The New York Times of January 29, 1948 reported the wreck of a "charter plane carrying 28 Mexican farm workers from Oakland to the El Centro, CA, Deportation Center....The crash occurred 20 miles west of Coalinga, 75 miles from Fresno." Woody Guthrie read that New York Times article, and wrote a song he titled "Deportee." As far as I can tell, Woody never recorded the song. He would chant the lyrics occasionally at concerts, but the song did not become well-known until Martin Hoffman wrote a tune for it in about 1958.

(Woody Guthrie & Martin Hoffman)

The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting
The oranges are piled in their creosote dumps
You're flying them back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria
You won't have a name when you ride the big airplane
And all they will call you will be deportee.

My father's own father, he waded that river
They took all the money he made in his life
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to the Mexican border
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains,
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon
A fireball of lightning which shook all our hills
Who are these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says they are just deportees.

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves and rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except deportees?

Copyright 1961 and 1963 Ludlow Music, Inc.

Full name of the song is "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos Canyon)." Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics after reading an article from the New York Times.
Surplus produce is often dumped to keep prices high. It appears that the creosote was used to make the oranges inedible.

In a thread at the Mudcat Cafe, Steve Suffet wrote a good summary of the story of the song:

Mudcat Thread #41992   Message #608248
Posted By: Suffet
12-Dec-01 - 07:33 AM
Thread Name: Origin: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (background)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
To briefly summarize, a chartered airplane crashed on a hillside near Los Gatos Canyon, not far from Coalinga, California, on January 28, 1948. All 32 people aboard died. The wire service dispatches gave the names of the pilot, copliot, cabin attendant, and immigration agent aboard, but not the names of the 28 Mexican farmworkers being deported. Some had entered the USA illegally, while others had overstayed temporary work permits that expired when their work contracts ended.

Woody Guthrie heard the story on the radio and/or read it in the newspaper, and then wrote the song. His original tune, which he most likely performed at a Peoples' Artists hoot in New York, was uninteresting. It has been described as a nearly monotonous chant.

About 10 years later a young folksinger named Martin Hoffman wrote a new tune, the one with which we are all familiar. First Cisco Houston and then Judy Collins recorded "Deportees" using Hoffman's tune, and the song quickly became an standard among American folkies.

It is doubtful that Woody Guthrie ever sang the Martin Hoffman tune -- he certainly was too far gone from Huntington's disease to sing it in public by then -- but it is well known that others sang it to him, particularly when he was out on weekend passes from Greystone Hospital in New Jersey.

---- Steve

Mudcat Thread #581   Message #3326112
Posted By: Joe Offer
21-Mar-12 - 01:47 AM
Thread Name: Origins:Deportees-seeking original Woody recording
Subject: RE: Deportees - seeking original Woody recording
I had quite a day today. I visited Pinnacles National Monument in San Benito County, California - climbed through a cave and saw a California Condor. I took the back way out, heading south down California Highway 25 on a leisurely route toward Los Angeles, where I'm due to arrive Thursday. In the middle of nowhere, I noticed a turnoff to "Coalinga Road." I think I saw that turnoff last year when I was in the same area, but paid no attention to it then because I was headed in the opposite direction. This time, I looked at the map and found that the road became Los Gatos Canyon Road as it approached Coalinga.

The sign at the entrance warned me to expect 25 miles of winding road, so I figured it was going to be only 25 miles to Coalinga. I didn't note my mileage until I had gone what I thought was twenty miles, and I drove twenty-five miles after that. I didn't see another vehicle for the first hour, and the road was narrow and full of potholes, showing signs of recent landslides. In several places, the road forded small streams that flowed from the remainder of last week's rain and snow. There was still a dusting of snow on some of the higher mountains that lined the canyon. There were ranches in some places along the road, and even a couple of small communities; and there were other long stretches where there was no sign of human habitation at all.

Even where there were buildings, I didn't see any people. The daylight was fading, and it was getting a bit spooky - and then the road narrowed to one lane. After maybe thirty miles of very treacherous driving, I crossed into Fresno County and the road was pretty good.

Along the way, I saw California quail, and two big flocks of turkeys - maybe 25 turkeys in each flock. I saw a deer, and a long, slinky animal that looked like a weasel. Then I saw a herd of elk in a meadow alongside the road, so I stopped to take pictures. While I was there, I spotted two bald eagles in the trees near the elk.

In the evening sunlight, this forty-mile canyon was spectacular. It was very narrow in places, and the surrounding Coast Range mountains were often very rugged. There weren't too many wildflowers yet, but the grass was green and lush.

Just after I entered Fresno County, I came to "Los Gatos Creek Recreation Area," a facility that looked like a vacation camp with cabins. There was a small community around the recreation area - again, with no people in sight. At the other end of the road, a sign said the recreation area was 16 miles west of Coalinga, so I imagine the plane crash took place just west of the recreation area, in the most desolate area of the road. I didn't see any marker commemorating the crash - just a narrow road in a narrow canyon in a very rugged area. But it was beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful - and teeming with wildlife.

I've wanted to make this drive for years and years. Yes, today was a good day - it was touched with a sweet melancholy, thinking of those people who died in this beautiful, desolate place, just a few months before I was born.

May they rest in peace.


Click photos to display them larger.
Mudcat Thread #581   Message #3611962
Posted By: Joe Offer
22-Mar-14 - 08:37 PM
Thread Name: Origins:Deportees-seeking original Woody recording
Subject: RE: Origins:Deportees-seeking original Woody recording
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, which owns Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, led an effort with author and former San Joaquin Valley resident Tim Z. Hernandez to raise money for the memorial. About $14,000 was raised to cover the cost of the memorial and expenses to stage the Mass and unveiling ceremony. The new gravestone was dedicated in September, 2013. I missed the dedication of the memorial, so I visited the cemetery by myself on March, 2014. I read the names of all the dead out loud, and said a prayer for them. As I drove away, I sang a few verses of Woody's song.
If you'd like to visit, the memorial is at Holy Cross Cemetery, Belmont and Hughes Avenues in Fresno - just west of the Belmont exit on California Highway 99. The grave is on the west side of the cemetery, about midway along the west fence.

As the ancient prayer says, May perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

-Joe Offer-