El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez

Anonymous, c. 1910

Show the lyrics blocking out the English translation. Ask students who know or are learning Spanish to listen to the song in advance and translate it for the rest of the class. They can check their translation with the one provided. After the class listens to the song, ask these students to point out where the song loses something in translation and explain why.

Research the story of Gregorio Cortez. What was he accused of? Horse theft. What happened to complicate the problem for him? Shot the sheriff who shot his brother.

Of what crimes was Cortez innocent? Guilty? What was his defense in shooting the first sheriff? Why didn't Cortez allow himself to be arrested in the first place and use the courts to prove he was innocent?

Why did law enforcement feel justified to use a statewide manhunt for Cortez? At what points did they act responsibly? Irresponsibly?

Why has his story remained so popular among Mexican-Americans? What other famous cases and trials that had an undertone of discrimination does this story remind you of? Rodney King, Sacco-Vanzetti, Salem witch trials.

Discuss whether Cortez was a victim of "ethnic profiling."

"El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez" performed by Ramón Ayala on Corridos con Madre, GCM/Matrak, © 2005. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

View the lyrics and music for "El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez."

A corrido is a narrative ballad. The genre became increasingly popular around the time of the Mexican Revolution on 1910 and remains a popular genre today, particularly in the Mexican-American border communities.

Gregorio Cortez
Gregorio Cortez

This corrido concerns the true 1901 story of Gregorio Cortez, a Mexican-American ranch hand who was wanted on a false charge of horse theft. During an interrogation that was most likely muddled by bad Spanish-English interpretation, the sheriff shot and wounded Gregorio's brother Romaldo (Roman). Cortez shot and killed the sheriff in self defense, then fled. While on the run from a posse, Cortez killed another sheriff. The largest manhunt in Texas history ensued: 600 Texas Rangers chased him for 11 days across 450 miles. In 1905 Cortez was found not guilty of the first murder but guilty of the second. He was pardoned after eight years after Mexican-Americans rallied in his defense.

More corridos were composed about Cortez in the Mexican-American tradition than about any other single figure. The story was made into a movie, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, in 1982.

Look for examples of other "outlaw ballads" and compare them with this corrido. Use the song comparison grid to compare and contrast them.

Rewrite the lyrics of this song from the point of view of relatives of the sheriffs who were shot.

Design a wanted poster that the Texas Rangers might have issued.

Write a letter from a Mexican-American in support of pardoning Cortez. Those who can may write their letters in Spanish.