“The descendants of the first Islanders, the settlers of Béxar, its legitimate original masters…” (Navarro)

The descendants of the first Islanders, the settlers of Béxar, its legitimate original masters, found bold and daring ways to humiliate the arrogance of the Spanish governors. The Delgados, Arochas, Leales, Traviesos and others[59] had established privileged families in Béxar that were considered nobility from the time their fathers sailed from the Canary Islands to settle in the Province of Texas in the year 1730.

Here their well honed pride and zealous indignation against the despotic actions of the Spanish governors germinated. There could have been no opportunity more suitable for these belligerent nobles than the one provided by the reports from Mexico regarding the triumphs gained by the priest Hidalgo and the other leaders of the insurrection.

There was, nevertheless, considerable resistance to declaring a military rebellion. The principal military leaders were of Spanish origin. There were others of Mexican origin, but they restrained themselves with respectful delicacy from initiating the first rebellion against the rights of the monarchy that had ruled for three hundred years.

José Antonio Navarro, Defending Mexican Valor in Texas: José Antonio Navarro’s Historical Writings, 1853-1857, ed. David R. McDonald and Timothy M. Matovina (Austin: State House Press, 1995), 67.

Los descendientes de los primers Isleños, pobladores de Bexar como legitimos señores originals, eran los que con mas libre osadia descubrian los conatos de humillar la altaneria de los Gobernadores Españoles, Delgados, Arochas, Leales, Traviesos y otros que formaban en Bexar unas tribus privilegiadas, se consideraban los nobles desde que sus Padres vinieron de las Islas canarias á poblar la Provincia de Texas el año de 1730.

De aquí dimanaban su bien pretendido orgullo y la celoza indignacion contra las acciones despoticas de los Gobernadores Españoles. No podia haber coyuntura mas adecuada para estos resentidos nobles, que la que ofrecian las noticias de México, con respecto á los triunfos alcanzados por el cura Hidalgo y los demas Gefes insurreccionados.

Habia sin embargo, un considerable obstaculo para efectuarse el pronunciamiento: los principales Gefes Militares eran de origen Español: habia algunos otros de origen Mexicano pero estos se detenian por respetuosa delicadeza á iniciarse los primeros, contra los derechos del monarca que habia dominado por 300 años.

José Antonio Navarro, Apuntes historicos interesantes de San Antonio de Bexar (San Antonio de Bexar: publicados por varios de sus amigos, 1869), 7. Reprinted in José Antonio Navarro, Defending Mexican Valor in Texas: José Antonio Navarro’s Historical Writings, 1853-1857, ed. David R. McDonald and Timothy M. Matovina (Austin: State House Press, 1995).

  1. [59]It is beyond the scope of this work to annotate all the individuals mentioned by Navarro who were involved in the Casas Revolution and the counter-revolution. However, reference to almost all of them are in Benavides, ed. and comp., Béxar Archives. See also Chabot, ed., With the Makers of San Antonio; Chabot, ed., Texas in 1811: The Las Casas and Sambrano Revolutions (San Antonio: Yanaguana Society, 1941).

“families from the Canary Islands,” “mestizo and Indian populations,” “an atmosphere of racial diversity” (Buitron)

Such was the case in 1719, when a fort, a series of missions, and a small town arose on the banks of the San Antonio River. The city, known as San Antonio De Bexar, was augmented in 1731 by families from the Canary Islands. The original mestizo and Indian population, along with the new arrivals, created an atmosphere of racial diversity within a context of what [10] Timothy M. Matovina described as the “Mexican Catholic tradition.”[33] That tradition was the result of the two hundred years of cultural contact between the Indian and Spanish cultures mentioned earlier.

The new city also become a picture of Mexican social hierarchy in miniature. Surveying the early history of San Antonio, Jesus de la Teja discovered that because of their European ancestry, “immigrants from the Canary Islands held a special social status that they retained for two centuries.”[34] In return for populating the frontier, the King of Spain granted noble title to former sheep and goat herders.[35]

The newcomers, known as Isleños, took control of the town government and demanded privileges regarding water rights and the dispersal of farm and ranch land. However, this class hierarchy was mitigated by the obstacles of desert, mountain, and sheer distance that conspired to create what Matovina believed was an independent Tejano identity.[36] San Antonio’s physical isolation from central Mexico was only slightly less distant than the separation of the thirteen English Colonies from Great Britain, and the impact in creating a separate regional identity was almost the same. Second, as the centuries progressed, a common difficulties, a shared culture and intermarriage “slowly fastened a joint identity on the town’s population” according to de la Teja.[37] By 1800, a distinct character was formed among the people of San Antonio, which was unique to its environment, but was also distinctly Mexican.

Buitron, 9-10.
  1. [33]Matovina, Texas Religion and Ethnicity, 227.
  2. [34]de la Teja, San Antonio De Bexar, 24-25.
  3. [35]Buck, Yanaguana’s Successors.
  4. [36]Matovina, Tejano Religion and Ethnicity, 25.
  5. [37]de la Teja, 152.

“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.

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.