The FRI Guide to Dangerous Places – Los Ebanos, Texas

When you have spent a good bit of your adult life living near international boundaries you develop a sense for dangerous places along a border. History, geography, and population distribution are key indicators so finding a remote bend in the Rio Grande River, that was apparently an ancient ford . . . Apparently? The Spanish mapped the Rio Grande Valley in great detail to include the old fords long used by indigenous tribes. Apparently historical commissions can’t write well but who cares? The Los Ebanos Ferry Crossing is now home to El Chalan, the only hand drawn international ferry in the hemisphere, which apparently makes it a place worth exploring.

Apparently? Is it me or does this not strike you as awkward phrasing? It’s an ancient ford or it’s not an ancient ford and apparently the ancient fords across the Rio Grande are well documented so what was this all about?

The pull cable for El Chalan is wrapped around a centuries old ebony tree in the hamlet of Los Ebanos, population 1,030, named after the ebony tress that grow along the riverbank. The 44 foot long boat is hauled by 6 ruffians across the 40 foot stretch of the Rio Grande and has been owned and operated (since 1950) by the Reyna family on the Texas side and the Armando Garza clan on the Mexican side. El Chalan (horse dealer) has been shortened from El Chalan De San Miguel, the former name of the Mexican town that is now Ciudad Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. Apparently the vaqueros of old San Miguel town were known to be proficient horse dealers.

El Chalan pull cable

Mexico is experiencing some serious political unrest this weekend which has something to do with mail-in voting during presidential elections which the public believes promotes blatant electoral fraud. Add to this civic unrest the fact that our border with Mexico is controlled by narcos who demand payment from every illegal they allow to cross and it is obvious why Los Ebanos should be a modern day war zone .

Before risking a personal reconnaissance of this potential pirates den I consulted for its expert analysis of crime trends in Los Ebanos and guess what? Los Ebanos gets a D-; it’s just dangerous as hell apparently, because internet says it is and the net knows stuff. Being a savvy investigator of dangerous places I went early Sunday morning the day after St Patrick’s Day. Local customs and cultural mores concerning bars with holiday drinking specials guaranteed most of the adult population would not be out and about until the afternoon.

The El Chalan ferry 3/17/2024

Getting to the ferry proved to be easy, it’s just 2 miles off Highway 83 which is the main east/west route in the Rio Grande Valley. When I drove the road Sunday morning I saw one Border Patrol truck and two Texas State Trooper vehicles on the way in and one State Trooper on the way out. There is always a heavy State Trooper/Border Patrol presence on Highway 83 that increases the further west you travel from McAllen.

Google street view inside Los Ebanos

Los Ebanos village is typical for the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) consisting of 300 or so single family homes, all with fences (mostly chain linked or barbed wire) tightly clustered around a outdoor community softball/soccer field sporting park and with an impressive old church and large, well tended cemetery. The community is 99% Hispanic and they are home owners, not renters who were born and raised inside the RGV. The chances of strangers moving through the residential areas undetected or unchallenged are zero. The town is on a peninsula of land with the Rio Grande River wrapping around the village on three sides so the border wall is a mile behind it. There are old articles on the net with local residents bitching about being behind the border wall but the political winds in the RGV have shifted over the last seven years as was noted on one of my favorite blogs this morning:

From the Monday morning Powerline Blog Starr County is the western most of the four counties that comprise the Rio Grande Valley

Inside the village of Los Ebanos the residential streets narrow forcing traffic to slow as it follows the ‘Texas Historical Marker’ signs to the ferry crossing. The crossing suddenly appears out of the ebony scrub a few hundred meters after the last house. It’s now an expensive, well paved, fenced off, high security area of the post 9/11 federal agency design. Before 9/11 there was a quaint blue shack with a little wall unit air conditioner manned by one of the ferry owners at exactly zero cost to the federal government. How many federal employees do you think are on the table of organization for the Los Ebanos border crossing now? Keep in mind stormy weather or Mexico discharging water upstream (which they do often), or the Coast Guard getting shitty with the ferry owners will close the ferry for days at a time but federal employees get paid regardless of hours on the job. Isn’t it strange that when the Los Ebanos border crossing was regulated out of a shack illegal immigration wasn’t a problem, but now that we’re spending millions to man the Los Ebanos official port of entry illegal immigration is out of control?

The post 9/11 ferry crossing which is closed on Sundays, stormy days, days when Mexico discharges water upstream, or whenever the Coast Guard decides the professional river ruffians pulling the barge across the river need more mandated DEI training.
The pre 9/11 toll both for the ferry

A few years ago some of the inherent dangers associated with travel aboard a hand drawn ferry were mitigated by the United States Coast Guard. In the summer of 2022 the Coast Guard closed the ferry for two months of inspections and crew training. They even pulled the boat from the water and hauled it off somewhere and who knows what that was all about but one suspects the ongoing disagreement between Gov Abbot and FJB about the lack of border integrity had something to do with it. Look at the Library of congress photo below and note the lack of floatation devices or hard hats among the river ruffians who pull El Chalan back and forth all day.

Library of Congress file photo of the Los Ebanos ferry.

I’d wager a weeks pay that after the two week Coast Guard stand down everybody on the ferry has to wear big orange kapoc life vests and the crew hard hats in addition to the vests. Safetyism ruins everything it touches and trying to dodge OSHA mandates is a fools game. It’s possible the minute you took off a helmet or ditched the kapok vest you’d be hear the buzz of a little drone like a Russian conscript trapped in a shallow, muddy, Ukrainian trench. I know OSHA inspectors have drones these days too, and they are congenitally sneaky bastards, so how often do you think they sneak up on worksites or ferry crossings?

Looking east from the customs parking lot – note the Border Patrol truck parked back in the trees. There are dirt roads cut along the river bank along the entire peninsula.
Walking through the ebony and mesquite thickets that line the Rio Grande River in the RGV is difficult.

It’s a safe bet the high crime reported on criminal activity aggregator sites is driven by the illegal immigrant apprehensions and drug seizures that occur daily along our porous southern border. Los Ebanos was once located on a remote river bend but with Highway 83 just 2 miles away it’s no longer isolated and a poor choice for border jumpers who want to get into the interior undetected. For illegals who want to be caught and processed there are several places nearby where you can walk across the river using a tow rope to get through the chest high rapids. Apparently plenty of illegals still make the swim at the Los Ebanos ford judging from the multiple Border Patrol trucks in the area on a quiet Sunday morning.

Illegals who make into the village of Los Ebanos have to deal with dogs and shotguns because this is South Texas and that’s how we roll down here. There is an unknown number of people trafficking drugs across the border and they will, naturally, go to ground in one of the houses in Los Ebanos because that’s how drug trafficking works. The local residents who are not part of the narcotics smuggling trade have been forced to deal with people being trafficked through their neighborhoods and are not amused by it. This is the major drive behind the increasing support for the Bad Orange Man in the Rio Grande Valley.

The fine dirt roads inside the ebony groves make it easy to spot when people or large snakes cross them after a Border Patrol vehicle has passed.

The President, like any other officer of the United States, has an obligation to vigorously defend the interests of the United States. That is basic stewardship, and it is impossible to explain how allowing millions of undocumented people to flood into our country is in the interests of the United States. But there is a darker side to allowing systematic human trafficking by violent cartels; slavery. Joshua Treviño and Melissa Ford Maldonado from the Texas Public Policy Foundation pointed this out on a recent episode of their Hard Country podcast titled The Modern Slave Trade and More. They were discussing several recent American media reports of illegal immigrants who were enslaved and subjected to horrible abuse when Joshua made this prescient observation:

From a historical standpoint this is all predictable in one sense because you know the nature of humanity and when you have a flood of people who are off the books, not part of a legal structure, not citizens, and they have no recourse to authority or protection, they don’t know the culture they’re going to be vulnerable to being exploited and they’re going to be enslaved.

Let’s hope we get an administration in Washington DC that takes its stewardship obligations seriously and puts an end to cartel sponsored human trafficking. It’s a humanitarian crisis that is facilitating some amount of modern day slavery. I don’t know the number of unfortunates who have found themselves isolated and trapped inside the home of an abusive sociopath, one hopes it’s not many, but how many are too many?

The FRI Guide to Dangerous Places: The Junk Yard Bar Granjeno, Texas

Super Bowl Sunday is a big day for dive bars across the land but none are closer to the crisis at our southern border than the Junk Yard Bar in Granjeno, Texas. The hamlet of Granjeno is located south of the Military Highway just east of the Anzalduas Bridge, outside of Mission in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s a one road town with a population of 303 people pinned between a string of industrial parks to the north and the Rio Grande River to the south . On Super Bowl Sunday as you drive into the village you can see dozens of vehicles spilling out of the Junk Yard parking lot onto the shoulder of the road because the Junk Yard always has a full house on Super Bowl Sunday

A portion of the Border Wall is right behind the bar and there is a gate in the border defenses just to the left which is now in constant use by the Border Patrol.

The Junk Yard Bar caters to two easily identifiable subsets of the Rio Grande Valley population called Winter Texans and old bikers. Both groups are from the tail end of the boomer generation, the bikers live here year round and the Winter Texans flock into the gated retiree trailer parks that dot the Rio Grand Valley every winter. They are the remnants of a generation that expected a steady job would deliver them into the American middle class. They expected to own a home with two cars in the garage, kids who went to college and annual vacations and they were not disappointed. The system worked for the American worker back in the 70’s and 80’s but that changed when our industrial elites moved their manufacturing plants overseas .

These rust belt refugees are mostly white, mostly married, and they like to party. The elites hate them because they own recreational vehicles and guns they don’t want to register and they’re prone to cluttering up the wilderness with dirt bikes or snow mobiles. They all smoked cigarettes for years too so now they look hard, flinty, and mean in their old age.

You can see the border wall behind the Junk Yard and a Border Patrol truck sitting on the levee in the upper right of the picture

There isn’t just one border wall along the McAllen section of the border fence but several bands of wall that appear designed to protect the valuable farm land adjacent to the river. There are thousands of acres under cultivation in this area of the valley all of it extremely sensitive to large groups of migrants trampling through them. It’s important to realize the border wall is an obstacle that forces friction into the equation for illegals crossing the Rio Grande. There is no such thing as a wall that cannot be climbed, humans can climb up and over anything if they really want to, so the border wall is not a magical impenetrable barrier. It’s an effective obstacle that forces illegals to take the path of least resistance to areas where they can be collected for processing before they can trample planted crops or wander onto private property.

The continued cost to local farmers from the massive influx of illegals may well explain why the RGV went from dark blue democratic strong hold to riding the Trump Train during the last presidential election. And Trump will dominate the Rio Grande Valley this election cycle too in a landslide, that will trump the RGV democratic politiqueras who are paid big bucks to harvest democratic votes.

Here is one of the white buses used to collect illegals and this one is heading for the gate behind the Junk Yard.

The Junk Yard Bar is not a dangerous place because of illegal immigrants, it’s a dangerous place because the clientele consists of old bikers and skinny hard drinking winter Texans. The locals mix well with the Winter Texans and not because everyone down here has a gun on them. An armed society is indeed a polite society but the old boomers partying at the Junk Yard have a bigger nemesis – slips and falls.

Do you notice how clean and level the entrance is? It’s the same on the inside – craftily engineered to remove all slip and fall hazards that could cost one of these old coots a hip replacement. All of us Boomers know what happens once you get your hip replaced – you’re toast.

The people filling this place hours ahead of the Super Bowl don’t nurse their drinks because they’re afraid of all the law enforcement constantly driving by their afraid of taking a hard spill and breaking a hip so they watch the booze and tend not to get too rowdy. At their age all the crazy bastards are long gone and the survivors seem to prefer dive bars with level floors and packed full of people standing around which reduces the chances of slipping and falling. And there is the added coolness factor of hanging in an outdoor dive bar right on the border with our friendly neighbors in Mexico.

Hanging out on the Mexican side of the border was the original draw for the Winter Texans. They like to drink booze and smoke and Mexico was a great place to do both on the cheap. Nobody crosses the border to party anymore but the Junk Yard Bar remains open for the last of the boomers who love quirky, one-of-a-kind bars tucked in out of the way places.