The Esparza family has a long and rich history in the American West. Their recorded history dates back to 1836 and the battle of the Alamo. Isabel’s grandfather, Gregorio Esparza, was a cannoneer in Captain James Butler Bonham's gun crew during this time. Gregorio died at the Alamo, leaving his wife, Anna, and their four children, Maria de Jesus, Francisco, Enrique and Manuel. Isabel Esparza Huizar was a daughter of Manuel and Melchora Esparza. She was born on October 31, 1872 in Atascosa County, Texas. This area where Isabel lived is now more commonly known as Pleasanton, Texas.
Isabel married Guillermo Huizar on November 27, 1893. They raised six girls and two boys: Matilde, Louis, Adela, William, Emelia, Elisa, Ofelia, and Lena. The youngest daughter, Lena, remembers her mother as a strong woman and competent manager of the household and other chores on the ranch. Isabel’s grandfather Gregorio was well known as a cowboy. He roped, trained, and branded animals before joining the Army of the Republic of Texas and fighting at the Battle at the Alamo. The Huizar family ranch was part of a land grant in honor of Gregorio’s service to the government. The family's ranch grew to 600 acres on which the family raised 125 steer, as well as sheep, chickens, turkeys, and pigs. The cattle were rounded up once a year for a cattle drive to the market, 50 miles away.
Lena specifically remembers how particular Isabel was regarding the treatment of her sheep. Isabel spun the wool into thread. In addition to the livestock, Isabel tended her garden and plowed the fields for the cotton and vegetable crops. The family also had a fruit stand. At night, Isabel and the children canned tomatoes, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and fruits. Lena also recalls with fondness how her mother cured meat for the family. After the meat was removed from the animal, it was stretched over clotheslines and allowed to dry in the sun. Once dry, it was put into gunnysacks and hung in the food storage shed to be used for family meals. Cousins and siblings would sometimes raid the food shed to get to the cured meat, which was similar to beef jerky. Isabel was vigilant about keeping the children out of the food shed and would quickly chase the "raiders" away if she caught them.
According to Isabel’s daughter, the smells from Isabel's kitchen were irresistible. Everyone out in the fields waited to hear the ring of Isabel's cast-iron bell that she used to call people in for lunch or dinner. The workers were treated to simple but delicious food. She often served arroz con pollo (chicken with rice,) or machaca (shredded cured meat.) Isabel always had more than one cast-iron skillet going over the fire. Frijoles (beans) were a staple, as was rice. Arroz de maíz was a specialty of Isabel's. She shucked the kernels off the cob and boiled them, removing the skin when they were soft. The corn was added to simmered chicken with spices and cooked until tender. The “corn rice” would then have the appearance of regular rice. It is similar to the way Mediterranean couscous is cooked today. For breakfast and special occasions Isabel made dessert that Lena refers to as "crepes." As described by Lena, the crepes sound very much like the sopapillas commonly found in the Southwest. She remembers how the dough was put into hot oil and how it then puffed up. When the dough balls were browned they would be removed from the oil and dusted with powdered sugar or brushed with honey. They were best when served warm and with a hot beverage.
Respect and hospitality were two characteristics that Lena admired in her mother. Often a salesman approached the ranch during meal times. Isabel would first offer the vendor a warm meal and only afterward would she discuss business. This was her standard way of welcoming visitors to the ranch and into her home.
Special events were generally celebrated with large gatherings. Lena tells of friends and neighbors gathering to celebrate baptisms, weddings or a good rain for a rich harvest. Funerals would bring family from far away. Often the deceased was buried in the cemetery located on property donated by family members.
Isabel was a religious woman and took pride in volunteering at St. Augustine Catholic Church, which was located on the family property. Enrique Esparza, her father’s brother, donated the land for the church. Isabel helped with the altar chores and maintenance of flowers and candles. It was in this church that she married her husband, Guillermo Huizar.
Isabel and Guillermo were strong supporters of equal rights for Mexican Americans. Lena clearly remembers an incident when the Mexican children were separated from the white children on the playground. The Mexican children were not allowed to play with the white children and were given a play area in front of the latrines. This angered the children and in retaliation they did not allow the Anglo children to use the latrines. When Lena told her parents about this incident, her father went to the principal and demanded he be given the Mexican taxpayer's money. He said he owned enough land on which he could build his own school for the Mexican children. The following day all of the children were allowed to share the playground again.
On the ranch, the boys were most often working outside with their father, who also found extra work for them as needed. When the girls were not tending to chores, Isabel taught the oldest girls needlework skills such as crocheting and embroidery. As time passed and she became increasingly busy managing the household, she relied on the older girls to teach the younger girls the same skills. The girls also learned quilting. According to Lena, women and girls came together for quilting parties. These gatherings provided an opportunity to catch up on the local gossip. The flower basket and the necktie design were traditional patterns.
In addition to being accomplished in needlework, Isabel was also a very capable seamstress and exceedingly resourceful. She cut patterns out of brown paper bags to stitch together all of her family's clothing. Each pattern carried the person's name on it and revisions had to be made as the children grew. There were patterns for shirts, skirts, pants, and even underclothes. The patterns were carefully stored in her trunk and no one but Isabel could use them. Isabel died in 1961 at the age of 85. The key to the trunk was lost and was only recently opened in 1994 by Lena and her sisters. They decided to break open the lock so they could explore its contents and share the history with their niece, Simona Elkin, an Autry Museum docent. Lena passed away February 2005.
Introductory Lesson Plan
This is an introductory lesson intended to build enthusiasm and interest in the kit. The theme and content are based on the true story of Isabel Huizar’s descendants who found an old trunk that belonged to her. What they found inside evoked special memories and taught them more about their ancestor.
In this lesson students will think about the meaning of the word hero and the role that heroes play in our community. Students will learn about Gregorio Esparza’s role in the battle of the Alamo and how this event helped shape state and community identity in Texas. Students will examine how the Huizar family suffered from discrimination because of their Mexican heritage, and how their actions in response to these experiences make them heroes.
The life of a Vaquero, the Mexican cowboy, was not an easy one. While we picture the cowboy life as exciting and romantic, the reality was quite different. Cowboy life consisted of hard work, dirty clothes, and few luxuries. This lesson will provide students with the opportunity to learn about vaqueros and the jobs they perform on the ranch. They will learn the purpose and process of branding animals and create their own brand (stamp) from a potato.
Student Book List
- Anzaldua, Gloria (1995). Friends from the Other Side / Amigos del otro lado. California: Children’s Book Press. Ages 4 to 8.
- Benningfield, CeCe (2000). Angorra Kidd. Eakin Publications. Ages 4 to 8.
- Hoobler, Dorothy (1992). A Promise at the Alamo: The Story of a Texas Girl. Silver Burdett Press. Ages 9 to 12.
- Kerr, Rita (1987). The Alamo Cat. Eakin Publications. Ages 9 to 12.
- Kerr, Rita (1984). The Girl of the Alamo. Eakin Publications. Ages 9 to 12.
- Kutchinski, Marjorie (1998). Liberty, Justice and F’rall: The Dog Heroes of the Texas Republic. Eakin Publication. Ages 9 to 12.
- Nixon, Joan Lowery (1996). Search for the Shadowman. Delacorte Press. Ages 8 to 12.
- Rice, James (1998). Vaqueros. Pelican Publishing Company. Ages 4 to 8.
- Rice, James (2001). Victor Lopez at the Alamo. Pelican Publishing Company, Incorporated. Ages 8 to 12.
- Richardson, Jean (1997). When Grandpa had Fangs. Eakin Publications. Ages 4 to 8.
- Rossi, Joyce (1999). The Gullywasher/El Chaparron Torrencial. Northland Publications. Ages 4 to 8.
- Scott, Ann Herbert (1993). A Brand is Forever. Clarion Books. Ages 4 to 8.
- Tenorio-Coscarelli, Jane (1996). The Tortilla Quilt Story. Quarter-Inch Publishing. Ages 5 to 11.
- Wade, Mary Dodson (1995). I’m going to Texas/Yo voy a Tejas. Colophon House. Grades K to 3.
- Jakes, T.D. (1990). Susanna of the Alamo: A True Story. Harcourt Books. Ages 4 to 8.
- Rogers, Lisa Waller (2000). Angel of the Alamo. Austin, Texas: W.S. Benson and Company. Grades 3 to 6.