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This Mexican family is part of the rich history of what was La Corte barrio in Fort Worth

September 16,2023

See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Richard J. Gonzales here.

In 1910, Bonifacio Maldonado, his wife Rosario, and son Jessie immigrated to the United States, leaving Guanajuato, Mexico, and the horrors of the Mexican Revolution.

They settled in La Corte barrio, so called because of its proximity to the Tarrant County Courthouse. Located northwest of downtown Fort Worth, the terraced barrio overlooked the Trinity River. Since the early 20th century, Black people and white people occupied this area, then known as Battercake Flats. As more Mexicans like Bonifacio and his family landed in Fort Worth, in search of jobs and a peaceful life, Latinos by 1938 comprised most of the riverfront barrio.

One of the first integrated Fort Worth communities, consisting of low-income white, Black, Asian, Native American, and Mexican people, La Corte developed a reputation as one of the city’s worst slums. Most homes were small, overcrowded wooden shacks. Thirty-nine percent of the houses lacked electricity and 46 percent had no indoor plumbing. Despite the surrounding poverty, Jessie built a three-story stone and concrete house for his 11 children at 308 Franklin St.

A skilled stonemason, who worked for the WPA as a dynamiter, Jessie laid the foundation in 1945 for an upper terrace house, carved into the bluff, and facing the Trinity River. Two concrete staircases on both sides of the house led to Franklin Street, La Corte’s main road. Martha Maldonado Dickinson wrote about her life with her daughter Patrisia Gonzales at Casa De La Corte. She recalled the beauty of polished concrete floors, knotty pine walls, walk-in closets, spacious bedrooms, a library, and fireplace. As Jessie’s children grew older and married, they moved out and back depending on life changes.

With only a third grade education, but with determination to improve the lives of his extended family, Jessie started his own construction company, Maldo and Bros., building state bridges and laying foundations for city overpasses and buildings, including the Cullen Davis mansion.

Bonifacio, trained as an architect in Mexico, lived in a three-story home across the street from his son’s. As a housing manager, he ensured several of the barrio’s rental homes’ electricity and running water worked efficiently. Steeped in Mexican folk medicine, he served thousands in a rock house as La Corte’s healer, setting bones and treating injuries for free. Patrisia recalled Bonifacio’s clients sitting on the concrete stairs, waiting for his attention. Some traveled from as far away as Waco. She wrote that some angry husbands shot at him for healing wives they had abused. During the Depression, he brewed whiskey from an underground tunnel still. Bonifacio beautified the barrio with peach trees and rose bushes that were irrigated with water from the Trinity.

Martha wrote that her grandmother Rosario was Comanche and Bonifacio, a Nahua Indian. The Maldonados sanctified the land with the burial of their children’s umbilical cords. They found it fitting to build the three-story home by the Trinity where Comanches camped before the arrival of settlers. The Maldonados lived contently in the Native American spirit a few yards from the original Camp Worth. Maj. Ripley Arnold built the wooden fortress in 1849 as a defense against marauding natives.

According to research by Tarrant County College professor of history Peter Martinez, the newly created Fort Worth Housing Authority decided in 1939 to provide low-income housing for whites and Black people. Although Latino people were considered white for census purposes, none of the Mexican residents could afford the rent at the Ripley Arnold apartments when they opened in La Corte in 1940.

The Butler housing project was built next to Terrell High School for Black people. Since many of La Corte’s Mexican people worked in downtown hotels and restaurants, they relocated to fringes of the central city. Others moved to the North side into the growing Mexican-American barrios. Martinez wrote, “The needs of Fort Worth Hispanic communities were not only ignored, but they were worsened by the development of the Ripley Arnold housing project.”

By 1975, the lone occupied house on Franklin Street was Jessie’s casa. His upper terrace home survived the 1949 Trinity flooding, while many of the shacks were washed away. However, it could not withstand the city of Fort Worth’s tsunami to force all residents from the Trinity River banks. The city offered $15,000 for Jessie’s property. After his family notified WFAA television station, reporters did an investigative story of the city’s eminent domain action. Despite Jessie’s plea to the Fort Worth City Council, they took possession of the land for $35,000.

In 2021, Tiffany Garcia with the assistance of Patrisia Gonzales and Ellen Timberlake, historical marker chair for Tarrant County, applied to the Texas Historical Commission through the Under Told program for an historical marker on Jessie’s former property. The request was denied with no explanation.

Jessie’s descendants hope the city preserves the existing remains of his casa in the development of Heritage Park. The twin concrete stairs and pyramidal building are historical evidence of the Maldonados’ 45-year graceful efforts to raise families, peach trees, and roses.

Visitors today can see the skeleton of Jessie’s cliff home. Imaginative viewers will view and hear Mexican people sitting on the two concrete stairs, awaiting their turn for Bonifacio’s Nahua healing. That’s a Fort Worth Mexican/Native American heritage worth preserving.