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New Archaeological Findings May Change History of Texas Rangers’ Frontier Massacre

The border regions of Texas and northern Mexico may have been the scene of violence during the Mexican Revolution, which was fought mostly between 1910 and 1920.

Factions led by figures such as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata fought against the established government and then against each other. Civilians were often overwhelmed by the chaos.

In January 1918, a massacre took place in a small village near the border called Porvenir. Texas Rangers and US Army personnel arrived in the village looking for outlaws who had raided the local ranch weeks earlier. After a search for stolen goods and weapons turned up nothing, 15 men between the ages of 16 and 72 were taken from the village by rangers and shot to death.

The massacre was largely lost to history until the last decade or so, as scientists and relatives of those killed tried to figure out exactly what happened. And a recent archaeological discovery shows there’s more to this story than we’ve been told. David Keller, an archaeologist at the Big Bend Research Center at Sul Ross State University, told the Texas Standard. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: You recently published an article describing what you found during an archaeological dig in the Porvenir area, and these finds may well change the narrative of what happened that day. What is so important you unearthed?

David Keller: Good [there were] two things that were significant about it. First, the artefacts we found fully support the idea that this was the site of the massacre at Porvenir. So, first of all, it was confirmed. And secondly, we found something that surprised us. In addition to the civilian rounds fired by the Texas Rangers and ranchers, we found military shells and military bullets. So it was a big find, a big discovery.

Tell us more about what this means. Are we talking about the fact that the US Army could have been involved in this massacre?

Yes, unfortunately that’s what it offers. You know, this is not completely irrefutable evidence, because there are scenarios according to which this could end without the participation of the military. But really, the point is that the prevailing narrative for the story was that it was perpetuated by the Texas Rangers and local ranchers, and that the role of the military, if there was one at all, was negligible. The entry states that the military led the Rangers to the site, but allegedly withdrew during the massacre itself.

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