Border Bandits

Thursday, November 14, 2019 |  Caruth Hall, Vester Hughes Auditorium - Room 147, 3145 Dyer Street, SMU   |  5:30 reception followed by 6 pm screening and commentary |

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With commentary by Kirby Warnock (writer producer), Roman McAllen (historic preservationist) and Richard Ribb (historian).

From the producer of the award-winning PBS documentary Return to Giant comes a new look at a very old incident. In 1915 a group of Mexican banditos raided the McAllen Ranch, one of the largest in the area. The next day a group of Texas Rangers supposedly arrived and eliminated the perpetrators. However, the real story is not as tidy as it has been portrayed. Roland Warnock, a 19-year-old cowboy working on the Guadalupe Ranch near present-day Edinburg, witnessed two of these killings when he saw Texas Rangers from Company D shoot two unarmed men in the back and leave their bodies by the side of the road. The effects of these killings by the Rangers are being felt in south Texas some 80 years later. This single incident brings into play much of the roots of the distrust between Mexicans and the Rangers, as well as the continued friction between Hispanics and Anglos in Texas.

An important and moving story, Border Bandits was produced and directed by Kirby Warnock, the grandson of Roland Warnock, and features the actual voice of Roland Warnock as he describes the events of 1915. In 1974, he sat down with his grandson and dictated the entire story to him on a reel-to-reel tape recorder for Baylor University's oral history program. The younger Warnock kept the tapes, then thirty years later digitized them and placed them in this documentary, with re-enactors portraying the events described by Roland Warnock. Unlike other documentaries that rely on voice talent to read letters or journals, Border Bandits contains the actual voice of the primary source of information, Roland Warnock, lending it an air of authenticity unmatched in most documentaries.

Re-enactment scenes were filmed at Old City Park in Dallas, and Warnock's family ranch near Fort Stockton, Texas. Narration for the film is provided by Jon Dillon, the well-known radio personality for KZPS, 92.5 FM in Dallas, Texas.

Because of its Hispanic influences, the film demanded Mexican-themed music, but the only problem was that Kirby did not speak Spanish and was not totally familiar with Tex-Mex music, save for the cojunto radio stations he heard growing up. Faced with this dilemma, he went back to his roots—rock and roll.  "I've always been a big fan of the Eagles' album, Desperado, so I contacted Don Henley and asked him if we could do a Spanish version of the title song. He gave us permission and basically said that it would be no problem for him to get us the clearances," recalls Warnock.

For the performers, he "stumbled" across The Ramirez Family, an all-female mariachi band from Odessa, Texas. "A close friend took me to lunch at a restaurant in Midland, and The Ramirez Family was performing there. I had never heard those Tex-Mex sounds coming out of a female band before, and I was immediately captivated." Warnock tracked down Betty Ramirez, the leader, and arranged for them to record "Desperado" in Spanish for the soundtrack. The result is a haunting score of a familiar rock standard, sung in Spanish by female voices.

Maps and directions to SMU.