UT Press’s new book on Mexican American history examines Texas’ past

At the same time, the fate of Mexican Americans in Texas is both the fruit of a distant history and a stain of blood today. It’s like the old adage: to understand the present, you have to look to the past. That’s what the inimitable Latina author Martha Menchaca did in her latest book, The Mexican American Experience in Texas. The title was published last month by The University of Texas Press and serves as an in-depth account of the critical events that have shaped Texas cultural identity since the state’s earliest days. It shouldn’t surprise you that his research is full of details on discrimination and misinformation, nor should it surprise you that elected Republicans are still there today.

In perhaps the most heartbreaking section of his book, Menchaca discusses several extrajudicial executions carried out by the Texas Rangers. (The Rangers, who today represent the state’s elite criminal investigative unit, have a long but little-known history of brutality against people they deem to have the wrong skin color.) one of the most disturbing incidents reported by Menchaca involves suspected Mexican bandidos. accused of stealing cattle from King Ranch. The Rangers rounded them up, shot them, and hung their bodies in the Brownsville town square. They did not receive a trial, she writes. The passage is excerpted below. —Christopher Collins


The Texas Rangers and the US-Mexico Border

In 1875, during Reconstruction, Governor Richard Coke assigned several companies of Texas Rangers to patrol the US-Mexico border, and an era of abusive policing began. Their primary mandate was to protect the border from Mexican bandits who entered Texas to rustle cattle, but their policing practices became severely corrupt. Wealthy Anglo-American settlers who had purchased Spanish and Mexican land grants along the border used state police to advance their economic interests against the Mexican population. Major John B. Jones commanded the Frontier Battalion, consisting of six companies of seventy-five men each. They were tasked with patrolling El Paso County. Captain LH McNelly was placed in command of the Texas Rangers Special Force, a small forty-man unit tasked with maintaining law and order in southern Texas between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. The Rangers attacked people indiscriminately, spreading terror in Mexican communities. Mexicans have been shot or arrested simply because they were suspected of being bandidos or because they were accused of protecting cattle rustlers.

In southern Texas, many Rangers were in the pay of the Anglo-American cattle barons and helped them steal cattle from Mexican ranchers. Richard King, an American entrepreneur, had become the wealthiest rancher in the region. King was rumored to wield significant influence over the Rangers, paying them to stop Mexicans who questioned his authority. The Rangers had a camp at the King Ranch. Mexicans were often arrested for allegedly stealing cattle from the ranch. Several incidents were so serious that the attacks on Mexican communities were brought to the attention of Congress and investigated. On June 12, 1875, Rangers captured thirteen Mexican cowboys near Brownsville and charged them with cattle rustling. Rather than give them a chance to defend themselves in court, the Rangers shot them and then hung their bodies in the Brownsville town square. The Rangers were later accused by Mexican Americans and journalists of using public hangings to strike fear in Mexican American communities. Newspapers across the United States reported that after the federal government investigated the case, the Mexican cowboys were not thieves, but cowboys returning from a buying trip. shares in North Texas. When cattle were inspected for stolen marks, most were found to be unmarked, proving that cowboys were not thieves.

McNelly’s special forces were also known for committing brutality across the border, and in Mexico they were considered outlaws with permits to kill. In 1875, McNelly and his Rangers crossed the border without federal permission and raided the Mexican village of Cachuttas. Upon their return to the United States, they alleged that Juan Flores Salinas, the mayor of Camargo was at fault for not allowing them to pursue the bandits who had stolen cattle from the King Ranch. The conflict began after the Rangers set up camp in Cachuttas and Flores ordered them to leave. Faced with their refusal, he returned with a hundred men and the conflict exploded. McNelly’s Rangers reported that they returned fire, and after subduing the villagers, eighty Mexicans were dead, including Flores. The Rangers then recovered the stolen cattle and pursued the suspected thieves who were hiding in nearby villages. The Rangers rounded up four hundred cattle and returned to the King Ranch. The Mexican government complained and the US War Department investigated the incident, finding that of the cattle taken to Mexico, 250 were unmarked and only a few had a King Ranch mark.

McNelly was reprimanded for his actions by the Secretary of War, but the Governor of Texas did not suspend his commission. The incident caused bad feelings between the Mexican government and the state of Texas. He also alerted the U.S. government to maintain oversight of the Texas Rangers with respect to international affairs, and the War Department was assigned to investigate all matters relating to Texas Rangers crossing the border. After the Cachuttas affair, the American government could not ignore major international incidents. Therefore, when Major John B. Jones, commanding officer of the Frontier Battalion in El Paso County, was implicated in the most explosive crime committed against a Mexican American community in Texas, the federal government was forced to intervene. and to maintain federal oversight over the unjust state. police. President Rutherford B. Hayes opened an investigation into what became known as the Salt Wars riots, after federal troops reported that Texas Rangers were committing atrocities against civilians in El County Paso and Mexican communities across the border.

Angela C. Hale