If for some reason you have occasion to be driving through the Hill Country on Farm-to-Market Road 3237, bound for Wimberley, you’re likely to pass a tall Hispanic man working alone on a sprawling quarter horse ranch known as Foothills Farm. He wears jeans and boots, and beneath his cotton snap-button shirt there are both broad shoulders and a slight paunch. His straw hat will be set evenly, revealing a face deepened less by age than by decades in the sun. More than likely, he will be leading a horse by its reins to a paddock or to graze along Lone Man Creek.
It’s as ordinary a sight as one can imagine. I wouldn’t even bother to look, except that I happen to know this man, and remember how he got to where he is today. His name is Vicente Martinez. For a quarter century, he worked directly across Lone Man Creek, on the ranch where I spent much of my youth. He had crossed the Rio Grande near Reynosa, wandering for years from one farm to another, until he found a rancher in Medina who offered him $3 a day and a ditch in which to sleep in return for working with the animals. Word of Vicente’s skill with horses eventually reached our ranch foreman, who arranged a discreet meeting one day in 1969. Vicente accepted our foreman’s offer: $125 a month, plus food and a small trailer, in exchange for being the caretaker of dozens of quarter horses. Three years later, Vicente’s pregnant wife and three young boys were smuggled across the border in a two-door Monte Carlo driven by our foreman. In this way did the Martinez family come to live and work at the ranch owned by my grandfather, the Houston attorney and former Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski.
All this took place at a time when, according to an official at the Center for Immigration Studies, there were at most 1 million illegal aliens in America. Today there may be