“Menchaca was comparatively well off, but only in relation to a San Antonio Tejano population undergoing a significant downward trend in economic status from landowners to a working underclass.” (Matovina and de la Teja)

1840-1850: Census documentation of declining Tejanx economic position

The 1840 census of the Republic of Texas recorded him as holding one town lot in San Antonio, presumably the location of his private residence, and two horses. He was also the agent of record for his widowed mother, who owned one town lot. After U.S. annexation of Texas, his level of prosperity remained relatively constant. In 1840, on the first U.S. census conducted in San Antonio, he was listed as a “merchant” who owned real estate valued at $2,000; a newspaper report from seven years later mentions Menchaca as one owner of transport carts loaded with goods that left San Antonio for the coast under armed guard during the infamous Cart War.[26]

[15] Still, in comparison to other San Antonio Tejanos, Menchaca’s retention of his homestead and mercantile interests placed him ahead of many contemporaries. Although incomplete, the census of 1840 showed that Tejanos owned 85.1 percent of the town lots in San Antonio, along with 63.8 percent of all land acreage titled to local residents. According to the 1850 census, they owned only 9.1 percent of real estate values claimed. Similarly, in 1830, when Tejanos comprised nearly all the population of San Antonio, the census showed that most residents were farmers and only 14.8 percent were laborers. No employment listings were given in the 1840 census, but in 1850, 61.4 percent of the Tejano population was in labor positions. Menchaca was comparatively well off, but only in relation to a San Antonio Tejano population undergoing a significant downward trend in economic status from landowners to a working underclass.[27]

Menchaca did not complacently accept the woes of his fellow Tejanos. He was a frequent witness for Tejano parties in court cases, particularly for veterans seeking the compensation due them by law for military service in the Texas Revolution. Convinced that the just claims of many Tejano veterans had been denied or unduly delayed as compared to the more prompt approvals their Anglo-American counterparts received, Menchaca was one of nineteen Tejano signers in 1875 of a letter to the Texas comptroller of [16] public accounts that sought to “disabuse [Comptroller Stephen H. Darden’s mind of any prejudice” against Tejano veterans and that demanded for themselves and their comrades “simply justice and nothing more.” His support of fellow Tejanos was so strong that apparently he did not even hold grudges against those who supported the Mexican side in the Texas Revolution. For example, he provided a deposition to support the legal claims of Francisco Esparza, a San Antonio native who, unlike his Alamo-defender brother Gregorio, had opted to fight in the Mexican army during the December 1835 Texan siege of San Antonio and was on reserve with the Mexican forces during Santa Anna’s Texas campaign. James Newcomb summed up Menchaca’s leading role as a legal advocate when he quipped that “in later years, when the titles to almost every foot of ground in the old city and county of Bexar were litigated in the courts, Captain Menchaca became a standing witness to prove up the genealogy of the old families.”[28]

Matovina and de la Teja, “Introduction: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History,” in Antonio Menchaca, Recollections of a Tejano Life: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History, edited by Timothy Matovina and Jesús F. de la Teja, with the collaboration of Justin Poché (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013)., 14-16.

  1. [26][…] Gifford White, ed., The 1840 Census of the Republic of Texas, 15; V. K. Carpenter, comp. The State of Texas Federal Population Schedules Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, entry no. 179, 1:121; San Antonio Herald, 25 September 1857, p. 2. For a brief overview of the Cart War, see John J. Linn, Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas, 352-354; J. Fred Rippy, “Border Troubles along the Rio Grande, 1848-1860,” 103-104; Larry Knight, “The Cart War: Defining American in San Antonio in the 1850s,” 319-336.
  2. [27]White, ed., The 1840 Census of the Republic of Texas, 12-18; Carpenter, comp., State of Texas Seventh Census, 1:111-189; White, 1830 Citizens of Texas, 79-112. The downward trend in socioeconomic fortunes of Bexareños was not unique, either to Texas or to the Southwest generally. Arnoldo De León, in The Tejano Community, 1836-1900, was the first to explore this theme in a major work, not from the perspective of victimization, but from that of resistance and self-assertion. David Montejano, in confirming De León’s findings, expanded the focus to include the legalistic dynamics of Tejano marginalization in the nineteenth century in Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986. Beyond Texas, Richard Griswold del Castillo, in The Los Angeles Barrio, 1850-1890: A Social History, and Albert Camarillo, in Chicanos in a Changing Society: From Mexican Pueblos to American Barrios in Santa Barbara and Southern California, 1848-1930, trace the very similar processes at work in southern California during the nineteenth century. Even in New Mexico, where they remained such a large percentage of the population, Laura E. Gómez demonstrates in Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race that Mexican Americans faced socioeconomic decline. In all these cases, the result was the formation and reinforcement of a distinctly Mexican-based identity.
  3. [28]Antonio Menchaca, deposition, 1 January 1856, Antonio Fuentes file, and deposition, 28 July 1856, Carlos Espalier file, both in Memorials and Petitions, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin; Juan N. Seguín, “Application for Pension,” 2 October 1874, in Seguín, Revolution Remembered, ed. De la Teja, 2nd ed., 187-188; Tejano citizens to Stephen H. Darden, 12 January 1875, in James M. Day, ed., “Texas Letters and Documents,” 84; Menchaca, deposition, 24 August 1860, Court of Claims voucher file no. 2557 (Francisco Esparza), Texas General Land Office, Austin; Newcomb, introduction to Memoirs, by Antonio Menchaca, ed. Chabot, 11.

“The conflict in Texas was over land” (Anderson)

I argue, however, that the situation in Texas fails to rise to the level of genocide, if genocide is defined as the intentional killing of nearly all of a racial, religious, or cultural group. I seek to draw an important distinction from it. […] Texans would have been pleased had the groups they wanted removed simply left without violence. But these groups did not. The conflict in Texas was over land; indiscriminate killing, while common during the fighting, never became a prolonged, strategic, state policy on either side. […] The ethnic conflict continued in Texas because Anglos wanted it to; ethnic cleansing, not genocide, became state policy.

Gary Clayton Anderson, The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005), 7.

“said land shall not be … within four miles of the residence or improvements of any white inhabitant of this State” (Alabama Indians Relief Act, 1854)

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas, that twelve hundred and eighty acres of vacant and unappropriated land, situated in either Polk or Tyler counties, or both, to be selected by the Chiefs of the Alabama Indians and the Commissioners hereinafter named, be, and the same is hereby set apart for the sole use and benefit of, and as a home for the said tribe of Indians….

Sec. 3. That said land shall not be selected or located within four miles of the residence or improvements of any white inhabitant of this State. And that said Indians shall not alien, lease, rent, let, give or otherwise dispose of said land or any part thereof to any person whatsoever. And should the State of Texas hereafter provide a home for said tribe of Indians, and settle them thereon, then the said twelve hundred and eighty acres of land, with its improvements, shall become the property of the State.

“An Act for the relief of the Alabama Indians,” February 3, 1854. H. P. N. Gammel, The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, Vol. 4 (Austin, Texas: Gammel's Book Store, 1898), 68 (link).

 

“the tribulations of a valiant people … our Americans, who with base, aggressive pretexts want to uproot from this classic land its legitimate people” (Navarro)

These motives and the urging of some of my friends, who have desired to know about the most important contemporaneous events that happened in our city, have persuaded me to write this brief chronicle.

I do not write for the heartless nor for the egoists–to whom the glories and misfortunes of men of another origin and language matter little or not at all. I write for the humanitarian and cultured who understand how to respect and empathize with the tribulations of a valiant people who have struggled in the midst of their own ignorance guided only by an instinct for their liberty, against enemies so superior that they may be placed alongside the most free and fortunate nations of all mankind–such as the nation with the flag of stars. I write in order to inform our Americans, however indignant some of them among us may be, who with base, aggressive pretexts want to uproot from this classic land its legitimate people who are the descendants of those who fifty years ago spilled their blood searching for the liberty of which we now vaingloriously boast.

José Antonio Navarro, Defending Mexican Valor in Texas: José Antonio Navarro’s Historical Writings, 1853-1857, ed. David R. McDonald and Timothy M. Matovina (Austin: State House Press, 1995), 63.

Estos motivos y las instancias de algunos de mis amigos que han deseado saber los mas importantes sucesos contemporaneos acaecidos en nuestra ciudad, me han decidido á escribir esta sucinta crònica.

No la hago para las almas pequeñas, ni para los egoistas, que poco ó nada les importan las glorias ó desgracias de hombres de otro origen y lenguaje; la hago para los filántropos y cosmopòlitas, que saben apreciar y condolerse de las vicisitudes de un pueblo valiente, que ha luchado enmedio de su propia ignorancia y por solo el instinto de su libertad, con enemigos tan superiores; [6] por tal de ponerse al nivel de los hombres mas libres y dichosos del genero humano, como son los que cubre el pabellon de las estrellas: la hago para que sepa nuestro pueblo Americano, cuan indignamente hay algunos entre nosotros, que con pretextos mesquinos é ingratos quieren extirpar de este suelo clásico, á los legítimos señores y descendientes de los que hace como medio siglo que derramaron su sangre, buscando esa libertad de que hacemos jactancia.

José Antonio Navarro, Apuntes historicos interesantes de San Antonio de Bexar (San Antonio de Bexar: publicados por varios de sus amigos, 1869), 5-6. Reprinted in José Antonio Navarro, Defending Mexican Valor in Texas: José Antonio Navarro’s Historical Writings, 1853-1857, ed. David R. McDonald and Timothy M. Matovina (Austin: State House Press, 1995).

 

“That year I got 160 acres of land” (Tafolla)

In the same year, the war broke out between the United States and the Confederate States, and when the army was set to march out of the state of Texas, Sergeant McDonald deserted, came to where I was, and sold the cows. […] That year I got 160 acres of land, which was the amount the state of Texas was granting to every citizen who was a head of household. I built a ranch on a particular branch of Privilege Creek which is called Bear Creek. I lived there for some time with my brothers-in-law, who’d come to live with us there in Bandera County. J.P. Rodríguez had established a ranch on the main branch of Privilege Creek approximately two miles from mine.

Santiago Tafolla, A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Confederate. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press. Edited by Carmen Tafolla and Laura Tafolla. Translated by Fidel L. Tafolla. 63.

Land: Tafolla qualifies for headright land 1861.

“this race of men who, as the legitimate proprietors of this land, lost it together with their lives and their hopes” (Navarro)

Mexican independence, germinated in the blood of these martyrs, was finally declared in September 1821.

But what ingratitude! Not one single murmur ever crossed the mountains of Anahuac [Mexico City] to console the broken remnant of those brave patriots. Such is the end for heroes! Perhaps their renown would be more complete if they were to receive the miserable compensation due from their fellow men. To complete the picture of misfortune, the few descendants who survive in San Antonio are disappearing, murdered in full view of a people [un pueblo] who boast of their justice and excellence.

Consolación Leal, heroine of those days, died a few months ago, killed by a Spaniard, and Antonio Delgado was riddled by bullets from the rifle of an American bastard.

May Divine Providence use these historical commentaries to stir generous hearts to treat with more respect this race of men [esa raza de hombres] who, as the legitimate proprietors of this land, lost it together with their lives and their hopes, to follow in the footsteps of those very ones who now enjoy the land in the midst of peace and plenty.

Jose Antonio Navarro, “Commentaries of Historical Interest,” in Defending Mexican Valor in Texas: Jose Antonio Navarro’s Historical Writings, 1853-1857. Edited and translated by David R. McDonald and Timothy M. Matovina. Austin, Tex.: State House Press. 76.

“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.

Damacio Jimenez, defender of the Alamo, and Tejano headright claim

Tejano defender of the Alamo, heirs attempted to file for war bounty land claim in 1861 [supported by Seguin; petition was denied for non-payment of fees]: Damacio Jimenez.[26]

In its Constitution of 1861, Texas once again opened its court systems for worthy citizens and/or Texas revolutionary war veterans to petition for land, and, as in the Constitution of 1845, a two-year limitations period was imposed.[10]

The 1861 term of court saw such a claim: the descendants of Damacio Jimenez, defender of the Alamo, came forward and petitioned in open court for a headright claim of land as promised by the Constitution of Texas.[11]

 

 

 

  1. [26]Raul Casso IV, “Damacio Jimenez: The Lost and Found Alamo Defender,” in Southwestern Historical Quarterly 96 (July 1992 – April 1993): 87-92.
  2. [10]Texas Constitution of 1861, article XI, sec. 2, in Vernon’s Annotated Constitution, 594.
  3. [11]Headright Book 2, pp. 370-373.

Anglo-Mexican Class Structure in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley

From David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, pp. 34-36.

Although the American presence generally represented a new class in an old Mexican society, it did not completely transform the traditional authority structure. On the contrary, the American merchants and lawyers merely affixed themselves atop the Mexican hierarchy. In some cases they intermarried and became an extension of the old elite. For individual families of the Mexican elite, intermarriage was a convenient way of containing the effects of Anglo military victory on their status, authority, and class position. For the ambitious Anglo [35] merchant and soldier with little capital, it was an easy way of acquiring land. The social basis for postwar governance, in other words, rested on the class character of the Mexican settlements.

These settlements were essentially a three-tiered society composed of landed elite, small land owners (rancheros) and peones. San Antonio in the 1830s, for example, was a highly structured class society. At the top were the prominent landed families, who lived in spacious flat-roofed stone houses; below them were the rancheros, who spent the greater part of their days working their cattle and horses and whose small adobe homes usually consisted of one sparsely furnished room; and at the bottom tier of the class order were the laborers, or jornaleros, who lived in jacales, which were nothing more than mud houses with thatched roofs.[34] A prominent contemporary of the period, José María Rodríguez, described the “great distinction between the east and west side of the [San Antonio] river” in the following manner: “The west side of the river was supposed to be the residence of the first families here, and the descendants of the Indians and Spanish soldiers settled on the east side of the river. . . . Most of the Canary Islanders who lived on this [west] side took great pride in preventing any marriage with mixed races and when one did mix he lost his caste with the rest.”[35] Although frontier conditions made this caste system somewhat fluid, and families could in generations pass from one caste to another, the lines themselves were quickly drawn. Moreover, they were distinctions that the American pioneers were quick to recognize and accept. Ample evidence points to an early accommodation between old and new elites. Although initially outside this Spanish-Mexican structure, the Anglo-Saxon pioneers were accepted–depending on their class, of course–as equals by the “Spanish” elite.[36] By 1842, however, only six years after independence, the peaceful accommodation that had characterized Mexican-Anglo relations collapsed. The loss of land, the flight of the Mexican elite, and the Mexican War a few years later quickly eroded the influence of Mexicans.

In spite of this, San Antonio after the Civil War still had appearances, according to one resident, of a village “typical of Mexico then.” The “early Americans” had become acclimated, had intermarried in many instances, “and in turn kept up many of the customs of this quaint old Spanish town.” The town of about ten or twelve thousand inhabitants had a mingling of American, German, and French colonists with a large Mexican population. In the plaza could be heard “a babble of voices from three or four languages” but “almost everyone spoke Spanish and most of the business was conducted in this common language.” The resident observer concluded [36] that “the political border was at the Rio Grande, but Military Plaza was the commercial and social border between the countries.”[37]

The Rio Grande settlements south and west of San Antonio differed little in their social structure. . . .

 

  1. [34] Caroline Remy, “Hispanic-Mexican San Antonio: 1836-1861,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 71, no. 4 (April 1968): 567.
  2. [35] Rodríguez, Memoirs of Early Texas, p. 37.
  3. [36] Chabot, With the Makers; Remy, “Hispanic-Mexican San Antonio,”pp. 566-567; William Bollaert, William Bollaert’s Texas, ed. W. Eugene Hollon and Ruth Lapham Butler.
  4. [37] William J. Knox, The Economic Status of the Mexican Immigrant in San Antonio, Texas, pp. 3-5.