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Santiago Tafolla

santiago tafolla
Santiago Tafolla

A Guide to the Santiago Tafolla Collection

Click HERE for a complete inventory in PDF

Descriptive Summary

Creator:     Tafolla Family

Title:   The Santiago Tafolla Collection

Dates:  1849-1970 (Bulk dates: 1960-1970)


This collection contains the archive of Santiago Tafolla, which includes Santiago’s 1908 handwritten memoir. The Tafolla archive includes personal and research material related to Santiago Tafolla and his family, including photographs, correspondence, records of military service, and books. Some research material, along with a few personal documents and correspondence, belonged to Fidel Tafolla, grandson of Santiago, who initiated researching and editing Santiago’s memoir.  This collection includes multiple handwritten and typed drafts and translations of Santiago’s memoir, which was eventually published in 2009 by Santiago’s great-granddaughters, Carmen Tafolla and Laura Tafolla, under the title A Life Crossing Borders. Several drafts of the memoir are titled Nearing the End of the Trail, the working name Fidel used.

Collection 120

4 boxes (4 linear feet)

English, Spanish

The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University

Biographical Sketch

Santiago Tafolla (1837-1911)  was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico to Mariano Tafolla and Josafa Gutiérrez. He had five sisters and two brothers. A military officer in the Mexican Army, Santiago’s father was killed while transporting money from the Mexican capitol when Santiago was only three. His mother died when he was seven, and he went to live with his oldest brother Lorenzo. He was unhappy with his treatment at his brother’s and ran away at age eleven.

Invited on board a passing wagon train by American Robert A. Matthews, Santiago headed east. He traveled with Matthews through Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, and New York, ending in Washington D.C. Santiago stayed in Matthews’ care in Washington. When Mr. Matthews moved to Talbotton, Georgia, Santiago stayed in South Carolina with Matthew’s brother. Unhappy there, Santiago ran away again, continuing on to Talbotton, where he stayed with a relative of Robert Matthews, Dr. F.T. Matthews. During this time, Santiago was converted in a camp meeting.

 Growing up, Santiago tried shoe making then tailoring. Unhappy with both professions and wanting to go back to Mexico, he enlisted at seventeen for a five year term in the army. During this process, he met Jefferson Davis, who was then Secretary of War. Traveling with the army, he ended up in Texas. In 1856, he saw San Antonio for the first time. During his time in the army, he fought with the Indians and narrowly missed getting charged with desertion after a fight with a non-commission officer. He left the army in 1860. He married Juanita Torres, who he had met in the service. Shortly after his marriage, he received 160 acres as head of household from the state of Texas and started his own ranch called Bear Creek on Privilege Creek.

In 1862, Santiago joined the Confederate army and marched to Brownsville under the command of Colonel Duff. They guarded the Texas border from the mouth of the Rio Grande to Eagle Pass. After some troubling incidents with some of the other soldiers, who Santiago said “had hanged several men who didn’t go along with their ideas,” Santiago and some of the other mexicano Confederate soldiers began to fear for their lives and decided to desert to Mexico (70).  This plan coincided with the Confederate defeat at Vicksburg in 1864. Santiago believed at this point that the Confederate cause was doomed. He sent for his family after he arrived in Mexico and stayed there until 1865. He then returned to his ranch in Texas.

In February 1868, his first wife got pneumonia and died. The couple had three girls and two boys: Pete, Juanita, Catarina, Molly, and Santana. A little over a year later, in May 1869, Santiago renewed his acquaintance with Anastacia Mercado, a widow with two children, Juan J. and Maria. He married her in June. During this time in his life, Santiago worked at various ranching related jobs both on his ranch and other ranches. His work turned to more dishonest dealings as he began to deal in hides taken from poached cattle. He was elected Justice of the Peace for Bandera County in May of 1876. An election, he implies in his memoir that was predicated on his turning a blind eye to illegal activities. He ends his writings here. This time period marks a major turning point in Santiago’s life as he began to become more involved with his faith and presumably ended his unlawful activities. In October 1876, he was granted a pastoral license. In December, he resigned as Justice of the Peace and began the difficult life of a Methodist preacher in predominantly Catholic communities He started his ministry as a pastor in Laredo, Texas, but spent most of it as an itinerate preacher. In addition to the seven children he and Anastacia shared when they began their marriage, they had seven more: Gabriel, Santiago Jr., Mariano F., Ernesto, Lott, Anita, and Santana. Santiago worked up into his seventies and died in 1911 while preaching at his pulpit at age 74.

Fidel Tafolla (1898 – 1971) was Santiago’s grandson, son of Santiago’s son Mariano, Sr. through Santiago’s second marriage to Anastacia Salinas. He was an educator, getting his Bachelor of Arts as well as a Masters’ degree from Texas State University. He worked as a Spanish teacher at Main Avenue (now Fox Tech) and Thomas Jefferson High Schools in San Antonio, Texas. His career continued at Lanier High School, as he went from Dean of Boys to Vice-Principle and finally to Principle. He retired in 1968. The San Antonio Independent School District has chosen to honor him by naming a school after him, the Fidel Tafolla, Jr. High School.

Fidel became the first Hispanic president of the San Antonio Teacher’s Council in 1934. He was crucial in the creation of the San Antonio Retired Teacher’s Association and the later San Antonio Teacher’s Credit Union (now under the name FirstMark Credit Union). He was active in his community as an elder in the Presbyterian church, a member of the Master Masons, and later in life, a Shiner. He had five children: Dorothy Jane, ElizabethAnn, Fidel Jr., Donald Edward, and Laura Jean.

Fidel made a personal project of getting Santiago’s autobiography published. He personally translated the original text from Spanish to English. He was still looking for a publisher when he died of a heart attack.

Carmen Tafolla (1951 - ) is Santiago’s great-granddaughter. Her father is Mariano Jr., Fidel’s brother and son of Mariano Sr. In 2012, she was chosen as the first Poet Laurate for the city of San Antonio, Texas, and in 2015 was named Poet Laurate for the entire state.

            Carmen received her bachelors and masters from Austin College in 1972 and 1973 respectively. She graduated with her Ph.D in 1982 from the University of Texas. She started her career at Texas Lutheran College in 1973 as the Director of Mexican-American Studies, initiating among other projects, the El Premio Roberto Salinas Award for students promoting human understanding and cultural harmony. She was the first Chicana faculty member to direct a Chicano Studies Center in the United States. She continued her career at various colleges throughout the Southwest. She has worked as the Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at California State University Fresno and the Special Assistant to the President for Cultural Diversity Programming at Northern Arizona University. She currently works as Associate Professor for Transformative Children’s Literature for the University of Texas at San Antonio. 

            Her work has been published in over 200 anthologies. She has written five books of poetry, ten children’s books, seven television screen plays, a book of short stories and many articles and essays. She performs a one-woman show that has toured internationally. Her book of poetry Curandera was noted for her Spanish to English code switching.

            She has received the Art of Peace Award and been recognized by the National Association of Chicano Studies for work which “gives voice to the peoples and cultures of this land.” She has received several awards for her books, including being the first Latina awarded the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best children’s picture book writing in 2010. She also received The 2009 Tomas Rivera Book Award, the 2010 Tomás Rivera Book Award, the 2010 Américas Award, and two International Latino Book. She received American Library Association (ALA) Notable and Junior Library Guild Selection.

Her writings are archived at the Benson Latin American Collection of the University of Texas Libraries.


Laura Jean Tafolla (1954-  ) is the granddaughter of Santiago Tafolla and the daughter of Fidel León and Olivia Treviño Tafolla.

She received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Education with a minor in Mathematics from Trinity University in 1976. In 1980, she continued her education at the University of Texas in San Antonio with a Masters in Educational Psychology and Counseling. Most her career in the San Antonio Independent School District was spent teaching math at Highlands High School, but she also taught at Lowell Middle School and Tafolla Middle School. Retired from teaching full time, she works as a math tutor for the Gear-Up Program at Lanier High School.

She is also an accomplish singer and enjoys painting and writing.

She discovered Santiago’s handwritten manuscript in an old shirt box in the closet.

Scope and Content Note

The Santiago Tafolla Collection is arranged into four series with the first two being the works of the two main creators, Santiago and Fidel.  Following these series are the additional family documents not pertaining to Santiago or Fidel and, lastly, the family artifacts.

Santiago’s series mostly consists of his journal, memoir, and military documents such as correspondence. There are preservation concerns with his handwritten journal and memoir, and it is advised for researchers to have access to copies.

Fidel’s series mostly contains his work on Santiago’s memoir, personal papers, and photos. Also contained in this series are correspondence and writings about him. A small collection of the Tafolla family’s papers as well as Carmen’s papers can be found at the Benson Latin American Collection.

The family document series is fairly sparse. This series contains the notes and research that Carmen and Laura conducted for Santiago’s memoir, along with several photographs of family members.

The family artifacts includes books and over-sized photographs owned by other members makes up the final series, along with a section of Santiago’s cane.

Administrative Information:

Access Restrictions: Open for research

Preferred Citation:
The Santiago Tafolla Collection, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University

Acquisition Information: Purchase, 2014

Processing Information: Processed Leanne Cox & ChristyJoy Skaw, 2015

Notes to Researchers:

Some documents, such at Santiago’s handwritten journal pages (box 1, folder 1) and Santiago’s handwritten memoir (box 4) are fragile and digital copies or photocopies will be available.

Select items from the collection have been digitized and are available at:

In several areas Santiago Tafolla is known as ‘James’.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series I: Santiago Tafolla

Box     Folder

1          1          Handwritten Journal Pages 1909-1910 (fragile)

3          1-2       Memoir (Handwritten, Parts 1 and 2)

1          2          Military Records

Gustave Frasch letter verifying that James Tafolla served in
the Cavalry of the US Army from 1855 to 1860

              Discharge Certificate from  US Army 1860 (certificate giving
              1911, copy)

            “Oja de Servicio” - Hoja de Servicio/Service sheet
             (documents 1876-1891,Spanish)

             Department of the Interior letters - March 10, 1903; March 16,
             1903; April 3,1903; October 10, 1904; April 3, 1906

             Signed letter from War Department (signed by Adjutant
             General) (January 4,1911)

1          3          Family Documents

           Marriage Certificate for Santiago Tafolla and Anastacia
           Mercado, 1869, copy

           Obituaries for James Tafolla

1          4          Writings About Santiag Tafolla

Resena Histotica de la Iglesia Metodista, carbon copy,
mentioning Santiago,  Spanish, undated

Article in El Evangelista Mexicano, “El Rev. Santiago Tafolla” by Alejandro H.Sutherland, Spanish, undated

Article in El Evangelista Mexicano, “Muerte de un Veterano
en la Frontera” by Pedro Grado, Spanish, undated

“A La Sentida Muerta Del Rev. Santiago Tafolla”, carbon copy of poem by PedroGrado, 1911, Spanish

1          5          Photographs

Santiago Tafolla standing, circa 1908, copy

Reproduction photograph of Santiago, Anastacia and family, circa 1887

Santiago Tafolla and his sons after Anita’s funeral, 1911, original and copy

Reproduction of Santiago Tafolla camp meeting, circa 1890s

Series II: Fidel Tafolla

1          6          Memoir - Translation

                        Handwritten original of Fidel’s translation, 131 pages, pencil on
                        notebook paper, 1970

1          7          Memoir - Notes

                        Handwritten research notes, loose pages, undated

                        Handwritten research notes, notebook, circa 1960-1970s

                        Handwritten research notes, small notebook, circa 1960-1970s

                        Handwritten research notes, loose pages, circa 1960-1970s

                        Handwritten research notes, loose pages, circa 1960-1970s

                        Microfilm receipts, June 25, 1970

1          8          Memoir - Research

                        Santa Fe Official City and County Area Map, undated

                        New Mexico road map, undated

                        New Mexico Travel Guide, undated

                        New Mexico Magazine, March 1969

                        Mi Matamoros Querido: tourist guide that mentions Bagdad,
                        which is important to Santiago’s story, Spanish, undated

                        Memoir - Spanish Drafts   

1          9          Early Draft “Copy of Santiago’s memoir before corrections were
                        made”, undated

1          10        Early Draft with handwritten corrections, undated

1          11        Spanish Drafts, loose pages, undated

1          12        Early typed draft reflecting corrections made, photocopied,

1          13        Early typed draft, photocopied and bound, personal copy of Sr.
                        y Sra. Mariano y Maria Tafolla with handwritten notes and
                        post-its assumed to be made by Carmen and Laura Tafolla,

            Memoir - English Drafts

1          14        Early Draft, loose pages, undated

1          15        Introduction, two copies with edits, undated

1          16        Typed draft, original first copy, 1970

1          17        Nearing the End of the Trail, working copy 1, 1970

2          1          Nearing the End of the Trail, working copy 2, 1970

2          2          Nearing the End of the Trail, working copy 3, 1970

2          3          Nearing the End of the Trail, working copy 4, with folder, 1970

2          4          Correspondence

           Empty envelopes addressed to Fidel, unknown dates, April
           1969, July 1970

           American Association of Retired Persons/National Retired
           Teachers Association, incoming letter, June 8, 1970

Chavez, Angelico, incoming letter, May 12, 1970

Clark, Frances T., outgoing handwritten letter, date unknown

Clark, Frances T., outgoing typed letter, July 6, 1970

             Driver Trainer Newsletters, 1969 Honors Issue, February
             1970, March 1970, and envelope

             Moran, Esperanza C., reference letter for a student,
             December 18, 1969, copy

Nanez, Alfredo, Director at Perkins School of Theology,
Southern Methodist University, outgoing typed letter, December 7, 1970, copy

             Readers Digest, outgoing letter, December 7, 1970

             Senior Citizens Council of Bexar County News Letter, June

2          5          Personal Papers

                        Personal Records book, includes record of employment and
                        earnings, undated

                        The Story of Randolph Air Force Base, undated

                        Sidney Lanier High School Yearbook, 1939, Vice Principal F.L.

           Speech and notes, given at San Antonio Lodge, August 10,
           1964 Senior Class of 1968, two pages

                        Sidney Lanier Alumni Association Fourth Annual “Mr. Ex” Ball
                        program, August 10, 1968

Naturalization Requirements and General Information booklet, Rev. 4-15-69

Speech given at Jose Francisco Ruiz School, May 12, 1969

2          5          The Texas Freemason booklet, March 1970

Bexar County Democratic Primary Sample Ballot, May 2, 1970

2          6          Writings About Fidel Tafolla

           Sketch of Fidel by Bob Dale for San Antonio newspaper,

            Interview on TV Channel 4 KEWX, July 19, 1962

Newspaper clipping from The San Antonio Light, article “Museum in an Office”,June 3, 1970

2          7          Photographs

                        Lithograph reproduction of Santa Fe vicinity, 1949, obtained by
                        Fidel when doing his research in 1960-1970s

           Black and white photograph of Fidel, 1960s or 1970s

           Photograph of Santa Fe Plaza painting, obtained by Fidel when
           in the 1960-1970s

Series III: Family Documents

2          8          Obituaries for James Tafolla, Ernest Tafolla, and Anita Tafolla,
                         undated, 1910

2          9          Notes by Carmen and Laura Tafolla, appendices and foto
                        captions, undated

2          10        Photographs

                        Manuel Tafolla with sons and grandsons on horseback, undated

                        Israel Tafolla Bernel, 9 months old, photo laid in a draft, undated

                        Policarpio Rodriguez with grandson John Hill, c. 1890

                        Camp Meeting, M.F. Tafolla, 1925, torn

                        Family Reunion, M.F. Tafolla far right, mid to late 1930s

Series IV: Family Artifacts


2          11        Methodist Hymnal book and General Course Plan, Spanish,

2          12        Manuel Tafolla’s doctrine and sermon book, fragile, 1922

3          3          Book of poetry, owned by Santiago Tafolla, fragile, undated


3          4          Tintype of Anastacia Salinas de Tafolla, 1864

3          5          Santiago Tafolla standing, La Trinidad, 300 San Fernando,

                        Santiago Tafolla with sons at the funeral of daughter Anita at
                        their home, left to right: Ernesto Tafolla, James Tafolla, Gabe,
                        M.F., and Lott; seated, J.J. Macado, Santiago Sr., and Brono
                        Pete; broken original and copy print

4          1          Photograph of Santiago Tafolla Jr., Santiago’s son who
                        established the Order of the Sons of America, a precursor and
                        arival to LULAC, removed from frame

                        Physical Artifacts

4          2          Glass, cardboard, and backing pieces for the frame that held
                        the photograph of Santiago Tafolla, Sr. standing, undated

4          3          Frame that held the photograph of Santiago Tafolla Sr.
                         standing, undated

4          4          Section of cane used by Santiago Tafolla Sr., when asked why
                        he carried the cane he told his grandchildren “For the dogs,
                        suh, for the dogs.”

4          5          The Texas Methodist, newspaper clippings

                       April 23, 1971 - Original newspaper about 1900 Methodist
                       Conferencia Fronteriza with photos of Santiago and Policarpio,
                       among other Hispanic ministers, Spanish

                       April 30, 1971 - article on Polly’s Chapel, Spanish

Historic Tafolla manuscript acquired with grant from the Texas Historical Foundation

Thanks to a generous grant from the Texas Historical Foundation, the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University have acquired the only known memoir of a Mexican American who served in the Civil War. Reverend Santiago Tafolla took pen to paper in 1908 and chronicled the first 39 years of his life, from his birth in 1837 through his service as a Mexican Confederate in the Civil War and up to his swearing-in as Justice of the Peace in Bandera County in 1876.

“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 acquisition includes Tafolla’s handwritten manuscript as well as related photos, maps, and other historically significant archival material. As part of the Wittliff Collections, the Tafolla Papers will be available to the Texas State University community as well as the general public for viewing and research purposes.

“I begin my biography today at the age of 71 years and twenty-three days,” wrote Tafolla, who went on to tell the stories of his life in crisp, narrative style.

Writing smoothly and easily in his native Spanish, Tafolla recounted his extraordinary adventures, a journey that led him from an orphaned childhood to his position as a beloved public figure in Texas. Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he was a citizen of Mexico who witnessed the U.S.-Mexico war that brought the U.S. to power in New Mexico. After his parents died, he was sent to live with an abusive older brother. In 1848, at age eleven, he decided to run away.

He and a cousin wandered for several days in the mountains east of Santa Fe. Half-starved, they spotted a U.S. wagon train heading east along the Santa Fe Trail. Though neither boy spoke English, they understood enough to know what one of the Americans was saying: he was inviting them to join the group.

Tafolla took one look back at his homeland and leapt aboard to go with the strangers. His travels led him to St. Louis, New York, and Washington, D.C. He went to school, learned English, and became educated. He worked as a cobbler and then later as a tailor. In Washington, D.C., Tafolla arranged to meet with 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.

Tafolla describes some of the dramatic events of the time, including his participation in the kidnapping of Edmund J. Davis from Mexico. He 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 participated in the beginnings of the great livestock industry in Texas. He was elected Justice of the Peace in Bandera County and, soon afterward, had a religious conversion. Tafolla became a Methodist, and he spent the last 35 years of his life as a circuit-riding preacher, well known as one of the first Methodist preachers of Hispanic descent and a very prominent citizen of the San Antonio area.

Tafolla died in the pulpit at age 73. Family members passed along his handwritten memoir as a treasured heirloom for generations. One of his grandsons, Fidel Tafolla, a noted educator in San Antonio who has a middle school named after him, attempted to transcribe and translate the memoir in the 1960s but was unsuccessful in finding a publisher, as there was little interest in early Mexican American writings at the time.

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-ever Poet Laureate of the City of San Antonio. Carmen and her cousin, educator Laura Tafolla, completed transcribing and translating Santiago Tafolla’s memoir, and A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Civil War Soldier was at last published by Arté Público Press in 2009.

“We are grateful to the Texas Historical Foundation for its support of this important addition to the Southwestern Writers Collection,” said Dr. David Coleman, director of the Wittliff Collections. “It furthers our work in preserving and sharing the culture and history of Mexican Americans in Texas.”

The Wittliff Collections plans to digitize the manuscript and other Tafolla items to create an interactive web presence designed to educate and inspire students and teachers seeking to learn more about this extraordinary life of this man who has become an important Texas writer.