New Perspectives on THE WEST
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The Grandest Enterprise Under God
Fight No More Forever
The Geography of Hope
One Sky Above Us
Death Runs Riot


Free Soil

Mountain meadows

The Republic of the Rio Grande

This Guilty Land


Preachers and Jackass Rabbits

Who is the Savage?

The Everywhere Spirit

THE WEST Death Runs Riots

The Republic of the Rio Grande

Members of the Vincente Lugo family of Los AngelesMexicans!... It would appear that justice had fled from this world, leaving you to the caprice of your oppressors, who have become each day more furious toward you... My part is taken, the voice of revelation whispers... that the Lord will enable me, with powerful arm, to fight against our enemies.
Juan Cortina

The treaty that ended the Mexican War in 1848 had promised all the benefits of United States citizenship to Mexican-Americans. But as civil war neared, the federal government proved unable or unwilling to keep its promises. In California, New Mexico, and Texas, many Mexican-Americans were denied the right to vote, lost their lands in court, and often found themselves persecuted, rather than protected, by officers of the law.

On July 13th, 1859, a rancher named Juan Cortina rode into Brownsville, Texas to buy supplies. He was a member of an old, landed Mexican family that had seen its power and influence decline with the arrival of the Americans. On the main street, he saw the city marshall pistol-whipping a Mexican laborer who had once worked for his family. When the sheriff refused to stop, Cortina shot him in the shoulder, swept the prisoner onto the back of his horse and rode off with him.

A little over two months later, with some 75 armed followers, he rode into town again, freed 12 prisoners from jail, seized arms and ammunition, and shot dead three Americans whom he said had killed Mexicans while the law looked the other way. Then, Cortina returned to his ranch and issued a proclamation.

Juan CortinaWhen the State of Texas became... part of the Union, flocks of vampires, in the guise of men, came... with... corrupt hearts and the most perverse intentions... Because... your industry excited... their vile avarice... many of you Mexicans have been robbed of your property, incarcerated... murdered and hunted like wild beasts. Mexicans! Is there no remedy for you?
Juan Nepomuceno Cortina

For several months, despite constant pursuit by American settlers and Mexican national guardsmen, Cortina and his men held onto the lower Rio Grande valley. Sympathetic Mexicans on both sides of the border secretly provided them with food and supplies. "Our personal enemies," Cortina vowed, "shall not possess our lands until they have fattened it with their gore." Finally, the state militia, known as the Texas Rangers, was sent against Cortina.

Ricardo Romo"Well, Juan Cortina was their hero. To the individuals who were the small ranchers and so forth, he was the only one that was able to stand up and say, You're taking our land and now you take away our dignity, and now you mistreat us, you push us around. We've had it. The Texas Rangers didn't allow anyone to sort of rise up as the champion of the people. When you took on the law, you usually got lynched in that border region. And that's exactly what they had intended for him, just to catch him and lynch him as sort of an example of how you don't defy the new government."
Ricardo Romo

The Rangers -- now backed by federal troops -- pursued Cortina's men to Rio Grande City and closed in for the kill.

Cortina was the last to leave the field. He faced his pursuers, emptied his revolver and tried to halt his panic-stricken men... One shot struck the cantle of his saddle, one cut 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. But he galloped off unhurt.
Colonel J. S. Ford

Cortina fled across the Rio Grande. As his legend grew, he and others continued to launch raids on American settlers and steal Texas cattle for another 15 years. The border region remained a "no man's land." Anglos denounced Cortina as a murderous rebel, but to Mexican-Americans he was "the Robin Hood of the Rio Grande."

Ricardo Romo"My grandfather talked about him and my uncle claims him as a relative, and I was sort of struck by that. To every family he was part of us in one way or another. His legend is passed on. His life lives on."
Ricardo Romo

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