Portrait of Santiago Tafolla, San Antonio, c. 1908, is included in the Tafolla acquisition.
RELEASED June 10, 2014
SAN MARCOS, TX—The handwritten memoir of a significant 19th century Tejano is now part of the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.
Born in 1837, Santiago Tafolla fought in the Indian Wars on the western frontier, served as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War, and participated in the beginnings of the mythic Texas cattle industry.
In 1908, near the end of his life, Tafolla put pencil to paper and wrote, “I begin my biography today at the age of 71 years and twenty-three days.” His resulting narrative captures in crisp detail his extraordinary adventures. It offers a rare look at 19th century Texas from the Tejano perspective and is the only known memoir of a Mexican American who served in the Civil War.
The Wittliff Collections, thanks in part to a generous grant from the Texas Historical Foundation, recently acquired Tafolla’s original handwritten manuscript along with related photos, maps, and other historically significant archival material from the period.
“We are grateful to the Texas Historical Foundation for its support of this important addition to the Wittliff Collections,” said director Dr. David Coleman. “It furthers our work in preserving and sharing the culture and history of Mexican Americans in Texas. Tafolla’s account of his life composed in his own hand is an example of how original artifacts uniquely instruct and inspire students and the public at large, in addition to supporting scholars with invaluable primary resources for research.”
Tafolla’s handwritten memoir was passed along by family members as a treasured heirloom for generations. In recent years, two of Tafolla’s great-granddaughters worked together on the memoir. One of them is Dr. Carmen Tafolla, an internationally renowned poet, author, and educator from Texas and the first Poet Laureate of the City of San Antonio. Tafolla, as a leading Texas writer in her own right, has often appeared at Wittliff Collections events, and her work has been featured in major Wittliff exhibitions.
Along with her cousin, educator Laura Tafolla, Carmen Tafolla completed transcribing and translating Santiago Tafolla’s memoir, and Arté Público Press published it as A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Civil War Soldier in 2009.
Santiago Tafolla writes of the dramatic events of his time, including meeting Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who helped him enlist in the 2nd United States Calvary—which brought him to the front lines of the Texas Indian Wars. Later, he joined the Confederate Army during the Civil War and was involved in the kidnapping of future Texas Governor Edmund J. Davis from Mexico. Tafolla also encountered ugly racism in Texas, which led him and some of his Tejano colleagues to abandon their regiment.
After the war he became active in politics, and in 1876 he was elected Justice of the Peace in Bandera County. Soon afterward, he converted to Methodism and spent the last 35 years of his life as a circuit-riding preacher. Reverend Tafolla became well known as one of the first Methodist ministers of Hispanic descent and a very prominent citizen of the San Antonio area. He died in the pulpit at age 73.
As part of the Wittliff Collections, the Santiago Tafolla Papers will be preserved and made available to the Texas State University community, scholars, and the general public for viewing and research.
“Reverend Tafolla’s manuscript is a rich learning tool,” said David D. Martinez, president of the Texas Historical Foundation. “We’re pleased to support the Wittliff Collections and to help make this manuscript widely available for educational purposes.”
The Wittliff Collections plan to digitize the manuscript and other Tafolla items, creating an interactive web presence that will educate and enlighten students and teachers seeking to learn more about this extraordinary man. More information about the Santiago Tafolla Papers is available in the ‘Research’ section of the Wittliff Collections website.