Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Cleo Dawson--Under Construction


Ms. Cleo Dawson was a local writer and a native of Mission. Her popular novel, She Came to the Valley (1943) was made into a major motion picture (starring some artists that are still around in Hollywood) in 1978.
It is her rendition of turn-of-the-century Valley life, with an emphasis on Mission.
Valley native, singer Freddy Fender, plays Pancho Villa in the film.
The 30th anniversary of the film's release and Hollywood-style premier, should be coming up soon. Maybe someone will celebrate that.
A good starting point for research on this author may be the Speer Memorial Library in Mission or Mission's new historical museum at the former City Hall building at 900 Doherty. There is a whole room upstairs with costumes, jewelry, info and posters on the film, and other mementos/photos.

The film is considered a B movie and is available from a Canadian firm, under the title, "Texas is Burning" via DVD.

My own research into this topic is below. Enjoy. ~Daniel Garcia Ordaz, Art That Heals, Inc. NOTE: I recently read the book, but that was after I wrote what follows: Intro, Main Paper, Works Cited, Addendum.
The Making of the Film: “She Came To The Valley”
Based on the book She Came To The Valley, a novel by Mission native Cleo Dawson, Ph.D.
by Daniel García Ordaz
for "South Texas Writers"
Robert Earl Johnson, Jr., Ph.D.
The University of Texas-Pan American
August 12, 2004
Introduction to The Making of the Film: “She Came To The Valley”

I chose to study the making of the film “She Came To The Valley” partly because I am from Mission, like the author of the book on which the film is based, and partly because I wanted to document this unique piece of Rio Grande Valley history.

Growing up I knew about the book and film because Cleo Dawson, the author of the novel, appeared in the annual parade—the largest parade in the Valley—during the Citrus Fiesta activities. In conjunction with her parade appearance, the film was shown annually at the local movie theater. While I waved at the author several times, I never heard her speak before a showing of her film but I did watch the film, probably soon after it was released.

The film was shot in the summer of 1977 and I remember lots of buzz around our new neighborhood in the west end of town. One of our neighbor’s uncles was said to have been in the film as one of Pancho Villa’s men—an un-credited “extra”. Even now he looks a little too much like Villa and I’m wondering whether he made the final cut on account of he may have stole the show standing next to Freddy Fender. Like Dawson, Fender also appeared in the parade—especially around the time of the filming and some time after the film’s release. He appeared on horseback and all.

While working on Valley history as my senior year research paper I came across some newspaper clippings in a tiny section of Mission’s Speer Memorial Library. Information on the film was kept in a manila folder in a file cabinet. I saw pictures of the premier and the main artists, but none of them made an impression on me as it had been years since I saw the film by then. Now when I look back at the big names involved I am surprised I was not more awed at the whole experience.

Once I hit upon Sol Marroquin’s name on the credit list during an online search, I knew who to go to for more information. I had met Mr. Marroquin several times during high school events and Boy Scout functions because he was an administrative aide to longtime Congressman Kika de la Garza, then representative of District 15. Mr. Marroquin served as my primary source for my research and one can assume, against otherwise noted that the information is empirical knowledge or is “according to” Marroquin. He surprised me with little-known facts about the making of the film, but I was not the least bit surprised at his knowledge.

As the founder of a non-profit organization, Art That Heals, Inc., whose mission is to encourage cultural literacy in the Rio Grande Valley by promoting the arts, I took this class to gain a better understanding of our literary ancestors from this area. When it comes to art, writing, sports, and so many other aspects of life in this region, the perception has often been that the Rio Grande Valley is lacking in talent: nothing good has ever come from here. I knew differently: I knew about our sports heroes, our military heroes, our sports heroes, etc. But I did not know about artists, poets, and authors, from our past—at least not much. One of our organization’s goals is to educate our people in the region about the great contemporary artists and writers in our midst; however, another of our ongoing projects is to document Valley artists and writers who have added so much to our rich culture.

I chose to study Dr. Dawson’s film because her written words remain, but the people and places involved in the filming of her story are not documented in any permanent way. I figured I would spend time analyzing her book later, but I should document the making of the film now, before another HEB grocery store or Circle K is built where a scene was filmed, before another old building or farm is bulldozed to make room for a school, before those “extras” and actors and behind-the-scenes helpers died—or before their memories faded. As the leader of the non-profit group I figured I should organize a celebration of the film and the filming, perhaps at the point of the 30th anniversary of the release of the film. Many people of Mission know about the film, yet other people in the Valley do not seem to. Not one video store in the Valley owns a copy of the film. I set out to begin the process of documenting this special moment in our history because, as Mr. Marroquin pointed out, Dawson’s is not a story about Mission; it’s a story of the Rio Grande Valley.

The Making of the Film: “She Came To The Valley”

In the summer of 1977 the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas Hollywood came to town for the filming of a full-length feature film based on a novel by a Mission native, author Cleo Dawson. She Came To The Valley, published in 1943 to a widely receptive national audience, is the story of Dawson’s family as they migrated from “up north” to the Valley with the promise of lush farmlands and a fresh start on life. Dawson’s mother, Helen, (named Willy in the book and subsequent film) is the heroine of the book. The novel depicts the trials and triumphs of the pioneer family who sets out for the Valley in a covered wagon to settle in the last of the frontier. After getting lost in the desert of New Mexico and finally making their way to the Valley, the family sets up a store, which is eventually burned down by border raiders—bandidos from northern México (Marroquin).

Dawson was born on the road to Mission as was her sister, Connie. After high school graduation, Dawson attended Mary Hardin-Baylor University in Waco and Southern Methodist University. After graduation, Dawson returned to Mission and was the first teacher at Mission High School to teach Spanish. She taught school until her marriage to George Smith, a soldier from Lexington, Kentucky who took her home. Dawson received her doctorate in psychology from the University of Kentucky. She wrote extensively about the people of México and both her books mention the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Her second book is an unpublished manuscript entitled “The Jewel Cross”. After retiring from teaching, she was a speaker on the Rotary Club Circuit and a popular lecturer elsewhere. She appeared often as a popular psychologist on the “Merv Griffin Show” in the 1970s. Dawson made her home in Kentucky, but when she died in 1990, she was buried in Mission with her family. Some memorabilia, usch as some of Dawson’s hats—which she loved—photos, and clothing can be found at the Mission Historical Museum (Marroquin).

Dawson apparently wrote the book during WWII after her both her parents had died. Initially, Dawson wrote about her family’s experiences in Mission in the “Mission Times” newspaper. The book is based on those initial writings. The book sold well and went through 19 printings, including three translations, before going out of print (Marroquin).

Dawson set off to tell the story of her family’s pioneer experience, which was somewhat unique. The Dawson family was the first Anglo-American family to set up a business (a store and house) north of the railroad tracks in Mission on La Lomita Street—then the main street—renamed Conway Avenue. The store (called “El Caballo Blanco” in the film) was named for the Dawson’s horse, “Pearl” and was rebuilt down the street by the Dawson’s in the area of 10th Street and Dunlap after it was burned by bandits. Following their example, other Anglo families moved north of the railroad tracks. There were no Mexicans/Mexican Americans living north of the tracks until after WW II. The book and film also mention a black family living north of the railroad tracks and the troublesome nature of their existence (Marroquin).

Though Dawson did not over-emphasize her father’s disdain for blacks and Mexicans, she nevertheless included passages exposing her father as prejudiced against them. Still, she did not want to portray her father as a real “S.O.B.” though he was known as one who hated people of color and particularly referred to the natives as “a bunch of lazy Mexicans”. Cleo and her mother, Helen, did not share Ed Dawson’s same feeling for Mexicans and it was a bone of contention for them (Marroquin).

“Hers was a story of love,” said Sol Marroquin, a member of the Cleo Dawson foundation and a close friend of the author. “It describes what the people of the Rio Grande Valley went through. It’s the story of Mission, but it’s also the story of the Valley: the raids, the uncertainties, the all-out war with Mexico. It’s about how her mom and dad stuck it out and how the town took off” (Marroquin).

Dawson decided to change the names of most characters in the book because when she wrote the book she did not get the consent of many of the people she would have mentioned. Another reason for the name substitution was the inclusion of the storyline of a family of German descent whose patriarch, a farmer by day, was found to be a traitor to the U.S. The family lived in Madero and the man sent money and ran guns into Mexico to encourage bandit raids into the American side of the border. The money came directly from the German government, who wanted to keep the Americans busy at the southern border so that the U.S. would not be able to enter the Great War (WWI) in defense of France and its allies (Marroquin).

Many people in the community cursed the German man’s wife, wondering whether she was truly unaware of her husband’s treasonous activities. Dawson said the German man’s wife felt it was his right to come home drunk late at night after working hard in the fields thinking he deserved some leisure with his workers and friends. She had no idea he was running guns. Dawson was a “good friend” with the man’s children and wife and most people were “hurting for them”. (The German supporter was imprisoned by security forces and taken to San Antonio. The family disappeared, embarrassed.)

For several years before her death Dawson would make the trip from her home in Lexington to Mission to make an appearance at the Texas Citrus Fiesta Parade. In conjunction with this annual celebration of the citrus industry, held in winter since 1932, there was a showing of the film at the Border Theater in downtown Mission. Dawson also raised funds, with the help of a foundation in her name, for a scholarship to a Mission High student who would study journalism (Marroquin).

A group of Mission citizens comprised the now-defunct Cleo Dawson Foundation whose essential purpose was to keep the book (and subsequently the film) alive. The foundation was formed in the early 1970s to promote Dawson’s book, which had gone through three printings then; a paperback edition had also been released. When word got around to Marroquin that the Foundation was working to locally facilitate the film project, he and his wife, Blanca, volunteered to help. As the only Hispanics in the group the couple was warmly welcome by the Foundation, who wanted a Latino presence. Marroquin was also the only member with filmmaking experience: as a young man he had left the Valley for Hollywood, where he studied acting, eventually ending up in Spain and appearing in two films (Marroquin).

How did Hollywood find the book? Dr. Dawson was a popular guest on the Merv Griffin [television] Show in the 1970s and on one occasion she started talking about her family’s pioneer experience and about her novel. According to Marroquin, Albert Bland, a smalltime producer, saw the show and immediately made contact with Dawson. Band became excited about the project due to the extreme popularity of the award-winning television series “Little House On the Prairie”. Bland saw a correlation between the pioneer family on television and Dawson’s characters, based on her family’s experiences (Marroquin).

According to Marroquin, the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas was the “last area in the U.S. where people came in covered wagons and horse and buggies,” he said. This was still a time of guns on hips in 1907 and 1908,” he said. In comparison, New York City already had skyscrapers, San Francisco had cars, and San Antonio had electricity (Marroquin).

The filming took place over an eight-week filming schedule during the summer of 1977. A strong potential obstacle—the weather—was great. Inclement weather, high summer temperatures (often as high as 102º F) and high humidity common to the region were a non-factor during the entire filming (Marroquin).

The bulk of the filming was done in the Mission area. A night scene was shot in Sullivan City in a caliche pit from about 11 p.m. to four or five a.m. The scene depicted a shoot-out between Pancho Villa’s men and some Juaristas (rebels vs. federal troops) and the pit lent itself to a dark background while maintaining an open skyline. The Longoria Ranch north of Mission was the setting for the filming of the killing of some bandidos. To mimic scenes in Kansas City (where the film starts) wooden planks were set over concrete sidewalks in downtown and south Mission, where many original buildings stood (Marroquin).

The film was shot almost exclusively in Hidalgo County. The desert scenes are the only exception. In the film, the pioneer family is lost in the desert for some time without food or water. These were filmed at South Padre Island. The sand dunes provided a perfect background for the film. The grips used gigantic fans to blow sand about and they would spray sand up to mimic a sandstorm. Again, by use of trick photography, it appears as if an entire desert is in the middle of a sandstorm, but in fact the sand was only sprayed a few feet wide (Marroquin).

From the offset the producers wanted to have someone from the Rio Grande Valley play the role of Pancho Villa, if possible. Freddy Fender got the nod. He had appeared (essentially as himself) in the film “Snake-eyes” (a.k.a. “Short-Eyes”) as a singing prisoner. So “She Came to the Valley” was his first acting role. When the producers approached Fender (born Baldemar Huerta in San Benito, Texas) about the role he was delighted. He was clearly a widely known name, so it was not a hard decision. Many have said Fender stole the show from the Hollywood stars. Fender also added his voice to the project, singing the theme song, in which the line “She came to the Valley,” serves as the chorus. The song was written by Tommy Leonetti, the film’s composer (Marroquin).

Academy Award-winning actress Sissy Spacek was due to appear in “She Came to the Valley” in the role of Willy Westall (Dawson’s mother). Spacek’s mother, Virginia Spillman, was born and raised in Mission. While Dawson was appearing in the Texas Citrus Fiesta Parade, she and Spacek were honored as the grand parade marshals. While in Mission, Spacek made an appearance at the Border Theater as her film, “Carrie”, was being shown and she actually announced to those present that she would indeed appear in the film. However, once they received word that Spacek had received an Oscar nomination in the category of “best actress” for her portrayal in “Carrie” Spacek’s two agents and manager insisted she give up the admittedly low-budget film role. (As an Academy Award nominee, she could now demand lots more money per film and the role was seen as a step backwards for Spacek by her handlers.) (Marroquin).

The “main actors” stayed at the Casa de Palmas Hotel in McAllen (across from Archer Park). Other actors and the “lead crew people” stayed at the adjacent Village Condos, a three story building with offices on the first floor, a parking lot on the second level, and condos on the third (Marroquin).

Marroquin estimates the cost of the film at $1.5 million. He supposes it cost about one million for the shooting and about half a million dollars for publicity, cost of soliciting distributors, airline tickets, and hotels (Marroquin).

Marroquin said there were essentially no obstacles to filming because many surrounding cities and counties and citizens joined together to make the film a success. Marroquin said the actors were very impressed with “how friendly people were.” A line producer told him that a wagon loaned to the project by a local rancher (for free) would cost about $10,000 per day in Hollywood. “Everyone wanted to be involved in this film that was being made right here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Marroquin said. The friendly residents of the Valley helped keep the costs of production down. “When you can shoot in an area for free” it makes a great difference, Marroquin said. “In Hollywood it would’ve cost big bucks” (Marroquin).

Farmers loaned land and ranchers loaned cattle and horses. They would say, if you just let me be in the film you can use them for free, Marroquin explained. Local residents of all ages were involved in the film as “extras”. Everyone from hotel owners to several city hall staffs seemed to have been involved. For example, when the director needed rain for one scene, the Mission Fire Department hooked up their hoses and created “rain” in fields at Sam Fordyce, a community west of Mission. While the “rain” fell only on several square feet of land, the scene was a success due to the use of trick photography. For another scene, a home which Marroquin had found to be condemned—and was scheduled for demolition—was used in the film and burned to the ground (Marroquin).

A Mission man from the Sharyland area, Noe Torres, who is the grandson of a couple who may be referred to in the book (by virtue of his grandmother having done laundry for the Dawson family) has a Web site in which he lists the film’s credits and has other information on the film. He said “portions of the movie were filmed at a gravel pit located near 3 Mile Line and Bentsen Rd., which more recently has been a police shooting range and bomb disposal area” (Torres, 1).

“This was a labor of love for Dr. Dawson and the rest of us who pitched in and wanted to be a part of it,” Marroquin said. “It was a page of history that’s fact,” said Marroquin.

“She Came to the Valley” was released in 1978 nationwide, making its debut in McAllen, Texas at the (now defunct) United Artists Theater inside La Plaza Mall on South 10th Street. The premier was covered by local media (from both sides of the border) and by a television crew from a Corpus Christi station and another from a San Antonio station. The celebration was very Hollywood, complete with search lights, tuxedoes, and limousines (Marroquin).

Perhaps one of the biggest treat for the Valley is that it is the only film premier in the United States of America attended by Mrs. Pancho Villa. Mrs. Villa, a.k.a. Luz Corral de Villa, came to McAllen for the premier with a small entourage. Marroquin, via his presence on the foundation and his work as an administrative aide to then-Congressman Kika de la Garza of Mission, made the arrangements. Through de la Garza’s office he contacted the American ambassador’s office and the Mexican counterparts in the state of Chihuahua and a visa was granted for the special visit. Mrs. Villa was confined to a wheel chair at the time due to a fall in her home/museum. Consequently, she had to travel with an orderly and a nurse’s aide. The three were flown by Mission pilot and physician Dr. Robert Pate in a makeshift air ambulance. Marroquin also had to secure the provision for flying over the airspace of each respective country (Marroquin).

Due to the exclusive presence of the famous widow, Marroquin said the actors and the movie were almost forgotten—practically ignored both by the public and the media alike. Mrs. Villa’s orderly sold copies of a book called “Mi Vida Con Pancho Villa”, which was more of a pamphlet than a book and included mostly photos and scant writing. No one, including the producers, had a problem with her orderly’s selling the booklets or with her autograph-granting. “It was quite a thrill for everyone,” Marroquin said. “She was a very lovely lady.”

An anecdote shared proudly by both Marroquin and (according to Marroquin) Fender, is that after the film was viewed Mrs. Villa and Fender were sighted together and a member of the media asked her, “What do you think about Freddy Fender’s portrayal of your husband?” Mrs. Villa took another look at Fender, who stood beside her, and replied, “Mi esposo era mas guapo.” [“My husband was better looking.”] (Marroquin).

The original 35 mm film actually disappeared for several years and was eventually found in the office of the executive producer. The heavy canister enclosing the film was not stored adequately—in a proper, cool environment—and the film became quite brittle. The executive producer, listed as from Kansas City, Mo., eventually sold the rights to the film to a Canadian firm which restored and subsequently released the film to VHS video (and recently to DVD). However, the film is known as “Texas is Burning” or “Texas In Flames”. The Canadian titles are not only inconsistent with the film, but the original title actually appears in the opening credits—though not on the cover. For several years, the film was shown by way of VHS video at the Border Theater (Marroquin).

Having studied South Texas Writers, Cleo Dawson is definitely an author to be reckoned with. I would put Dr. Dawson’s work under the realm of Jovita Gonzalez in terms of romanticizing life in this terrain. I would also point out that Dawson’s film may serve as a tool for sharing background information (or supporting evidence) on the Bandido Raids/Border War period. Regarding the type of person she appears to have been as evidenced in the book and portrayed in the film, I would liken Dawson to Hart Stilwell in the sense that they both cared about Mexicans and they were both aware that bad people existed on both sides of the border (Anglos & Mexicans) though both were aware of the discrimination against local people of Mexican descent. In contrast to many of the films about frontier life and “pioneer” days, Dawson chose to champion her mother as the heroine of the film, instead of having a man save the day every time. In this way, Dawson seems to have been ahead of her time, helping—in her own way—pave the way for feminist writers to come.

Works Cited
The Making of the Film: “She Came To the Valley”

“Albert Band.” Internet Movie Database. 02 Aug 2004

“Border Theater.” City of Mission. 08 Aug 2004 .

“Citrus Fiesta.” City of Mission. 08 Aug 2004 .

“Dean Stockwell.” Internet Movie Database. 02 Aug

“Evelyn Guerrero.” Internet Movie Database. 02 Aug

“Frank Strickland.” Internet Movie Database. 02 Aug

“Freddy Fender.” Internet Movie Database. 02 Aug

Marroquin, Solomon S. “Sol”. Telephone Interview. 04 Aug. 2004.

“Ronee Blakely.” Internet Movie Database. 02 Aug

“Sam Fordyce, TX.” The Handbook of Texas Online. 09 Aug 2004

“Scott Glenn.” Internet Movie Database. 02 Aug

“She Came To The Valley.” City of Mission 08 Aug 2004 museumexhibits.htm

“Tommy Leonetti.” Internet Movie Database. 02 Aug

Torres, Noe, 1. “When Hollywood Came to Sharyland.” 02 Aug 2004

Torres, Noe, 2. “Cipriano (Cirprian) Torres”. 06 Aug 2004

Addendum to
The Making of the Film: “She Came To the Valley”

Albert Band was a smalltime Hollywood producer who heard Dawson mention her book on the Merv Griffin Show on television and decided to make the book into a film. He was hired as the director and screenplay writer (along with Frank Ray Perilli) by investors in Kansas City, Missouri (Marroquin). Band is credited in more than twenty films as producer, screenwriter, or director. Band went on to direct such popular films as “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid”. Bland began his film career as an editor at Pathe Studios in Paris. In 1951 he adapted "The Red Badge of Courage" for director John Huston. His directing and producing debut came in the 1956 feature, “Young Guns”. Band was born on May 7, 1924 in Paris, France. He died reportedly of “complications of as stomach blockage and lung cancer” on June 14, 2002 in Los Angeles, California (Albert Band).

Bandit raids along the U.S.-Mexico border were a staple of the “Border Wars” era, which is commonly defined as the period between 1916 and 1918. In response to the raids, the U.S. Army was sent to the Rio Grande Valley and other places on the border. General John J. Pershing was sent in pursuit of Pancho Villa, leader of the northern revolutionary rebels in México. Pershing would later lead American forces into France as the U.S. entered WWI. The border conflict served as good practice for Pershing’s men. Regarding “banditos”: There is no such thing as a “bandito”—American folklore notwithstanding—at least if the word is being used as translated from Spanish. The correct tem in Spanish is “bandido” (with two “d”s). The anglicized pronunciation does not much deviate from the incorrect spelling, which may explain the confusion. In the 1970s Mexican Americans decried the Frito-Lay’s company in opposition to a mascot, “Frito Bandito”—a derogatory stereotyping of Mexicans. More recently, Garth Brooks released a song called “Cowboy Bill” in which a group of 40 so-called “banditos” are headed towards a small group of Texas Rangers; the song was released in 1989.

Ronee Blakely plays the lead character in “She Came To The Valley”, portraying the role of “Willy Westall”—Cleo Dawson’s mother, Helen. (Helen is the “she” referred to in the title.) She went on to appear in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Return to Salem’s Lot” and she produced a film as well. She had appeared in the 1975 film, “Nashville”, a highly-acclaimed (and Academy-Award-nominated film [best picture]) about country music in which she also co-starred with Scott Glenn—both considered rising stars at the time. Blakely is credited in films and television as an actress, composer, and producer. Blakely was born on August 24, 1945 in Caldwell, Idaho (Ronee Blakely).

The Border Theater, located in downtown Mission, is one of the oldest theaters in the Rio Grande Valley. The theater used to show “She Came to the Valley” annually, in correlation with the Texas Citrus Fiesta in Mission, since the author of the book used to attend the parade every year (Marroquin). The theater is located near the corner of Conway Avenue and 9th Street, a.k.a. Business Highway 83. It is said that when the theater opened in the 1940s the price at the box office was a nickel. Recently the theater was restored and is still in use, charging $1.50 for popular first-run films. It is located at 905 N. Conway near Business Highway 83 (Border Theater).

Robert S. Bremson is listed as executive producer of the film “She Came to the Valley”. He was from Kansas City, Missouri (Torres).

Casa de Palmas Hotel is where the main actors of “She Came to the Valley” stayed during the filming in the summer of 1977. The hotel is located at 101 N. Main Street across the street from Archer Park. A historical marker describes the hotel’s history. In 1952, during the filming of “Viva Zapata”, Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando stayed at the inn as well. The hotel is presently known as Renaissance Hotel (Marroquin).

Cleo Dawson, Ph.D., wrote the novel, She Came to the Valley (1943) on which the film by the same name was based. Dawson was a writer, a college professor, and was also involved in theater and popular psychology. Her parents migrated from Missouri to Mission, Texas where she was raised, in search of a new life in the Rio Grande Valley. Mission became the main setting of the book and film. After high school graduation, Dawson attended Mary Hardin-Baylor University in Waco, then an all-woman’s college, and Southern Methodist University (both in Texas). Dawson then returned to Mission and was the first teacher at Mission High School to teach Spanish. She taught there until her marriage to George Smith, a military man from Lexington, Kentucky (where they eventually made their home.) Dawson received her doctorate in psychology from the University of Kentucky, but she also studied México. She wrote extensively about the people of México, whom she came to love, and especially about the Mexican Revolution of 1910. She wrote a book manuscript entitled “The Jewel Cross” dealing with the revolution. After she ceased teaching at the university level she was a speaker on the Rotary Club Circuit and gave lectures to other organization as well. She was quite admired and these speaking engagements became her new source of income. She appeared often as a popular psychologist on the “Merv Griffin Show” in the 1970s. In 1979 she was honored by her hometown as “First Lady of Mission”. Though Dawson made her home in Kentucky, where she died in 1990, she chose to be buried in Mission at the Laurel Hill Cemetery on Holland Avenue near Mission High School and 18th Street, which bears her name. Rick Brown, now owner of Rick Brown Funeral Home in Mission, handled Dawson’s funeral arrangements. Her age is not officially known since Dawson was very secretive about her age; Mr. Marroquin believes she was born near 1900 and said no birth certificate has ever been produced (Marroquin). Some of Dawson’s hats (which she loved), her photos, and clothing can be found at the Mission Historical Museum at 900 N. Doherty Street (She Came To The Valley”).

The Dawson Family consisted of parents Ed & Helen Dawson, Cleo Dawson, the author of the book, She Came To The Valley, and Carrie Dawson, who was born just north of Laredo in Webb County as the family made its way towards Mission. Cleo was the older daughter. Carrie died at the age on 19, probably from pneumonia. The Dawson’s were the first Anglo-American family to set up a business (store/house) north of the railroad tracks in Mission. At that time, most families lived to the South, in Madero or a few blocks south of the tracks. (The tracks run from east to west along 9th Street in Mission. A mile north of the tracks lies the so-called 1-Mile Line, two miles north is the 2-Mile Line, etc.) After Mexican bandits burned down the original Dawson home/store, the Dawson’s moved about a block west and rebuilt their home/store near 10th Street (Tom Landry Street) and Dunlap in what is now the parking lot of “Fallas Paredes”—formerly the home of Weiner’s and H.E.B. grocery store. The family is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Mission (Marroquin).

Freddy Fender (born Baldemar Huerta) is credited with portraying the role of Pancho Villa in “She Came to the Valley”. Prior to the film, Fender had appeared—practically as himself—as “Johnny”, a singing prisoner in a film called “Short Eyes”. He did not have any speaking lines in “Short Eyes”, so “She Came To The Valley” was his first real acting job. Fender also sang the theme song/title song in “She Came To The Valley”. Subsequently he appeared as “Mayor Sammy Cantu” in “The Milagro Beanfield War” and other projects. Fender is first and foremost a singer-songwriter and not an actor by trade. He is especially popular in the country & western music genre. He is likely one of the first to inject Spanish lyrics to his songs and still appeal to a great number of Americans. In 1977—a year before the film was released, he appeared at the 19th Annual Grammy Awards and the American Music Awards. He is a solo artist and was also part of the famed group, The Texas Tornadoes—with which he won a Grammy award. He recently appeared in the independent film, “Atanasia”—filmed in Rivera, Texas and still in post-production—with fellow Texas Tornado Santiago “Flaco” Jimenez and his “She Came to the Valley” pal, Sol Marroquin (Marroquin). He makes his home in Corpus Christi, Texas. Fender was born in San Benito, Texas on June 4, 1937 (Freddy Fender).

Scott Glenn is credited in “She Came to the Valley” as portraying “Bill Lester”, one of the film’s heroes. Glenn is arguably the foremost motion picture star involved with this film project. Glenn not only is a prolific actor, he has also starred in some of the most memorable American films ever made, including “Nashville”—in which he also appeared with “She Came to the Valley” co-star, Ronee Blakely, “Apocalypse Now”, “Urban Cowboy”, “The Right Stuff”, “Silverado”, “The Hunt For Red October”, “The Silence of the Lambs”, “Backdraft”, “The Virgin Suicides”, “Training Day”, and “The Shipping News”. Glenn is credited as an actor and as a stuntman and he also made several television appearances on “Baretta” and “The Rockford Files” among other series. Glenn was born on January 26, 1941 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and began his acting career in 1966 (Scott Glenn).

Evelyn Guerrero is credited in “She Came to the Valley” as portraying “Connie”. Guerrero has also appeared in several “Cheech & Chong” films, as well as in “And The Earth Did Not Devour Him”, (a.k.a. “And The Earth Did Not Swallow Him”), “Bound By Honor”, and others and has also appeared in television series since 1976. Guerrero was born in East Los Angeles, California on February 24, 1949. She is sometimes credited as Evelyn Guerrero-Morita (Evelyn Guerrero).

Tommy Leonetti is credited in “She Came to the Valley” as composer of the film’s score. He also wrote the theme song/title song sung by Fender (Marroquin). Leonetti came from a family of singers and appeared as an actor—often playing a musician—in several films and television series. It has been rumored that Leonetti was a multi-Oscar (Academy Award) winner, but there has been no substantiation of the claim. Leonetti was born September 10, 1929 in Bergen, New Jersey and died on September 15, 1979 reportedly from cancer (Tommy Leonetti).

Madero is a former township, now part of the extra-territorial jurisdiction of Mission, Texas, which lies about seven miles south of downtown Mission. Madero lies in the vicinity of St. Peter’s Novitiate and “La Lomita” mission—from which Mission earned its name.

Sol Marroquin appeared in “She Came to the Valley” as Colonel Vacarro, right-hand man to the leader of the rebel revolutionary forces, General Pancho Villa. In the film, he appears in the uniform of a “Federal” in order to trick the opposing sentries into allowing them safe entry into the government’s troop positions. At the 25th anniversary celebration of the release of the film, Marroquin still fit into this costume as he delivered a pre-show talk on the making of the movie. While working in a film studio in Spain he appeared in two films prior to this one: “Crack the World” and “Thin Red Line” (the original [1963] version); in the latter war movie, he was one of five soldiers left alive by the end of the film. Marroquin joined the Cleo Dawson Foundation in the early 1970s and was instrumental in bringing the film to fruition from helping find condemned buildings for demolition/burning by the filmmakers to assisting as a translator and liaison to Luz Corral de Villa during the film’s premier. Marroquin worked for 21 years as administrative aide to former U.S. Congressman Eligio “Kika” de la Garza (D-Mission). After retiring from Kika’s office he worked for the University of Texas-Pan American for several years in the public relations office. He is the author of Part of A Team (Story of an American Hero) published in 1979, about Rio Grande Valley native Sgt. Freddy Gonzalez, a Medal of Honor winner. Marroquin is 73 years old and is enjoying retirement with his wife, Blanca, in Mission (Marroquin).

Mission, Texas, was incorporated in 1908; however, the town already existed in Madero and simply moved up with the railroad track and to avoid floods. A land developer from the Midwest named John Conway bought land from some Oblate priests (Oblates of Mary Immaculate) who had built La Lomita mission and had been in the Valley since at least the late 1840s. The land became known as Mission and the city was a big part of the billing of this area as the “Magic Rio Grande Valley of Texas” especially after irrigation canals were built to irrigate crops. The city is known as the “Home of the Grapefruit” and holds an annual event known as the Texas Citrus Fiesta, which includes costume contests, a fair, and culminates in a grand parade in which floats are usually decorated with thinly sliced citrus fruit, mainly oranges. The city’s downtown lies about 7 miles north of the Rio Grande.

Frank Ray Perilli is credited with co-writing the screenplay for “She Came to the Valley”. He also appeared in the film as “Emilio” (Torres, 1).

Sam Fordyce, Texas is an abandoned township founded by (and named after) Sam Fordyce, a land developer who built a water depot for use by the railroad in hopes of attracting land buyers. The area lies about ten miles west of Mission near Sullivan City. A green placard with white letters denotes the area off Expressway 83 (U.S. Highway 83 North). A farm in this area was used for the bulk of the filming. The town was named for a financier from St. Louis, Missouri (Sam Fordyce).

Sissy Spacek, a leading actress and two-time Academy Award (Oscar) winner, was set to appear in “She Came to the Valley” until her nomination for best actress in the film “Carrie” was announced. Her agent and manager had much control over the young artist and she did not star in the film since it was considered of a low-budget (“b” movie). She did not win the “best actress” Oscar that year, but she won two years later for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn in “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (Marroquin).

Virginia Spillman was the real-life mother of the actress Sissy Spacek. Spillman was born and raised in Mission, Texas. Virginia’s father was at one time a justice of the peace. The Spillman clan lived at the corner of Tom Landry Street (10th Street) & Keralum Street. The last of the Spillman family to live in Mission included Joe Spillman and Spacek’s aunt, Elizabeth Spillman, both of whom are now deceased (Marroquin).

Dean Stockwell, who played the part of “Pat Westall” (Cleo Dawson’s father) in “She Came to the Valley”, is easily one of the most durable actors in Hollywood history, especially when compared to other child actors. He has appeared in approximately 125 films, including “Air Force One” and “The Rainmaker”. He has also starred in such notable television shows as “JAG”, “Quantum Leap”, and “Colombo”. He started his acting career as a child in 1945; that same year, he appeared in “Abbot & Costello in Hollywood”. He was born Robert Dean Stockwell on March 5, 1936 in Hollywood, California. He is credited as an actor, producer, director, and writer (Dean Stockwell).

Frank Strickland is credited in “She Came to the Valley” as a “Christmas Party Guest”. He also appeared in the film, “The Derelict” in 1937 (Frank Strickland).

T.L. Duncan is listed as an associate producer of “She Came to the Valley” (Torres). The Duncan family founded an insurance agency in Mission bearing the family name. The agency still bears their name, but was sold a few years ago to a private company (Marroquin). T.L. and Maureen Duncan each appear in the film’s credits as “Christmas Party Guest” (Torres).

Mr. & Mrs. Torres are two characters depicted in the book and film. Though Dawson changed the names of practically all players, she used the “real” names of others—such as Pancho Villa. Conceivably, therefore, she may have decided to keep the real names of a Torres family she knew. According to Noe Torres, a Mission native whose family eventually worked at the Shary Plantation, it is possible that his grandparents are indeed the same Mr. & Mrs. Torres described in the book and film. Cipriano “Ciprian” Torres and his wife Natividad moved from near a levee (after the flood of 1908 in Madero) and he found work with a brush-clearing crew at a water pump two miles north and one mile west of Mission. Meanwhile Natividad cared for their children and took in laundry work from several area families. One of these families was the Dawson family and she got to know Ed, Helen, and the children “real well”. “In her story Dr. Dawson makes reference to Ciprian Torres and the family quite often,” Torres said. (Torres, 2).

United Artists Theater was the site of the film’s premier. It was located inside La Plaza Mall up until the late 1980s and is now home to a clothing store (Marroquin). La Plaza Mall, now part of the Simon Properties group, is located on south 10th Street in McAllen, Texas.

Valley flora has been described as biologically similar to that of Australia: low thorny brush, which the Spanish called “chaparral”—from which the word “chaps” (protective leather garments worn by horsemen) comes from. From a plant physiology standpoint, thorns on plants—such as those found in the area’s prickly pear cacti, succulents, and low brush and trees—serve the plant by offering protection from animals and shade from the sun. Many local plants have a waxy surface on their leaves, which also adds protection from the sun’s damaging rays. It is said American General John J. Pershing’s pursuit of Pancho Villa in the southwest was hindered by the flora and sweltering heat. (Pershing’s participation in the Border Wars was good practice for him and his men as they prepared to enter WWI.)

Valley weather is often described by a winter & summer season. The subtropical region is prone to tropical storms and hurricanes, which commonly threaten from June to November. Surprisingly, weather was a non-factor during the filming in the summer of 1977 (Marroquin). Before two dams were built along the Rio Grande, flooding often moved not only the U.S.-Mexico border, but also caused residents on either side of the river to settle further from the river any time a heavy rain or a tropical storm or hurricane hit.

Luz Corral de Villa was the only lawfully-wedded wife of Pancho Villa. She had one child, a boy, with Villa, but he died young of pneumonia, it is believed. Luz Corral de Villa was moved about during the revolutionary period for her safety. She was in San Antonio for some time and took care of several of her husband’s illegitimate children. Mrs. Villa made the rarest of appearances at the premier of “She Came To The Valley” in 1978 and she easily stole the limelight from the film’s stars (Marroquin).

Pancho Villa (born Doroteo Arango) was a rebel leader of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 which overthrew the federal government of Don Porfirio Diaz, president (or dictator, by some measures) of the republic for 40 years—a period called the “Porfiriato”. Villa led the northern rebels, and, along with Emiliano Zapata, (who led the southern front) is considered a great champion of the revolution and the poor classes who joined in the fight. Though it is believed Villa never even stepped foot in Tamaulipas (the Mexican state directly across the Rio Grande) there are nevertheless many stories by Valley residents of Villa and his men riding into a ranch and making friends or enemies. A young lady from McAllen recounted a story of her now deceased grandfather, Don Lopez, who lived in the Madero area of Mission. Don Lopez was only a child when one day a group of Pancho Villa’s men came to his family’s ranch and demanded they send musicians to play for Villa in Mexico under threat of confiscation of the family’s goat herd. Don Lopez, a violin player, and his family of musicians went and played for Villa and kept their goats. Similar stories can be heard in the Valley.

“The Yaqui” is the working title of a screenplay adaptation by Sol Marroquin of Cleo Dawson’s (unpublished) book, The Jewel Cross. In the book, Dawson took dramatic liberty in combining existing historical facts with elements of fiction to tell the story of how the Yaqui (Native American Indian tribe of Mexico) helped Pancho Villa and his men beat the “Federales” during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. At first the Yaqui do not want to help, but a Yaqui princess intervenes and turns the tide of support for Pancho Villa and his men. The film has never been brought to production and would likely cost about $3 million to make, Marroquin believes (Marroquin).

Visit us again soon.

This is a temporary page and will be updtated soon.

Under Construction:



E-mail address: