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Writing Austin's Lives: More than 800 residents tell their stories in Humanities Institute community project


By Danny Camacho

I still live in the house my parents bought in 1951. I had first thought to recount my own memories of growing up on the East Side. Of my three sisters and I having to just cross the street to attend Metz Elementary. The summers passed on the playground and in the swimming pool at Metz Park. Or weekends spent fishing with my Dad. We would walk the few blocks down to the Colorado River, before it became Town Lake.

Danny Camacho sits in his home next to a wall of family portraits

Danny Camacho

But it’s the old stories, the ‘cuento’ about the ‘abuelos,’ that I heard as a child that I want to share. My great-great-grandparents Eulogio and Pilar Luna, their seven children and extended family came to Austin in 1872. They settled in an area near the mouth of Shoal Creek called ‘Mexico.’ The men were day laborers and the women took in laundry.

It was here that my grandmother, Higinia, went to a two-room school at the corner of 2nd and Nueces, now the location of the Green Water Treatment Plant. I remember hearing the tale of how in 1882 great-grandpa Toribio got rowdy in ‘Guy Town,’ just a few blocks away. He was arrested and fined $5.00 for disturbing the peace.

Another story told was about Pilar at the time of the construction of the present state capital building. Of her being on Congress Avenue and watching the chain-gangs of convicts being led to work by armed mounted guards. Pilar dropped to her knees on the wooden sidewalk and making the sign of the cross, offered up her prayers for their wayward souls.

A block east of Congress, at 10th and Brazos, is St. Mary’s Cathedral. It was there that great-grandma Carlota, her three sisters and brother were all married. And at 11th and Congress, now a parking lot, once stood the Travis County Court House. It was here that Toribio was tried for ‘lunacy’ in 1900. He was convicted and sentenced to the State Lunatic Asylum on Guadalupe Street, then outside the city limits. He died there two months later.

My mother, Lorraine, was baptized at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, then located at the corner of 5th and Guadalupe Streets. The downtown post office occupies the site. She had been born in 1917 at the home of her parents, 510 West 9th. It was in this same house, a year later, that Pilar died. Mother’s sister Lucille, who was then 9, remembered that day. All the furniture, except for the chairs, was taken out of the front room. It was there that Pilar was laid out in a pine coffin. The ‘casa’ was soon filled to overflowing with ‘familia’ and ‘compadres.’ An all-night vigil was held before the funeral the next day. My aunt and her younger brother went out to a vacant lot and picked a bouquet of wild red poppies to place on the casket.

Pilar, Eulogio, Carlota, Toribio and other family members are buried in Oakwood Cemetery, located south of Disch-Falk Baseball Field on MLK Boulevard.

Whenever I’m on downtown Congress, I can’t help but feel the presence of my ancestors. It is as if they had just turned the corner ahead of me. I then wonder if 100 years from now some future relation will be walking there and think the same.

Read Aletha Irby’s full story

Read Monica Beckford’s full story

Read Sofia Harber Bowden’s full story

Read John Salazar’s full story

Read Deb Kelt’s full story

Read Gina Schrader’s full story

Read Writing Austin’s Lives introduction

Photo: Julie Ardery, KUT

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  Updated 2014 October 13
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