Américo Paredes,

"The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez"

Américo Paredes was born on September 3, 1915, and grew up in Brownsville, Texas. He is able to trace his ancestry to the original inhabitants of Nuevo Santander (Mexico). As a young man, he attended the University of Texas to study creative writing and literary criticism and unintentionally fell into folklore when he tried to explore how to apply literary criticism to folk poetry. By age twenty Paredes had begun contributing literary pieces to La Prensa's Lunes Literario, a literary supplement published weekly. Thereafter, he issued his Cantos de adolescencia (Songs of Adolescence) (1937), and later went on to write articles on educational reform for the Brownsville Herald.

Most notable, however, was Américo Paredes's solid scholarship concerning Mexican and Mexican American folklore. Among his books are With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (1958), on which the film The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez was based, The Urban Experience and Folk Tradition (1971), Toward New Perspectives in Folklore (1972), A Texas-Mexican Cancionero: Folksongs of the Lower Border (1976), and Folktales of Mexico (1979). In later years, Paredes returned to his own creative writing and published Between Two Worlds (1990), George Washington Gómez (1990), Uncle Remus Con Chile (1993), and the Hammon and the Beans and Other Stories (1994).

Américo Paredes began his folkloric career with a dissertation on the group of corridos (ballads) that told the true story of the heroic figure Gregorio Cortez. Paredes analyzed the many versions of the ballad and its portrayal of Cortez's deeds and reputed misdeeds. Naturally, Paredes chose the most complete version of the ballad for its full publication and for the preparation of the script for the film version of The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. In addition, Paredes examined the cultural conflicts that have been part of life in the U.S./Mexican borderlands–the land that folklorists and historians call Old Mexico (today commonly referred to as the American Southwest).


The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez

In the county of Karnes
Look what has happened;
The Major Sheriff died,
Leaving Román badly wounded.

It must have been two in the afternoon (5)
When people arrived;
They said to one another,
"It is not known who killed him."

They went around asking questions,
About half an hour afterward, (10)
They found that the wrongdoer
Had been Gregorio Cortez.

Now they have outlawed Cortez
Throughout the whole state;
Let him be taken, dead or alive; (15)
He has killed several men.

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
With his pistol in his hand,
"I don't regret that I killed him;
I regret my brother's death." (20)

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
And his soul was all aflame,
"I don't regret that I killed him;
A man must defend himself."

The Americans were coming, (25)
They were whiter than a dove,
From the fear that they had
Of Cortez and of his pistol.

Then the Americans said,
Then they said fearfully, (30)
"Come, let us follow the trail;
The wrongdoer is Cortez."

They set the bloodhounds on him,
So they could follow his trail,
But trying to overtake Cortez
Was like following a star.

He struck out for Gonzales
Without showing any fear,
"Follow me, cowardly rangers,
I am Gregorio Cortez." (40)

From Belmont he went to the ranch,
They succeeded in surrounding him,
Quite a few more than three hundred,
But there he jumped their corral.

When he jumped their corral, (45)
According to what we hear,
They got into a gunfight,
And he killed them another sheriff.

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
With his pistol in his hand, (50)
"Don't run, you cowardly rangers,
From just one Mexican."

Gregorio Cortez went out,
He went toward Laredo
They decided not to follow (55)
Because they were afraid of him.

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
"What is the use of your scheming?
You cannot catch me,
Even with those bloodhounds." (60)

Then the Americans said,
"If we catch up with him, what shall we do?
If we fight him man to man,
Very few of us will return."

Over by El Encinal, (65)
According to what we hear,
They made him a corral,
And he killed them another sheriff.

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
Shooting out a lot of bullets, (70)
"I have weathered thunderstorms;
This little mist doesn't bother me."

Now he has met a Mexican;
He says to him haughtily,
"Tell me the news; (75)
I am Gregorio Cortez."

"It is said that because of me
Many people have been killed;
I will surrender now
Because such things are not right." (80)

Cortez says to Jesús,
"At last you are going to see it;
Go tell the rangers
To come and arrest me."

All the rangers were coming, (85)
Coming so fast they even flew,
For they wanted to get
The thousand dollars they were offered.

When they surrounded the house,
Cortez suddenly appeared before them, (90)
"You will take me if I'm willing,
But not any other way."

Then the Major Sheriff said,
As if he was going to cry,
"Cortez, hand over your weapons; (95)
We are not going to kill you."

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
Shouting to them in a loud voice,
"I won't surrender my arms
Until I am in a cell." (100)

Then said Gregorio Cortez,
He said in his godly voice,
"I won't surrender my arms
Until I'm inside a jail."

Now they have taken Cortez, (105)
Now matters are at an end;
His poor family
Are suffering in their hearts.

Now with this I say farewell,
In the shade of a cypress tree; (110)
This is the end of the singing
Of the ballad of Cortez.

Questions to consider while reading:

1. How does the ballad presents the border conflict between Anglo-Americans and Mexican Americans?

2. Knowing that rinches are Texas Rangers, how does the characterization of rinches differ between ethnic groups?

3. The epic epithet "with his pistol in his hand" often accompanies the name of Gregorio Cortez. What do you suppose is the poetic strategy for using an epic epithet?

4. In which ways is Cortez made heroic? How is he depicted? What is his defense in justifying his killing of the Major Sheriff?

from Hispanic American Literature, An Anthology (Rodolfo Cortina, Editor)