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PENITAS, a.k.a. LAS PENITAS, TEXAS

Hidalgo County, South Texas
FM 2062 and Hwy 83
3 miles W of Mission
20 miles SW of Edinburg
21 miles SE of Rio Grande City

Population 1,167 (2000)

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Penitas TX Goats
Photo courtesy Ken Rudine, February 2008
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An Extremely Informal* History of Penitas

*Written as an entertainment and not recommended for school reports

by Brewster Hudspeth
Las 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 program.
How 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 Indian wives.

© John Troesser
Penitas TX Edinburg Canal
Edinburg Canal
Photo courtesy Ken Rudine, February 2008

Penitas Texas Forum

  • Subject: Penitas
    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


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    This page last modified: February 25, 2008