sunday afternoon in early June… nearly bounced me right out of my skin!! A guy on the phone asks to speak with Sheila. I tell him I’m Sheila. He says he and his dad have been on vacation, just got back and while going through their mail they found my letter. His dad told him to call. 
He says they’re from the Borboa family in Firebaugh. I am sooooo excited!

I want to ask so many questions… but he starts first. As he’s speaking I can hear his dad in the background. Son says “Dad wants to know where you live” I say Modesto. He says “Dad wants to know how you’re related to us, who are your parents?” I say… deep breath first… my mother is Dolores Ruiz. She was born in Madera and married a Harrell from there. My grandfather was Vincent Ruiz and he married Cipriana Gonzales… they called her Zippy. The son is repeating all I’m saying and when he gets to the part about Zippy Gonzales his dad just bellows out “WHO did you say she was?” and I repeat the name Zippy Gonzales, married to Vincent Ruiz. Wow, there’s a lot of commotion on the phone, lots of shuffling sounds and suddenly a different voice… an older voice but one VERY excited voice. He slowly asks me again about the person I just mentioned and I slowly tell him again “my grandmother was Zippy Gonzales who had married Vincent Ruiz who worked at Brammer Shoes in Madera and we used to live in Madera and now we live in Modesto”. There’s just silence… kind of too long of a silence. Then a super excited voice is almost yelling into the phone “Zippy Gonzales was my Godmother!! I haven’t seen your family since Zippy died in 1961!!" Wow. All I could say was WOW! I ask how the Borboas were related to any of the others I listed for Firebaugh families and he says his grandmother was a sister of Clemencia Preciado and he knows some of the Gonzales people too.

OK… all this yelling into the phone is really causing me some hearing loss, not to mention I can’t hold the phone very well and write and try to find the pages I have with bits and pieces of stuff Aunt Hilda had said many years ago. Finally I just ask… “Hey, are you guys gonna be home the rest of today and this evening?” and the son says yes, the dad says yes, ya wanna come for a BBQ? 
I say yes. Oh, yeah… I say YES!!

It’s 4pm, Sunday afternoon. I’m in Modesto. I’m on the road in 20 minutes. I’m headed for Firebaugh. I use my cell phone and call my very pregnant daughter to let her know where I am going. Her almost panicky voice nearly shrieks as she asks “Your doing WHAT!!!?” and she continues “Mom, you’re driving to meet some guys you've never heard of and have dinner at their house in a town where you don’t know anybody?? Mom, are you CRAZY!!? Mom, what are you thinking???!!”  I’m trying to explain to her that these are my cousins, they aren't just “some guys” they’re my cousins! And I know lots of people in Firebaugh! 
…well, I know I’m related to them, I just haven’t met them yet.

Have you ever tried to calm down a very pregnant daughter who thinks her mother has totally lost it?? Ay yi yi!!! I promise her I’ll call if anything bad happens. 
Ooops, not a good thing say, not even as a joke.

This is a little bit longer road trip than I thought it would be. It’s taken me almost 2 hours but thanks to the red tailed squirrel*  I’m finally pulling up in front of the house. It’s 6pm, still daylight. I see a short, stubby-legged, kinda roundish, white haired guy watering his lawn. This is my first sight of Arturo Borboa, aka Arthur Owen Borboa, affectionately known as Tootie. I’m hauling my stuff out of the car and Tootie’s son Barry runs up and helps me. 
We’re laughing and talking and questions are tumbling out of all three of us all at the same time!

Yep, this is a guy house. Toilet seat up. It’s a bit dark in the house. A bit smoky, and a bit messy. They've been on vacation so the laundry is all over the place.

We head to the back yard patio to learn more about us being cousins… and the next door neighbor pops through the side gate. He’s the sheriff, or some law enforcement guy and he’s been watching their house. Just making sure we’re the right people since he didn't recognize my car.

The first thing Tootie says to the guy is “Hey, this is our cousin, she’s researching our family, our ancestors, and ya know what? We’re NOT MEXICAN!” I’m laughing but I’m also a little bit stunned to hear Tootie say this. The other guy says “yeah, right, and I’m Irish” (obviously he isn't ) and Tootie tells him again that I’m researching all the family and I can prove he’s not Mexican. 
The guy laughs again, shakes his head, and disappears through the gate into his yard.

Barry is lighting the BBQ and getting some steaks ready. Tootie is bringing out boxes of photos and telling me all about the family, the Borboa family. I’m having so much fun! We eat, we share stories, I share more details of my searching and the time just flies.

Suddenly Tootie asks me if I want to see the cemetery.
YES!! Of course I do!!! What a silly question!!
I look at my watch and see it’s nearly midnight.

What could be better than going to a cemetery at midnight?!!!

* Watch for the red tailed squirrel story later.