Dilley Oral Histories: When Celso Threatened to Jump off the Water Tower

Celso San Miguel
The former Dilley volunteer firefighter, Celestino “Celso” San Miguel, received one dollar for every monthly meeting he attended, despite his unorthodox firefighting methods.

Born April 1955, Celestino “Celso” San Miguel’s reputation started as a young man who could extinguish house fires with only his coat, but his legend was solidified when he threatened to jump from Dilley’s water tower, only to tell the local probation officer…

as told by Raúl Ortiz:

Back in those years, whenever a fire was on, he was at home and he started running, take off his coat and stop the fire… with the coat. By the time the fire department [arrived], he already had stopped the fire… with the coat. Believe me.

Back in those years, Arturo Machado was the probation officer from Pearsall. And every time Arturo had problems, he comes…

“Celso, if you don’t behave, I’m gonna lock you up!”

“I don’t give a shit! Encierame a la chingada,” he said. He was so mad.

Celso threatened to jump from Dilley's water tower...
In the late 1970’s, Celso threatened to jump from Dilley’s water tower…

One time, around two o’clock in the afternoon, he went up those [water tower] stairs, all the way to the top. He wanted to kill himself because he had a fight with his brothers. He was so mad, and he knew Arturo was going to come and put him in jail, but he was working.

Two hours later, Arturo hadn’t shown up, but a crowd started to gather around the water tower.

“Celso, get off!”

“No, I’m gonna jump!”

“No, Celso, stop!” “Stop, please!”

“Well, ok. I want to talk to the probation officer Arturo Machado, right now!”

“Well, you have to wait. He gets off at four o’clock.”

Here comes Arturo Machado, all the people were standing there, and Celso was up there.

To Arturo Machado: “Hey. The cops are looking for you.”


“They want to talk to you.”

“What’s the matter?”

Dijo, “this man wants to die all the way to the ground because he’s mad. And he doesn’t want to get off because Arturo’s gonna put him in jail.”

It seemed most of the town was gathered around the water tower by now, waiting to see if Celso would jump.

Here comes Arturo: “Ceelsooo…Come down!!”

Celso: “No. You’re gonna put me in jail goddamnit. I’m gonna kill myself.”

“No no no no no,” here comes Arturo. “No, Celso. I’m not going to take you to jail. Just come down and I’ll talk to you.”

“Ok. I’m going to come down! But first of all, I just had to tell you one thing…”

“Qué, Celso?”

“Vayas y chingas tu madre!… Ok, I’m gonna come down. But that’s all I wanted to tell you.”

as told by Raúl Ortiz, transcribed by  Jose Asuncion.
Jose received an MFA from University of Southern California in 2008, a BA from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2003, and is a former writer/photographer for the Frio-Nueces Current of South Texas. He currently lives in Dilley, TX, home of his grandparents.