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Coahuila and Catholicism
By: Al Kinsall
The Cherokees who came to Mexico in the early 1840s realized almost immediately that if not a requisite condition, conversion to the Catholic faith in predominantly Catholic Mexico would put them in good standing.
We have to recall that the Cherokees were considered one of the “Five Civilized Tribes” of Indian territory and had long since adopted many of the ways of the European settlers in the Eastern United States. Many Cherokees were well educated in the Eastern schools and do not fit the mold imagined when one speaks of the plains Indians or those native to East Texas, or to the nomad Coahuiltecans, nor the depredating Mescalero or Lipan Apaches or the fierce Comanche Indians.
When the East Texas Cherokees were driven from their rich and fertile lands assured them by both the Mexican Government in various treaties and by the infant Republic of Texas in 1835 36 as well, several families fled to the security of the Republic of Mexico where Juan N. Almonte had offered them lands on which to settle in Northern Coahuila.
We know of at least one family, that of 38 year old James (Santiago) Van, his wife, Maria Salome Hernandez and their four children who settled in the Valle de Santa Rosa, today’s Muzquiz, Coahuila,, some 100 miles southwest of the soon to be established international boundary, the Rio Grande river. Indeed, one of Santiago’s children, Jose Manuel (Green) Van would become a prominent and famous Maverick County lawman, ranchman and builder.
Father Patrick O’Donnell, whose article in Glenmary, a pious magazine in the 1960s was probably more pious than factual, understood that a Protestant missionary of Mexico had said that the Cherokees were converted to the Catholic faith prior to the death of Sequoyah in either Tamaulipas or Coahuila.
If we look closely at the key document which determines the presence of the Cherokees in Mexico in 1843, at least in Muzquiz, we find 40 year old Doctor John Long with a diploma listed as a Roman Catholic, married to a Mexican lady, licensed to practice medicine in the Republic, living in the Valle as a naturalized Mexican on the document dated December 3, 1834. A North American.
There is Guillermo (William) Davis, 36 years of age, a Catholic, single, who works as a laborer living in this Valley. He has no security card, having come from Texas two years ago with General Adrian Woell, He is a North American.
There is also Santiago (James) McBeath, 26 years old, a Roman Catholic, single, who works as a carpenter, living in this Valle with a passport from General Isidro Reyes, who gave it to him at Rio Grande (Villa Guerrero) for having come over from the forces of Texas which invaded Laredo (Mexico) (December 1842 Sommervelle) just over a year ago. English in origin.
There is Jose Maria de la Garza, a runaway negro slave from Texas, 35 years of age, Roman Catholic, baptized thus. Single, a servant, living in this Valle some three years. No security card or other document which allows him to enter the Republic. Came to (Mexico) seeking his freedom. A North American.
There is Tomas Valdes, native of Nacogdoches, 34 years old, Catholic, married to a foreigner with one son, a carpenter by trade. No security card or other document which allows him entry into the Republic. He would like to have this verified, since he took up arms against the Texans in the Nacogdoches rebellion on the side of Mexico for which he lost all his personal belongings.
There is Santiago (James) Vann, 38 years of age, Catholic, married to a foreign woman with four children, a carpenter by trade, a three year resident of this Valle. He has no security card, nor other document which allows him permission to enter this Republic. Quadroon, of New Orleans. Because of the outbreak of hostilities between the Cherokee Nation and the Texas Colonists, having gone with the former they scattered and came to the Republic seeking refuge.
There is Tomas Elius, runaway slave from Texas, 26 years old, Catholic, married to a negro lady with six children, makes his living as a day worker, having lived in this Valle three years. He has no security card nor other document to enter this republic. He wants to have one, seeking freedom.
Francisco Aldape. Quadroon. 29 years of age, Roman Catholic, married to a Mexican lady with one son. (called Felipe, according to historical chronicler Luis Alberto Guajardo who relates that Felipe owned the Mine of the (quadroon in the Muzquiz hills west of the Hacienda La Misión) A carpenter by trade, he has lived nine years in this Valley. A North American. He has no security card, nor other document allowing him permission to enter this Republic, He has expressed the desire to have it verified, since he was born a free man, the Texans look to make him a slave.
In all, we see the Roman Catholic religion prominent for one reason or another. We look then to the abundant records of the Catholic Church through the well oiled wheels of the Church of the Latter Day Saints for evidence that at least one of our Valie deSanta Rosa Cherokee families were practicing Catholics. The Muzquiz parish church, Santa Rosa de Lima is a good place to start.
Chronologically, we fined young 17 year old Green Van’s Baptismal entry of December 26, 1848 as Jose Manuel Van, his godparents Vicente Garcia and Ma. Dominga Garcia, “legitimate son of Santiago Van and Maria Salome.”
The following year the entire region was devastated by an epidemic of Cholera, and the Valle de Santa Rosa did not escape its ravages. From the same Parish Archives we find a lengthy listing of the burials of those who succumbed to the pestilence, including that of one Maria Matilde Van:
“May 6, 1849. Burial made in the 5o Cuerpo to the body of Maria Matilde Van, adult, unmarried girl of twenty years, daughter of Santiago Van and Salome Hernandez. She did not receive (the last) Sacraments due to the circumstances surrounding her death.”
A much happier event took place at that same Parish Church two years later. Family tradition holds that Green Van asked for the hand of Martins Guerra in marriage, but her mother refused to allow this because “Green was not a Christian name.”
Consequently, as we have noted, Green Van was baptized Joseph Manuel and the stage was set for the March 22, 1851 marriage in the church of Santa Rosa de Lima in Muzquiz.
Before we leave the Parish Archives at Muzquiz, permit us to note that our Cherokee Manuel (Green) Van and Martina Guerra baptized their six day old daughter Antonia Ban Guerra at Santa Rosa de Lima on May 16, 1855 by a new parish priest, Agustin de la Garza Montemayor, while Santiago and Ma. Salome Hernandez looked on. Her godparents were Francisco Huerta and Eufracia Alvarado.
After the Vans had settled in Maverick County at their ranch home built high on the hill 18 miles north of present day Eagle Pass, the Catholic Church connection resumes. Even though the Cherokee Green Van had relocated in Maverick County, the Our Lady of Refuge Book of Baptisms lists the baptism of a 22 day old Santiago Ban by the parish priest, Father Juan B. LaCroix “in the village of Eagle Pass, Texas” March 3, 1864, “the legitimate son of Juan Ban and Dona Ma. Nunez.”
The Cherokees generally were not traditionally inclined to embrace the Catholic faith. But their date with destiny in Northern Mexico and their brush with their Catholic neighbors exposed them to the Catholic faith, and as a result, left the paper trail for us to follow.
© 2012 Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah
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