Extremely Informal* History of Penitas
an entertainment and not recommended for school reports
by Brewster Hudspeth
Penitas is possibly one of the oldest towns in the United States –
although St. Augustine, Florida got their postcards printed first.
Sometime in the mid-1520s, a Priest and five other Spaniards of the
Panfilo de Narvaez Expedition to Mexico founded the town. There had
been Indians living in the area but they could tell that founding
places was important to the Spaniards, so they went along with the
they came to be there:
Hernan Cortez, conqueror of Mexico,
was accused of treason against Spain (or padding his expense reports
for conquering Mexico). So, Panfilo Narvaez was sent to either kill
Cortez in place or bring him back to Spain where he could die before
an appreciative audience. Cortez had other plans. Since he and his
men were still pumped up from conquering the Aztecs (who weren’t exactly
basket-weaving pacifists), he easily defeated Narvaez.
After defeat and a brief imprisonment by Cortez – Narvaez and a small
band of his loyalists were eager to get home. The Spanish knew that
the world was round and they had a vague idea that Texas
and Florida were (somehow) connected. They got as far as Beaumont
and when they learned they’d have to go through Louisiana, many of
them turned back.
Father Zamora and five officers were among the ones who decided to
stay in Texas and settled in at Penitas.
Natives took pity on the Spaniards who, besides being beaten, captured
and imprisoned, had also lost the World Soccer Cup the year before.
The Indians taught the Spaniards how to cook and the Spaniards repaid
the Natives by pointing out their shortcomings and uncivilized customs.
Nevertheless, the Indians found the Spanish to be friendlier than
other Indian tribes in Texas - who would
kill them on sight, eat them and make jerky out of the leftovers.
The Spanish were so relieved about not going through Louisiana that
they intermarried with the Indians and learned to make mesquite bean
and cactus casserole. Many of the people in Penitas today can trace
their family history back to this handful of Spanish men and their
© John Troesser
Photo courtesy Ken
Rudine, February 2008
I spent my childhood
in the mesquite thickets and pastures about a mile or two west of
Penitas. I always knew it had been one the earliest European settlements
in America, and I was also told that the name meant "pebbles," or
"little stones." Growing up in this area just north of the Rio Grande
during the sixties was a Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn type of life
- South Texas style.
Most of the time the wind blew from the southeast, but occasionally
we got a "norther" during the so-called winter. BRRRR. I remember
flying a kite once during a "norther." My string broke and my kite
went to Mexico.
- Jerome Ellard, February 17, 2006
I was born
and raised in Las Penitas as were my parents and their parents.
There are still Zamoras, Garza's, Olivarez's, Ochoa's and many others
who can trace their roots back to those original settlers. I currently
live in Hillsboro, Oregon. Can't wait to move back to my hometown.
- Mauro A. Ochoa, April 20, 2005