In Honor of Jose N. Guerra (1905-1988)

Written By Felix Alvarado


The first Mexicans to come to North Texas were Rialeros, men that worked on the railroad installing the tracks. Along the way, the railroads would leave a section gang to maintain the railroad.

Savoy was one of those places that the railroad placed a section gang. A section gang consisted of ten men that went about repairing the railroad. Sometimes it was difficult because heavy rains would wash away the ties and rails. Little is known about the “rialeros” or “traqueros.” We know that it was mostly Mexicans that installed the railroad tracks in Texas starting sometime in the 1870’s. North Texas was a desolate place. The Comanche roamed the land raiding the few farms, killing men and taking women and children prisoners. Comanche were the greatest threat to the rialeros too.

I went to Savoy because Thomas Guerra, the son of Jose invited me to visit the small town. He showed me a journal his father wrote after he was done working. I was fascinated by his life in Mexico, his trips to the US working on the railroad, finally settling in Savoy and raising a family. The trips to the US were not unplanned, come what may adventures. In fact, the Mexicans planned their trip to America. They would follow other friends or family. They crossed at El Paso because the immigration was more lenient there. What awaited them on the US side of the border were recruiters looking for Mexicans to work on the railroad. Some Mexicans with friends or family in Illinois would go that far north. Others would take states in between. Jose went to Kansas on his first trip. They all received round trip tickets.

The 1910 census shows that there were some Mexicans working on the railroad at Savoy Texas. I had read that women would accompany their husbands along the way to cook and take care of the family. There is a Rodriguez that had four children, two born in Mexico, one in Louisiana and one in Texas.

Installing the track was hard punishing work. Not everybody could tolerate it. The census also shows that in nearby Ravenna there was a Mexican that owned a restaurant. In nearby Honey Grove there was a Mexican working in a restaurant. In Fannin County there was

a father and two sons doing farm work. There was only one way the Mexicans could get here and that was by the railroad. Once here, and no longer willing or able to work in the railroads, Mexicans opted to stay instead of returning to Mexico.

When the tracks were installed, there was no Savoy. The land was barren. The Mexicans were on a one-way trip north. There were few settlers living in North Texas at that time. Settlers were enticedto come to North Texas by the lure of free land. Mom and Pop went

to work immediately, growing cotton and other staples. The railroad allowed agricultural products to be shipped to market fast. Once the railroad was firmly in place there was a shift from agriculture to industry. The railroad was the conduit of Mexicans to North Texas and other points North. In Savoy, an MKT boxcar is still being used today. Box- cars is where Mexicans lived mostly. It was easy to take a boxcar out and let a family or up to eight men live in one. Because of Jose’s journal I have a better understanding how my own grandfather crossed over and was hired to work in a section gang.

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