Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000 Page: 25
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JAn 1840, a posf-reooutuion border /0s pule 6e/ween JICexlco
andiffe epu/Ifc oo exas 6rouyia a6Iouif ie creation
BUT PASSIONATE LIFE OF THE
of a sAor/fioefproomsonaflyoernmen iEa! fasiexJ2S3 uio en! cdays.
REPUBLIC OF THE RIO GRANDE
By 1838 political and military
conflict had become all too
familiar in Northeastern
Mexico. It began with
bloody wars for independence from Spain,
which dominated the 1810s. Following independence,
Mexico struggled over governmental
structure for two decades, although
the people of the north, for the
most part, liked the system of the loose
confederation of states established by Constitution
of 1824. The area cut by the great
river, the Rio Grande, retained its basic historical
divisions into several states New
Mexico to the north followed in order by
Chihuahua, Nuevo Le6n, Coahuila and
Texas, and Tamaulipas. This decentralized
system called "federalism" functioned under
principles of weak government, local
authority, and liberal values including economic
progress. "Centralists" stood for order,
defense of the church, and support for
the army as the instrument of protecting
the national identity.
In 1835 the Centralists triumphed, overthrew
the Constitution of 1824, turned the
states into departments, and suppressed
dissent. Rebels in Texas resisted for a while
under the banner of the Constitution of
1824. This approach ceased when Texas declared
independence in March 1836.
The boundary claims of the Republic of
Texas helped to undermine political stability.
Texas claimed the Rio Grande to its
source, a position without legitimate historical
foundation. The actual limits never
extended beyond the Nueces River, and
HERITAGE * 25 * SPRING 2000
controlling even that area was beyond the
feeble resources of the infant nation. But
it was resurgent federalism that brought
rebellion and war back to life in the borderlands.
In the period 183 7-40 federalist
rebels plotted to coordinate their moves,
assisted by exiled liberal leaders such as
Juan Pablo Anaya, operating from sanctuary
in New Orleans.
In the lower Rio Grande area, the most
significant federalist was Antonio Canales
Rosillo, a lawyer, surveyor, and legislator
from Camargo, Tamaulipas. He had obvious
skills as a spokesman - he was educated
far above the norm, persuasive in
the art of recruiting, and well-positioned
by family connections. At the outset of
the revolt it remained to be seen what
kind of military instincts he might possess.
The same could not be said of his chief
compatriot, Antonio Zapata, a self-made
frontiersman and above all else a fighter
of resolute character. Having built a thriving
ranch in Guerrero out of humble origins
as a sheepherder, Zapata's federalism
had been sharpened by centralist
plunderings of his properties in 1836. Militarily,
Zapata had a fierce reputation as a
leader of cavalry. In one legendary fight
he removed an arrow from his thigh while
riding after his Comanche adversary
whom he eventually overtook, pulled to
the ground by the hair, and stomped to
death. Apparently, Zapata's view was that
shooting or stabbing was too honorable a
death for a Comanche.
Canales, Zapata, and other federalist
leaders took up arms in Northern Mexico
in conjunction with a series of uprisings. In
1837 federalist rebellion broke out in New
Mexico, spread to Sonora, and then to
Tampico in 1838. Canales, from Guerrero,
pronounced against the central government
in November. Initially his efforts centered
on capturing Matamoros, a critical place
both because of the government forces stationed
there and also because of the riches
that could be derived from its commerce.
Unfortunately, Canales preferred indecisive
skirmishing to direct attacks, and in the
spring of 1839 the scene of battle shifted to
Coahuila and Nuevo Le6n. The federalists
by no means piled victory upon victory, but
units under different commanders did gain
Monterrey in March and Saltillo on May
24. The latter especially involved hard fighting
under insurgent Pedro Lemus, a former
colonel who had switched sides four times
during the previous six months.
At that point the federalist cause seemed
quite favorable with state capitals in their
hands and Canales still at least in the field
to threaten Matamoros. However, two factors
undermined their early successes. First,
federalist leaders failed to unify under a
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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/m1/25/: accessed April 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.