“Texans remained in a virtual state of war for nearly fifty years … an Anglo-Texan strategy and a policy … the deliberate ethnic cleansing of … people of color” (Anderson)

Texans remained in a virtual state of war for nearly fifty years, the longest continuous struggle of its kind in American history. Indeed, the fighting subsided only with the defeat of the Comanche and Kiowa during the Red River campaigns of 1874-1875. Although the following statement may seem “presentistic” to some, in hindsight the conflict can be seen for what it was: an Anglo-Texan strategy and a policy (at first haphazard, debated, and even at times abandoned) that gradually led to the deliberate ethnic cleansing of a host of people, especially people of color.[2]

Gary Clayton Anderson, The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005), 7.
  1. [2]To those readers who believe that “presentist” arguments are unfair, I would suggest that as an explanatory model, ethnic cleansing sheds much useful light. And it is well understood. For further reading, see Norman M. Naimark, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001), and George J. Andreopoulos, Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).

Burnet urges Texians to “keep our wives and children … secure from pollution” (Henson)

[104] The new officers took their oaths at 4:00 A.M. Thursday, March 17. Before the session reassembled later that morning, Burnet composed a verbose inaugural address that he delivered to the impatient delegates. After signing their names to the new constitution, most left for home. Burnet remained one more day, issuing bombastic directives. He called on the residents of eastern Texas to “deafen your ears against all rumours,”and instead rally “to the field then, my countrymen, to the standard of liberty, and defend your rights in a manner worthy of your sires and yourselves.” A second proclamation the same day implored Texans to join the army to “keep our wives and children … secure from pollution.” Burnet explained that while the government was moving immediately to Harrisburg, it was not because the enemy was near — it was for “the common good.” His final exhortation rivaled playwright Richard B. Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop for peculiar syntax: Citizens should “gird up the loins of our minds” and turn back “this impotent invader.”

Margaret Swett Henson, Lorenzo de Zavala: The Pragmatic Idealist (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1996), 104.


“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.