Of the four stars in Dad’s firmament: Seneca, Vinita, OMA and Mercedes, Mercedes was the greatest disappointment to me. After leaving San Antonio where I had wonderful days with my sister, Deborah, and her son, Coleman–watch the new season of Top Chef for his restaurant Le Frite where he is Chef–I headed to the Rio Grande.
Dad’s fabled ranch home with horses, vaqueros, cattle and dogs was in Mercedes. I had high hopes that I would find some trace of the happy life he described drove me to this far off place. Driving along the Tropical Trail south from San Antonio I thought briefly that I was in Palm Springs as the boulevard approaching Corpus Cristi was lined with tall graceful palm trees which are prevalent throughout south Texas.
I had decided to stay in the county seat, Edinburg, and not in Mercedes, so I could go to the county clerk’s office and the South Texas Museum. As I drove through Mercedes I was deeply disappointed for it seems to have nothing left of its former glory. Mercedes, founded in 1907, was dubbed “La Reina del Valle.” She is no longer so regal!
Mercedes came into being when the American Rio Grande Land and Irrigation Company brought eager investors to south Texas to finance the irrigation system that would turn the valley into the garden of Eden thanks to the copious waters of the Rio Grande. Cattle and cotton were to be replaced by the myriad crops which would be possible as a result of the plentiful water and the fertile soil. The soil was fertile for the same reason that Nile valley soil is–annual deposits by the great river making its way to the Gulf. My family arrived in Mercedes in 1920 just as it began to boom.
Saddened to learn that there was no historical district in Mercedes to visit, I learned from the knowlegeable curator in the South Texas McAllen Historical Museum Archives that the reason so many old buildings are not standing is due to the high water table throughout the area which leaches into and destroys historical buildings made of stucco, brick and adobe.
I looked at and photographed pictures of the school house where dad had gone to gradeschool and one year of highschool. There were lovely pictures of old Mercedes in the 20s and 30’s. It was a stylish little city now replaced by endless strip malls, express ways and beltways leading to more strip malls.
I’m sure that Texas must have many pretty old towns but they are not readily visible due to the endless miles of expressways, beltways and interstates that surround them. Looking at a map of San Antonio I was reminded of a plate of spaghetti; the prospect of negotiating these roadways left me terrified.
At the Edinburg Courthouse I learned that my great grandmother, her son, James, and daughter-in-law, Olive, (first time I’d heard of her) were land owners in the Mercedes area and elsewhere. I haven’t puzzled out all the records of deeds and so on obtained at the County Clerk’s office but it is an interesting development.
I also learned that our great uncle, James Sherer, died at the age of 31 from a cerebral hemorrhage. I don’t know what happened to wife, Olive, or if they had any children. They were married for ten years. James’ sister, Henri Alberta, my grandmother, also died young at the age of 30.
On James Sherer’s death certificate I saw my father’s name and realized that he was the person who identified his uncle and provided the information needed for his burial. This was stunning information as none of us had ever known this sad fact of my father’s life. His uncle was only six years older than Dad and they had grown up together. Now I understand why dad left college in Missouri and moved to Houston in 1936 to be joined by his bride. He had come to be with for his dying uncle. His beloved grandmother died a year later.