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Gregorio Cortez

One of the most popular corridos described a real-life figure, Gregorio Cortez, who killed two sheriffs in south Texas in 1901, and who gained folk hero status when he eluded capture by the Texas Rangers.

Born in Matamoros, Mexico in 1875, Cortez toiled as a cowboy and farmer in Texas. In 1901, local authorities in south Texas began searching for a horse thief, described only as a “medium-sized Mexican.” Lawmen confronted Cortez and confusion ensued, since neither the sheriff nor his deputy understood Spanish. The sheriff wounded Cortez’s brother and Cortez responded by shooting and killing the sheriff. Pursued by a posse, Cortez escaped, but not before killing another sheriff and a landowner. When he was finally apprehended, Cortez was nearly lynched. Many trials took place. A Texas appeals court later reversed Cortez’s conviction for murdering the landowner, and was finally pardoned for the murder of the second sheriff in 1913.

…En el condado de El Carmen
Tal desgracia sucedió,
Murió el Cherife Mayor,
No saben quien lo mató.

Se anduvieron informando
Como media hora después,
Supieron que el malhechor
Era Gregorio Cortez.

Ya insortaron a Cortez
Por toditito el estado,
Que vivo o muerto se aprehenda
Porque a varios ha matado.

Decía Gregorio Cortez
Con su pistola en la mano:
-No siento haberlo matado,
lo que siento es a mi hermano.-…

Venían los americanos
Más blancos que una amapola,
De miedo que le tenían
A Cortez con su pistola….

Soltaron los perros jaunes
Pa'que siguieron la huella,
Pero alcanzar a Cortez
Era seguir a una estrella….

Se fue de Belmont al rancho,
Lo alcanzaron a rodear,
Poquitos más de trescientos,
Y allí le brincó el corral.

Cuando les brincó el corral,
Según lo que aquí se dice,
Se agarraron a balazos
Y les mató otro cherife.

Decía Gregorio Cortez
Con su pistola en la mano:
-No corran, rinches cobardes,
con un solo mexicano.- ….

Y se encontró a un mexicano,
Le dice con altivez:
-Platícame que hay de nuevo,
yo soy Gregorio Cortez.

-Dicen que por culpa mía
han matado mucha gente,
pues ya me voy a entregar
porque eso no es conveniente.- …

Venían todos los rinches,
Venían que hasta volaban,
Porque se iban a ganar
Diez mil pesos que les daban.

Cuando rodearon la casa
Cortez se les presentó:
-Por la buena sí me llevan
porque de otro modo no.-

Decía el Cherife Mayor
Como queriendo llorar:
-Cortez, entrega tus armas,
no te vamos a matar.-

Decía Gregorio Cortez,
Les gritaba en alta voz:
-Mis armas no las entrego
hasta estar en calaboz.- ….

…In the county of El Carmen
such a tragedy took place:
The Mayor Sheriff is dead;
no one knows who killed him.

They went around asking
questions about half an hour afterward;
They found out that the wrongdoer
had been Gregorio Cortez.

Now they have outlawed Cortez
throughout the whole of the state;
Let him be taken, dead or alive,
for he has killed several men.

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
with his pistol in his hand,
"I don't regret having killed him;
what I regret is my brother's death"…

The Americans were coming;
they were whiter that a poppy
From the fear that they had
from Cortez and his pistol….

They let loose the bloodhound
so they could follow the trail;
But trying to overtake Cortez
was like following a star….

From Belmont he went to the ranch,
where they succeeded in surrounding him,
Quite a few more that three hundred,
but he jumped out of their corral.

When he jumped out of their corral,
according to what is said here,
They got into a gunfight,
and he killed them another sheriff.

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
with his pistol in his hand,
"Don't run, you cowardly rinches,
from a single Mexican"….

Now he has met a Mexican;
he says to him haughtily,
"Tell me the news;
I am Gregorio Cortez.

They say that because of
me many people have been killed;
so now I will surrender,
because such things are not right."…

All the rinches [Texas Rangers] were coming,
so fast that they almost flew,
Because they were going to get the ten
thousand dollars that were offered.

When they surrounded the house,
Cortez appeared before them:
"You will take me if I'm
willing but not any other way."

Then said the Major Sheriff,
as if he was going to cry,
"Cortez, hand over your weapons;
we do not want to kill you."

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
shouting to them in a loud voice,
"I won't surrender my weapons
until I am in a cell"….

Source: Américo Paredes, A Texas-Mexican Cancionera, 65-67

Copyright Digital History 2016