“Mexicans are different to negroes and are recognized as Americans.” “Money Whitens” (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, 84-85:

Landed Mexicans represented the complicating factor in the Mexican-Anglo relations of the frontier period. Even during the worst times of Mexican banditry, the permanent Mexican residents who were landowners were seen as “good citizens” while the large “floating” population temporarily employed on ranches were seen as sympathizers of the raiders.[27] Similar distinctions were made in the less dramatic, daily encounters. For example, in her first trip to Corpus Christi in 1870, Mrs. Susan Miller of Louisiana stopped at the State Hotel and “was horrified to see Mexicans seated at the tables with Americans. I told my husband I had never eaten with Mexicans or negroes, and refused to do so. He said ‘Mexicans are different to negroes and are recognized as Americans. However, I will speak to the manager and see if he will not put a small table in one corner of the room for you. He did so and we enjoyed our meal.”[28] Evidence of inconsistent patterns at times comes from ironic sources. They indicate, nonetheless, that not all Mexicans were seen or treated as inferior. In fact, most pioneers, especially merchants and officials, were quite adept at drawing the distinction between the landed “Castilian” elite and the landless Mexican. Thus, L. E. Daniell, author of Successful Men in Texas (1890), described the physical appearance of prominent “Canary Islander” José Maria Rodríguez as “five feet nine inches in height, complexion dark, but not a drop of Indian blood in his veins.” As if to emphasize this point, Daniell added that Rodríguez had ïn his veins the blood of the most chivalric Knights that made the Olvie of Spain respected wherever a Knightly name was known.”[29]

The well-known aphorism about color and class explains the situation on the Mexican frontier–“money whitens.” The only problem for upper-class Mexicans was that this principle offered neither consistent nor permanent security in the border region. Certainly it did not protect them from the racial opinion of many Anglos. One descendant of this upper class described their reaction as follows: “Now that a new country has been established south of the Rio Grande they call our people Mexicans. They are the same people who were called Spaniards only a short time ago. Some say the word in such a bitter way that it sounds as if it were a crime to be a Mexican. My master says he is one, and is proud to be [85] one. That he is a member of the white race, whether he be called Mexican or not.”[30]

[N.B.: The closing quote is from a 1935 “folk history” of the area told from the perspective of a Mesquite tree.]

 

  1. [27] Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Country, p. 69; Graf, “Economic History,” p. 625.
  2. [28] Miller, Sixty Years, pp. 15, 175.
  3. [29] Daniell, Types of Successful Men, p. 340.
  4. [30] Zamora O’Shea, El Mesquite, p. 59.

“The Matter of Race … a race situation,” labor segregation (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, 82-84.

The Matter of Race

Mexican-Anglo relations in the late nineteenth century were inconsistent and contradictory, but the general direction pointed to the formation of a “race situation,” a situation where ethnic or national prejudice provided a basis for separation and control. The paternalism of the Anglo patrones and the loyalty of their Mexican workers did not obscure the anti-Mexican and anti-Anglo sentiments and divisions of the ranch world.

In the late nineteenth century, these race sentiments, which drew heavily from the legacy of the Alamo and the Mexican War, were maintained and sharpened by market competition and property disputes. Every conflict provided an opportunity for a vicarious recreation of previous battles. The Mexican cattle “thieves” of the 1870s, for example, claimed they were only taking “Nana’s cattle”–Grandma’s cattle–and that “the gringos” were merely raising cows for the Mexicans. Texas ranchman William Hale presented the other [83] point of view: “Killing a Mexican was like killing an enemy in the independence war.” Since this was a conflict “with historic scores to settle [Goliad and the Alamo] the killing carried a sort of immunity with it.”[21] The English lady Mary Jaques, who spent two years on a central Texas ranch in the late 1880s, noted in her journal that it was difficult to convince Texans that Mexicans were human. The Mexican “seems to be the Texan’s natural enemy; he is treated like a dog, or, perhaps, not so well.” What especially upset Lady Jaques, however, was the assimilation of such instincts by educated Englishment who had settled in Texas. Describing the commotion over plans to lynch a Mexican, Jaques remarked: “It seems scarcely credible that even a fairly educated Englishman, holding a good position in Junction City, an influential member of the Episcopalian Church, should have become so imbued with these ideas that he … gleefully boasted that he had the promise of the rope on which the ‘beast’ swung, and also of his scalp as a trophy. ‘I have one Mexican scalp already,’ he exclaimed.”[22] For both Anglos and Mexicans, the power of assimilation made actual participation in the Texas Revolution or Mexican War an irrelevant point. These shared memories simply provided a context for the ongoing conflict of the day.

The basic rules regarding Mexicans on many ranches called for a separation of Mexican and Anglo cowboys and a general authority structure in which Anglo stood over Mexican. As Jaques noted in 1889, the Texans ate in the ranch dining room and “would have declined to take their meals with the Mexicans.” The Mexicans, for their part, “camped out with their herds” and cooked their weekly ration of flour, beans, and other groceries.[23] Likewise, underneath the much-discussed paternalism of the King Ranch and the loyalty of the vaqueros was a clear hierarchy of authority along race lines. Trail driver Jeff Connolly of Lockhart, Texas, recalled the days of herding King Ranch cattle to the Red River: “The only white men with the herd were Coleman and myself, the balance of the bunch being Mexicans. All the old-timers know how King handled the Mexicans–he had them do the work and let the white men do the bossing.”[24] Nor were these bosses ordinary “white men.” The ranch foremen and subordinate bosses were, as a rule, former Texas Rangers. An apparent exception to this pattern was Lauro Cavazos, descendent of the San Juan Carricitos grantees. Cavazos worked as foreman of the ranch’s Norias Division, which comprised the old San Juan Carricitos grant.[25] Cavazos, however, was not actually an exception to the postwar authority structure, for there was no problem with Mexicans bossing other Mexicans.

This understanding about authority was carried well into the [84] twentieth century. Again, J. Frank Dobie provides the clearest statement of the practice: on the smaller ranches and stock farms in the Lower Valley, the Mexicans were managed by Anglo owners or bosses; on the larger ranches, the mayordomo (overseer) was usually Anglo, but the caporales (straw bosses) were often Mexican. However, if “white hands” worked alongside Mexicans, then the caporal was “nearly always white.”[26]

 

  1. [21] William Hale, Twenty-Four Years a Cowboy and Ranchman in Southern Texas and Old Mexico, p. 137; John H. Culley, Cattle, Horses, and Men, p. 103; Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Country, pp. 54-56; González, “Social Life,” p. 11; Hunter, Trail Drivers, 2:938-939.
  2. [22] Mary J. Jaques, Texas Ranch Life, pp. 361-362.
  3. [23] Ibid., p. 61.
  4. [24] Hunter, Trail Drivers, 1:187.
  5. [25] Lea, King Ranch, 2:497, 638-639; also 100 Years.
  6. [26] Dobie, “Ranch Mexicans,” p. 168; see also John Hendrix, If I Can Do It Horseback, p. 32.

“The political status of the Mexican in Texas … the right to vote” (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, 39-41.

The second question requiring immediate attention was the political status of the Mexican in Texas. One of the liveliest debates in the Texas Constitutional Convention (1845) concerned whether or not the Mexican should be allowed the right to vote. The debate centered on whether the qualifying adjective ” white” should be retained in the constitutional provisions that described the voters of the state. The Harris County representative argued that the qualifier “white” should be kept, not because he feared the Spaniard; he welcomed them as he welcomed any portion of the Caucasian race that desired to settle in Texas. Rather he feared the mass immigration of “hordes of Mexican Indians”: “Silently they will come moving in; they will come back in thousands to Bexar, in thousands to Goliad, perhaps to Nacogdoches, and what will be the consequence? Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty thousand may come in here, and vanquish you at the ballot box though you are invincible in arms. This is no idle dream; no bugbear; it is the truth.”[47] The proposal failed, however, because of opposition by several Anglo-Texan allies and protectors of the Texas Mexican elite (like Col. Henry Kinney of Corpus Christi). José Antonio Navarro of San Antonio, the only Texas Mexican (and the only native-born Texan) at the Constitutional Convention, argued eloquently against the proposal.

In spite of the formal defeat of disenfranchisement at the convention, Mexicans in certain districts were denied the vote or allowed only limited participation. Corpus Christi merchant Henry Kinney observed that in several counties the practice immediately after independence had been to withhold the franchise from Mexicans, even though they may have fought against a people “of their own race.” Traveler Frederick Olmsted observed that, if the Mexicans in San Antonio voted, they could elect a government of their own; “such a step would be followed, however, by a summary revolution.”[48] Where Mexicans did have the right to vote, protests and threats from Anglo-Americans were constant reminders of a fragile franchise.

A typical protest was exemplified by a hotly contested election for state representative from Nueces and Webb counties in 1863, where S. Kinney of Corpus Christi lost to Charles Callaghan of Laredo by a margin of thirty-five votes. The Corpus Christi Ranchero noted that Kinney was the choice of fifteen of sixteen voters where the English language was spoken and that “American men in an American country should have a fair showing in shaping the destinies of the country.” The Fort Brown Flag of Brownsville joined in the protest, editorializing that “we are opposed to allowing an ignorant crowd of Mexicans to determine the political questions in this country, where a man is supposed to vote knowingly and thoughtfully.”[49] Disenfranchisement was the usual sentiment of disgruntled losers in electoral politics.

Where Texas Mexicans constituted a significant portion of the male vote, the politicians among the American settlers proceeded to instruct and organize the new voters. A common pattern wast the controlled franchise, where Mexicans voted according to the dictates [40] of the local patrón or boss. Since these political machines delivered sizable blocs of votes in state and national elections, the Anglo patrones acquired influence far beyond that usually accorded “backwater” county politicians.

Generally, the lesser bosses were members of the wealthy Mexican families who had entered the political arena to maintain and defend their traditional status, as in the “subrings” of Brownsville, San Antonio, and El Paso.[50] But in all these instances, including places where Mexicans controlled most offices, as in Starr and Zapata counties, the figure of an Anglo boss legitimized Mexican political involvement. In the 1850s, the specific arrangements varied. Cameron County in the Lower Valley showed a nearly equal division of county commissioner positions. In Webb County, Anglos ran the county while Mexicans ran the city of Laredo. In El Paso County, the pattern was reversed, and Anglos ran the city while Mexicans ran the county.

The role of the Mexican elite as influential politicians was contingent, of course, on the presence of a large Mexican electorate. In San Antonio, where the Mexican population increasingly declined through the nineteenth century, Mexican representation on the city aldermanic council fell at an exponential rate after 1836. In 1837, for example, all but one of the forty-one candidates running for city elections were of Spanish-Mexican descent; a decade later there were only five. Between 1848 and 1866 each aldermanic council included one or two Mexican representatives; after 1866, however, even token representation was rare. Mexican political clubs remained active but constituted minor actors in the city’s affairs. Through the early 1900s, the Mexican voice in city politics was symbolically represented by Anglo officials with family ties to the Mexican upper class–the Lockwoods, Tobins, and Callaghans, for example.[51] The [41] tabulation in Table 1, with city administrations organized roughly in periods of seven to ten years, gives a clear indication of the decline in power of the Mexican elite in San Antonio during the late nineteenth century.[52]

[N.B. how in the Corpus Ranchero, “American” has become a purely ethnic and not a national term; an election in 1863 took place in the Confederacy, after Texas had been two years out of the United States of America.]

  1. [47] Quoted in P.S. Taylor, American-Mexican Frontier, p. 232.
  2. [48] Olmsted, Journey through Texas, p. 163; P.S. Taylor, American-Mexican Frontier, p. 230-234.
  3. [49] Quoted in J. Thompson, “A 19th Century History,” pp. 58-59. Another example is provided by Arnoldo de León, In Re Ricardo Rodriguez.
  4. [50] González, “Social Life,” p. 84; M. T. García, Desert Immigrants, pp. 157-158; De León, Tejano Community, pp. 23-49; J. Thompson, “A 19th Century History,” pp. 5, 28-31.
  5. [51] Remy, “Hispanic-Mexican San Antonio,” pp. 570; De León, Tejano Community, pp. 25, 28, 30-34.
  6. [52] This table was organized from information compiled by August Santleban, who attached an appendix of San Antonio’s city officials to his memoirs. The ethnicity of an alderman was based on surname, a fairly reliable method. See August Santleban, A Texas Pioneer, pp. 314-321.

Conflicting Evidence on Intermarriage and Selective Enforcement (Neil Foley, Charles Frank Robinson, F. Flores v. The State)

From Neil Foley, “Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line,” in Beyond Black and White. 127, 142

Although many Mexicans had lived in Texas long before Stephen Austin established the first Anglo settlement in 1822, Anglos still regarded Mexicans as alien culturally, linguistically, religiously, and racially. Their status as racially in-between, as partly colored, hybrid people of mixed Indian, Spanish, and African ancestry, made them suspect in the eyes of whites, who feared that Mexicans could breach the color line by marrying both blacks and whites. Although laws existed against race mixing for whites and blacks, no such laws prevented the mixing of Mexicans with both blacks and whites.5

5. Peggy Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of ‘Race’ in Twentieth-Century America,” Journal of American History 83 (June, 1996): 44-69. Mexicans, who were legally “white,”were rarely prosecuted for marrying blacks. For the only case in Texas of a Mexican brought to trial for marrying a black, see F. Flores v. The State, 60 Tex. Crim. 25 (1910); 129 S. W. 1111. I am indebted to Julie Dowling for bringing this case to my attention. See her paper, “Mexican Americans and the Modern Performance of Whiteness: LULAC and the Construction of the White Mexican,” presented at the American Sociological Association annual conference, Anaheim, Calif., August, 2001.

From F. Flores v. The State (1910), in The Texas Criminal Reports Volume 60.

The evidence shows that appellant was a Mexican, or of Spanish extraction. There is no evidence in the record that he had any negro blood in his veins, and his testimony, as far as it goes, excludes the idea that such was the case. The testimony of the woman appellant married, Ellen Dukes, goes to show that she had negro blood in her veins, but within what degree is not shown. She is variously described by the witnesses, and some of them go sufficiently far to say that she looks like a negro. These witnesses state that her physical makeup, and especially the fact that her face and hair, indicate that she was a negro. She testified that she was born and raised in San Antonio and was 31 years of age; that her mother’s name was Refugio Gonzales; that her father’s name was Garmo Dukes; that her mother was Mexican while her father had some negro blood, but she did not know how much negro blood or how much Mexican blood; but that he did have some negro blood in him; that her father’s color was very bright, a great deal brighter in color than herself; that his hair was not kinky or nappy like the ordinary negro–not as much so as was her hair–that it was straighter. Those witnesses who testified to the fact that the woman appellant married was of negro extraction were not aware of how near she was to purity of negro blood; they did not know whether she was within the specified degrees mentioned in article 347 of the Penal Code or not.

From Charles Frank Robinson II, Dangerous Liasons: Sex and Love in the Segregated South

[88] Other interracial couples remained relatively inconspicuous by hiding under the cover of color closeness. Individuals who could cloak their African ancestry could often marry across the color line without alerting state authorities. Even if the state discovered that one of the parties in the relationship had some racial mixture, the state would then have the very difficult task of proving that the individual in question had sufficient black ancestry. Such was the case in Flores v. State (1910). On June 9, 1909, F. Flores and Ellen Dukes married in Angelina County, Texas. Within months after their ceremony, state authorities arrested the couple and charged them with violating the state’s anti-miscegenation law. The state contended that Flores was of Mexican descent, thereby making him [89] a white person for purpose of the statute. Yet Dukes had both Mexican and African origins. In the Angelina County district court trial, Dukes never denied having African ancestry. However, she testified that she did not know how much African ancestry she possessed. According to Dukes, “her mother was Mexican while her father [Garmo Dukes] had some negro blood.”[46]

The state presented Ellen Dukes’s physical appearance as evidence of her guilt. She apparently had rather dark skin and somehwat “kinky hair.” The state also produced witnesses who gave testimony that they believed Dukes to be “a Negro.” These same witnesses further told of conversations that they had had with Flores in which he confirmed to them that he was “a Mexican and had no Negro blood in him.”[47]

The state convicted Flores and Dukes. The couple appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Although the court acknowledged that Dukes had black blood, the court held that the state had failed to prove the degree of it. Dukes did not know when questioned. Neither did any of the state witnesses. According to the high court, the Texas anti-miscegenation law obligated the state to show “that one of the parties had sufficient blood to prohibit the marriage.” Since there was a “reasonable doubt” about Dukes’s percentage of African mixture, the court reversed the lower court verdict.[36]

[92] The case of Marre v. Marre (1914) was another instance when color closeness protected the marital interests of a person involved in an interracial relationship. In 1911, Louis Marre sued for an annulment of his three-year marriage to Agnes E. Nash Marre. Louis claimed not only that he had married Agnes under “duress” but that Agnes was a person of color. A St. Louis Circuit Court found in Louis’s favor, and Agnes appealed. Upon reviewing the case, the Missouri high court could find [93] nothing to substantiate Louis’s claims. The court saw no duress. Although Agnes’s sixty-year-old mother had insisted that Louis marry her daughter, who was pregnant at the time, and allegedly threatened him with bodily harm if he failed to do so, the court did not consider this duress. According to the court, “Mere apprehension of physical or possible physical injury, is not sufficient” to constitute duress.[45]

With regard to the charge of Agnes’s African ancestry, the Missouri Supreme court did not believe that the evidence substantiated the conviction. Agnes and her mother unequivocally denied having any black heritage. They acknowledged that they had a few black friends but argued that their apparently tanned appearance was a result of the Mexican origin of one of their immediate ancestors. Agnes also used the fact of her two sisters having married white men as further evidence of her legal whiteness.

[34] [35]

 

  1. [46] Marre v. Marre, 168 S.W. 636 (1914).
  2. [47]
  3. [36] Flores v. State, 129 S.W. 1111 (1910).
  4. [45] Marre v. Marre, 168 S.W. 636 (1914).
  5. [34]Flores v. State, 129 S.W. 1111 (1910). Also see Marriage Licenses, Angelina County, 641.
  6. [35]Flores v. State, 129 S.W. 1111 (1910).

One way to break down the bipolar model is to note how Anglos and Tejanos, especially elite Tejanos, often collaborated together in the other racial projects of Texas. They quarreled over questions of loyalty to the alliance, but there was an alliance nevertheless. Mexicans brought Angloamericans into Texas largely in order to expel or blockade Indians in order to control the North and insulate the interior from the expanding Comanche empire. The cost of their arrival was Tejano support for a more rigidly racialized and expansive form of plantation slavery. Some elite Tejanos independently aspired to join Mexican Texas to the great Deep South cotton boom. The dynamic system they forged raised anxieties about defection, especially from racially ambiguous lower-class Mexicans. But the development of another, clearly Anglo dominant racial polarity to capture Texas Mexicans is a later product, beginning in the racial troubles of the 1850s-60s, and developing for real in the segregation era of the 1870s-90s as institutions created for other racial projects — Texas Rangers and violent reprisal for alleged rustling/depredations, Jim Crow racial codes, etc. — came to be turned against Texas Mexicans as well as African Americans and Indians.

“I should have thought he was of Spanish origin” – complexions and passing as white (Johnson)

Walter Johnson, Soul By Soul, 156.

Some slaves, however, were “too white to keep.” […] So, too, Robert, who boarded the steamboat that carried him away from slavery and new Orleans as a white man. “I should have thought he was of Spanish origin,” remembered one of his fellow passengers, “he was a man of clear skin and dark complexion.” But more than the way Robert looked, the other passengers remembered the way he acted: “he was very genteely dressed and of a very genteel deportment”; “he had more the appearance of a gentleman than a plebeian”; and, almost every witness noted, “usually seated himself at the first table, high up, and near the ladies.” Robert, it turned out, had once been a waiter, and he used the skills he had learned as a slave, the gentility and sociable palate of the server, to make his way into the confines reserved for the served. […] Robert made it as far as Memphis before being arrested and sent to the slave market in New Orleans, where he very shortly died.

 

The specific historical sites where race was daily given shape (Johnson)

From Walter Johnson, Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, 136.

Historians have riddled that relation into various shapes. Some have argued that slavery was built out of race, that culturally based bias against “blackness” and a religiously determined desire to dominate “heathen” Africans underwrote the economic exploitation of the Atlantic slave trade and American slavery. Others have argued that slavery was first and foremost an economic system, that exploitation preceded racialization, and that racism–presumed inferiority–became important only when a system of social relations faced novel assertions of human equality. As the historian Barbara Jeanne Fields puts it, race was a particularly toxic “byproduct” of the southern mode of production in the “Age of Revolution.” Recently, it has been suggested that both of these descriptions of the relations between economic exploitation and racial domination might be sharpened by attention to everyday life, to the specific historical sites where race was daily given shape.[3]

 

  1. [3] Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes to the Negro, 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968); Barbara Jeanne Fields, “Ideology and Race in American History,” in J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson, eds., Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 143-177; Barbara Jeanne Fields, “Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America,” New Left Review, 181 (1990), 95-118, quotation on 109; Thomas C. Holt, “Marking Race: Race-making, and the Writing of History,” American Historical Review, 50 (1995), 1-20. My approach embarks from the premises outlined by Fields and Holt. I am also indebted to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed., Race, Writing, and “Difference” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986); David Theo Goldberg, ed., Anatomy of Racism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990); Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “African-American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race,” Signs, 17 (1992), 251-274; Michael O’Malley, “Specie and Species: Race and the Money Question in the Nineteenth Century,” Nell Irvin Painter, “Response to Michael O’Malley,” American Historical Review, 99 (1994), 369-408; Colette Guillaumin, Racism, Sexism, Power, and Ideology (London: Routledge, 1995); and Mia Bay, The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas about White People, 1835-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Intermarriage, Mexicanization of Anglo Elites, and Tenuous Legitimacy in the Lower Valley (Montejano)

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, pp. 36-37.

As in San Antonio and Laredo, the acommodation between the old and incoming elites in the Lower Valley manifested itself in tactical marriages. It was customary among the Mexican elite, as Jovita González has noted, that daughters were married at an early age, and not for love, but for family connections and considerations.[42] [37] On the other hand, for the Anglo settler, marrying a Mexican with property interests made it possible to amass a good-sized stock ranch without considerable expense. The Americans and the European immigrants, most of whom were single men, married the daughters of the leading Spanish-Mexican families and made Rio Grande City a cosmopolitan little town. Among those who claimed the Spanish language was their own were families with such surnames as Lacaze, Laborde, Lafargue, Decker, Marx, Block, Monroe, Nix, Stuart, and Ellert. As one Texas Mexican from this upper class recalled: There were neither racial nor social distinctions between Americans and Mexicans, we were just one family. That was due to the fact that so many of us of that generation had a Mexican mother and an American or European father.[43]

[…] For the Anglo settlers, some degree of Mexicanization was necessary for the most basic communication in this region, given the overwhelming number of Mexicans. But such acculturation meant far more than the learning of a language and proper etiquette; it represented a way of acquiring influence and even a tenuous legitimacy in the annexed Mexican settlements. From participation in religious ritualis and other communal activities to becoming family through godparenthood or marriage–such a range of ties servedto create an effective everyday authority, a type that Ranger or army guns alone could not secure.

  1. [42] Jovita González, “Social Life in Cameron, Starr, and Zapata Counties” [M.A. thesis], pp. 27, 58; for intermarriages in Laredo, see R. O. García, Dolores, p. 39.
  2. [43] González, “Social Life,” p. 27.