Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000 Page: 21
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The map above is of Brownsville and Matamoros in the late 1860s, during the reign of Juan Cortina. Image courtesy of the National Archives.
Cortina is both deified and reviled on both sides of the border.
American diplomatic pressure, President
Diaz's primary reason for removing Cortina
from the border was that he could not afford
two caudillos vying for power in
Tamaulipas at such a crucial time in Mexican
Much of what Ford wrote about Cortina
during the Cortina Wars reads like high
drama. For example, in the Battle at La
Bolsa, following Cortina's decisive defeat
at Rio Grande City, Ford vividly recalled
the final scene: "Cortina was the last to
leave the field. He faced his pursuers, emptied
his revolver, and tried to halt his
panic-stricken men. Lieutenants Dix and
Howard and Private George Morris were
near Captain Ford. [Ford] ordered them to
fire at Cortina. They did so. One shot
struck the cantle of his saddle, one cut out
a lock of hair from his head, a third cut his
bridle rein, a fourth passed through his
horse's ear, and a fifth struck his belt. He
galloped off unhurt."
6(~ scapades such as these did not
escape the pen of renowned Texas folklorist
J. Frank Dobie, who had much more
than just a passing interest in Cortina. A
son of the South Texas brush country himself,
Dobie appeared fascinated by Cortina.
In his "A Vaquero of the Brush Country,"
Dobie refers to Cortina as "the most striking,
the most powerful, the most insolent,
and the most daring as well as the most
elusive Mexican bandit, not even excepting
Pancho Villa, that ever wet his horse
in the muddy waters of the Rio Bravo." Basing
his knowledge of Cortina on civil and
military depositions taken in Texas, Dobie
maintained, however, that Cortina was re
sponsible for a "reign of terror." To Dobie,
Cortina was a "great bandido," a "plunderer
and murderer." In his final analysis, Dobie's
real heroes were not "great bandidos," but
instead Capt. L. H. McNelly and his highstepping
One of Dobie's distinguished colleagues
passed a slightly less severe judgment on
Cortina.The Cortina that emerged in
Walter Prescott Webb's "The Texas Rangers"
in 1935 was not radically different from
Dobie's Cortina, but Webb's portrayal was
far more objective in his understanding of
the discrimination that existed in
Brownsville in the decade after the Mexican
War-blatant discrimination that
made possible the bloody, ethnic Cortina
Wars that were to follow. "Here, indeed,"
Webb wrote, "was rich soil in which to
plant the seed of revolution and race war."
Still, even to Webb, Cortina remained a
HERITAGE * 21 * 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/m1/21/: accessed April 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.