Ghost Stories: The Monster of the San Juan Hotel and the Dusts of History

Words by Pioquinta

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Ghost stories are a timely reminder of the dark history that once found itself within the landscapes of the Rio Grande Valley, but these stories are far from tall tales. All ghost tales have an origin; it begins with a tragedy and transcends into a horror that can only be explained by the supernatural itself.

Throughout the Rio Grande Valley, white men are often celebrated in the winds of history, while the marginalized often remain in the dust. We write this story to better uncover and understand the history of the San Juan Hotel and what was left untold.

The Girl Who Was Murdered

The most famed story in the San Juan Hotel is that of a woman who’s been sighted on the second-story window wailing and crying for help. The legend is a bit vague, but Ghost Stories of the Rio Grande Valley by David Bowles gives a detailed telling of what the legend holds, but here is a quick summary:

Tom Mayfield was a resident of the San Juan Hotel for about eleven years; he was seen as a “hero” and honored by local law enforcement. However, oral histories state that Tom would attack Mexican-Americans during his stay at the hotel.

 

One day, a man checked into the hotel wanting to speak to Tom Mayfield, and learn about his cruel ways. After many conversations, the man hired a local sex worker, lured her into his hotel room, and murdered her.

We may never know what Tom Mayfield and the man spoke about, but it led us to ask: Were the ghost tales of Tom, the mystery man, and the murdered woman a mechanism to understand the horrific events that occurred in this community?

Who Has Honor?

Based on Tom’s Texas Historical Commission plaque, he gained the “community’s highest respect,” yet it’s not very clear what the prerequisites for such an honor are. Tom, with the help of others, would go on to murder and brutalize Mexican-Americans, but he still has a trading card to show his “importance.”

He rose to fame for arresting Basilo Ramos, who was in possession of the “Plan of San Diego,”  a conspiracy to have the Mexicans in Texas revolt against the United States.

Basilio Ramos and Plan De San Diego

Now, Basilio Ramos was born in 1890 in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and attended high school in Norman, Oklahoma.

The Texas State Historical Association recounts how the “Plan of San Diego” was “smuggled” into Ramos’ cell during his jail time in Monterrey on January 6, 1915. Two weeks later, he was arrested in McAllen, Texas, by Thomas Mayfield. 


During this arrest, authorities discovered the “Plan of San Diego” document, which called for the secession of five states (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and California) as well as six other states “for the purpose of creating an independent nation for Blacks, and the manifesto promised to return ancestral lands to Native American groups.”

 

Basilio was held at the Cameron County jail with a $5000 bond. However, the bond was later reduced to $100. As the judge would say, Basilio “ought to be tried for lunacy, not conspiring against the United States.”

 

After bailing out and fleeing to Mexico, little was known about the life, death, and whereabouts of Basilio Ramos.

La Matanza

Tensions rose at the discovery of the “Plan of San Diego”; violence against Mexican-Americans living on the South Border of Texas increased. La Matanza would begin during the Fall of 1915, resulting in Texas Rangers killing dozens of Mexicans without question.

One of the incidents cited was the lynching of fourteen Mexican-American men at Alamo City Park by Tom Mayfield and Texas Rangers. No investigation was ever made, and the resting place of the fourteen is still unknown to this day.

Mayfield: A Monster in the Shadows

Tom Mayfield would go on to become a Texas Ranger, and spend time in Mexico as a guard for the American Oil Company. He would come back to the United States in 1938 and serve as the Deputy Constable of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo. He lived in the San Juan Hotel until 1958. Rumor has it that he went insane filled with the memories of those he had murdered soon before his death.


It’s impossible to know the exact amount of assaults and murders that went undocumented during this time. Why should a man like Mayfield be commemorated with historical praise while the fourteen people he killed and the countless others he harmed, all of Mexican-American descent, remain in the forgotten dust of history?

 

We hope that we’ve shed some light on the erroneous actions caused by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. While the ghosts of the San Juan Hotel may spook and haunt nearby neighbors today, we’ve learned that there’s always more to ghosts that are left for the curious mind to uncover. 

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