Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley

Park History

brochure Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley - Park History

History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park (SP) in Texas. Published by Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Refuge on the Rio Grande: A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park by John J. Leffler Refuge on the Rio Grande: A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park by John J. Leffler for State Parks Division Texas Parks and Wildlife Department August 2013 © 2013 TPWD. PWD BK P4502-0058N (8/13) In accordance with Texas State Depository Law, this publication is available at the Texas State Publications Clearinghouse and/or Texas Depository Libraries. TPWD receives federal assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies and is subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and state anti-discrimination laws which prohibit discrimination the basis of race, color, national origin, age, sex or disability. If you believe that you have been discriminated against in any TPWD program, activity or facility, or need more information, please contact Civil Rights Coordinator for Public Access, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Mail Stop: MBSP-4020, Arlington, VA 22203. A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park Acknowledgements Researching history is always collaborative work, and I am very grateful to the many people who contributed to this study in many ways. First, I want to thank people at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department headquarters in Austin. I did the initial research and writing for this project in 1998 at the request of Dr. Karen Harry, former director of TPWD’s Cultural Resources Program. She introduced me to the topic, provided me with many valuable contacts, and helped me in many ways to produce the initial study. I also want to thank Dr. Cynthia Brandimarte, director of TPWD’s Historic Sites and Structures Program, who asked me on behalf of the park to revisit the project for publication. As always, she has been a capable and sympathetic administrator and editor. TPWD personnel at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park were very helpful when I did my initial research in 1998. Rey Ortiz, the park’s former superintendent and park ranger Nelda Flores explained the park to me, gave me access to its historical files, introduced me to key informants, and generally helped to make my park visits very enjoyable. Former ranger Tony Salinas toured the park with me and hospitably shared his knowledge and memories. Assistant Superintendent Javier de León has recently spent many hours of his time assisting me with historical photos of the park and providing me with new photos of the Jardín de Flores ranchhouse. He suggested new sources and explained recent developments in the park. Javier also took time to review the manuscript and helped to improve it. Other TPWD staff members provided valuable support in direct and indirect ways: Archeology Lab Supervisor Aina Dodge, Regional Cultural Resources Coordinator Kent Hicks, Regional Interpretive Specialist Ben Horstmann, Regional Director Russell Fishbeck, and Research Specialist Jennifer Carpenter. Many residents of Hidalgo County have helped me to understand the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the park. I particularly want to thank Osvaldo Ochoa, who was born at the Jardín de Flores ranch and lived at Las Nuevas as a child in the 1930s. Mr. Ochoa graciously spent hours of his time describing Las Nuevas and giving me a personal tour of the Jardín de Flores site. David Mycue, former curator of the Hidalgo County Historical Museum (now the Museum of South Texas History, or MOSTH) in Edinburg, initially suggested promising avenues of research and helped me track down sources and photographs. Arturo Gonzalez also helped to shape my understanding of area history. Mission resident Jeanne Gonzalez generously shared with me her extensive collection of photographs and articles relating to the history of the park since the 1940s. iii Refuge on the Rio Grande Cartographer John Cotter’s work has graced many books over the years and three are included here. He also created the map of the Nueces Strip which was first published in William Goetzmann’s book Sam Chamberlain’s Mexican War; it appears here courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association. Thanks also to Jim Kattner of Spring, Texas, who found the Jardín de Flores token and shared photographs of the site. My gratitude to the archivists and staff at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, the Texas State Library and Archives, the Texas General Land Office, and MOSTH in Edinburg. Special thanks to Phyllis Kinnison, archivist at MOSTH, who patiently and diligently spent hours helping me to identify and reproduce photos for this study, and to her assistant René Ballesteros, who helped me to meet my deadline. Finally I’d like to thank my wife, Vivian Goldman-Leffler, who was often inconvenienced by my work on this project. Vivi also read and proofed the manuscript, and helped to improve it despite her husband’s stubborn self. John Leffler August 2013 iv A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park Contents Maps and Figures.................................................................................................. vii Introduction............................................................................................................ 1 Early Settlement in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.................................................... 3 Dislocation and Readjustment in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1836-1900.......... 11 The Transformation of the Valley, 1900-1940........................................................ 27 The Creation of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.......................................... 39 Endnotes............................................................................................................... 47 Bibliography.......................................................................................................... 57 v A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park Maps and Figures Map 1: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and the Surrounding Area....................................................................................... x Map 2: Spanish Land Grants in Southwestern Hidalgo County.............................. 5 Map 3: Historic Roads and Sites in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and the Surrounding Area....................................................................................... 7 Map 4: The Disputed Area Between the Nueces and the Rio Grande.................... 12 Figure 1. Detail from map of resurvey of Porción 50 conducted in 1850, showing the “Sendero” (path) leading from the original site of Reynosa and passing just north of the present site of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Note also the location of the Military Road, used by American troops during the Mexican War, which passed through the present boundaries of the Park, and the location of the ranch (known at least as early as 1858 as “Las Nuebas”), also within the present confines of the Park. Spanish Land Grant files, Porción 50 Reynosa, Texas General Land Office, Austin................................................................................................. 8 Figure 2. Dr. Alexander Manford Headley, who owned Porción 50 and the Las Nuebas ranch into the early 20th century. Photo courtesy of the Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg........................................................................................ 18 Figure 3. Abraham (Abram) Dillard (top left), with his siblings. Dillard moved to the Valley as a Texas Ranger, married Manuela Villareal, and established a ranch near Ojo de Agua. The town was later named “Abram” in his honor. He died in 1913. Photo courtesy of the Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg............... 20 Figure 4. A jacal in Hidalgo County in the early 20th century, ca. 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg.................................... 21 Figure 5. Priests at the La Lomita Mission, located about two miles east of the present park, ca. 1950s. The mission supported a “bustling little village” until the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of the Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg...... 22 Figure 6. The Jardín de Flores ranch house, circa 1914. Eloísa Dougherty is in the rear seat to the left; the coachman is Tomás Ochoa. Photo courtesy of the Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg.......................................................................... 24 Figure 7. The Jardín de Flores ranch house in the 1980s, view from the west. Photo courtesy of the Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg.................................... 25 vii Refuge on the Rio Grande Figure 8. A brick outbuilding, about fifty yards northwest of the Jardín de Flores ranch house, which once served as housing for workers at the ranch. In the early 20th century, perhaps four or five others like it stood nearby. Photo by John Leffler, 1998..................................................................................................................... 25 Figure 9. Two sides of a copper token, dated 1902, which was once used as currency at the store on the Jardín de Flores Ranch. Workers who purchased goods at the store probably received tokens like this one in their change. Photo courtesy of James E. Kattner.............................................................................................................. 26 Figure 10. A handbill of the Plan of San Diego, 1915. From Sandos, Rebellion in the Borderlands. Original in the National Archives, Washington, D.C. ....................... 30 Figures 11 and 12. Two views of the buildings occupied by U.S. troops in Ojo de Agua during the attack on October 21, 1915. Photo courtesy of the Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg.............................................................................. 31 Figure 13. U.S. troopers stationed in Hidalgo County, circa 1916. Photo courtesy of the Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg................................................. 32 Figure 14. Two jacales in Hidalgo County, ca. 1940. Photo courtesy of the Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg.......................................................................... 35 Figure 15. Another example of jacales in the Lower Rio Grande Valley during the early 20th century, ca. 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg................................................................................................. 36 Figure 16. Detail from 1936 map of Hidalgo County, showing the site of Las Nuebas (also called “Las Nuevas”) at that time. The single dark square near the center-right part of the image shows a dwelling at the present-day location of the park’s La Familia nature center. Note also the two other dwellings just northwest, near the center of the image. Texas State Department of Highways, Highway Map of Hidalgo County, 1936.............................................................................. 37 Figure 17. Osvaldo Ochoa, who was born on the Jardín de Flores ranch and lived at Las Nuevas for about seven years during the 1930s. Photo by John Leffler, 1998..................................................................................................................... 38 Figure 18. Platmap of the southern part of the Bentsen Groves Subdivision (the Rio Grande appears on the far left), which cut up southern Porción 50 into dozens of farms in 1937. From Hidalgo County plat records, vol. 7, p. 13, Hidalgo County Courthouse........................................................................................................... 40 viii A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park Figures 19 and 20. In the 1950s, local families used the Park area for recreation, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts camped there. The photos show Boy Scout Troop 83 from Mission camping and hiking in the park in 1951. Photos courtesy of Jeanne Martinez. ............................................................................................................. 44 Figure 21. Visitors at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Easter 1962. Photo courtesy of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park................................................. 45 ix Map 1. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and the Surrounding Area Refuge on the Rio Grande x A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park Introduction Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park encompasses 760 acres of brushy woodlands along the Rio Grande just south of Mission in Hidalgo County, Texas. The park is best known today as a nature preserve, one of the few places where the unique riparian woodlands native to the Rio Grande Valley can still be found. Stands of cedar elm, Rio Grande ash, Texas ebony, black willow, anacua, huisache and other species attract an incredible variety of birds. Some 340 different species of birds have been sighted in the park, including the green jay, Altamira oriole, white-tipped dove, plain chachalaca, hook-billed kite, groove-billed ani, common paraque and ringed kingfisher.1 Approximately 24,000 visitors travel to the park every year, usually to admire its flora and fauna, but most are probably unaware of the human history connected to the park and the area around it. Some of the earliest Spanish settlements in Texas were established in the vicinity of the park area, part of a Spanish land grant issued in 1767, and were probably being ranched by the late 1700s. The first roads in the region, including a “path” from old Reynosa, Mexico, and the Military Road used by General Zachary Taylor during the Mexican-American War, passed through or adjacent to the park. And a small ranching village known as “Las Nuebas” (or “Las Nuevas”), established by 1850, still existed into the 1930s at the site of the park’s La Familia Nature Center. Nothing of it remains today. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the park area and the immediate vicinity were directly connected to some of the most significant people and events in South Texas history. For much of the late 19th century the park property was owned by Dr. Alexander Headley, the colorful Confederate veteran and soldier-of-fortune who once attempted to overthrow the Hidalgo County government by force. Much of the area around the current park was then shaped by prominent South Texas figures such as Abraham Dillard and William S. and Eloísa Vela Dougherty. “El Jardín de Flores,” the Dougherty’s ranch home that still stands about a mile east of the park, earned an almost mythical reputation in the county for the entertainments held there. During the last decades of the 19th century a dramatic shift occurred in the landholding patterns in the lower Rio Grande Valley, as more and more land moved into the hands of Anglo-Americans and Europeans. Nevertheless, old social and cultural norms persisted in many parts of the Valley, including Hidalgo County, which remained isolated from economic and social trends that were already shaping other parts of Texas and the nation. Few Anglo-Americans moved into the area before 1900, and most of those who did melded into its 1 Refuge on the Rio Grande traditional way of life. During the first decades of the 20th century, however, Hidalgo County experienced rapid changes that fundamentally altered its economy and its society. In the early 20th century, the land now occupied by the park was connected at times to other people prominent in the history of South Texas’s economic and political life, including John Closner, G. Bedell Moore, Elmer Bentsen and Lloyd Bentsen, Sr. During this period the Lower Rio Grande Valley, including the area surrounding the park, was transformed by new patterns of development. Land in the immediate vicinity of the park was acquired, cleared and subdivided into farms by John Shary, the Bentsens and other prominent South Texas figures. And just before the United States entered World War I, the area was engulfed by a wave of violence, intimidation and murder that swept across South Texas in response to the mysterious Plan of San Diego; one of the most famous fights during this period occurred at Ojo de Agua, now known as Abram, just two miles west of the park. By 1944, when Elmer Bentsen and Lloyd Bentsen, Sr., donated most of the land that is now Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park to the state, agricultural development projects had already destroyed most of the original riparian woodlands that once graced the region. The 1940s land, however, remained “a jungle area of the original undeveloped Lower Rio Grande Valley country.”2 Since then, the woodlands preserved in the park have been damaged by droughts and by dam projects upriver, which “tamed” the Rio Grande but prevented the periodic flooding that helped to nurture native plant life. Even with these negative impacts, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park continues to preserve unique elements of the state’s environmental heritage. 2 A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park Early Settlement in the Lower Rio Grande Valley Archeological surveys conducted in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in 1995 uncovered no material evidence of prehistoric activity there, but other more general studies have indicated that humans probably have been living in what is now Hidalgo County for at least 11,000 years. During the Paleoindian period (ca. 11,000-8,000 B.P.) inhabitants of the area hunted large animals such as now-extinct mammoths. During the Archaic age (8,000 to 1,200 B.P.) the people were hunters and gatherers; by the early Pre-historic period (1,200 to 500 B.P.) bows and arrows were being used to hunt bison and small game. These prehistoric inhabitants usually lived along the banks of the Rio Grande, where they had easy access to water. Archeologists puzzle over their disappearance, but we know that by the 1500s, when the Spanish began to explore the region, present-day Hidalgo County was occupied by Coahuiltecan peoples. The various Coahuiltecan groups along the lower Rio Grande were huntergatherers who harvested the area’s indigenous fish, animals and plants for food, medicines and clothing. In the 1700s many of them moved into missions established by the Spanish along the Rio Grande, where disease and conflicts with other American Indians reduced their numbers. By the early 1800s, Lipan Apaches had pushed the Coahuiltecans out of South Texas, but the Apaches were, in turn, being challenged by the Spanish and by Comanches moving into the Rio Grande Valley from the north.3 The first Spaniard to pass through or near present-day Hidalgo County may have been Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, who traveled into southern Texas after he was shipwrecked in 1528. The region’s oppressive heat and lack of reliable water supplies except along the Rio Grande deterred Spanish settlement in the region for more than two hundred years after Cabeza de Vaca wandered there. Nevertheless, several Spanish expeditions still tried to explore along the Rio Grande during the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1653, 1686, and 1687, for example, Alonso de León led expeditions that traveled along the Rio Grande to learn more about the area’s resources and to ward off possible incursions by the French.4 By the mid-1700s the Spanish were increasingly worried that the region might fall into the hands of another power. They were also determined to subdue and Christianize the American Indians living there and to develop valuable salt deposits noted by various explorers. In 1746 José de Escandón was chosen to lead a push to colonize the province of Nuevo Santander between the Panuco and Nueces rivers. Escandón, a wealthy, well-connected peninsulare who had recently “pacified” the native populations in Sierra Gorda, quickly 3 Refuge on the Rio Grande organized a large expeditionary force that included hundreds of soldiers, missionaries and American Indian allies. In 1747, Escandón’s main column reached the Rio Grande and began to explore the region; on March 5, 1749 Escandón’s first settlement, Camargo, was formally founded at the confluence of the San Juan and Rio Grande rivers. Nine days later a second settlement, named Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Reynosa, was formally established near the south bank of the Rio Grande about five miles northwest of what is now Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park (“Reynosa Vieja” on Map 1).5 Like several other Spanish villas Escandón established in Nuevo Santander at that time, Reynosa developed gradually from a military camp to a municipality. Streets were marked off around a central plaza, and adjacent to the town itself were common lands (ejidos) reserved for agriculture. Reynosa’s original ejidal land extended north of the Rio Grande to their eastern boundary about a mile and a half from present day Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park (“Los Ejidos” on Map 2). Dozens of families moved to the new settlement almost as soon as it was founded, attracted by incentives, such as payment of up to 100 pesos for resettlement costs and the promise of free land that would not be taxed for ten years. As early as 1749, the year the villa was officially established, 279 people were living in Reynosa. By 1750, although no mission had yet been built, there were also a number of American Indians living in the settlement, including those in the Comecrudos, Tejones y Sacatiles, Pintos, Nazos and Navisos tribes. Despite recurring floods that sometimes devastated the town, it continued to grow and prosper. In 1755, Spanish officials counted 289 people living in Reynosa, tending an estimated 1,600 head of cattle, horses and sheep in the surrounding countryside.6 By 1757, a mission had been built to accommodate American Indians. One early visitor observed that many of the Spanish settlers in the area “had become rich” through stock-raising or the salt trade. According to historian Florence Scott, Reynosa at this time was dominated by six wealthy and influential men: “almost all the others,” she writes, “were poor and of humble origin with no official standing.”7 Reynosa quickly became a significant center of Spanish settlement along the Rio Grande and figured prominently in the early development of what is now Hidalgo County. In 1767, the viceroy of New Spain sent a Royal Commission to Nuevo Santander to survey and distribute the land grants that had long been promised to settlers in the area. Arriving in Reynosa in August, the Commission issued eighty land grants to inhabitants of the town. Although the settlers preferred land south of the Rio Grande because of its attractive thick forest over dangerous “pagan” Indians north of the river, forty-three of the grants were located in present-day Hidalgo County. Varying in size from 4,200 to 4 A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park 6,200 acres, adjusted to account for differences in the quality of the land, these porciónes were each nine-thirteenths of a mile wide and from eleven to fourteen miles deep. To allow all the grantees access to water, every porción (except those directly north of the common lands) fronted on the Rio Grande (Map 2). 8 Map 2. Spanish Land Grants issued in 1767 in what is now southwestern Hidalgo County, Texas. From Hidalgo County land grant map, 1977, Texas General Land Office, Austin. 5 Refuge on the Rio Grande The Royal Commission granted 5,314 acres in Porción 50 (the southern tip of which is now Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park) to one José Antonio Zamora.9 Very little is known about Zamora,10 but circumstances surrounding his acquisition of the property suggest that he may have belonged to one of Reynosa’s more influential families. Some Spanish officials complained that the distribution of lands surrounding Reynosa seemed “unequal, since most of the land was owned by six families.”11 Examination of a list of the Reynosa grantees reveals that the Zamora family received five porciónes—only one less than the influential Cano family, which received six. And all of the Zamora grants were favorably located close to Reynosa, including three (Porciónes 48, 49, and 50) directly east of the town’s common lands.12 In any case Zamora, like the other grantees, was obligated by the terms of his grant to take possession of the land within two months and to begin to raise stock on it. Since the grantees were also required to remain living in Reynosa for the sake of community safety and solidarity, many of them moved back and forth between their ranch holdings and the town. Men with wives and children ordinarily left their families in Reynosa, where they could receive education and the ministrations of the Church. Due to the continuing threat of Lipan Apache raids, ranch settlements were often established near property lines, so that two neighboring landowners could live in proximity, and small communities often formed around them.13 As Reynosa continued to grow, tallying almost 1,200 people by 1794, during the late 1700s the ranch settlements north of the Rio Grande also developed and prospered. Between 1770 and 1800 several large new land grants were issued in the areas north and east of the original Reynosa porciónes, and ranching activity expanded dramatically in what is now Hidalgo County. Some idea of the scope and magnitude of ranching in the region then can be seen in the fortunes of José Narciso Cavasos (or Cabazos), a resident of Reynosa who in 1767 was granted Porción 71 north of the Rio Grande, about 14 miles east of Porción 50. Over the next decades Cavasos gradually expanded his holdings through marriages and purchases and by 1807 he owned over 6,400 sheep, about 5,000 cattle, and more than 200 horses. José Antonio Zamora apparently also prospered as he was able to purchase two leagues of land from Maria de los Santos Cavazos, and his seven children later inherited the property.14 Members of Zamora’s family seem to have owned Porción 50 for almost ninety years, and may well have operated a ranch there for all or most of that time. At least two of Jose Antonio Zamora’s grandchildren lived on the property as late as 1858. It is likely that they occupied the ranch site, within the boundary of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park) shown on a map drawn in 1850 (Figure 2; Map 3).15 Most settlers were not as successful as Cavasos, and 6 A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park raised their sheep, cattle, goats and horses as simple rancheros; most often, they lived in primitive jacales made of wood, straw and mud.16 Map 3. Historic roads and sites in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and the surrounding area. Map by John Cotter, 1998. 7 Refuge on the Rio Grande As more people moved north of the river to mind their holdings, small ranching communities began to emerge there. In 1774, a small settlement known as Rancho San Luis, or La Habitación, was established about eight miles southwest of the present-day Park. By 1792 a village called Peñitas had grown across from Reynosa on the north side of the Rio Grande, about seven miles northwest of the current Park. By this time ranchers with land east of Peñitas were also quite likely traveling to and from their holdings along a path that ran from Reynosa east along the Rio Grande, passing through Porción 50 just north of the present-day Park. Grantees were also obligated to build a road that ran along the high-water mark of the river to connect their holdings with adjoining grants. Later called the Military Highway, this road eventually connected all of the porciónes along the Rio Grande. In 1850, it ran through the land now occupied by Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.17 Figure 1. Detail from map of resurvey of Porción 50 conducted in 1850, showing the “Sendero” (path) leading from the original site of Reynosa and passing just north of the present site of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Note also the location of the Military Road, used by American troops during the Mexican War, which passed through the present boundaries of the Park, and the location of the ranch (known at least as early as 1858 as “Las Nuebas”), also within the present confines of the Park. Spanish Land Grant files, Porción 50 Reynosa, Texas General Land Office, Austin. 8 A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park By the early 1800s a stable and fairly prosperous society had grown in the Spanish towns and villages of the Rio Grande Valley. Although a disastrous flood finally convinced Spanish authorities to move Reynosa to its present site (about eight miles southeast of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park), the town grew rapidly at its new location. In 1829, more than 4,000 people lived there. By then about 25,000 people lived in the Rio Grande villas of Reynosa, Camargo, Mier, Revilla, Laredo and Matamoros, and thousands more were scattered on the many ranches that now dotted the region.18 9 A Regional History of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park Dislocation and Readjustment in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1836-1900 Despite the area’s hot and unforgiving environment, ranching society of the Rio Grande Valley continued to expand and prosper. An estimated 3,000,000 cattle grazed on ranches in the region, and exports produced by the area’s growing economy were carried in wagons and mule trains deep into Mexico, which had become an independent nation in 1821.19 The Texas Revolution of 1835-1836, however, set off a chain of events that severely disrupted life in the area for many years and led to significant political, social and economic changes. The area between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River, once part of the Spanish province of Nuevo Santander, had been folded into the Mexican state of Tamaulipas after Mexico won its independence from Spain. But after 1836, when the new Republic of Texas claimed the Rio Grande as its southern border, the disputed area between the rivers devolved into a no-man’s-land; neither Mexico nor Texas could assert effective control over the region, and the people who lived there were repeatedly victimized by outlaws and Indian attacks (Map 4). Animosities intensified during the Texans’ war for independence helped to fuel contempt for the rights of Mexicans in the area, and encouraged “Anglo” Texans to raid it for their own profit. The new Texas Republic declared Mexican cattle to be public property, and rustlers roamed the area between the Nueces and the Rio Grande, sometimes known as the Nueces Strip. As historian David Montejano has written, at that time all a Texan needed to become a cowman was to enter the area with “a rope, a branding iron, and the nerve to use them.” Texan military units regularly raided ranches south of the Nueces to procure beef for their men, and Mexican outlaws entered from the south. By the early 1840s the area’s cattle herds were severely depleted.20 Meanwhile, the Mexican government had not yet accepted Texan independence. In 1842, in response to the Texans’ bumbling attempt to take Santa Fe, Mexican forces twice crossed the Rio Grande and captured San Antonio. Enraged, Texas President Sam Houston allowed General Alexander Somerville to raise a volunteer force to invade Mexico. Somerville was able to capture Laredo and Guerrero, but when he prudently decided not to advance any further about 300 men broke from his command and moved down the Rio Grande, hoping to continue the raid into Mexico itself. In late December 1842, the expedition ended in complete disaster. At Mier, 226 Texans were 11 Refuge on the Rio Grande Map 4. The disputed area between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. Map by John Cotter in William H. Goetzmann, Sam Chamberlain’s Mexican War, used courtesy of the Texas Sta

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