“because they are not of our race, which is unworthy, as they say, to belong to the human species” (Cortina, qtd. in Carrigan and Webb)

Many Mexicans had indeed turned to “banditry” as a result of white mob violence…

Another Mexican who greatly angered whites was Juan Cortina. Between 1859 and 1873, Cortina and his gang engaged in a series of bitter and bloody confrontations with the U.S. military along the Texas border. Cortina proclaimed to be an instrument of divine retribution sent to avenge those murdered and dispossessed by whites. Cortina reserved particular wrath for the local and state authorities who continued to tolerate the lynching of his people. He once observed: “There are to be found criminals covered with frightful crimes, but they appear to have impunity until opportunity furnish [sic] them a victim; to these monsters indulgence is shown, because they are not of our race, which is unworthy, as they say, to belong to the human species.”[74] Scholars have described Murrieta, Vásquez and Cortina as “social bandits” who raided in retaliation against the forces of racism that repressed Mexicans throughout the Southwest.[75]

Mexicans’ retaliatory actions often served only to compound racial conflict. Retaliatory raids provoked whites to further reprisals against Mexicans. This in turn strengthened the bitter resolve of the recalcitrant Mexicans. A vicious circle of violence and retribution was therefore created. In October, 1859, Texas Rangers lynched Thomas Cabrera, a leading member of the Cortina gang. An enraged Cortina immediately launched an assault on white settlers near Brownsville, Texas.[76] The persistence of these raids provided whites with an excuse to condemn all Mexicans as dangerously criminal people whose presence in the Southwest posed a continued threat to white settlement. Francisco P. Ramírez of the Spanish-language newspaper El Clamor Público understood the danger of retaliatory action. He wrote on July, 1856, that “the Mexicans are growing tired of being run over and having injustices committed against them; but to take up arms to redress their grievances, this is an act without reason.”[77]

William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, "Muerto por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown): Mob Violence against Blacks and Mexicans," in Beyond Black & White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, edited by Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), 54-55.


  1. [74]S. Dale McLemore, Racial and Ethnic Violence in America, second edition (Newton, Mass.: Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1983), pp. 219-21; Jerry D. Thompson, ed., Juan Cortina and the Texas-Mexico Frontier 1859-1877 (El Paso: University of Texas at El Paso Press, 1994), p. 6; Jerry D. Thompson, “The Many Faces of Juan Nepomuceno Cortina,” South Texas Studies 2 (1991): 88, 92; Webb, Texas Rangers, p. 176.
  2. [75]Social banditry and Mexican outlaws are discussed in Pedro Castillo and Albert Camarillo, eds., Furia y Muerte. John Boessenecker believes that most Mexican bandits were not social bandits. See Boessenecker, “Pio Linares: California Bandido,” The Californians 5, no. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 1987): 34-44.
  3. [76]Matt S. Meier and Feliciano Rivera, The Chicanos: A History of Mexican Americans (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), pp. 101-102; Thompson, “Many Faces,” p. 89; Thompson, Juan Cortina, p. 102, notes 1 and 3; Lyman L. Woodman: Cortina: Rogue of the Rio Grande (San Antonio, Tex.: Naylor, n.d.), pp. 21-22; “Report on the Accompanying Documents of the Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Relations of the U.S. with Mexico,” U.S. House, No. 701, 45th Cong., 2nd sess., Serial Set 1824, pp. 75-76.
  4. [77]El Clamor Público, July 26, 1856. English translation from Zaragosa Vargas, ed., Major Problems in Mexican American History (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), p. 147.

“Racism and prejudice, it is clear, played a fundamental role in encouraging mob violence against Mexicans … [1920s] ‘I would not think of classifying Mexicans as whites'” (Carrigan and Webb)

1920s: “I would not think of classifying Mexicans as whites.” / BB&W 50 (From Taylor interviews.)

Economic competition, although a significant force, does not sufficiently explain the history of anti-Mexican or anti-black mob violence. If mobs had considered only economics, they would have been just as likely to murder or expel any group standing in their way. But, in fact, mobs specially targeted Mexicans in the southwestern United States. Racism and prejudice, it is clear, played a fundamental role in encouraging mob violence against Mexicans. Mexicans were portrayed as a cruel and treacherous people with a natural proclivity toward criminal behavior. Racist stereotypes abounded in private correspondence, contemporary literature, and the popular media. “The lower class of Mexicans, on the west coast, appear to be a dark, Indian-looking race, with just enough of the Spanish blood, without its appropriate intelligence, to add a look of cunning to their gleaming, treacherous eyes, wrote Theodore T. Johnson in 1849.[54] In April, 1872, the Weekly Arizona Miner exclaimed: “Bad Mexicans never tire of cutting throats, and we are sorry to be compelled to say that good Mexicans are rather scarce.”[55] These assumptions, legitimated by pseudoscientific research, remained prevalent well into the twentieth century. A track foreman interviewed in the late 1920s in Dimmit County, Texas, observed: “They are an inferior race. I would not think of classing Mexicans as whites.”[56]

William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, "Muerto por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown): Mob Violence against Blacks and Mexicans," in Beyond Black & White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, edited by Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), 50.



  1. [54]Theodore T. Johnson, Sights in the Gold Regions and Scenes by the Way (New York: Baker and Scriber, 1849), p. 240. Another early example of Anglo prejudice against Mexicans can be found in T. J. Farham, Life, Travels, and Adventures in California and Scenes in the Pacific Ocean (New York: William H. Graham, 1846), pp. 356-57.
  2. [55]Weekly Arizona Miner, Apr. 26, 1872.
  3. [56]Paul S. Taylor, Mexican Labor in the United States: Dimmit County, Winter Garden District, South Texas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), p. 446 (quote). For additional accounts of prejudicial views towards Mexicans, see Robert Lee Maril, Poorest of Americans: The Mexican Americans of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), pp. 10-11, 30, 33, 41-47, 49, 51-54, 79, 81, 151-55; Américo Paredes, “With His Pistol in His Hand,” in Chicano: The Evolution of a People, ed. by Renato Rosaldo, Robert A. Calvert, and Gustav L. Seligmann, Jr. (Malabar, Fla.: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1982), p. 101; Richard Griswold del Castillo and Arnoldo De León, North to Aztlán: A History of Mexican Americans in the United States (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996), p. 30; Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1914), vol. 1, p. 516; Mark Reisler, “Always the Laborer, Never the Citizen: Anglo Perceptions of the Mexican Immigrant during the 1920s,” in Between Two Worlds: Mexican Immigrants in the United States, ed. by David G. Gutierrez (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1996), pp. 25-29.

“Frustrated at having been beaten out by the lower prices of their Mexican rivals, white competitors resorted to murdering cartmen, driving off their oxen and burning their carts and freight. Economic rivalry with Mexicans continued to inspire retributive action by whites throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” (Carrigan and Webb)

1857: Cart War in context of Anglo lynchings of Mexicans. / BB&W 49

Although the California gold rush witnessed some of the worst acts of mob violence against Mexicans, whites also resorted to savagery–in order to secure economic supremacy–on other occasions. Actions during the Texas “Cart War” of 1857 exemplify this. During the 1850s, Texas businessmen developed a freight-hauling service between Indianola and San Antonio. Frustrated at having been beaten out by the lower prices of their Mexican [50] rivals, white competitors resorted to murdering cartmen, driving off their oxen and burning their carts and freight. Economic rivalry with Mexicans continued to inspire retributive action by whites throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1898, a group of Gonzales, Texas men–probably poor white sharecroppers in competition with Mexican immigrants–posted this warning: “Notice to the Mexicans. You have all got ten days to leave in. Mr. May Renfro and brother get your Mexicans all off your place. If not, you will get the same they do. Signed, Whitecaps.” In the 1920s, alarm at the increasing number of Mexican laborers who settled in the Rio Grande valley contributed to the growth of the local Ku Klux Klan.[53]

William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, "Muerto por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown): Mob Violence against Blacks and Mexicans," in Beyond Black & White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, edited by Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), 49ff.
  1. [53]Waco Times-Herald, Feb. 17, 1898; David J. Weber, ed., Foreigners in their Native Land: Historical Roots of the Mexicans (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973), p. 153; George P. Garrison, Texas: A Contest of Civilizations (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1973), p. 274; Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1914), vol. 1, pp. 515-16; J. Fred Rippy, The United States and Mexico (New York: F. S. Crofts & Co., 1931), pp. 179-80; Charles C. Alexander, The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965), p. 24. For further evidence of economic competition precipitating mob violence, see Mary Romero, “El Paso Salt War: Mob Action or Political Struggle?” Aztlán 16, nos. 1-2 (1985): 119-38.

“Without exception, every Mexican in the county was implicated…” (Scraps of Newspaper, Olmsted)

Contemplated Servile Rising in Texas.

The Galveston News publishes the following in relation to the late contemplated negro insurrection in Colorado county:

Columbus, Colorado Co., Sept. 9, 1856

The object of this communication is to state to you all the facts of any importance connected with a recent intended insurrection.

Our suspicions were aroused about two weeks ago, when a meeting of the citizens of the county was called, and a committee of investigation appointed to ferret out the whole matter, and lay the facts before the people of the county for their consideration. The committee entered upon their duties, and in a short time, they were in full possession of the facts of a well-organized and systematized plan for the murder of our entire white population, with the exception of the young ladies, who were to be taken captives, and made the wives of the diabolical murderers of their parents and friends. The committee found in their possession a number of pistols, bowie-knives, guns, and ammunition. Their passwords of organization were adopted, and their motto, “Leave not a shadow behind.”

Last Saturday, the 6th inst., was the time agreed upon for the execution of their damning designs. At a late hour at night, all were to make one simultaneous, desperate effort, with from two to ten apportioned to nearly every house in the county, kill all the whites, save the above exception, plunder their homes, take their horses and arms, and fight their way on to a “free State” (Mexico).

[504] Notwithstanding the intense excitement which moved every member of our community, and the desperate measures to which men are liable to be led on by such impending danger to which we have been exposed by our indulgence and lenity to our slaves, we must say the people acted with more caution and deliberation than ever before characterized the action of any people under similar circumstances.

More than two hundred negroes had violated the law, the penalty of which is death. But, by unanimous consent, the law was withheld, and their lives spared, with the exception of three of the ringleaders, who were, on last Friday, the 5th inst., at 2 o’clock P.M., hung, in compliance with the unanimous voice of the citizens of the county.

Without exception, every Mexican in the county was implicated. They were arrested, and ordered to leave the county within five days, and never again to return, under the penalty of death. There is one, however, by the name of Frank, who is proven to be one of the prime movers of the affair, that was not arrested; but we hope that he may yet be, and have meted out to him such reward as his black deed demands.

We are satisfied that the lower class of the Mexican population are incendiaries in any country where slaves are held, and should be dealt with accordingly. And for the benefit of the Mexican population, we would here state, that a resolution was passed by the unanimous voice of the county, forever forbidding any Mexican from coming within the limits of the county.

Peace, quiet, and good order are again restored, and, by the watchful care of our Vigilance Committee, a well-organized patrol, and good discipline among our planters, we are persuaded that there will never again occur the necessity of a communication of the character of this.

Yours respectfully,

John H. Robson,
H.A. Tatum,
J.H. Hicks.
} Cor. Com.

The Galveston News, of the 11th nst. has also the following paragraph:

“We learn, from the Columbian Planter, of the 9th, that two of the negroes engaged in the insurrection at Columbus were whipped to death; three more were hung last Friday, and the Mexicans who were implicated were ordered to leave the country. There was no proof against these last beyond surmises. The band had a deposit of arms and ammunition in the bottom. They had quite a number of guns, and a large lot of knives, manufactured by one of their number. It was their intention to fight their way to Mexico.”

[From the True Issue, Sept. 5]

We noticed last week the rumor that a large number of slaves, of Colorado county, had combined and armed themselves for the purpose of fighting their way into Mexico. Developments have since been made of a much more serious nature than our information then indicated. It is ascertained that a secret combination had been formed, embracing most of the negroes of the county, for the purpose of not fleeing to Mexico, but of murdering the inhabitants–men, women, and children promiscuously. To carry out their hellish purposes, they had organized into companies of various sizes, had adopted secret signs and passwords, sworn never to divulge the plot under the penalty of death, and had elected captains and subordinate officers to command the respective companies. They had provided themselves with some fire-arms and home-made bowie-knives, and had appointed the time for a simultaneous movement. Some two hundred, we learn, have been severely punished under the lash, and several are now in jail awaiting the more serious punishment of death, which is to be inflicted to-day. One of the principal instigators of the movement is a free negro, or one who had been permitted to control his own time as a free man.

Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (New York: Dix, Edwards & Co, 1857), 503-504.


“the lower class or ‘Peon’ Mexicans… taking the likeliest negro girls for wives” and “a greaser” (Scraps of Newspaper, Olmsted)

“the lower class or ‘Peon’ Mexicans… taking the likeliest negro girls for wives” (Matagorda Co.) ‘a greaser’ / JTT p. 502

MATAGORDA.–The people of Matagorda county have held a meeting and ordered every Mexican to leave the county. To strangers this may seem wrong, but we hold it to be perfectly right and highly necessary; but a word of explanation should be given. In the first place, then, there are none but the lower class or “Peon” Mexicans in the county; secondly, they have no fixed domicile but hang around the plantations, taking the likeliest negro girls for wives; and, thirdly, they often steal horses, and these girls, too, and endeavor to run them to Mexico. We should rather have anticipated Lynch law, than the mild course which has been adopted.

A VOTER.–As an evidence of the capacity of the Mexican population to discriminate in matters of State importance, it may be mentioned that at one of the polls held in this city, a greaser, who was challenged, was asked incidentally by a bystander, “who he voted for, for Governor?”

“Sublett,” was the reply.

“Who for Lieutenant-Governor?”

“Sublett,” rejoined the Mexican.

“Who for Representative?”

“Sublett,” again muttered this bombshell freeman.

Voters like that swelled the Anti American majority in Bexar. Boast of your triumphs, gentleman Bombshells.

Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (New York: Dix, Edwards & Co, 1857), 502.

“Town Life” in San Antonio and “The Mexicans in Texas” (Olmsted, Journey Through Texas)

Town Life.

The street-life of San Antonio is more varied than might be supposed. Hardly a day passes without some noise. If there be no personal affray to arouse talk, there is some Government train to be seen, with its hundred of mules, on its way from the coast to a fort above; or a Mexican ox-train from the coast, with an interesting supply of ice, or flour, or matches, or of whatever the shops find themselves short. A Government express clatters off, or news arrives from some exposed outpost, or from New Mexico. An Indian in his finery appears on a shaggy horse, in search of blankets, powder, and ball. Or at the least, a stage-coache with the “States,” or the Austin, mail, rolls into the plaza and discharges its load of passengers and newspapers.

The street affrays are numerous and characteristic. I have seen, for a year or more, a San Antonio weekly, and hardly a number fails to have its fight or its murder. More often than otherwise, the parties meet upon the plaza by chance, and each, on catching sight of his enemy, draws a revolver, and fires away. As the actors are under more or less excitement, their aim is not apt to be of the most careful and sure, consequently it is, not seldom, the passers-by who suffer. Sometimes it is a young man at a quiet dinner in a restaurant, who receives a ball in the head; sometimes an old negro woman, returning from market, who gets winged. After disposing of all their lead, the parties close, to try their steel, but as this species of metallic amusement is less popular, they generally contrive to be separated (“Hold me! Hold me!”) by friends before the wounds are mortal. If neither is seriously injured, they are brought to drink together on the following day, and the town waits for the next excitement.

[159] Where borderers and idle soldiers are hanging about drinking-places, and where different races mingle on unequal terms, assassinations must be expected. Murders, from avarice or revenge, are common here. Most are charged upon the Mexicans, whose passionate motives are not rare, and to whom escape over the border is easiest and most natural.

The town amusements of a less exciting character are not many. There is a permanent company of Mexican mountebanks, who give performances of agility and buffoonery two or three times a week, parading, before night, in their spangled tights with drum and trombone through the principal streets. They draw a crowd of whatever little Mexicans can get adrift, and this attracts a few sellers of whisky, tortillas, and tamaules (corn slap-jacks and hashed meat in corn-shucks), all by the light of torches making a ruddily picturesque evening group.

The more grave Americans are served with tragedy by a thin local company, who are death on horrors and despair, long rapiers, and well oiled hair, and for lack of a better place to flirt with passing officers, the city belles may sometimes be seen looking on. The national background of peanuts and yells, is not, of course, wanting.

A day or two after our arrival, there was the hanging of a Mexican. The whole population left the town to see. Family parties, including the grandmother and the little negroes, came from all the plantations and farms within reach, and little ones were held up high to get their share of warning. The Mexicans looked on imperturbable.

San Antonio, excluding Galveston,[*] is much the largest city [160] of Texas. After the Revolution, it was half deserted by its Mexican population, who did not care to come under Anglo-Saxon rule. Since then its growth has been rapid and steady. At the census of 1850, it numbered 3,500; in 1853, its population was 6,000; and in 1856, it is estimated at 10,500. Of these, about 4,000 are Mexicans, 3,000 are Germans, and 3,500 Americans. The money-capital is in the hands of the Americans, as well as the officers and the Government. Most of the mechanics and the smaller shopkeepers are German. The Mexicans appear to have almost no other business than that of carting goods. Almost the entire transportation of the country is carried on by them, with oxen and two-wheeled carts. Some of them have small shops, for the supply of their own countrymen, and some live upon the produce of farms and cattle-ranches owned in the neighborhood. Their livelihood is, for the most part, exceedingly meagre, made up chiefly of corn and beans.

The Mexicans in Texas.

We had, before we left, opportunities of visiting familiarly many of the Mexican dwellings. I have described their externals. Within, we found usually a single room, open to the roof and invariably having a floor of beaten clay a few inches below the level of the street. There was little furniture–huge beds being the universal pièce de résistance. These were used by day as sofa and table. Sometimes there were chairs and a table besides; but frequently only a bench, with a few earthen utensils for cooking, which is carried on outside. A dog or a cat appears on or under the bed, or on the clothes-chest, a saint on the wall, and frequently a game-cock fastened in a corner, supplied with dishes of corn and water.

[161] We were invariably received with the most gracious and beaming politeness and dignity. Their manner towards one another is engaging, and that of children and parents most affectionate. This we always noticed in evening walks and in the groups about the doors, which were often singing in chorus–the attitudes expressive of confident affection. In one house, we were introduced to an old lady who was supposed by her grandchildren to be over one hundred years old. She had come from Mexico, in a rough cart, to make them a visit. Her face was strikingly Indian in feature, her hair, snow white, flowing thick over the shoulders, contrasting strongly with the olive skin. The complexion of the girls is clear, and sometimes fair, usually a blushing olive. The variety of feature and color is very striking, and is naturally referred to three sources–the old Spanish, the creole Mexican, and the Indian, with sometimes a suspicion of Anglo-Saxon or Teuton. The hair is coarse, but glossy, and very luxuriant; the eye, deep, dark, liquid, and well set. Their modesty, though real, we heard, was not proof against a long courtship of flattering attentions and rich presents. The constancy of the married women was made very light of, not that their favors were purchasable, but that they are sometimes seized by a strong penchant for some other than their lord. There was testimony of this in the various shades and features of their children; in fact we thought the number of babies of European hair and feature exceeded the native olive in number. We noticed, in a group of Mexican and negro women, when an indelicate occurrence took place, that the former turned away in annoyed modesty, while the latter laughed broadly. Their constitutions, in general, are feeble, and very many of both sexes, we were informed, suffered from scrofulous disease. [162] Nevertheless, with good stimulus, the men make admirable laborers.

The common dress was loose and slight, not to say slatternly. It was frequently but a chemise, as low as possible in the neck, sometimes even lower, with a calico petticoat. On holidays they dress in expensive finery, paying special attention to the shoes, of white satin, made by a native artist.

The houses of the rich differ little form those of the poor, and the difference in their style of living must be small, owing to the want of education and of all ambition. The majority are classed as laborers. Their wages are small, usually, upon farms near San Antonio, $6 or $8 a month, with corn and beans. That of the teamsters is in proportion to their energy. On being paid off, they hurry to their family and all come out in their best to spend the earnings, frequently quite at a lost for what to exchange them. They make excellent drovers and shepherds, and in work like this, with which they are acquainted, are reliable and adroit. A horse-drover, just from the Rio Grande, with whom we conversed, called them untiring and faithful at their work, but untrustworthy in character. To his guide, he paid $24 a month, to his “right bower,” $15, and to his “left bower,” $12 a month.

Their tools are of the rudest sort. The old Mexican wheel of hewn blocks of wood is still constantly in use, though supplanted, to some extent, by Yankee wheels, sent in pairs from New York. The carts are always hewn of heavy wood, and are covered with white cotton, stretched over hoops. In these they live, on the road, as independently as in their own house. The cattle are yoked by the horns, with raw-hide thongs, of which they make a great use.

[163] They consort freely with the negroes, making no distinction from pride of race. A few, of old Spanish blood, have purchased negro servants, but most of them regard slavery with abhorrence.

The Mexicans were treated for a while after annexation like a conquered people. Ignorant of their rights, and of the new language, they allowed themselves to be imposed upon by the new comers, who seized their lands and property without shadow of claim, and drove hundreds of them homeless across the Rio Grande. They now, as they get gradually better informed, come straggling back, and often their claims give rise to litigation, usually settled by a compromise.

A friend told us, that, wishing, when he built, to square a corner of his lot, after making diligent inquiry he was unable to hear of any owner for the adjoining piece. He took the responsibility, and moved his fence over it. Not long after, he was waited upon by a Mexican woman, in a towering passion. He carried her to a Spanish acquaintance, and explained the transaction. She was immediately appeased, told him he was welcome to the land, and has since been on the most neighborly terms, calling him always her “amigo.”

Most adult Mexicans are voters by the organic law; but few take measures to make use of the right. Should they do so, they might probably, in San Antonio, have elected a government of their own. Such a step would be followed, however, by a summary revolution. They are regarded by slaveholders with great contempt and suspicion, for their intimacy with slaves, and their competition with plantation labor.

Americans, in speaking of them, constantly distinguish themselves as “white folks.” I once heard a new comer informing another American, that he had seen a Mexican with a revolver. [164] “I shouldn’t think they ought to be allowed to carry fire-arms. It might be dangerous.” “It would be difficult to prevent it,” the other replied; “Oh, they think themselves just as good as white men.”

From several counties they have been driven out altogether. At Austin, in the spring of 1853, a meeting was held, at which the citizens resolved, on the plea that Mexicans were horse-thieves, that they must quit the country. About twenty families were thus driven from their homes, and dispersed over the western counties. Deprived of their means of livelihood, and rendered furious by such wholesale injustice, it is no wonder if they should take to the very crimes with which they are charged.

A similar occurrence took place at Seguin, in 1854; and in 1855, a few families, who had returned to Austin, were again driven out.

Even at San Antonio, there had been talk of such a razzia. A Mexican, caught in an attempt to steal a horse, had been hung by a Lynching party, on the spot, for an example. His friends happened to be numerous, and were much excited, threatening violence in return. Under pretext of subduing an intended riot, the sheriff issued a call for an armed posse of 500 men, with the idea of dispersing and driving from the neighborhood a large part of the Mexican population. But the Germans, who include among them the great majority of young men suitable for such duty, did not volunteer as had been expected, and the scheme was abandoned. They were of the opinion, one of them said to me, that this was not the right and republican way. If the laws were justly and energetically administered, no other remedy would be needed. One of them, who lived on the Medina, in the vicinity of the place of the occurrence, told us he had no [165] complaint to make of the Mexicans; they never stole his property, or troubled him in any way.

The following is the most reliable estimate I can obtain of the actual Mexican population in Texas, (1856):–

San Antonio 4,000
Bexar Co. 2,000
Uvalde Co. 1,000
Laredo 1,500
El Paso, with Presidio 8,500
Lower Rio Grande Counties 3,000
Goliad and Nueces Counties 1,000
Other parts of State 1,000
Floating, say 3,000
Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (New York: Dix, Edwards & Co, 1857), 158-165.
  1. [*]The two towns have nearly kept pace in growth. The yellow fever, it is said, has now given San Antonio the advantage.

“The contention grew to the point where the americanos took up arms and said they would put an end to all the ‘greasers’ in their midst.” (Tafolla)

On the Texas side of the river, there was a captain named Brunington who belonged to our regiment and who had lived on the Rio Grande border for many years. He’d been captain of the Texas Rangers and knew the Mexicans well. He was in charge of a small patrol guarding the border on the Texas side. One day he came to our camp with ten men and delivered a Mexican prisoner to the guards, warning them to take twice as much caution with him or he would escape.

[…] [65] The corporal, getting impatient, just grabbed him by the arm and lifted him up. As he stood up, we discovered that he’d taken the chain off his feet and was just waiting for nighttime in order to escape. Upon standing, he looked down at his feet and said, “Look, it came loose.” This made everybody in the room die laughing, and shout and throw their hats up in the air. Captain Brunington came running at the sounds of the shouts and asked the prisoner, “What’s going on, man?” And the prisoner, with a feigned innocence, replied, “The chain came undone.”

Then the captain said to the soldiers, “This Mexican is going to get away from you, and the one who lets him get away is going to be punished severely.” And some answered, “I’d like to see him get away from me!”

Santiago Tafolla, A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Confederate. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press. Edited by Carmen Tafolla and Laura Tafolla. Translated by Fidel L. Tafolla. 64-65.

When Menchaca got back with the two prisoners, he said to the captain, “What do you think about Menchaquita? Will he at least be made a corporal?” Another one of us, a German who had also cut off from the group, came back with two more prisoners. Since the rest of us were already on Texas soil, and they saw the German alone on the Mexican side, a mob of men and women came up on him shouting “Kill him! Kill him!” and someone shot him in the back with a rifle. The bullet went through him and they would have killed him had our soldiers not lined up along the river’s edge and protected him. Our men fired a volley, and knocked down their leader, who was one horseback in front, and they succeeded in  dismounting him. And the rest of them fled when they saw us finish crossing over.

I came inside, cursing heavily against those who’d shot the German. […]

[69] But the Mexican we had chained earlier escaped in a tragically sad manner. [prisoner escapes across Rio Grande, unharmed despite attempts to shoot him while swimming the river] There were many Americans from up North on board and they began making fun of us, shouting harassments, and calling us cowards. […]

Santiago Tafolla, A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Confederate. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press. Edited by Carmen Tafolla and Laura Tafolla. Translated by Fidel L. Tafolla. 68-69.

[Tafolla goes on leave to visit family, Confederate Army begins retreat from Rio Grande to Corpus.] The day we arrived back to the regiment, I was surrounded by my mexicano friends who were still left in the regiment (as many had already deserted). They begged me to word a petition to Col. Duff asking that we be transferred to the regiment of Col. Santos Benavides, who was in charge of a regiment of mexicanos in the service of the Confederate States. Because of my absence, Corporal Juan Mercado had disappeared from one day to the next, and it was believed that he had been hanged.

We had in our regiment a group of about ten men who had the bad reputation of hanging folks. And it was said that they had hanged several men who didn’t go along with their ideas. Among these hangmen, there was a captain named Taylor who they said had a grudge against Corporal Mercado and had threatened to hang him. He made this threat in the presence of one of Corporal Mercado’s friends, a man named Juan Santa Ana. Santa Ana told Corporal Mercado about the threat. Since [71] Mercado had disappeared so suddenly, the boys believed he had been hanged. It was for this reason that the mexicanos wanted to be transferred to Benavides’ regiment. They feared for their lives in our own regiment, for at every step there were constant and ugly disagreements between the mexicanos and americanos. The colonel, however, denied our petition, telling us that we were mistaken. He assured us that Corporal Mercado had not been hanged.

About this time, Col. Duff received orders to take his regiment to the state of Louisiana. After marching about ten days, while camped on the Lavaca River, a dispute arose between a mexicano and an americano. The contention grew to the point where the americanos took up arms and said they would put an end to all the “greasers” [griseros] in their midst. Then I and a German friend of mine, Fred Metzger, who had previously served five years in the U.S. Cavalry with me, put ourselves in between the contending parties and succeeded in calming them. This friend’s name is Fred Metzger, and he lives today in Hondo, in Medina County. I believe that if it were not for him, many would have died that day.

That day, all my mexicano friends decided to desert that very night. They insisted that I go along with them, saying that we could take the best horses in the regiment and leave that night.

Santiago Tafolla, A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Confederate. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press. Edited by Carmen Tafolla and Laura Tafolla. Translated by Fidel L. Tafolla. 70-71.

Deserts: 71-80.

“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.