I recently took a research trip to South Texas to further investigate the turn-of-the-century curandero (faith healer) Don Pedrito Jaramillo, one of the subjects of my dissertation. The main purpose of this trip was to look at the J.T. Canales Estate Papers at the South Texas Archives at Texas A&M-Kingsville. I told myself that if I had time, I would travel to the place Don Pedrito lived from approximately 1881 until his death in 1907: Falfurrias, a town of about five thousand people, forty miles southeast of Kingsville and 120 miles north of the Brownsville-Matamoros border-crossing. I figured a day would be adequate as I mainly wanted to visit the Don Pedrito Jaramillo Shrine that I had discovered the previous summer on a similar research trip, and experience the place where Don Pedrito spent part of his life healing people. I did not plan to find “factual” historical evidence in Falfurrias useful for my dissertation, yet the day spent in Falfurrias was invaluable to my research in ways I did not foresee. The visit changed the way I think about history and about the stories we tell as historians.
Upon arriving in Falfurrias, I stopped at the Heritage Museum to see the Don Pedrito Jaramillo exhibit that the archivist at the South Texas Archives told me about. Ramiro Rodriguez, the gracious and knowledgeable docent, took me on a tour of the museum, explaining some of the history of Falfurrias and South Texas to me. He detailed how his grandfather used to tell stories about the terrible droughts of the 1890’s (the period when Jaramillo lived there) when the only thing his grandfather could salvage from his cattle to sell was the tongue; their bodies had become emaciated from lack of food and water. He told me that Don Pedrito Jaramillo was known and respected in the community for his skill in helping farmers and ranches find water, as well as for his knowledge of healing. This is interesting to me because many of his cures featured water as the main healing agent. Before I left Ramiro gave me a booklet about Don Pedrito filled with primary sources – images, notes, interviews – that I had not come across in an archive or scholarly source. He also provided me with the number of the curator, Lourdes Treviño-Cantu, who has since spent several hours on the phone with me – telling me her stories, passed down from relatives that knew Jaramillo. Lourdes has also shared images of Jaramillo from the museum and her personal collection with me.
After I left the Heritage Museum, I went to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where a bell donated by Don Pedrito Jaramillo in 1905 is kept. I have since been in touch with Father Matthew J. Stephan, the pastor of Sacred Heart, and he has explained the history of the parish to me, and sent me a book of Don Pedrito’s healing stories.
My last stop in Falfurrias was the Don Pedrito Jaramillo Shrine, located on the outskirts of Falfurrias. I popped into the curio shop (next to the Shrine) to say “hello” to the owner, Dolores Villareal, a descendent of Jaramillo. She was as friendly with me and open with her stories about Don Pedrito on this day as she was when I visited her last summer. Dolores insisted that I take a candle, prayer card, and statue of Don Pedrito even though I only had a credit card to pay and the curio shop did not accept credit cards. We spoke for a bit about what I had learned at the Heritage Museum, and then I went to the Shrine. It was as I had remembered it from the previous summer – still and quiet, with Don Pedrito candles burning on an altar, walls covered with slips of papers bearing written requests for healing and help, and statues of saints and virgins in every corner.
In Falfurrias, I met open and generous people who shared their stories and history with me, an outsider. They explained what Jaramillo meant to them, their ancestors, and their community. They reminded me that history is not an abstract, theoretical project, even though historians must sometimes invoke theories and abstract concepts to support arguments. History lives and breathes in the people and communities who give it meaning.
*All images from the Don Pedrito Jaramillo Shrine in Falfurrias, TX, taken by Jennifer in 2013 and 2014.