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Author takes on challenge of telling the stories of Mexican pioneers

By APRILL BRANDON
March 17, 2010 at 5 p.m.
Updated March 17, 2010 at 10:18 p.m.

Book cover of "Federico Villalba's Texas: A Mexican Pioneer's Life in the Big Bend" by Juan Manuel Casas. The author is in town this week for several book signings.

GET IT SIGNED

Book signing schedule for author Juan Manuel Casas:

2-4 p.m. - Friday at Long Leaf Coffee Company, 215 S. Main St.

11 a.m.-1 p.m. - Saturday at Victoria Public Library, 302 N. Main St.

3-5 p.m. - Saturday at Hastings, 5206 N. Navarro St.

You probably don't know the name Federico Villalba, but he was among the first pioneers to tame the Big Bend area of Texas.

It's not your fault, however. His name, along with many other Mexican pioneers, are missing from the pages of history books, author Juan Manuel Casas said.

It's something that Casas is trying to remedy through his book "Federico Villalba's Texas: A Mexican Pioneer's Life in the Big Bend."

Published in 2008, the book tells the story of Villalba, who is also Casas' great-grandfather, on his adventures during the early settlements along the Rio Grande and in the Big Bend.

"The only thing really written about Mexicans were the bad things but they were the pioneers, the first ones in Big Bend. They tamed it," Casas said. "Yet nothing is done or said in their favor."

That is, until now, he added. Thanks to the book, now other Hispanic families are coming out about the role their ancestors played in the early days of Texas.

"A lot of Mexican pioneer stories are buried but luckily, this book is bringing out families. People are finally realizing that Mexicans settled Big Bend," he said. "I'm proud to say I stirred the pot."

On Friday and Saturday, Casas, of California, will be in Victoria to hold book signings and give presentations about "Federico Villalba's Texas" in multiple locations, including the Victoria Public Library and Hastings.

A graduate of California Southern Law School and Trinity College & University, Casas was inspired to write the book for his mother after she was upset she couldn't find any information on her grandfather. Three years of research and 300 pages later, the book was published by Iron Mountain Press in Houston.

"If I had looked for a plot this imaginative, I couldn't find one," Casas said, describing the wild tales he discovered about his family. "I used to hear my grandma tell stories about shooting a jackrabbit off a horse, but, of course, we always dismissed them. After researching, I came to find out all these crazy things were true."

Casas is working on a prequel to his book that chronicles the Villalba family's life in Italy and migration to Sicily and then Spain.

"Federico Villalba's Texas" is available at Hastings, as well as online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. For more information on the book, go to www.ironmtnpress.com/book_villalba.asp.

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