Francois LaBorde (also spelled Laborde), merchant, was born on April 16, 1867, in Arudy, France, to Jacques LaBorde and Marie Candau. He was described as 5 foot 6 inches tall, with a fair complexion, black hair, and brown eyes. It is unclear when he first left France, but he apparently traveled to the United States on a sailing ship and plied up the Rio Grande by steamboat. He settled in the border town of Rio Grande City. As he crossed the port of Laredo, Texas, from Mexico into the United States on December 15, 1908, LaBorde declared to the Department of Commerce and Labor that he had lived in Rio Grande City since 1878. He was a well-traveled man, returning to France at least once in 1883, and traveling often between Texas and Mexico. He married Eva Marks in March 1896 in Starr County. Eva was on born December 23, 1879, in Rio Grande City, Texas, to a French father, Ernest Marks, and Josephila Peña, born in Mexico but raised in Roma, Texas.
Eva and Francisco (as he called himself) had five children, Blanche (born March 10, 1897), Frank (November 22, 1901), Leonard (October 11, 1903), Lionel (December 28, 1907), and Ernestine (b. Dec 23, 1910). LaBorde quickly integrated himself to the community both socially and economically. Around 1890 he opened a general merchandise store in Rio Grande City. He was also involved in the leather business and purchased goat skins to be shipped throughout Europe for the production of kid gloves. He also owned a mill in San Antonio; the mill was used to grind cornmeal.
LaBorde was fluent in French and Spanish and only picked up some English during his lifetime. He was a recognizable figure in Rio Grande City as he embraced the Mexican, Tejano, and Spanish cultures of the region while at the same time managing to maintain his French roots. A feature in the April 18, 1982, issue of the Brownsville Herald included a vivid description of LaBorde as recalled by his youngest daughter. “Don Pancho lived the free-spending lifestyle of a European aristocrat, patronizing the theaters, opera and the colorful casinos in Matamoros. His wine cellar was stocked with the finest imports.” The LaBorde children grew up speaking French, and he was well-known for proudly displaying the French flag on French holidays. He did manage however, to embrace a dual identity quite well, since his French heritage did not overwhelm his Tejano lifestyle. He often signed his name as Francisco, and people in the community knew him as Don Pancho.
LaBorde was regarded as a flamboyant character that spared no expense. He owned the first automobile in town, and the LaBorde household had the first indoor plumbing and first electric cook stove in Rio Grande City. His keen eye for business propelled him to convert his home into an exquisite hotel, known as the LaBorde House, in 1899. Unfortunately, on August 11, 1917, at only fifty years of age, Francois LaBorde died of a gunshot wound to the head. It is unclear to this day if it was a suicide or an accident. According to his death certificate, he was buried the following day in Rio Grande City, but the place is burial was not listed.
LaBorde’s youngest daughter Ernestine spoke warmly of him and said that she remembered her father as “a warm, vital man of good spirits with a stylish moustache, a bon vivant who enjoyed luxury and travel.” Ernestine recalled during an interview in 1982, “I always addressed him in French. The minute he walked in the house, I would say: ‘Je vous aime beaucoup,’ and he loved it.” In 2015 his legacy lived on in Rio Grande City, where the LaBorde House still stood.