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Not Now

The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 78, July 1974 - April, 1975

Notes and Documents
The Little Punitive Expedition in the Big Bend
sidered by many to be a frontier. Indians and Spaniards had penetrated
the region in centuries gone by, but in the I8oos only the nameless pioneers
who explored it en route to California in 1849 and the railroad, which
opened it to prosperous ranching in 1882, attracted attention. To geologist
Robert T. Hill, who floated down the Rio Grande from Presidio to Langtry
in 1899, the country was still in its primitive state. "Few Americans realize
the impregnability and isolation of this frontier," he wrote. "Away from
the railway the Big Bend-sometimes called the Bloody Bend-is known
as a 'hard country,' that is, one in which . . . civilization finds it difficult
to gain a foothold."'
The sparsely settled ranches and rugged terrain made the Big Bend one
of the logical areas for serious bandit raids during the Mexican Revolution,
raids which prompted a relatively unknown but highly successful invasion
of Mexican territory by the United States military. By 191o there were at
least twenty large ranches in a 250 square mile section of the Big Bend
that were vulnerable to bandit attack. Only a few cavalrymen, Texas Rang-
ers, and mounted customs officers patrolled the region. They worked to-
gether closely, but their task would have been impossible even for twice as
many defenders: the territory was extensive, the hiding places were
numerous, and access from Mexico too easy. General Frederick Funston
reported in 1916 that the Big Bend Military District alone was 500 miles
long. Even after the troop build-up that year, when "practically all" the
small, mobile army of the United States was stationed there, it was still
impossible to patrol the entire area.2
*Tyler, curator of history, Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, is
author of Santiago Vidaurri and the Southern Confederacy, and The Mexican War: A
Lithographic Record, and co-editor of The Slave Narratives of Texas. His history of the
Big Bend is scheduled for publication this spring.
'Robert T. Hill, "Running the Cafions of the Rio Grande," The Century Magazine,
LXI (January, 19o0), 371 (second quotation), 372 (first quotation).
2"Annual Report for the Fiscal Year 1916 of Major Frederick Funston, U.S. Army,
Commanding Southern Department," Records of the Adjutant General's Office, Record

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 78, July 1974 - April, 1975. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed May 3, 2016.

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