"ANYBODY HOME... ?"
(snapshot dated early l953)

Wearing heavy work-boots, blue work-shirt, blue work- pants, a broad-brimmed straw hat, and with a bedroll stowed in his backpack, 40-year-old Ray Comstock hikes down the muddy foot trail between Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan and the big ranch in the valley, called Rancho Santa Cruz. For seven hours Ray Comstock has been inside a rickety bus working its way up the seventy-four miles between here and Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Now as he hikes down the muddy foot trail toward the Rancho Santa Cruz, Ray finds himself immensely pleased. At this elevation of slightly over one mile high, cool, fresh-smelling breezes gently stream through the pines, and the dark soil here smells rich and promising.

Of course Ray does not see the trees in this forest with the same eyes that you or I would. He's a timber man from southern Oregon where the tallest redwoods have fallen beneath his saws. He knows what it's like to convert forests into hard cash. "If we don't clear a thousand dollars a month after taxes and expenses," he's fond of saying, "We don't feel like we're making money." And that's a thousand in l953 dollars... But, today, Ray Comstock senses that he is stepping into a new kind of life, a life in which earning a thousand a week, by itself, is not so important.

Down below, through low-hanging pine branches, Rancho Santa Cruz comes into view. Dogs bark and turkeys gobble; red hens with featherless necks run for cover...

"¬°Buenas tardes!" Ray calls. "Anybody home?"

Don Mariano Guerrero comes to the door. However, he does not step outside to offer greetings. In fact, he doesn't smile and his face betrays a certain wariness --maybe even a kind of hostility. Ray Comstock is astonished, for he knows that most Mexicans, especially those living in isolated places, generally greet visitors with the greatest of pleasure.

The thing not seen here is this: Don Mariano Guerrero fears for his life. People in these parts say that he has murdered seven men, including four soldiers, without ever going to jail. Moreover, he's married to two women and he's fathered who-knows-how-many children beyond the twenty-one by three women he knows of. Thus always he's waiting for someone to come along to settle the score. Maybe this white man in blue clothing who speaks such a curious brand of Spanish is part of a trap...

"Sr. Guerrero, I think you've met some of my friends," Ray says. "A few months ago, Dr. Youngberg, his wife and little girl, and his father-in-law Dr. DeWitt came through here wanting to buy your ranch... "

Finally understanding that this visitor means no harm, Mariano Guerrero breaks into huge laughter.

"Yes, I remember," he guffaws. "They got in here very late one night, all wet and cold. I let them sleep here on the ground in front of my fireplace. I was glad to meet them, but I just didn't want to sell my ranch!"

"Well, Sr. Guerrero," says Ray Comstock, "I also want to buy land from you. But I just want enough so that my wife and I can build a clinic and a school here. We want to help your people. We're missionaries, you see -- Seventh Day Adventists. Not only do we wish to bring the word of God here, but also we want to serve your people, heal their wounds and cure their diseases. And we'd like to teach them how to live so that they won't get sick in the first place."

As Ray speaks, he thinks he detects something in Sr. Guerrero's face reflecting a certain receptivity to these plans. Maybe this man feared by the surrounding community will be generous with this tall, slender, ruddy-skinned foreigner wearing blue clothing and a straw hat. Maybe Don Guerrero thinks that selling a little land to such a man would be a good move politically, or maybe he wants to help his people, or maybe his conscience is hurting him...

After several more visits and exchanges of letters, eventually the land today occupied by Yerba Buena Hospital is sold to Ray Comstock for less than seventy-five pesos per hectare, or less than U. S. $2.60 per acre.

Next Entry
Return to Index Page