We are often reminded that the United States is a nation forged by immigrants, but there is one European country whose migrants are rarely mentioned here: Portugal. In particular, their contribution to the colonization and development of the West has been overlooked.
This was brought to my attention when a neighbor visited her ancestral home, the Azores, a chain of islands that is part of Portugal. His maternal grandfather, Manuel Brazil, immigrated to Boston at the age of eight, accompanied by only one family member, a cousin, a few years his senior.
They arrived in New York City with signs showing their names and stating that they would be welcomed to California by relatives who had immigrated earlier. They arrived in California and my neighbor’s grandfather later came to the Texas Panhandle, where she was born and raised.
Intrigued by this story, I asked for more information and got a book called “Land, As Far As the Eye Can See” by Donald Warrin and Geoffrey Gomes. I learned more about the life of two immigrants from the Azores named Manuel Brazil, the eldest being the uncle of my neighbor’s grandfather.
Uncle Manuel S. Brazil was born in the Azores in 1850 and immigrated to the United States in 1866 at the age of 16. He eventually settled in New Mexico and became a naturalized US citizen in 1872. Eight years later he bought a ranch near Fort Sumner for $ 400, and one of the witness signatures on it The act was that of William Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid.
Although the Kid is already wanted for murder and known to steal cattle and horses, he has remained on good terms with Brazil for some time. However, it was not long before Pat Garrett was elected Sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, and he set out to arrest the Kid in December 1880. At this point, Manuel Brazil played a remarkable role in helping Garrett to have Billy the Child captured.
On the evening of December 19, after a confrontation with Garrett and a gang that resulted in the death of a member of his gang, Billy sought refuge at the Brazilian ranch. Confident that he was loyal to them, Billy asked Brazil to travel to Fort Sumner for supplies and information.
According to Garrett, Brazil came to see him on the morning of December 20 and reported that the Kid and his gang were downcast and vulnerable. The sheriff asked Brazil to go back and give the Kid some misleading information, preparing him to be captured. Eventually he was captured and in April 1881 he was tried and sentenced to hang. Today, Billy the Kid remains one of the most notorious figures of the time, and his life and image were frequently dramatized in westerns.
It was in the early 1890s that the adolescent nephew from Brazil, also named Manuel, came to live with him in New Mexico. He remained with his uncle until 1910, and years later he was the source of information about the older Brazilian’s relationship with Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. In 1896, when the nephew was 15, he and his uncle moved to the Texas Panhandle, the two of them founding a ranch just south of the Canadian River on the semi-arid grasslands of Llano Estacado.
They operated the ranch for over 20 years, and Brazil Sr. became a prominent citizen of Roberts County. He sold his ranch in 1916, before beef prices collapsed, and invested in commercial real estate in Clarendon, another town in Panhandle. However, by 1920 he had retired to Hot Springs, Arkansas. The nephew moved to California, but eventually returned to Plemons, TX, where he operated a large ranch. When the uncle died in 1928, he left some Panhandle properties to his nephew.
Young Brazil had three children, including a daughter who became the mother of my neighbor. The theme of immigration was doubly reflected in his family, with a genetic heritage of blue eyes coming from 18th century Flemish migrants to the Azores. One of the reasons Portuguese immigrants to this country often go unrecognized is that their names are assumed to be of Spanish or Mexican origin.
Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for seniors who want to write their life story. He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: [email protected]