“Racism and prejudice, it is clear, played a fundamental role in encouraging mob violence against Mexicans … [1920s] ‘I would not think of classifying Mexicans as whites'” (Carrigan and Webb)

1920s: “I would not think of classifying Mexicans as whites.” / BB&W 50 (From Taylor interviews.)

Economic competition, although a significant force, does not sufficiently explain the history of anti-Mexican or anti-black mob violence. If mobs had considered only economics, they would have been just as likely to murder or expel any group standing in their way. But, in fact, mobs specially targeted Mexicans in the southwestern United States. Racism and prejudice, it is clear, played a fundamental role in encouraging mob violence against Mexicans. Mexicans were portrayed as a cruel and treacherous people with a natural proclivity toward criminal behavior. Racist stereotypes abounded in private correspondence, contemporary literature, and the popular media. “The lower class of Mexicans, on the west coast, appear to be a dark, Indian-looking race, with just enough of the Spanish blood, without its appropriate intelligence, to add a look of cunning to their gleaming, treacherous eyes, wrote Theodore T. Johnson in 1849.[54] In April, 1872, the Weekly Arizona Miner exclaimed: “Bad Mexicans never tire of cutting throats, and we are sorry to be compelled to say that good Mexicans are rather scarce.”[55] These assumptions, legitimated by pseudoscientific research, remained prevalent well into the twentieth century. A track foreman interviewed in the late 1920s in Dimmit County, Texas, observed: “They are an inferior race. I would not think of classing Mexicans as whites.”[56]

William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, "Muerto por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown): Mob Violence against Blacks and Mexicans," in Beyond Black & White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, edited by Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), 50.

 

 

  1. [54]Theodore T. Johnson, Sights in the Gold Regions and Scenes by the Way (New York: Baker and Scriber, 1849), p. 240. Another early example of Anglo prejudice against Mexicans can be found in T. J. Farham, Life, Travels, and Adventures in California and Scenes in the Pacific Ocean (New York: William H. Graham, 1846), pp. 356-57.
  2. [55]Weekly Arizona Miner, Apr. 26, 1872.
  3. [56]Paul S. Taylor, Mexican Labor in the United States: Dimmit County, Winter Garden District, South Texas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), p. 446 (quote). For additional accounts of prejudicial views towards Mexicans, see Robert Lee Maril, Poorest of Americans: The Mexican Americans of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), pp. 10-11, 30, 33, 41-47, 49, 51-54, 79, 81, 151-55; Américo Paredes, “With His Pistol in His Hand,” in Chicano: The Evolution of a People, ed. by Renato Rosaldo, Robert A. Calvert, and Gustav L. Seligmann, Jr. (Malabar, Fla.: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1982), p. 101; Richard Griswold del Castillo and Arnoldo De León, North to Aztlán: A History of Mexican Americans in the United States (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996), p. 30; Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1914), vol. 1, p. 516; Mark Reisler, “Always the Laborer, Never the Citizen: Anglo Perceptions of the Mexican Immigrant during the 1920s,” in Between Two Worlds: Mexican Immigrants in the United States, ed. by David G. Gutierrez (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1996), pp. 25-29.

“Frustrated at having been beaten out by the lower prices of their Mexican rivals, white competitors resorted to murdering cartmen, driving off their oxen and burning their carts and freight. Economic rivalry with Mexicans continued to inspire retributive action by whites throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” (Carrigan and Webb)

1857: Cart War in context of Anglo lynchings of Mexicans. / BB&W 49

Although the California gold rush witnessed some of the worst acts of mob violence against Mexicans, whites also resorted to savagery–in order to secure economic supremacy–on other occasions. Actions during the Texas “Cart War” of 1857 exemplify this. During the 1850s, Texas businessmen developed a freight-hauling service between Indianola and San Antonio. Frustrated at having been beaten out by the lower prices of their Mexican [50] rivals, white competitors resorted to murdering cartmen, driving off their oxen and burning their carts and freight. Economic rivalry with Mexicans continued to inspire retributive action by whites throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1898, a group of Gonzales, Texas men–probably poor white sharecroppers in competition with Mexican immigrants–posted this warning: “Notice to the Mexicans. You have all got ten days to leave in. Mr. May Renfro and brother get your Mexicans all off your place. If not, you will get the same they do. Signed, Whitecaps.” In the 1920s, alarm at the increasing number of Mexican laborers who settled in the Rio Grande valley contributed to the growth of the local Ku Klux Klan.[53]

William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, "Muerto por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown): Mob Violence against Blacks and Mexicans," in Beyond Black & White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, edited by Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), 49ff.
  1. [53]Waco Times-Herald, Feb. 17, 1898; David J. Weber, ed., Foreigners in their Native Land: Historical Roots of the Mexicans (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973), p. 153; George P. Garrison, Texas: A Contest of Civilizations (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1973), p. 274; Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1914), vol. 1, pp. 515-16; J. Fred Rippy, The United States and Mexico (New York: F. S. Crofts & Co., 1931), pp. 179-80; Charles C. Alexander, The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965), p. 24. For further evidence of economic competition precipitating mob violence, see Mary Romero, “El Paso Salt War: Mob Action or Political Struggle?” Aztlán 16, nos. 1-2 (1985): 119-38.