Perote Prison: Something To Be Buried In

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Sometimes research can turn up a gem of information that can send your story in a different direction. When writing my second novel, Touched by Love, I needed a place for the heroine’s kidnapped brother to be taken. I knew the general area where I needed him to be held, just not a specific location. And of course, it had to be historically accurate for the time period in which my story was set.

I began searching the internet for prisons used by the Mexican Army in the 1800s and found Perote Prison. The location was ideal, 600 miles into Mexico, and several hundred Texans had been incarcerated within its walls.

perote-prison-bridge-over-moatThe Castle of San Carlos (photo to the left *) was built by the Viceroy of Mexico in the late 16th century, 7000 feet up the mountains overlooking the port of Veracruz. It was designed as an ammunition storage facility and a military training school, and as a second line of defense for Veracruz. Both the Spanish and Mexican armies used the immense fortress as a prison. Texans captured during three disastrous expeditions against Mexico were imprisoned and died here.

The Aztecs called the place pinahuizapan, or “something-to-be-buried-in.” Situated high in thmountains-over-veracruze mountains, at an altitude of 7000 feet, the castle made an ideal prison. The stone and masonry walls were twelve feet high and six feet thick. The entire structure was surrounded by a wide, deep moat spanned by a single drawbridge. Add to that the weather in this high desert, and it must have seemed like the most inhospitable place on earth to those unfortunate enough to be there.

When I discovered Perote Prison, I knew it had to make an appearance in the book. I ended up writing a prologue that forced the hero to ride to this remote prison to correct a terrible mistake and save a man’s life at the possible cost of his own. The added scenes demonstrated the hero’s sense of honor and responsibility, adding depth to his character and making him more redeemable in the eyes of the reader.

Interesting, isn’t it, how a gem of information can send you off in a different direction and make your characters—and your story—better?

* J. J. McGrath & Walace Hawkins, “Perote Fort- Where Texans Were Imprisoned”, Volume 48, Number 3, Southwestern Historical Quarterly Online

 

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www.tracygarrett.com

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History, Texas, cowboys, horses—these are a few of Tracy’s favorite things. Check out her westerns at www.TracyGarrett.com.

13 thoughts on “Perote Prison: Something To Be Buried In”

  1. Tracy, what a lucky find. I love getting lost in research, and I rejoice when I find a gem such as this.

    Prisons are always gnarly but one that’s 7000 feet up there sounds terrifying. Whew.

    Thanks for the wonderful info. oxoxoxoxox

  2. Tracy, I loved reading about this prison. I thought that prologue in Touched By Love was extremely powerful. I didn’t know it was a real place though. Man, I’d have hated to have been incarcerated there! Bet they didn’t have any escapes. Once you were put there, you only got out by dying. So sad. Do you know if the prison is still being operated today?

  3. Thanks, Linda. I’m glad you liked that prologue. When I ran across Perote Prison, I knew it belonged in that story. And the statues I described? They were actually there by the original drawbrigde.

    To the best of my knowledge, the building is no longer a prison; it’s being used as a training and storage facility by the Mexican Army.

  4. Tracy,

    I just went to the southwestern Historical Quarterly and I want to say what an amazing site

    Do you know if there is anything like that for the Plains area
    I will definitely use it
    Melinda

  5. Anyone who has lived in the Rockies knows how unexpectedly cold and unforgiving the weather can turn with little warning. That prison seems to be in a similar location. When I finally get around to reading Touched By Love, it will mean so much more.

  6. Hi I have Touched by Love just haven’t read it yet,both its next on my list. Great post. Enjoyed reading it. Blessings. AprilR

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