The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996 Page: 292
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
where she can learn the local gossip, she bases diagnoses on an aware-
ness of actual social relationships. Patients are comfortable with her and
she can obtain information needed for healing purposes.
Oral history interviews in the South Texas Archives, unpublished doc-
uments, newspaper sources, and local public records make it possible to
describe one unique expression of curanderismo. In the 1930s, in the
South Texas towns of Kingsville and Bishop, a curandera developed an
unusual practice among Anglos. She practiced a type of healing not
thought to be in South Texas until at least thirty years later. The fame of
"Mother Lane" spread and patients traveled from across Texas and from
other states in the United States, Mexico, and Canada to seek her help.
Her success brought her into direct conflict with the scientific doctors.
Eventually, the medical establishment tried to force this folk healer out
of practice and competition. A study of this expression of curanderismo
raises questions about the intellectual origins and varieties of folk medi-
cine, its perceived threat to the medical establishment, the role of gen-
der and ethnicity in the persecution, the role and function of the
curandera, and the honesty and sincerity of the folk healer. Is curanderis-
mo superstition? Are curanderas frauds and quacks?
Information about some aspects of the life of Mercedes Pefia is sparse
and fragmentary. She was born eleven years after the famous curandera
"Santa" Teresita and fourteen years before El Nifio Fidencio, on June
25, 1884 in Mier, a few kilometers south of the Rio Grande from Roma,
Texas, in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. She was the daughter of
Rafael Pefia Garza and Manuela Barrera. One report indicates that her
father was a "humble Mexican merchant."'
Descriptions of the origins of her healing powers are typical, and the
term shaman is used to describe this type of curer. There are several ac-
counts of how Mercedes first learned of her curing abilities when she
was ten or twelve years of age. She and her older sister, who was about
twenty years old, were stricken by a disease that was killing many people
in their community. A relative believes that it was either measles or
chicken pox.2 When the sisters became extremely ill, they made a pact:
The term curandera indicates a female healer, curandero a male healer. Edna May Tubbs,
"Faith Healer," Edna May Tubbs Papers, Miscellany, Box 136, Folder 4, P. 3, South Texas
Archives (STA), Texas A&M University-Klngsville (TAMUK) (quotation); Death Certificate of
Mercedes Pena [sac] Lane, Dec. 17, 1959, Corpus Christi-Nueces County Health Department
(NCHD). Teresita is sometimes referred to as the 'Joan of Arc of Mexico" or "the Saint of Cabo-
ra." William Curry Holden, Teresata, illus. Jos6 Cisneros (Owings Mills, Md.: Stemmer House Pub-
lishers, 1978), xi.
2 The earliest of four versions of this story indicates that the sibling was a sister. In two other
versions, thirty-five years later, one explains that it was a sister and the other a brother. The most
recent version, fifty-five years later, indicates that it was a brother. Essie Maude Gilbreath, "Some
Superstitions and Folk Tales of the Kingsville Mexicans" (M.A. thesis, Texas College of Arts and
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996, periodical, 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101217/m1/354/: accessed June 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.