“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.

“Baptismal and census records list her variously as a ‘mestiza,’ ‘mulata,’ ‘loba,’ or ‘coyote,’ … Mariano was also one of those individuals who experienced gradual ‘whitening’ over time, early records recording his status as a ‘coyote’ or ‘mestizo,’ but later records referring to him as an ‘español.'” (Matovina and de la Teja)

Family

José Antonio Menchaca was a fourth-generation Tejano, the son of Juan Mariano Menchaca and María de la Luz Guerra. According to the parish baptismal register, Father Gavino Valdez baptized the eight-day-old José Antonio on 17 January 1800.[8] Although in the years before his death in 1879 he would claim descent from the wrong first settlers of San Antonio, he was nevertheless correct that his ancestors were among the town’s founders.

[5] It is a shame that Antonio apparently was unaware of his family’s colorful roots in his beloved San Antonio. Both of his maternal great-grandfathers were soldiers in the city’s earliest days. Antonio Guerra was one of the men Governor Martín de Alarcón recruited in Monclova for his 1718 expedition to found a settlement on the San Antonio River, and between 1718 and sometime in the 1740s Guerra served in the presidio company there. Whether he was married before or after he came to San Antonio is not clear, but he and his wife, Catarine Jiménez Menchaca, had at least four children during his enlistment. Having made his life in San Antonio, Guerra lived out his retirement among his children and grandchildren, passing away in the spring of 1759.[9]

Among Antonio and Catarina’s children was Antonio’s grandfather, José Joaquín Guerra, who was baptized in San Antonio on 19 February 1735 and buried there on 19 April 1790. Little is known of Joaquín, who for at least part of his adult life made a living as one of the civilian assistants at Mission San Antonio de Valero. On the few occasions that he appears in the town’s and mission’s sacramental records, he is listed as a “mestizo,” a “mulato,” or, as in his burial record, a “coyote.” Likewise, his wife, María Guadalupe de Ávila, who had at least twelve children with him between 1763 and 1781, is recorded as a “mestiza” or a “mulata” in the sacramental records. That the children of soldiers who appear in the records as españoles (Spaniards) were later identified as being of mixed blood is not surprising, for in the eastern frontier provinces of New Spain, there was a tendency to equate military service with pure Spanish blood.[10] The [6] magic that an officer could perform with a pen on behalf of his soldiers, improving their calidad (quality) to that of Spaniards, generally did not extend to their children after they moved out on their own or even to themselves following their retirement.[11]

Antonio’s grandmother, María Guadalupe de Ávila, was the daughter of Antonio’s other great-grandfather, Felipe de Ávila, who came from Saltillo, Mexico, and entered military service in San Antonio in 1722. An enlisted man, Ávila has the distinction of having been involved in a 1730 homicide that led to the oldest recorded criminal investigation in San Antonio’s history. According to the testimony, Ávila found his wife, Ildefonsa (or Aldonza) Rincón, naked in bed with Nicolás Pasqual, and there was an altercation during which Pasqual stabbed Ávila, who was saved by his brother-in-law and next-door neighbor, Sabatián Rincón. A few weeks later there was a second confrontation during which Ávila shot Pasqual dead. Found not guilty of murder, he was nevertheless ordered transferred to Presidio del Río Grande, and he then disappears from the record. His family remained in San Antonio, where his sons went on to serve in the presidio and acquire property and his daughter María Guadalupe married Joaquín Guerra.[12]

[7] Among the dozen children born to María Guadalupe Ávila and Joaquín Guerra between 1763 and 1785 was María de la Luz Guerra, Antonio’s mother. Luz’s marriage to Mariano Menchaca produced ten children, of whom Antonio was the sixth. Like the other children of early soldiers, Luz appears in the documents as being of mixed blood. Baptismal and census records list her variously as a “mestiza,” “mulata,” “loba,” or “coyote,” and all but the last two of her children are similarly identified in the baptismal registers as “mestizos,” “coyotes,” “lobos,” or “tresalvas.”[13] Sometime between 1820 and 1830 she became widowed, and, as Antonio relates, she lived into the 1840s.[14]

At the time of his death sometime in the 1820s, when he was in his mid-to late sixties, Antonio’s father, Mariano Menchaca, had achieved a measure of prosperity. Having opted not to follow his father into military service as other Bexareños (residents of the San Antonio de Béxar area) did in the last decades of Spanish rule, Mariano rounded up horses and cattle as opportunities arose and otherwise hired out for agricultural work. The last Spanish colonial census of San Antonio, taken in 1820, lists Mariano as a resident of the barrio del sur, that is, the town’s south ward, which extended south from what are today Dolorosa and Market Streets between San Pedro Creek and the San Antonio River. It also indicates that he was a labrador, or landholding farmer. Taking Antonio at his word that the family was in San Antonio in 1813 when Joaquín Arredondo entered the city following the battle of Medina, Mariano appears to have been one of the many residents of the city who avoided becoming entangled in the bloody rebellion against Spanish rule. Mariano was also one of those individuals who experienced gradual “whitening” over time, early records recording his status as a “coyote” or “mestizo,” but later records referring to him as an “español.”[15]

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)., 4-7.

  1. [8]Entry 450, San Fernando Cathedral Baptisms, book 5, San Fernando Cathedral Archives, Archdiocese of San Antonio Chancery (hereafter SF followed by the type of register and book number).
  2. [9]Autos sobre diferentes noticias que se han participado a su Exa. de las entradas que en estos dominios hacen los franceses por la parte de Coahuila y providencias dadas para evitárselas y fundación de la misión en la provincia de los Texas, 1715, Provincias Internas, vol. 181, Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City, Mexico (hereafter PI); Autos sobre las providencias dadas por su ex., al gobernador de la provincia de Texas para la pacificación de los Indios Apaches y sus aliados, 1731, PI vol. 32; Autos a consulta de dn. Thoribio de Urrutia Capn. del Presidio de Sn. Antonio de Vejar en la Provincia de Texas, sobre aumento de soldados, y otras providencias que pide, para contener los insultos que hacen los Indios Apaches; sobre que también instó D. Joseph de Urrutia su Pe. difunto, PI vol. 32; Testamentary Proceedings for Joseph Urrutia, Bexar, 27 February 1741, Bexar Archives, Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (hereafter these archives are cited as BA); entry 89, SF Marriages, book 4a; entry 224, SF Burials, book 4b.
  3. [10]Unnumbered entry for 19 February 1735, entries 73, 135, 209, 287, 385, 497, 653, 790, 1042, 1274, 1368, 1550, SF Baptisms, book 4;
    entry 1368, SF Burials, book 10; criminal case against Roque, Anselmo, Francisco, and Mateo, Indians of Mission Valero, for the murder of Miguel Leal, 11 August 1778, BA. In northeastern New Spain, including Texas, mestizo and coyote were interchangeable terms denoting an individual of mixed Spanish-Indian blood. Elsewhere in New Spain, the term coyote denoted someone of mestizo-Indian parentage. A mulato was the offspring of a Spanish-black union. The label español was itself often compounded with the adjectives americano for individuals born in the New World and europeo for those born in Europe. Moreover, one need not be from Spain to be an español, as the term was commonly applied to anyone of European blood.
  4. [11]On the role of race in frontier military society, see Jesús F. de la Teja, “Why Urbano and María Trinidad Can’t Get Married: Social Relations in Late Colonial San Antonio.” See also De la Teja, San Antonio de Béxar: A Community on New Spain’s Northern Frontier, 24-28.
  5. [12]Autos a consulta hecha del Pe. Fr. Joseph González, Misionero del Presidio de San Antonio Balero Contra el Capitán Don Nicolás Flores por los motivos que expresa, PI vol. 32; Causa criminal hecha pr. muerte de Nicolás Pasqual contra Felipe de Ávila, Trinidad, 12 April 1730, PI vol. 32; Donación de un solar a Aldonza Rincón y otro a Blas de Ávila, 29 July 1765, Land Grants, Spanish Archives, Bexar County Clerk’s Office, San Antonio, microfilm roll 64 (hereafter BCSA); Donación de un solar a Juan Bautista de Ávila, 22 March 1774, BCSA Land Grants, microfilm roll 64; Census list of Villa, 31 December 1792, Nacogdoches Archives Transcripts, Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (hereafter these transcripts are cited as NAT); Blas de Ávila, vecino del presidio de S. Antonio de Béxar, sobre haberle quitado por el gobernador un pedazo de tierra para mercenarla al cura. Año de 1778, Archivo de Gobierno, Saltillo Legajo 5 expediente 303, in Spanish Materials from Various Sources, vol. 840, no. 4, Briscoe Center for American History,
    University of Texas at Austin; Padrón de las familias y almas que hay en esta Villa de San Fernando de Austria [sic], fecho en 31 December 1796, BA.
  6. [13]A lobo was an individual of Indian and mulatto parentage, while the meaning of the word tresalva is lost.
  7. [14]Entries 73, 135, 209, 287, 385, 497, 653, 790, 1042, 1274, 1425, 1542, 1677, SF Baptisms, book 4, and entries 55, 227, 310, 450, 585, 731, 830, 995, SF Baptisms, book 5; Pardón general, Béxar año de 1790, BA; Padrón de las almas que existen, 31 December 1792, NAT; Padrón de las almas que hay en esta villa, 31 December 1793, BA.
  8. [15]Cuaderno en que se sientan las partidas de el derecho que pagan los que cogen reses orejanas y caballerías mesteñas correspondientes al predicho año. 31 December 1784, BA; Cuaderno en que se sientan las partidas de el dro. que pagan los que cogen reses orejanas y cabellerís mesteñas en el discurso de el predicho año. 31 December 1793, BA; Census, barrio del sur, 1820, BA.

“the marks of a long line of Castilian ancestors” (Newcomb, qtd. in Matovina and de la Teja)

Depictions of Menchaca focusing primarily on his military exploits and his “American” loyalties continued beyond his own lifetime. In the introduction to the partial publication of Menchaca’s reminiscences in the San Antonio weekly the Passing Show, his longtime acquaintance James P. Newcomb avowed that the Tejano’s “sympathies carried him into the ranks of the Americans.” Newcomb even went so far as to describe Menchaca’s physical characteristics as bearing “the marks of a long line of Castilian ancestors,” rhetorically severing Menchaca from both his Tejano loyalties and his Mexican heritage. Similarly, the obituary of Menchaca published in the San Antonio Express declared that he was “born a Mexican” but that “when the Texas war for independence came on, Don Antonio was found upon the side of our people, a contestant for that liberty and those privileges of citizenship which are bequeathed to the American.” Claims such as these reveal a larger pattern regarding some Tejanos and others deemed loyal to the Texas or U.S. causes. James Crisp notes similar rhetorical commentaries regarding nineteenth-century Tejanos like José Antonio Navarro, whose patriotism led Anglo-Americans to claim that he was “not of the abject race of Mexicans,” but rather “a Corsican of good birth,” that is, a european. In more contemporary times, Edward Linethal shows that public ceremonies at the Alamo continue to mediate a message of “patriotic conversion” whereby through courage in battle those of diverse backgrounds leave behind their ancestral heritage to become Texans and Americans.[4]

Timothy Matovina and Jesús F. 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)., 2.

  1. [4]James P. Newcomb, introduction to Memoirs, by Antonio Menchaca, ed. Frederick C. Chabot, 11; San Antonio Express, 2 November 1879, p. 4; Northern Standard (Clarksville), 6 March 1845, as cited in James Ernest Crisp, “Anglo-Texan attitudes toward the Mexican, 1821-1845,” 402; Edward Tabor Linenthal, Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields, 61-62.