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 Texas : Features : Small Town Chronicles

Los Ebanos

by Lydia Solis & Benjamin Cardenas
Los Ebanos Tx historical plaque
Los Ebanos Ferry Crossing Historical Plaque

Close up view of historical plaque
Photo Courtesy of Lydia Solis

When you drive down the curving old highway that leads to Los Ebanos, it is like driving into a land that time forgot. On either side of this rural road, native greenery such as a wide variety of cacti and mesquite trees thrive. The chains of rolling, pebbly hills which come to an abrupt end at the rusty, railroad tracks have yielded numerous legends of lost buried treasure and several ghost sightings, unique to the area.

Situated in an obscure southwestern corner of Hidalgo County, Texas, three miles south of Expressway 83 near Sullivan City on FM 886, this picturesque small village is home to several hundred residents who live a quiet, slow-paced existence much like their ancestors before them. Originally known as Las Cuevas Crossing because of numerous caves in the nearby hills, Los Ebanos was an ancient ford used by Indians and by early Spanish colonists in the late 17th century. American troops used the ford during the Mexican War in 1846.

In 1852, Las Cuevas Ferry was licensed by the county for $5 a month. Later, in the 1870s it was used by cattle rustlers. One famous skirmish took place in 1874 when Captain L.H. McNelly's Texas Rangers recovered stolen cattle taken to General Juan Flores Salinas' Las Cuevas Ranch. The General was killed and his citizens erected a monument to his memory in San Miguel de Camargo (present day Díaz-Ordaz).

hand-operated ferry
Los Ebanos hand-operated ferry
Photo Courtesy of Lydia Solis

In 1913, Dr. A.A.J. Austin (1843-1933), a pharmacist and physician established a ranch, brickyard, gravel pit and drugstore at Los Ebanos. Dr. Austin, former alcalde (mayor) of Mier, was known as el doctor paloma (Dr. Dove) because he always wore white suits and rode a white horse. Mrs. Pedro Barrera (Elena) of Mission, granddaughter of Dr. Austin, says the property belonged to the Austin family, particularly Sara and Miguel Carrizales. The Austins lived at Los Ebanos until 1915, then moved to Mission.

In the early 1900s, local dances and large fiestas to celebrate special occasions were about the only forms of entertainment available at the time. The plazitas were where most social events took place. In September, ferias (fairs) were held in which people could purchase tacos and fruit at concession stands and young girls could always check out the local boys at the baseball games.

During the Prohibition Era in the 1920s and 1930s, the ford was known as "Smuggler's Crossing". Then, tequiladores brought in bootleg liquor from Mexico. Some mules were so well trained that their drivers left them on the U.S. bank and the packtrain continued unescorted to its destination. In later years, contraband TVs and refrigerators "went across" from here.

In 1950, a U.S. Inspection Station and a hand-drawn automobile ferry was established. The ferry named "Victoria" and operated by the Beto Reyna family is said to be the only government licensed hand-pulled ferry on any U.S. boundary. It is still in operation today and crosses three vehicles at a time to and from neighboring Diaz-Ordaz.

hand pulled ferry
Men pulling ferry
Photo Courtesy of Lydia Solis

The Rio Grande River lazily winds its way around Los Ebanos. Many times it has overflowed its banks and has flooded the area. In September 1967, heavy rainfall from Hurricane Beulah forced many of the residents to evacuate the village. They sought shelter in Sullivan City. Their relatives who chose to remain behind, made their way out of Los Ebanos to see them on foot in waist-deep water.

Although many of its former residents have long since moved out and new residents, mainly from Díaz-Ordaz, have taken their place, life in Los Ebanos hasn't changed much. Several of the older houses have been torn down and replaced by new ones. Two lonely walls of the old elementary school still stand as a silent reminder of an unsophisticated, gone-by era. Four of the last mom-and-pop stores to conduct business there also stand, but they have long since shut their doors to patrons. A new dance hall was built in the middle of one of the plazas and that is where all social events take place today.

As you drive down the long stretch of curving highway leading to Los Ebanos today, the same lonely hills that held so many stories and memories for people of past generations are there, still faithfully embracing and guarding this land that time seems to have forgotten. They greet you like a good friend as you come in and bid you farewell on your way out.

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January 2001
©2001 Lydia Solis & Benjamin Cardenas

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