Port Isabel: Aguadores and their “Burros”

Don Chencho, one of Port Isabel’s most known historical residents, stands near his donkey and wagon in this undated photo taken in Port Isabel. Inscribed on the photo is: “Don Chencho: Believed to be oldest resident in the Rio Grande Valley.”

By Rene Torres
Special to the PRESS

Don Chencho and Don Quirino were the first to sell freshwater, door to door, in Port Isabel. They supplied water to Port Isabel before 1928. Both were youngsters at the time and toiled until they were over 100 years old.  Chencho was said to have lived to the age of 118. 

While the common people of Port Isabel depended on the Aguadors/Piperos for their fresh water, the affluent—limited as they were—may have had their own well along with a cisterna/tinaco (tank) to store their rainwater.  

After this point, Port Isabel was incorporated into a city; with modernization came the loss of the iconic “Aguadores,” but the “Burro,” who did the heavy lifting, continued to be used for another task.

A Brownsville Herald staff writer wrote, “El Burro,” was synonymous with old Point Isabel and Boca Chica country—the coastal prairie was his natural domain.  Here he thrived and propagated his race with an unusually prolific nest. His kind roamed the coastal ranges in such vast numbers that the area became known as “Jackass Prairie,” which exists today, only in name.”

Don Chencho and Don Quirino, in their youth, lead their donkeys carrying water barrels through Port Isabel in this undated photo.

Don Chencho was reportedly more outspoken, and friendlier, than Don Quirino, but worked well in tandem as they cultivated a certain respect from the community. It was also said that Chencho married three times, outliving all but his third wife.  He also, according to some historians, had a hand in building Port Isabel’s lighthouse in 1852.

They were hard workers that started at dawn, and as the sun shone bright and temperatures hovered over 100, the pair, and their slow-moving companion, the burro, were constantly on the streets of old Port Isabel.  

Early on, the entrepreneurs, as you see in the above photos, rode on a burro—it was later that they, too, entered the modern era by using a wagon to navigate through the dirt streets of then.  

The question you may be asking is, “where were they getting the water from?”  

The short answer is: The “Palangana” wells provided their source of fresh water.  The area was where Port Isabel’s H.E.B. is today— the land was out in the boondocks back then. 

A “memorillia” was written for the Aguadores by J.M. (Chacho) Cuellar titled, “Los Cuatro Nombres.”  His work which was written is Spanish is summarized as follows: 

Without a doubt the names of Chencho and Quirino were written in heaven, on the door of “Destino.”  But also, the names of Don Chico y Nicolas— “Quedaran Gravados con Lustre, Y Brillo en Su Historia En este mi Fronton nativo.” 

Every day was a page to turn and a chapter to be written as they took their place of prominence in the community they served.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.portisabelsouthpadre.com/2021/06/04/port-isabel-aguadores-and-their-burros/

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