Resistance in Texas
Digital History ID 578
Juan Nepomuceno Cortina
Among the most famous social bandits was Juan Nepomuceno Cortina (1824-1892) of Texas. Born south of the Rio Grande River in 1824 to a wealthy established family, he fought for Mexico in its war with the United States. After the war, he saw his fellow Mexicans reduced to second-class citizenship, cheated out of their land cattle, and mistreated by sheriffs and the Texas Rangers. "Flocks of vampires, in the guise of men," he wrote, robbed Mexicans "of their property, incarcerated, chased, murdered, and hunted [them] like wild beasts." In July 1859, he saw a marshall in Brownsville in southern Texas beating a Mexican farmhand. Cortina ordered the marshall to stop, and when he refused, shot him in the shoulder. Then in September Cortina and other Mexicans raided Brownsville, proclaimed a Republic of the Rio Grande, and raised the Mexican flag. A force consisting of Texas Rangers and the United States army eventually forced Cortina and his supporters to retreat into Mexico. Cortina served as governor of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and continued to conduct raids across the border until Mexico, under intense pressure from the United States, imprisoned him in 1876.
Juan Nepomuceno Cortina to the inhabitants of the State of Texas, and especially to those of the city of Brownsville....
There is no need of fear. Orderly people and honest citizens are inviolable to us in their persons and interests. Our object, as you have seen, has been to chastise the villainy of our enemies, which heretofore has gone unpunished. These have connived with each other, and form, so to speak, a perfidious inquisitorial lodge to persecute and rob us, without any cause, and for no other crime on our part than that of being of Mexican origin, considering us, doubtless, destitute of those gifts which they themselves do not possess.
To defend ourselves, and making use of the sacred right of self-preservation, we have assembled in a popular meeting with a view of discussing a means by which to put an end to our misfortunes.
Our identity of origin, our relationship, and the community of our sufferings, has been, as it appears, the cause of our embracing, directly, the proposed object which led us to enter your beautiful city, clothed with the imposing aspect of our exasperation.
The assembly organized, and headed by your humble servant, (thanks to the confidence which he inspired as one of the most aggrieved,) we have careered over the streets of the city in search of our adversaries, inasmuch as justice, being administered by their own hands, the supremacy of the law has failed to accomplish its object.
Some of them, rashly remiss in complying with our demand, have perished for having sought to carry their animosity beyond the limits allowed by their precarious position. Three of them have died--all criminal, wicked men, notorious among the people for their misdeeds. The others, still more unworthy and wretched, dragged themselves through the mire to escape our anger, and now, perhaps, with their usual bravado, pretend to be the cause of an infinity of evils, which might have been avoided but for their cowardice....
These, as we have said, form, with a multitude of lawyers, a secret conclave, with all its ramifications, for the sole purpose of despoiling the Mexicans of the lands and usurp them afterwards. This is clearly proven by the conduct of one Adolph Glavecke, who, invested with the character of deputy sheriff, and in collusion with the said lawyers, has spread terror among the unwary, making them believe that he will hang the Mexicans and burn their ranches, &c., that by this means he might compel them to abandon the country, and thus accomplish their object....
All truce between them and us is at an end, from the fact alone of our holding upon this soil our interests and property. And how can it be otherwise, when the ills that weigh upon the unfortunate republic of Mexico have obliged us for many heart-touching causes to abandon it and our possessions in it, or else become the victims of our principles or of the indigence to which its intestine disturbances had reduced us since the treaty of Guadalupe?...
It is necessary. The hour has arrived. Our oppressors number but six or eight. Hospitality and other noble sentiments shield them at present from our wrath, and such, as you have seen, are inviolable to us.
Innocent persons shall not suffer - no. But, if necessary, we will lead a wandering life, awaiting our opportunity to purge society of men so base that they degrade it with their opprobrium. Our families have returned as strangers to their old country to beg for an asylum. Our lands, if they are to be sacrificed to the avaricious covetousness of our enemies, will be rather so on account of our own vicissitudes. As to land, Nature will always grant us sufficient to support our frames, and we accept the consequences that may arise. Further, our personal enemies shall not possess our lands until they have fattened it with their own gore.
It remains for me to say that, separated as we are, by accident alone, from the other citizens of the city, and not having renounced our rights as North American citizens, we disapprove and energetically protest against the act of having caused a force of the national guards from Mexico to cross unto this side to ingraft themselves in a question so foreign to their country that there is no excusing such weakness on the part of those who implored their aid.
Source: U.S. Congress, Difficulties on the Southwestern Frontier, 36th Congress, 1st session, 1860, House Executive Document, 52, pp. 70-82.
Copyright 2016 Digital History