Creature Feature: Damnation at Toluca Ranch

Through Halloween, The Monitor is running a nine-part series of mine featuring illustrations by various artists. Called Creature Feature, the column consists of retellings of local legends about strange beings. This week’s story was “Damnation at Toluca Ranch,” illustrated by Carlos Ortega-Haas (ink) and Charlene Bowles (color).

Damnation Page 1

Damnation Page 2


  1. Hi-I’m sending this email on behalf of my father who read your article in The Monitor. He is wondering if you knew anything about the Fernandez family who were also owners of the Toluca ranch. They were not mentioned in the article and he was curious as to the reason. My dad knew the families – thanks – ur response would be greatly appreciated

    • Laura, the column simply was retelling a legend (rather than giving an actual historical review of the origins of Toluca Ranch). As I understand it, Florencio’s adopted daughter Manuela married Amador Fernández (mentioned briefly in the version of the legend in The Monitor), and that couple became the owners of the ranch upon Florencio’s death.

      But, as I say, the point of Creature Feature is to revisit local legends of scary entities (like the Devil, in this one). I wasn’t striving for historical authenticity (though I clearly wanted to provide historical context to give the legend more weight and realism). This is a story that my grandmother Marie Garza told me nearly four decades ago and that I have re-encountered often ever since. Dr. Mark Glazer collected a version of the legend, titled “Bargain with the Devil,” in his 1982 folklore text Flower from Another Sack, published by the Pan American University Press. He used it in an anthropology course I took with him in 1989.

      • Hi David,
        my family lived in the L-shaped building next to the church. The building used to be a store. We experienced very scary stuff during our time there. Also a very old man, Don Porforio, told us why they had to build the church. I always wondered if it was all true but I remember my mom going every weekend to clean the church which seem to always stay dirty even when nobody visited it. Very scary for us who at the time were ages 2-11 years old.

        • Alma,

          I can only imagine! Wow, growing up next to the church must have been very intense. I grew up hearing the story, but from a safe distance, heh.

          Thanks so much for dropping by!

    • Hello i would really love to know the true story to tje house. My aunt currently owns the house.

  2. Don Antonio Cano was my great-great-great grandfather. The story is beautifully written and brought enjoyment and memories to my family. Thanks for sharing.

    • Rubén, thanks for your kind words. I realize the legend paints Sáenz in a less-than-favorable light, but the overall historical story of the Cano family and their development of this region is tale worthy of respect and admiration.

  3. Marianela Martinez

    Our family is also connected with the vast web of relations descended from Don Antonio Cano. Your story illustrates so well the wonderful blend of religion, superstition and legend that was so much a part of our elders’ lives. I thoroughly enjoyed your story and will share it at an upcoming Cano/Martinez family reunion.

  4. Jon David Saucedo

    Dear Mr. Bowles, Great story! I grew up with stories like these. The Mid-Valley Town Cryer ran a series called “Old Stories That Must Never Die”. This collection eventually became a book, that as I understand was donated to every elementary school library in Texas. I know my students loved reading it! Perhaps your book could one day join it. I’m sure it would be a great read. Incidentally, I grew up in Mercedes! I knew Santiago “Jimmy” Fernandez, son of Manuela Fernandez. He went to Mass daily. His family donated money for the construction of Our Lady of Mercy Church off Vermont Ave. There are 2 marble stones over each holy water font acknowledging such. In addition, the Fernandez Family donated land to the Diocese of Brownsville for the construction of low income housing that still operate today as La Merced Home–I lived in one of those homes. The first site manager was Jimmy Fernandez. As a child, I grew up hearing many things about the Fernandez Family and their troubles and how they acquired and lost their wealth. Going to “Las Flores” aka “Nuevo Progreso” for tortillas, medicine and haircuts, we would pass the Old Toluca Ranch and my mother would make us make the sign of the cross

  5. Hello….
    It’s January 2016…. And I am just familiarizing myself with your work the legend of taluca ranch… And wow what a great read…. Many life changing events have taken place here in the place we call home the RGV… I enjoy digging and researching folk lore local myths as some sometime tie in to actual events from our pass…. But more over my hobby serves as a way to find new locations to investigate as I also am a member of the haunted paranormal were a paranormal investigative group out of San Benito…anyway thanks for the story taluca ranch here we come…

  6. Omar Olivarez Cano

    Antonio Cano was also my Great Great Grandfather from Campaqua Ranch Cano Sanish Land Grant and I would like to know more about the Toluca Ranch history! Could you possibly post a link on this story?

  7. This is a great story. I first heard of it when my aunt was taking the anthropology course at pan am. Javi Fernandez was a good friend of mine back in high school. We used to hang outside of his grandmothers house after school, sometimes later than we should’ve. We could still see bullet holes left in the side of the house. I remember a tall room where a ring was fixed in the ceiling where rope was used to hang people. To most, this house is a scary setting but I remember his grandmother lived there for a while all by herself after her husbands death. She was a nice lady. She’d make us eggs and bacon in a microwave.

  8. I currently work at the Toluca Ranch and I play the part of the Caretaker/ narrator and have heard this story from people who heard it from there grand parents. I like to stick to the historical facts in respect to the dead however having read your story it makes sense to me to include the folk tales that have been said for so many years. I believe to every lie their is a little truth so who knows right.

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