“Mexicans are different to negroes and are recognized as Americans.” “Money Whitens” (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, 84-85:

Landed Mexicans represented the complicating factor in the Mexican-Anglo relations of the frontier period. Even during the worst times of Mexican banditry, the permanent Mexican residents who were landowners were seen as “good citizens” while the large “floating” population temporarily employed on ranches were seen as sympathizers of the raiders.[27] Similar distinctions were made in the less dramatic, daily encounters. For example, in her first trip to Corpus Christi in 1870, Mrs. Susan Miller of Louisiana stopped at the State Hotel and “was horrified to see Mexicans seated at the tables with Americans. I told my husband I had never eaten with Mexicans or negroes, and refused to do so. He said ‘Mexicans are different to negroes and are recognized as Americans. However, I will speak to the manager and see if he will not put a small table in one corner of the room for you. He did so and we enjoyed our meal.”[28] Evidence of inconsistent patterns at times comes from ironic sources. They indicate, nonetheless, that not all Mexicans were seen or treated as inferior. In fact, most pioneers, especially merchants and officials, were quite adept at drawing the distinction between the landed “Castilian” elite and the landless Mexican. Thus, L. E. Daniell, author of Successful Men in Texas (1890), described the physical appearance of prominent “Canary Islander” José Maria Rodríguez as “five feet nine inches in height, complexion dark, but not a drop of Indian blood in his veins.” As if to emphasize this point, Daniell added that Rodríguez had ïn his veins the blood of the most chivalric Knights that made the Olvie of Spain respected wherever a Knightly name was known.”[29]

The well-known aphorism about color and class explains the situation on the Mexican frontier–“money whitens.” The only problem for upper-class Mexicans was that this principle offered neither consistent nor permanent security in the border region. Certainly it did not protect them from the racial opinion of many Anglos. One descendant of this upper class described their reaction as follows: “Now that a new country has been established south of the Rio Grande they call our people Mexicans. They are the same people who were called Spaniards only a short time ago. Some say the word in such a bitter way that it sounds as if it were a crime to be a Mexican. My master says he is one, and is proud to be [85] one. That he is a member of the white race, whether he be called Mexican or not.”[30]

[N.B.: The closing quote is from a 1935 “folk history” of the area told from the perspective of a Mesquite tree.]


  1. [27] Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Country, p. 69; Graf, “Economic History,” p. 625.
  2. [28] Miller, Sixty Years, pp. 15, 175.
  3. [29] Daniell, Types of Successful Men, p. 340.
  4. [30] Zamora O’Shea, El Mesquite, p. 59.

“The Matter of Race … a race situation,” labor segregation (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, 82-84.

The Matter of Race

Mexican-Anglo relations in the late nineteenth century were inconsistent and contradictory, but the general direction pointed to the formation of a “race situation,” a situation where ethnic or national prejudice provided a basis for separation and control. The paternalism of the Anglo patrones and the loyalty of their Mexican workers did not obscure the anti-Mexican and anti-Anglo sentiments and divisions of the ranch world.

In the late nineteenth century, these race sentiments, which drew heavily from the legacy of the Alamo and the Mexican War, were maintained and sharpened by market competition and property disputes. Every conflict provided an opportunity for a vicarious recreation of previous battles. The Mexican cattle “thieves” of the 1870s, for example, claimed they were only taking “Nana’s cattle”–Grandma’s cattle–and that “the gringos” were merely raising cows for the Mexicans. Texas ranchman William Hale presented the other [83] point of view: “Killing a Mexican was like killing an enemy in the independence war.” Since this was a conflict “with historic scores to settle [Goliad and the Alamo] the killing carried a sort of immunity with it.”[21] The English lady Mary Jaques, who spent two years on a central Texas ranch in the late 1880s, noted in her journal that it was difficult to convince Texans that Mexicans were human. The Mexican “seems to be the Texan’s natural enemy; he is treated like a dog, or, perhaps, not so well.” What especially upset Lady Jaques, however, was the assimilation of such instincts by educated Englishment who had settled in Texas. Describing the commotion over plans to lynch a Mexican, Jaques remarked: “It seems scarcely credible that even a fairly educated Englishman, holding a good position in Junction City, an influential member of the Episcopalian Church, should have become so imbued with these ideas that he … gleefully boasted that he had the promise of the rope on which the ‘beast’ swung, and also of his scalp as a trophy. ‘I have one Mexican scalp already,’ he exclaimed.”[22] For both Anglos and Mexicans, the power of assimilation made actual participation in the Texas Revolution or Mexican War an irrelevant point. These shared memories simply provided a context for the ongoing conflict of the day.

The basic rules regarding Mexicans on many ranches called for a separation of Mexican and Anglo cowboys and a general authority structure in which Anglo stood over Mexican. As Jaques noted in 1889, the Texans ate in the ranch dining room and “would have declined to take their meals with the Mexicans.” The Mexicans, for their part, “camped out with their herds” and cooked their weekly ration of flour, beans, and other groceries.[23] Likewise, underneath the much-discussed paternalism of the King Ranch and the loyalty of the vaqueros was a clear hierarchy of authority along race lines. Trail driver Jeff Connolly of Lockhart, Texas, recalled the days of herding King Ranch cattle to the Red River: “The only white men with the herd were Coleman and myself, the balance of the bunch being Mexicans. All the old-timers know how King handled the Mexicans–he had them do the work and let the white men do the bossing.”[24] Nor were these bosses ordinary “white men.” The ranch foremen and subordinate bosses were, as a rule, former Texas Rangers. An apparent exception to this pattern was Lauro Cavazos, descendent of the San Juan Carricitos grantees. Cavazos worked as foreman of the ranch’s Norias Division, which comprised the old San Juan Carricitos grant.[25] Cavazos, however, was not actually an exception to the postwar authority structure, for there was no problem with Mexicans bossing other Mexicans.

This understanding about authority was carried well into the [84] twentieth century. Again, J. Frank Dobie provides the clearest statement of the practice: on the smaller ranches and stock farms in the Lower Valley, the Mexicans were managed by Anglo owners or bosses; on the larger ranches, the mayordomo (overseer) was usually Anglo, but the caporales (straw bosses) were often Mexican. However, if “white hands” worked alongside Mexicans, then the caporal was “nearly always white.”[26]


  1. [21] William Hale, Twenty-Four Years a Cowboy and Ranchman in Southern Texas and Old Mexico, p. 137; John H. Culley, Cattle, Horses, and Men, p. 103; Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Country, pp. 54-56; González, “Social Life,” p. 11; Hunter, Trail Drivers, 2:938-939.
  2. [22] Mary J. Jaques, Texas Ranch Life, pp. 361-362.
  3. [23] Ibid., p. 61.
  4. [24] Hunter, Trail Drivers, 1:187.
  5. [25] Lea, King Ranch, 2:497, 638-639; also 100 Years.
  6. [26] Dobie, “Ranch Mexicans,” p. 168; see also John Hendrix, If I Can Do It Horseback, p. 32.

“The political status of the Mexican in Texas … the right to vote” (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, 39-41.

The second question requiring immediate attention was the political status of the Mexican in Texas. One of the liveliest debates in the Texas Constitutional Convention (1845) concerned whether or not the Mexican should be allowed the right to vote. The debate centered on whether the qualifying adjective ” white” should be retained in the constitutional provisions that described the voters of the state. The Harris County representative argued that the qualifier “white” should be kept, not because he feared the Spaniard; he welcomed them as he welcomed any portion of the Caucasian race that desired to settle in Texas. Rather he feared the mass immigration of “hordes of Mexican Indians”: “Silently they will come moving in; they will come back in thousands to Bexar, in thousands to Goliad, perhaps to Nacogdoches, and what will be the consequence? Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty thousand may come in here, and vanquish you at the ballot box though you are invincible in arms. This is no idle dream; no bugbear; it is the truth.”[47] The proposal failed, however, because of opposition by several Anglo-Texan allies and protectors of the Texas Mexican elite (like Col. Henry Kinney of Corpus Christi). José Antonio Navarro of San Antonio, the only Texas Mexican (and the only native-born Texan) at the Constitutional Convention, argued eloquently against the proposal.

In spite of the formal defeat of disenfranchisement at the convention, Mexicans in certain districts were denied the vote or allowed only limited participation. Corpus Christi merchant Henry Kinney observed that in several counties the practice immediately after independence had been to withhold the franchise from Mexicans, even though they may have fought against a people “of their own race.” Traveler Frederick Olmsted observed that, if the Mexicans in San Antonio voted, they could elect a government of their own; “such a step would be followed, however, by a summary revolution.”[48] Where Mexicans did have the right to vote, protests and threats from Anglo-Americans were constant reminders of a fragile franchise.

A typical protest was exemplified by a hotly contested election for state representative from Nueces and Webb counties in 1863, where S. Kinney of Corpus Christi lost to Charles Callaghan of Laredo by a margin of thirty-five votes. The Corpus Christi Ranchero noted that Kinney was the choice of fifteen of sixteen voters where the English language was spoken and that “American men in an American country should have a fair showing in shaping the destinies of the country.” The Fort Brown Flag of Brownsville joined in the protest, editorializing that “we are opposed to allowing an ignorant crowd of Mexicans to determine the political questions in this country, where a man is supposed to vote knowingly and thoughtfully.”[49] Disenfranchisement was the usual sentiment of disgruntled losers in electoral politics.

Where Texas Mexicans constituted a significant portion of the male vote, the politicians among the American settlers proceeded to instruct and organize the new voters. A common pattern wast the controlled franchise, where Mexicans voted according to the dictates [40] of the local patrón or boss. Since these political machines delivered sizable blocs of votes in state and national elections, the Anglo patrones acquired influence far beyond that usually accorded “backwater” county politicians.

Generally, the lesser bosses were members of the wealthy Mexican families who had entered the political arena to maintain and defend their traditional status, as in the “subrings” of Brownsville, San Antonio, and El Paso.[50] But in all these instances, including places where Mexicans controlled most offices, as in Starr and Zapata counties, the figure of an Anglo boss legitimized Mexican political involvement. In the 1850s, the specific arrangements varied. Cameron County in the Lower Valley showed a nearly equal division of county commissioner positions. In Webb County, Anglos ran the county while Mexicans ran the city of Laredo. In El Paso County, the pattern was reversed, and Anglos ran the city while Mexicans ran the county.

The role of the Mexican elite as influential politicians was contingent, of course, on the presence of a large Mexican electorate. In San Antonio, where the Mexican population increasingly declined through the nineteenth century, Mexican representation on the city aldermanic council fell at an exponential rate after 1836. In 1837, for example, all but one of the forty-one candidates running for city elections were of Spanish-Mexican descent; a decade later there were only five. Between 1848 and 1866 each aldermanic council included one or two Mexican representatives; after 1866, however, even token representation was rare. Mexican political clubs remained active but constituted minor actors in the city’s affairs. Through the early 1900s, the Mexican voice in city politics was symbolically represented by Anglo officials with family ties to the Mexican upper class–the Lockwoods, Tobins, and Callaghans, for example.[51] The [41] tabulation in Table 1, with city administrations organized roughly in periods of seven to ten years, gives a clear indication of the decline in power of the Mexican elite in San Antonio during the late nineteenth century.[52]

[N.B. how in the Corpus Ranchero, “American” has become a purely ethnic and not a national term; an election in 1863 took place in the Confederacy, after Texas had been two years out of the United States of America.]

  1. [47] Quoted in P.S. Taylor, American-Mexican Frontier, p. 232.
  2. [48] Olmsted, Journey through Texas, p. 163; P.S. Taylor, American-Mexican Frontier, p. 230-234.
  3. [49] Quoted in J. Thompson, “A 19th Century History,” pp. 58-59. Another example is provided by Arnoldo de León, In Re Ricardo Rodriguez.
  4. [50] González, “Social Life,” p. 84; M. T. García, Desert Immigrants, pp. 157-158; De León, Tejano Community, pp. 23-49; J. Thompson, “A 19th Century History,” pp. 5, 28-31.
  5. [51] Remy, “Hispanic-Mexican San Antonio,” pp. 570; De León, Tejano Community, pp. 25, 28, 30-34.
  6. [52] This table was organized from information compiled by August Santleban, who attached an appendix of San Antonio’s city officials to his memoirs. The ethnicity of an alderman was based on surname, a fairly reliable method. See August Santleban, A Texas Pioneer, pp. 314-321.

Intermarriage, Mexicanization of Anglo Elites, and Tenuous Legitimacy in the Lower Valley (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, pp. 36-37.

As in San Antonio and Laredo, the acommodation between the old and incoming elites in the Lower Valley manifested itself in tactical marriages. It was customary among the Mexican elite, as Jovita González has noted, that daughters were married at an early age, and not for love, but for family connections and considerations.[42] [37] On the other hand, for the Anglo settler, marrying a Mexican with property interests made it possible to amass a good-sized stock ranch without considerable expense. The Americans and the European immigrants, most of whom were single men, married the daughters of the leading Spanish-Mexican families and made Rio Grande City a cosmopolitan little town. Among those who claimed the Spanish language was their own were families with such surnames as Lacaze, Laborde, Lafargue, Decker, Marx, Block, Monroe, Nix, Stuart, and Ellert. As one Texas Mexican from this upper class recalled: There were neither racial nor social distinctions between Americans and Mexicans, we were just one family. That was due to the fact that so many of us of that generation had a Mexican mother and an American or European father.[43]

[…] For the Anglo settlers, some degree of Mexicanization was necessary for the most basic communication in this region, given the overwhelming number of Mexicans. But such acculturation meant far more than the learning of a language and proper etiquette; it represented a way of acquiring influence and even a tenuous legitimacy in the annexed Mexican settlements. From participation in religious ritualis and other communal activities to becoming family through godparenthood or marriage–such a range of ties servedto create an effective everyday authority, a type that Ranger or army guns alone could not secure.

  1. [42] Jovita González, “Social Life in Cameron, Starr, and Zapata Counties” [M.A. thesis], pp. 27, 58; for intermarriages in Laredo, see R. O. García, Dolores, p. 39.
  2. [43] González, “Social Life,” p. 27.

Anglo-Mexican Class Structure in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, pp. 34-36.

Although the American presence generally represented a new class in an old Mexican society, it did not completely transform the traditional authority structure. On the contrary, the American merchants and lawyers merely affixed themselves atop the Mexican hierarchy. In some cases they intermarried and became an extension of the old elite. For individual families of the Mexican elite, intermarriage was a convenient way of containing the effects of Anglo military victory on their status, authority, and class position. For the ambitious Anglo [35] merchant and soldier with little capital, it was an easy way of acquiring land. The social basis for postwar governance, in other words, rested on the class character of the Mexican settlements.

These settlements were essentially a three-tiered society composed of landed elite, small land owners (rancheros) and peones. San Antonio in the 1830s, for example, was a highly structured class society. At the top were the prominent landed families, who lived in spacious flat-roofed stone houses; below them were the rancheros, who spent the greater part of their days working their cattle and horses and whose small adobe homes usually consisted of one sparsely furnished room; and at the bottom tier of the class order were the laborers, or jornaleros, who lived in jacales, which were nothing more than mud houses with thatched roofs.[34] A prominent contemporary of the period, José María Rodríguez, described the “great distinction between the east and west side of the [San Antonio] river” in the following manner: “The west side of the river was supposed to be the residence of the first families here, and the descendants of the Indians and Spanish soldiers settled on the east side of the river. . . . Most of the Canary Islanders who lived on this [west] side took great pride in preventing any marriage with mixed races and when one did mix he lost his caste with the rest.”[35] Although frontier conditions made this caste system somewhat fluid, and families could in generations pass from one caste to another, the lines themselves were quickly drawn. Moreover, they were distinctions that the American pioneers were quick to recognize and accept. Ample evidence points to an early accommodation between old and new elites. Although initially outside this Spanish-Mexican structure, the Anglo-Saxon pioneers were accepted–depending on their class, of course–as equals by the “Spanish” elite.[36] By 1842, however, only six years after independence, the peaceful accommodation that had characterized Mexican-Anglo relations collapsed. The loss of land, the flight of the Mexican elite, and the Mexican War a few years later quickly eroded the influence of Mexicans.

In spite of this, San Antonio after the Civil War still had appearances, according to one resident, of a village “typical of Mexico then.” The “early Americans” had become acclimated, had intermarried in many instances, “and in turn kept up many of the customs of this quaint old Spanish town.” The town of about ten or twelve thousand inhabitants had a mingling of American, German, and French colonists with a large Mexican population. In the plaza could be heard “a babble of voices from three or four languages” but “almost everyone spoke Spanish and most of the business was conducted in this common language.” The resident observer concluded [36] that “the political border was at the Rio Grande, but Military Plaza was the commercial and social border between the countries.”[37]

The Rio Grande settlements south and west of San Antonio differed little in their social structure. . . .


  1. [34] Caroline Remy, “Hispanic-Mexican San Antonio: 1836-1861,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 71, no. 4 (April 1968): 567.
  2. [35] Rodríguez, Memoirs of Early Texas, p. 37.
  3. [36] Chabot, With the Makers; Remy, “Hispanic-Mexican San Antonio,”pp. 566-567; William Bollaert, William Bollaert’s Texas, ed. W. Eugene Hollon and Ruth Lapham Butler.
  4. [37] William J. Knox, The Economic Status of the Mexican Immigrant in San Antonio, Texas, pp. 3-5.

Mexican Labor, Border Conditions and Peonage

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, ch. 4, “Race, Labor, and the Frontier.” 76-79

On the Mexican Frontier.

For several decades after annexation, life along the border continued in much the same way as before. Even as the American mercantile elite displaced Mexican rancheros and money-poor landed elite from their land, the life of landless Mexicans, the peones and the vaqueros, remained generally unaffected. The cattle hacienda remained the dominant social and economic institution of the border region, and the work relations that linked Anglo patrón and Mexican worker remained paternalistic and patriarchal. The development of a cattle industry required no fundamental changes in traditional labor relations. The longevity of the hacienda as a social institution was due [77] to its resiliency: finding a market, it would respond and produce; lacking one, it would turn inward and become self-sustaining.[2]

Beyond the ranch economy, however, Anglo and European pioneers who wished to experiment with such money crops as cotton or cane were severely limited by the scarcity of day laborers. Mexican workers were viewed as unreliable because many still owned small tracts of land and worked only to supplement their meager incomes. Mexican rancheros devoted themselves to cultivating corn, the most important subsistence crop in their diet.. Once subsistence needs were met, Mexican rancheros turned to raising cattle, which was more profitable than farming. The Abbé Domenech never could understand how a ranchero of the lower border lived, for he labours little or none; the very shadow of labor overpowers him, and he comprehends not activity, save in pleasures. The wonderment was largely rhetorical, however, for the abbé provided the answer to his own question. The ranchero‘s work in tending to herds of oxen, horses, goats, and sheep required very little labor, and therefore does he like it so much.[3] Thus, few Mexicans were willing to pick cotton or cut cane.

On the other hand, the masterless, ex-peón population present in Texas may have refused to have anything to do with plantation labor. These ex-peones were not just those left behind by the refugee elite of Texas, but comprised also those who fled peonage in northern Mexico. Escape to Texas at times reached such critical proportions that cotton cultivation in the neighboring state of Tamaulipas was threatened. The possibility of escape weakened debt peonage on the Mexican side, much as it had weakened American slavery on the American side. During the fifteen-year period (1845-1860) between the Mexican War and the American Civil War, the Texas-Mexican border was the boundary sought by both escaping Mexican peones and black slaves. The boundary was also the working zone for slave and peon catchers.[4]

Given these circumstances, far less cotton was cultivated in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in the decade after the Mexican War than in the preceding period under Mexican rule. American expansionist interests, as historian Graf noted, argued that the Mexican laborer was unreliable because he was accustomed to compulsory labor in his own country if he did not have his own little piece of ground. Large-scale planting was impossible because under the free labor conditions of Texas Mexicans worked only to satisfy their needs, which were few. According to this reasoning, there were two ways in which a permanent labor supply could be secured in the Lower Valley: (a) if [78] the United States controlled both sides of the Rio Grande, black slave labor could be introduced with safety and large-scale plantations begun, or (b) if there was a peón law for western Texas, local authorities would have the power to compel the Mexicans to work and <q>thereby ensure the farmer a steady labor supply, as well as reduce vagrancy.[5] The Civil War, which followed shortly after these proposals were offered, made these questions moot.

[…] While Mexicans proved reluctant to perform farm labor, work on [79] the ranches continued to be meditated [sic] by the old practice of debt peonage. Although peonage was formally illegal, most men and women on Texas ranches nevertheless looked to a patrón to provide them with the necessities of life, to give them work, to pay them wages, and, finally, to donate a jacal and provisions when they grew too old. In return there was a loyalty to the ranch and its owners that acknowledged and repaid a patrón‘s sense of noblesse oblige.[8]

Bibliographical References:

Graf, LeRoy P. “The Economic History of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1820-1875.” 2 vols. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1942.


  1. [2]Enrique Semo, Historia del capitalismo en México: Los orígenes, 1521-1763.
  2. [3]Domenech, Missionary Adventures, pp. 254-256; Robert Edgar Riegel, The Story of the Western Railroads, pp. 7-8; Graf, “Economic History,” pp. 439-445.
  3. [4]Friedrich Katz, “Labor Conditions on Haciendas in Porfirian Mexico: Some Trends and Tendencies,” Hispanic American Historical Review 54, no. 1 (February 1974): 32-33; Wilkinson, Laredo, p. 238; Mexico, Report; Cazneau, Eagle Pass, pp. 59, 80-81, 94-96; J.D. Thompson, Vaqueros.
  4. [5]Graf, “Economic History,” pp. 449-450.
  5. [8]Wilkinson, Laredo, p. 237