Falfurrias, Texas, a small town approximately 75 miles north of McAllen, has been synonymous with border checkpoint in my mind; it is where one has to stop on the way to San Antonio or Austin or Houston and declare one’s citizenship and destination. Historically, much of the land in Falfurrias has been occupied by a ranch, which has been the focus of some media attention lately. In her recent essay “Code 500” in Oxford American magazine (Fall 2013), Stephanie Elizondo Griest documents her time spent with the sheriff’s office of Brooks County, Texas in researching missing persons, immigrants who die entering the United States. Despite this sobering introduction, Griest also notes its significance as a cultural marker, writing, “Falfurrias has been famed for two things: a nineteenth-century faith healer named Don Pedrito Jaramillo and a dairy that sold its sweet-cream butter across the state in yellow-and-blue boxes” (p.35). I had heard of Don Pedrito Jaramillo from some of my students and co-workers; in speaking of traditional medicine and yerbería, his name was often mentioned as an example of creencias del Valle. In October, I finally had the opportunity to visit Don Pedrito’s shrine in Falfurrias in the company of my friends Loly, Yipon, and Edna.
Before embarking on our journey, we made sure we had purchased candles to light at the shrine. For those who had not had the foresight or opportunity to do so, there happens to be a small shop on the premises, run by a woman whose father was Don Pedrito’s adopted son. She had learned all of the stories of Don Pedrito’s works firsthand from her father. Don Pedrito, known as el curandero de los Olmos, was born in Jalisco, Mexico, in 1829. He came to South Texas and the Los Olmos ranch.
Don Pedrito Jaramillo’s work as a faith healer made him quite famous in his day. From the time he settled in South Texas in the mid-nineteenth century until his death in 1907, the sick and injured sought his care regularly. His services were particularly welcomed by the local population, due to the dearth of medical personnel in the area at that time (a situation that has not been completely remedied yet, unfortunately.) Additionally, Don Pedrito refused payment for his services; he believed that he should use his gift to do good in his community without compensation.
Don Pedrito is said to have cured his devotees through their own faith; according to a report compiled by the Brooks County Historical Survey Committee, “Don Pedro’s treatments involved common substances that were administered in unusual ways with liberal doses of prayer.” These recetas relied on the active involvement of the sick individual, testing his or her faith as part of the healing practice. These recetas tended to be simple and accessible for the sick who sought his counsel.
Today, people come to visit Don Pedrito Jaramillo’s shrine, to ask him for help with all matter of problems, many of them not involving physical illness at all. On the boards that line the walls of the shrine, there are handwritten letters to Don Pedrito penned on napkins, paper plates, and scraps of paper of all colors. Interspersed with these missives—some asking for loved ones to stop drinking, or to see a family member released from prison, or for success in school—are publicity materials for political campaigns, mechones (locks of hair), baby socks, report cards, and many, many photographs. Devotees come to the shrine to ask for Don Pedrito’s help or to thank him for his intervention.
Before leaving, we made sure to light our veladoras and make our peticiones before returning to McAllen. We plan to return in the future to interview Don Pedrito’s granddaughter, to document some of the stories about the faith healer she heard while growing up.