The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976

Consul Warner P. Sutton and American-Mexican
Border Trade during the Early Diaz Period
DAVID M. PLETCHER*
AMERICAN BUSINESS INITIATIVE BROUGHT A MIXTURE OF HELP AND
harm to the Mexico of Porfirio Diaz between 1876 and 191 I: rail-
roads and other material improvements, a capitalist economy, and seeds of
a great social revolution. Outside Mexico City itself the spread of this
American influence during the Diaz period may best be studied in the tier
of border states and territories stretching along the south bank of the Rio
Grande and west to the Pacific. For twenty years after the American Civil
War the focus of American-Mexican relations was the lower valley of the
Rio Grande; then the completion of tapline railroads to Mexico City
shifted the course of trade westward to Laredo and El Paso. Always, how-
ever, Americans and their goods had to pass through Mexican border towns
-hot, dusty clusters of adobe buildings and narrow streets-where they
first encountered Mexican buyers, officials, and taxes.
During a critical fifteen-year period from 1878 to 1893, an unusually
able and perceptive American consular official lived in the midst of this
burgeoning trade, trying to encourage, protect, and systematize it and-
most important for the historian-sending to Washington reams of statistics
and detailed reports about the expansion of American influence in Mexico.
Warner Perrin Sutton was successively commercial agent, consul, and
consul general at Matamoros, near the mouth of the Rio Grande, and then
upstream at Nuevo Laredo, opposite Laredo, Texas. When Sutton came to
Matamoros in 1878, cumbersome bales of goods were customarily ferried
across the river's mouth or lightered over a sandbar from ocean vessels, then
moved slowly inland on mule-drawn wagons. When he left Nuevo Laredo
in 1893, through trains ran between St. Louis and Mexico City, and the
Mexican river towns were losing their economic predominance to Monte-
rrey, the industrial hub of the future.
*David M. Pletcher is professor of history at Indiana University. Research for this
article was made possible by a grant from the National Archives. The author wishes to
express his appreciation in particular to Albert H. Leisinger, Jr., for his courteous
assistance.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101203/. Accessed September 1, 2014.