Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000 Page: 18
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BY DR. JERRY THOMPSON
Juan Cortina helped exterminate the last remaining
band of Karankawas, shot the Brownsville
marshal, ambushed Texas Rangers, captured the
United States mail, defeated the Matamoros militia,
battled the United States Army, harassed the
Confederate Army, ambushed French Imperialists,
attacked Mexican liberals, and fought anyone else
who dared get in his way.
He defied one Mexican president, revolted
against a second, and fell victim to
the political intrigues of a third. He claimed
to be a Mexican patriot, but in September
1864, he accepted a commission in the
Imperialist army of Maximilian, a decision
that would tarnish his reputation for years.
Cortina never learned to read-and only
with difficulty could he write his namebut
he rose to political and military heights
of which the more literate could only
Born in Camargo, Tamaulipas, on May
16, 1824, Cortina spent his formative years
on the north bank of the Rio Bravo, participating
in the rough-and-tumble politics
of Cameron County at the same time
he held a commission in the Mexican militia.
To many of the desperately poor, politically
manipulated, and economically
abused along the river, he was a savior
straight from heaven, a high-stepping border
caudillo (military leader) who would restore
their pride and dignity, abolish the
evils of Anglo-American barrister shenanigans,
and restore Mexican authority north
to the Nueces River and perhaps beyond.
At age 22, as a corporal in the Defensores
de la Patria, a company of the Guardia
Nacional de Tamaulipas, he fought in the
battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma;
in the three decades that followed, he was
in at least 30 other battles and skirmishes,
yet never was wounded. In combat he displayed
a bravery and coolness that defied
belief, but while most Anglo-Americans remembered
him as only a ruthless and brutal
bandit who on occasion heartlessly executed
his enemies, evidence exists, paradoxically,
of his kindness and gentle manners.
Oacholars have little doubt that
Cortina orchestrated the theft of more
cattle in Texas than any man ever, yet he
was accused of hundreds of other crimes
all the way from Laredo to the Gulf of
Mexico, none of which he could have conceivably
committed. Like "Old John
Brown" of Pottawatomie and Harper's Ferry
fame, who rode onto the pages of history
at virtually the same time, Cortina was one
of the few individuals to be indicted for
treason by a state.
Etching of Juan Cortina by Jose Cisneros.
Original in color. Courtesy of Jerry
HERITAGE * 18 * SPRING 2000
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000, periodical, Spring 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45390/m1/18/: accessed September 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.