Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000 Page: 4
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THE PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE
BY LEWIS A. JONES
In the chronicle of Texas history, the
Lower Rio Grande Valley is the oldest and
most historic area of Texas. Also, it is the
most misunderstood and neglected. Today's
socially sophisticated and economically
complex Valley belies its catatonic history.
The Texas Valley was first sighted by
Alonso Alvarez de Pinada in 1519, but early
attempts at colonization were repelled by
the cannibalistic Karankawa Indians. As a
result, for 200 years the areas remained a
land of anonymity in Spain's western empire.
However, around 1750, the Spanish
became suspicious about French incursions
into Texas and reformed their blase attitude
toward the Valley. The land opened up for
settlement, and the frontier was supplanted
by the Spanish-Mexican cattle culture.
Soon, all of Texas was permeated by the
patois, regalia, and customs of that culture.
Eventually all of North America felt its influence. Indeed, Spanish-Mexican
cattle and horses contributed to the colonists' victory
in the American Revolution.
The Texas Revolution of 1836 brought turmoil to the Valley
but not due to the actual insurrection. The chaos occurred over a
post-revolution border dispute between Mexico and the Republic
of Texas, and later the United States. Mexico asserted the border
to be at the Nueces River, while Texas claimed the Rio Grande as
the international dividing line. It was this "Nueces Strip" that
became the subject of two interesting incidents. In 1840 a dissident
group declared the Valley to be part of the new Republic of
the Rio Grande (see Dr. Paul Lack's article in this issue). Four years
later, the Nueces Strip was the subject of negotiations between
Sam Houston and Joseph Smith of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
Seeking protection from Mexico and the Indians to the south,
Houston was prepared to sell the Nueces Strip to the Mormon
Church, which would form a theocratic nation in this territory
and secure it with its own army.
Until 1846, the Valley was governed from south of the border,
and the influence from Spain and its successor Mexico was
imbued in daily life. The first American settlement was
Brownsville, founded as a result of General Zachary Taylor's invasion
of Mexico in 1846. Feeling protected, Anglos began moving
to the area, and with them, their belief in Manifest Destiny. This
concomitant philosophy of superiority overwhelmed any consideration
of the worthiness of others. Disingenuously, the Anglos
foisted and extolled a selective history, disregarding
the past and prevailing culture and
The signing of the Treaty of GuadalupeHidalgo
in 1848 legally set the U.S.-Mexico
border at the Rio Grande. The Treaty's ratification
wrought a special dynamic: the
memory of dispossession of lands and power,
and Anglo-controlled court decisions reducing
the Tejano population to second-class
citizens. Enter Juan Cortina, a former landed
aristocrat. Despising a clique of local judges
and lawyers for expropriating land, he fomented
violent unrest in the Valley in 1859
that was not quelled for several years. Again,
violence erupted in the 1870s between the
two most popular enterprises: raising cattle
and stealing cattle. Rustling into Mexico
Photo by Ann McDonald was common, and individuals resorted to
their own means for redress. After all, the
land was theirs by land grant, and with it, an incumbent right to
cross the river and take livestock. Guerilla warfare ensued until
the Texas Rangers intervened and restored peace in 1875.
With the turn of the century came irrigation (1898) and the
railroad (1904). The giant pumping stations (like the one preserved
in Hidalgo) transformed the semi-arid landscape into the
"Magical Valley," and the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railway
was the link to markets.
The single most influential event that has shaped the Valley
culturally was the Mexican Revolution. Individual grievances led
to social upheaval, and by 1910 law and order evaporated, with
Mexicans crossing the border and murdering Texans. In a violent
repression, the Texas Rangers brought stability to the region. One
positive result of the Mexican Revolution was the immigration of
thousands of Mexicans into Texas, giving the border region a distinct
language and, of course, Tex-Mex food. The confluence and
osmosis of Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo cultures have molded
the personality of the Valley.
Today, the Lower Rio Grande Valley is energetic and dynamic,
fueled by NAFTA, tourism, oil and gas, and citrus production.
Moreover, heightened interest in preservation has saved many
significant historical places. If you haven't been to the Valley in
the last few years, or even if you have, take several days and experience
the many and varied treasures of our border area. You will
be rewarded and glad you went!
God Bless Texas!
HERITAGE * 4 * 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/m1/4/: accessed July 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.