SAN ANTONIO – A class of student historians at St. Mary's University are retelling the story of "Adrian Vidal: Mexico's Forgotten Ally," a short film produced for this weekend's commemoration of his death 150 years ago.
The film will be shown Sunday evening during a candlelight ceremony in Rio Grande City honoring Vidal's life and sacrifice.
"He died at the age of 20 years, one month and five days. They etched all of that on the tombstone," said Dr. Teresa Van Hoy, a professor of history who first learned about Vidal from a student's thesis years ago.
"He was so young to be so devoted to a cause," said student Michelle Champion.
Van Hoy said Vidal first was fueled by the death of his father during the Battle of Monterrey, when U.S. forces invaded Mexico.
When Vidal was a teenager, the Civil War and Mexico's war of independence were raging on both sides of the Rio Grande.
Van Hoy said Vidal and his men stood with Mexican President Benito Juarez in overthrowing the imperialist reign of Emperor Maximillian. She said they also fought against Confederate forces that controlled the lower Rio Grande Valley.
"They wanted their people to be free from the imperialists and Confederate rule," said Meagan Lozano, the film's producer.
Vidal's mother, Petra, owned thousands of acres in South Texas. His stepfather, Mifflin Kenedy, was the business partner of Richard King, founder of the King Ranch.
Although there is no record of his capture by the French or even an accurate depiction of what Vidal looked like, how Vidal died is known.
Since it was illegal to execute Vidal on Mexican or U.S. soil, Van Hoy said, "Very ingeniously and tragically, they hit on a solution of executing him on a steamboat in the middle of the Rio Grande."
Vidal was tied to the mast of one of his stepfather's steamships not far from where this weekend's commemoration will take place.
Lozano said, "Mifflin Kenedy went to go save him with the ransom money. His mother had offered his weight in gold."
But it was too late.
Van Hoy said as his mother looked on, Vidal spoke his last words before the French firing squad, "Viva la Republica! Viva Mexico!"
Champion said their research shows Vidal was not the traitor portrayed by his Confederate enemies.
"He was a hero, a Tejano warrior who was trying to help protect and defend Mexico, Texas and the Rio Grande," she said.
Eddie Paniagua, another student who worked on the project said, "It's incredible someone that young would be so inspiring."
"Now people can learn maybe another side of his history that is never told," said Lozano. "I was glad to be a part of that."