restricted access Chapter Five: Republic in the Balance

From: Cortina

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Your screams of war should be: Long live the Supreme Constitutional Government! Long live Independence! Long live the State of Tamaulipas! Juan Cort ina I n fewer than five years, through sheer bravado, cunning determination ,and a lot of luck,Juan Cortina had risen from a near illiterate Cameron County ranchero to the pinnacle of power in Tamaulipas. Power had its price, however, and, a few months after proclaiming himself governor, two Frenchmen tried to assassinate him. Although both would-be assassins were immediately seized and executed, the incident served notice that Cortina’s biography would be ultimately etched in blood. Although continuing to strive for recognition from the Liberal government , Cortina realized the republic was on the verge of collapse. Regardless, he was determined to hold on to power in Tamaulipas. He faced a new crisis in late January 1864, when Juárez accepted the resignation of Ruiz but again refused to recognize him. Cortina was at fault for breaking the January 1 agreement with Ruiz, and the president was appointing a military commission headed by Andrés Treviño to govern the state. On January 27, Cortina informed Vidaurri he had no intentions of acquiescing to Juárez’s decree. Not only did he refuse to recognize Treviño, he viewed him “with horror.” Treviño was the worst person Cortina could think of to govern the state because he did not understand the affairs of Tamaulipas any more than Ruiz. “Give up all hope” should be inscribed on the doors of the National Palace, Cortina proclaimed in disgust, taking a line from Dante’s Inferno. Whether Italian literature or affairs south of the border, the stories would have more than a little in common. Chapter Five RepublicintheBalance Republic in the Balance 129 A Whirlwind of Change Afew days after his crushing defeat of Ruiz, Cortina wrote Vidaurri, playing on the old caudillo’s vanity. Tamaulipecos were deeply indebted to Vidaurri, Cortina said, and the two should renew their efforts to expel the Imperialistas. “In a life so new to me,” Cortina continued, he was counting on Vidaurri for protection, especially because the two had developed a “true friendship.” Cortina told the caudillo he was sending a three-man delegation headed by his brother, José María, to Juárez in Saltillo, and they would be stopping in Monterrey. What Cortina did not tell Vidaurri was that José María carried with him over $20,000 in customs receipts, money the Liberal government needed for its depleted treasury and to pay its badly demoralized army. If Cortina could not win Juárez’s allegiance by seizing power in Matamoros, he would purchase it. José María also carried a letter in which Cortina pledged himself as a “patriot and loyal servant to the Supreme Government .” Despite Cortina’s ascendancy to power, the struggle among the Liberals for control of Tamaulipas remained intense. No sooner had Ruiz reached Brownsville than he sent one of his lieutenants and sixty cavalry to Camargo to recruit troops and begin rebuilding his army. Underestimating or deliberately misconstruing Cortina’s popularity on the frontier, Ruiz told Juárez that no one was willing to follow Cortina, and it was only a matter of time before his regime collapsed. All Ruiz needed was one thousand reinforcements and more artillery and he would drive Cortina out of Matamoros. But the reinforcements and artillery never arrived. While the fortunes of the republic continued to fade, Cortina nurtured friendly relations with Vidaurri, seeing the wily Monterrey caudillo as the key to power and success in northeastern Mexico. To placate Vidaurri, Cortina sent one hundred rifles to Monterrey, promising more arms if he could find them. But he refused to relent to Juárez. While promising additional funds, he wrote the president thanking him for warmly receiving José María in Saltillo. However, as a subtle warning, he told Juárez that as soon as he found additional weapons he would double the size of his army in Matamoros to 1,500 men. A number of Americans had even joined his small army, volunteers whom Cortina considered dubbing “Texas Volunteers.” The next day, Cortina wrote the president again to say he was sending José María with another $25,000 and that more money would follow as soon as he was able to bring the customs houses at Reynosa, Camargo, Mier, and Nuevo Laredo under his control. At the same time, Cortina received news that...


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Subject Headings

  • Texas -- History -- 1846-1950.
  • Cortina, Juan N. (Juan Nepomuceno), 1824-1894.
  • Texas -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865.
  • Outlaws -- Mexican-American Border Region -- Biography.
  • Revolutionaries -- Mexican-American Border Region -- Biography.
  • Mexican Americans -- Civil rights -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Lower Rio Grande Valley (Tex.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Mexican-American Border Region -- History -- 19th century.
  • Mexican-American Border Region -- History, Military -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- Ethnic relations -- History -- 19th century.
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