Mr. Frakes entered the Border Patrol on October 18 1954 as a member of the 56th session. He was interviewed on October 11 1978 by Mr. Oscar J. Martinez a member of the Institute of Oral History University of Texas at El Paso. Interview includes incidents involved with apprehensions work with Hungarian Refugees in 1956 and as a U.S. Marshall in 1962 during the James Meredith era and the University of Mississippi.
M: Mr. Frakes could we start off with some basic biographical information? When and where were you born?
F: In Hennessey Oklahoma. September the 26th 1928.
M: Did you grow up in Oklahoma?
F: In Oklahoma yes. I Went to college at Oklahoma State University.
M: Oh. wed play Oklahoma State sometimes. Wed always get wiped out in football. How did you happen to join the Border Patrol?
F: Well its kind of a funny story really. I was working for the Boeing Airplane company at Wichita. Kansas and there was a fellow named Roy Johnson that was working with me and he was about 65 years old. And he decided hed retire and they gave him a gold watch for his retirement and a handshake and I didnt see how you could survive too long on that. So I saw this ad in the Wichita Kansas paper for Border Patrol agents and so I went down and took the written exam and passed it; and took the oral and the physical and was on my way.
M: When was that?
F: I entered on duty in October 18 1954.
M: And where did you for your training?
F: Well initially I went to El Paso to the Border Patrol School at Fort Bliss. And then from there I was assigned to Mercedes Texas.
M: Do you remember having any preconceptions about what you would find in a place like El Paso- what the duty would be like or what the town would be like?
F: Not really. The only thing I had seen was in the American Rifleman that Bill Toney had written some articles about pistol shooting and competition shooting and he showed some border patrolmen and they were wearing khaki uniforms because in that time well they wore khaki like the military. And I saw that and I always did like competition shooting and I thought well. thatd be an opportunity to do something I like and make a living at the same time. But as far as El Paso it was kind of a mystery to me and I thought I would really enjoy It. getting away to Mexico and to Mexico I travel in Mexico extensively. Even today. I just got back from Guadalajara and Michoacan.
M: Vacation trip?
F: Yeah. But I take em all the time. I have an airplane and I fly down there all the time.
M: Was El Paso and Ciudad Juarez the way you imagined the place?
F: Well really you know from Marty Robbins records and such as that possibly. And I dont know when he wrote that record El Paso. As far as the climate was concerned it was a lot drier than I was used to and that was a surprise to me. And then it was a lot colder at times. But I enjoyed that because it was refreshing as far as the climate was concerned. And as far as the town itself of El Paso I didnt ever work in El Paso. I got to go down to the Border Patrol office one time. The rest of my time was spent at Fort Bliss at the Border Patrol school because we went to school five days a week and then on Saturday they had us painting buildings painting barracks and stuff and we didnt get off the base. So really I didnt get off the base. And then they warned us about staying out of Ciudad Juarez because they said thered be a good opportunity for us to get over there and get in trouble. And so those of us who heeded the warning didnt get over there very much. So I really didnt get much exposure to El Paso or Juarez.
M: I was wondering when the first time you went to Juarez was and what experiences you had. Juarez was quite wide open at that time.
F: Yeah. I was afraid to drive my car so I think we rode over on a…! I think they have a streetcar or trolley or something there that you can ride.
M: They used to.
F: And then we got off and walked around. And I guess the impression I got of Juarez was that everybody was trying to sell you something. And It seemed like the morals of the area at least seemed to be that there was a lot of prostitutes and things that were readily available and nobody had any reluctance to solicit right on the street.
And thats kind of what I remember about it but thats been a long time 24 years.
M: Was there any culture shack crossing into Ciudad Juarez?
F: Well it was kind of a mystery. I mean I felt very sorry for the poor people. I saw the poor people and then of course I saw some of the places that the rich people had. It didnt seem to be much of an in-between. It looked to me like there were some in Mexico that had things had everything and the ones that didnt have anything were just destitute. Thats the Impression that I got that there wasnt any middle class as we have here in this country. That was the impression. I think that through the years that Ive maintained this impression except that I notice that the middle class Is coming up in Mexico. And I think its gonna be the salvation of Mexico when they get a middle class developed to where everybody has a little something.
M: Yeah the middle class is growing in Mexico. Its still small but theyre growing. How was your training there at Fort Bliss?
F: Well if I remember it was about six weeks Is all that we stayed. And we had physical education. I remember that there was a lot of sand burrs there. I got sand burrs in my tennis shoes and I remember that. We had to do a lot of running and the air was so dry that it made it really difficult to run.
M: It was your job to apprehend as many illegal aliens as we could. Did you have a lot of help?
F: We had a lot of people here from the Northern border investigators and from Florida and different places. And it was our job to apprehend as many people as possible and try to clear em out. And we in that year of 54 which I just got in the end of it but the statistics show they apprehended over a million aliens.
M: Ive seen the figures. Its amazing.
F: And the thing I remember about this and the reason I felt that we were doing good for the Mexicans as well as for everybody I mean the Mexican nationals Is because at that time every little pool of water where they had enough water where you could dip water out well they had a Mexican family-the mother the wife and the children. And the children were often sick and the wife was sick because they were drinking this stagnant water. And they were living in little houses called jacales which are made out of sticks that are interwoven and then with the palm leaves on top. And this was not a good thing. And then the Bracero Program came along and then they had to bring just the workers and leave the families at home and they paid them better wages and they had to provide medical attention for them and they had to give em housing and if they got sick they went to the hospital. And it was better it really was better because these people were dying like flies out there living in just appalling conditions that they imposed upon themselves by coming over here. And I still feel that way I still feel that we were doing them a service.
M: These were makeshift camps?
F: Yes just everywhere.
F: Yeah just along the edge of the river. I remember that they were along the edge of the river and they were around just every where. Now I cant confirm this because I dont have this personal knowledge but it was my understanding that during World War II that there was a laxity of enforcement to provide the manpower to harvest the crop because our people were in war and so they let these people in in the 40s and they didnt really make too much enforcement effort. And therefore this is why they had all this build-up of people in the border area is because there hadnt really been a strict enforcement. Ive heard oldtimers that were oldtimers when I came in talking about a Mexican passport. And I says. What do you mean? They says Well if hes got a shovel over his shoulder or a hoe you dont talk to him. Hes employed. You leave him alone. Or if hes in a field you cant talk to him because hes in a field and you have to only talk to him if hes walking down the road and looks like hes transient or just came in. But I that was before my time. I have no personal experience on that. But that sounds reasonable because we did have a big buildup and there has to be a reason for that because we didnt have the restrictions on enforcement that we have now. I mean there were very few aliens that ever had an attorney or anything like that. Theyd just load em up and theyd go back. It seems like most everybody I remember is from Guanajuato or some place like that.
M: Jalisco Michoacan.
F: Yeah. Its a…and I dont understand this but I have yet to personally talk to an alien who1s from the Yucatan area. They dont seem to come here. Theyre Mayan and they dont seem to have any interest in coming over here. Ive been traveling down there quite a bit and I was kind of interested. Im very much interested in the Mayan people. Theyre entirely different than anybody and theyre lovely people. Theyre small and theyre very nice I really enjoy the Mayan people. Very much.
M: Do you recall any interesting incidents during that time the wetback drive or Operation Wetback?
F: Well I dont know that this would be particularly Interesting but this is one little incident that happened over at San Benito and I was working with a fellow named Harry F. Clayburgh. And I was a trainee new on the job. And we went to this dance that they had out in the little dance hail out there in the country. We came driving up in our jeep and we were in uniform of course. And I said Are we gonna go in and check these people? And he says No just wait a minute. And so we stood around outside and pretty soon I heard somebody fall down and knock the breath out of em. You know you could hear the breath kind of uh like that you know He said. Okay thats what I was waiting for. And I said What do you mean? He says Well he said come on Ill show you. And we went around behind the dance ball where the back door was and there was a plowed field. And these girls had started running to get away these prostitutes that were over here from Mexico. And when they hit that plowed field in those high heel shoes they fell down and we just went around gathering em up loading em on all of en. (Chuckles) I dont know that thats too interesting but…
M: Well it is yeah.
F: It shows that if you know your area you know what youre doing you can kind of you dont have to… And that saved us going in there and chousing everybody because they all ran out the back way.
M: Where were these prostitutes from?
F: Just the border areas. Theyd just come across the river just immediate]y adjacent to it. And wed take them right back down to the bridge write em up and take them down to the bridge and send them back.
M: Is those pretty common prostitutes crossing the river and coming over?
F: Oh yes. Yes Its very common. I mean I dont see that its changed that much. Today thats what I was thinking about because they come over now. They didnt have any papers then but now they have the local cards or tarjeta local and they come over theyre a little more sophisticated. But the same thing. Its difficult to stop this kind of thing because they have these local cards. And a prostitutes supposed to be excludable not come in but then in order to prove that a persons a prostitute youve got to have records from the Mexicans to show that shes a registered prostitute. And theyve had decisions down through the years that If you catch even If you see a man pay a woman for prostitution they have a ruling that says that one time does not constitute a professional prostitute and its very difficult to establish this. And so they still come in with the local cards. And some of em still come across in boats. Right down here at Peñitas they still come in boats and we still pick them up.
But we had a thing called the Emancipacion which was a boat that went out of Brownsville to Tampico and I think I dont know if they ever got down to Veracruz. But they would haul aliens down. Maybe they went all the way to Veracruz I can1t remember. It was an old Canadian mine sweeper and they had converted it over to haul people. And of course a farmer well I would be the same way Id get seasick especially If the water was a little rough. because Im not a seaman. And the fact that these people got seasick caused them to stay home. Thats probably one of the biggest preventive measures that we ever had was running that boat and hauling those people back down to the interior of Mexico. But they did away with that. But that well mostly everybody that we would send would be from the interior thats been the Services policy ever since I can remember. If you can catch an illegal alien and send this alien as nearly to his home as close to his home as possible well then that person will stay home. If you take a person from Guanajuato and you put him across at Reynosa well theres very little Incentive for him not to come right back. But If you send him to Leon Guanajuato and hes from within 20 miles from there hell go home. Now how long hell stay I dont know. But after about two times like that it gets kind of frustrating and they stay home. Well the policy has varied in accordance with the amount of money that theyve had to spend because it does cost money to send people.
M: Right now the policy is to just take em across the river?
F: Well no. We have a line on a map out there that if they live far from the border area-which actually the border area now starts at Tampico and runs up to Monterrey and the line and over to Big Bend country for this area-theyll be granted what they call a local voluntary departure which is across the bridge at Reynosa or Progreso or Brownsville Rio Grande City where ever they happen to be caught. But if theyre from the interior well then we have what they call a bus lift. And theyre put on a bus at Port Isabel or theyre sent to the center now it used to be called detention camp. Its like a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
M: Like undocumented alien.
F: Yeah. But then they get I think a Mexican bus and this bus takes them to the interior.
M: How far?
F: Well I dont know. I guess it would be in accordance with where the people are from but I dont know where the terminus is Ive never had anything to do with it. But I think they go as nearly.. .you know try to put the people in according to where the bus is going so that they can get them as near home as possible so theyll stay home. Thats what they want to do they want them to stay home. But then…
M: They dont.
F: Well a lot do a lot do. I dont know if youve traveled In Mexico or not but if you go down in there youll see theres an awful lot of Mexicans down there and theyre not all up here. It may look like theyre all up here but theyre not. Theres a lot of people down there. And things are getting better in Mexico. In fact I just got back from Nicaragua and you talk about culture shock. I flew from here to Tap Chula and cleared customs and left Mexico there went to Nicaragua and I was down there about a week. And when I came back to Tap Chula Mexico from Nicaragua I felt that the standards for the average person were much higher for Mexico and I felt so much better getting back Into Mexico as I feel when I come from Mexico into the United States. So to me I mean thats my personal feeling but Id say that Mexico is coming up. Theyre coming up in their well financial. Thats the only thing that can…if youve got a dollar you can buy beans you know. And its still the best bargain in the world for us to travel and yet its…well I like Mexico I like to travel in Mexico and like the people. I never have any trouble with the people down there. Never. I never have. With anybody. Because I treat them like Id like to be treated and thats all you have to do to anybody.
M: And you speak Spanish?
F: Oh yes. My wife is well your partners name was Sanchez. Her maiden name was Sanchez.
M: Wheres she from?
F: Shes from here shes from McSherryland which Is over by Mission just about five miles from here.
M: Well how did you meet her? Thats Interesting.
F: Well Im on the credit committee at the local credit union and shes assistant manager there. And I worked there for many years and now Im on the Board of Directors. And we just got married. And shes very shes very nice to me. She and I have a little game when we go to Mexico that often she doesnt understand what theyre saying. I mean sometimes. She speaks her parents are mestizo. Are you familiar with that term?
F: So on her passport theyre resident aliens and they have been in the United States since before I was born I believe as legal resident aliens. They live near here and her father Is from that town where they have the soda popTehuantepec or whatever it is down there. And then her mother is from Veracruz. And neither one of her parents speak English so she speaks Spanish fluently. But she has well of course she speaks Spanish ten times better than I do but she still gets confused a little bit on dialects. They kind of throw her. Since I dont know enough to recognize a dialect.
I just got through talking to some Indians in Michoacan and theyre different. Now thats another group of people entirely. Im a photographer by hobby and I do a lot of photography for the Border Patrol. And I had my cameras with me as I always do and this woman had a purse that she had woven on the loom. you could see it back in the background. Wed stopped there. And I asked her if shed sell it. Yes it was 50 pesos and I had no use for it at all. I said Well Ill tell you what Ill give you 50 pesos for the purse if youll let me take your picture and she said The purse is 50 pesos and you cannot take my picture. And that was It. And the Indians are that way. I think its a superstition or something. They do not want their picture made. And I honor them I dont ever take their picture unless they give me permission. I bought a blanket and a sweater from an Indian family in Chapala Jalisco. I spent about 650 pesos and I said Now that Ive bought these things Id like for you to hold them and Ill take your picture. And he said You can take our picture for 50 pesos. And I says Well no thanks I dont think its worth that much for me to have your picture. But well theyre business people I guess. But I couldnt go around giving two dollars every time I want to take a picture of a Mexican. Id go broke pretty fast.
M: When you first came down here how long did you stay down here?
F: Well I didnt stay very long. I stayed possibly a year. Maybe a little over a year. Then I had an opportunity to go to Detroit. Michigan in the Border Patrol. So I transferred to Detroit and worked in Detroit.
M: What did you do up there? Its the Canadian border.
F: Yes. Well you still have the Mexicans up there and a lot of illegals. And since I had just come from the Mexican border why I was able to more or less detect the illegal ones by well just by being acquainted with then. I worked in that area and then we worked the Canadians who they cane over and work without permits or you know without immigrating. And then surprisingly there was quite a few blacks that came from Canada.
M: Blacks from Canada?
F: Yes. And theyre really hard to dig out because they get in with the black element in Detroit. And they wont even answer the door when you knock on the door you know. Theyre probably the hardest ones of all at least for me. And then there was another aspect that they had that I enjoyed. They had a speed boat that they checked smuggling across the Detroit River. I got to work on that a little bit. I enjoyed that.
M: Any interesting incidents?
F: No. Really as far as shoot-outs or…
M: Or just situations like the ones that you have described that illustrate some human interest element in them.
F: Very little happened In Detroit because thats a very inhuman town.
M: It sure is.
F: But I transferred from there to Sault Ste. Marie Michigan which is up at the top of Michigan at the very top in the upper peninsula and that was more interesting. It required a lot more driving because we had the whole upper peninsula which is 320 miles long. And we had worked that area. And I met a lot of interesting people but we had very little…well I worked snowshoes up there. I went on Sugar Island and I walked with snowshoes. First time I ever had to do that in my life that was kind of different.
M: You were looking for aliens in the snow?
F: Yeah. You see Sugar Island was across the river from Sault Ste. Marie but it belongs to the United States. The river forks there I guess and goes around both sides of it. So they had summer homes there. Well then these people we got word that they were
coming across and breaking into the summer homes and robbing. Well not robbing but what would you call it? They were just pilfering and doing damage and so we went to investigate. I never did find any evidence that that was going on. We caught…well see about that time they had the Hungarian program. I did get involved in that too. While I was still at Detroit before I went o Sault Ste. Marie I went to New Jersey-New
Brunswick New Jersey–when they brought all the Hungarians.
M: For processing?
F: Oh yeah. That was quite a thing. I learned a little Hungarian.I can say Show me your identification in Hungarian which is a little different in Spanish. And I had to work on the gates and as cars were coming they wouldnt pay any attention and I had to learn be careful in Hungarian I had a lot of human interest things there as far as the people. I voluntarily went into an area where they had tuberculosis and worked with them And the Catholic Church and different ones were trying to help. And with so many people sometimes things would get mixed up as far as who was gonna go where and what. Well there were two wives and two young men and the young men had tuberculosis and they needed to go to a center for treatment which they sent them And then the wives were still at the camp and these guys were several hundred miles upstate somewhere. Well they ran away from their tuberculosis deal and came back to the camp. I think its Camp Kilmer New Jersey where we were. And then the time that everybody got through yelling at each other well. then everybody got mad and so they signed an agreement to return to Austria. And I asked the doctor and I asked several agreements What does this mean? They said Well its just the same as them signing their death warrant because theyll die over there. Cause they need treatment. And I says Well is it all right if I talk to these people and try to explain this to them and then get them to stay in the United States? They said Well yeah but weve tried and we cant do a thing with them.
So I found an army personnel I dont know what rank he was corporal or something. He spoke Hungarian. And I said. Would you come over and interpret for me cause I couldnt speak Hungarian. And so I explained the options to them and how it was a mix-up that they had been separated and not gotten back together when they were promised to be and that the Catholic Church didnt intentionally do anything wrong it was just a
matter of so many people and they werent used to handling this volume. And I finally convinced them to remain in the United States. Well I was really elated over that but I ended up getting reprimanded for sticking my nose into some business that was already settled. But I told the guy that jumped on me he was my supervisor I says Well whenever I have to take my choice between saving two peoples lives or being reprimanded by you Im gonna take the lives every time. And you can just reprimand me all you want and I dont care
M: Whatd he say?
F: Well he got mad and walked off. See some of those people they felt might be Communists that were infiltrating and we had to take interviews from them through interpreters. And I dont know how it happened but I got the word later when I got back to Michigan that they had put out the word that I was a Communist sympathizer as a result of that action.
M: That you were?
F: Yeah because I had talked these two people into staying you know. And things get twisted around. But I thought Well I still feel like I did the right thing cause theres two people still alive because of what I did. But I dont know I still dont feel too good about it because the people that knew better which was the chief who was the one I cleared everything with and he called me after it was all over and he says Well you did the right thing and you had cleared it with me. And I said Well why dont you tell the rest of these people? And he said Well lets just let it drop. Its all over . You know and that left me hanging. It didnt really affect me in my career or anything but a lot of people felt that I was somewhat less than a patriot which I wasnt. Its just things that happen like that but you just have to make your choice-what youre gonna do. That was when I was still at Detroit. They flew us in a C46 I think it was. The Border Patrol flew us up there to Maguire.
M: That was just temporary duty?
F: Yeah about a month or so. And then we landed at Maguire Air Base there and then we went on out by bus I guess It was. Then Sault Ste. Marie I made some acquaintances there but there really wasnt that much work to do there. Its just more of a just being there. You know its kind of like carrying a gun. They say Well have you ever had a shootout? Say Well no I havent had a shoot-out but how many times wouldI have been shot if I hadnt had the gun? You know cause its a preventive measure and thats what more or less Sault Ste. Marie is. If they didnt have the Border Patrol there well theyd have half of Canada over there working and knocking everybody out of their job I would imagine. So its a preventive measure. And I would rather prevent people than to arrest them after theyve done something wrong. Thats my feeling Ive always felt that way. Id rather have the Mexicans stay in Mexico than to have em come over here and pick them up and put them back. Id much rather have them stay. On paper it doesnt look as good because youre not making the number of apprehensions and everything. But still all In all its better for them and better for us if they dont come over here in the first place as far as our country Is concerned. See thats why we dont have that much trouble with Canada because their standard of living is very similar to ours. in fact its difficult to see the difference really.
M: It mustve been hard to detect Canadians who were illegal aliens.
F: Well I set up a system over the time there and I talked to a lot of Canadians and I wrote a little pamphlet and sent it in as a suggestion which was summarily rejected. But