restricted access Chapter Nine: Caudillo Vanquished

From: Cortina

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Leaving the rigid bugler there, Slow swaying ’neath the tree; A Warning to all Greasers, who May that way to be. Texas Rang er Ball ad A lthough no longer in command of the military on the Rio Grande, Cortina remained a general in the army, and he set his sights on obtaining political power in Matamoros. He had always been popular in the city, and, in November 1873, he began campaigning for the office of president of the ayuntamiento, or alcalde. From the beginning, he faced two formidable opponents: Gen. Pedro Hinojosa, who was a native of Tamaulipas and who had fought with the Liberals and served as secretary of war; and Juan Trevi ño Canales, who enjoyed the support of Servando Canales, governor of the state. In an intensely bitter campaign, General Hinojosa withdrew, leaving Cortina and Canales to hurl “accusations of fraud” at each other. Although the two had been political allies, they now turned on each other with a viciousness rare even for the border. Disorder and chaos became common as heavily armed supporters of both candidates paraded the streets, and both men accused the other of instigating violence. On election day, December 14, Cortina managed to squeak out a narrow victory. Only hours after the polls closed, however, rumors circulated that the city officials responsible for certifying the election, who were known to be Canales partisans, were refusing to acknowledge Cortina as the victor. As the moment approached to certify the winner, the areas in front of city hall on Plaza Hidalgo and around the nearby streets were full of hundreds of boisterous and heavily armed partisans. While bands played and loyalists waved flags and banners, many in the city feared a general riot. In fact, the American consul predicted yet another “general revolution” in Tamaulipas. Chapter Nine CaudilloVanquished 220 c h ap t e r n i n e On the streets, there were also rumors that the American military was preparing to intervene. When the acting president of the ayuntamiento tried to leave city hall without declaring a winner, angry Cortinistas forced him to return, whereupon he summoned the city police to rescue him. No sooner had the police arrived than a gun battle erupted; two men were killed and thirteen wounded. When it appeared the skirmishing would escalate, Cortina sent his trusted cavalry, Los Águilas, charging into the plaza armed with Winchester repeating rifles. The Eagles were in the process of forcing their way into city hall when several hundred regular soldiers under Col. José Leonides Cristo arrived with two pieces of artillery. After intense negotiations, the Cortinistas agreed to withdraw, but only after Cortina was declared alcalde. It would be weeks, however, before the city returned to normalcy. In power, Cortina used the spoils system to replace all municipal employees , public officials, and police with his loyal supporters. Cortina, one newspaper commented, was known to be “a man of iron will, and his orders are likely to be obeyed and respected.”In time, he opened friendly relations with the city council in Brownsville. Cortina also welcomed Cameron County of- ficials to his office and even feted them to an elaborate champagne dinner. “If they had me over there,” Cortina joked, “I don’t think they would treat me as politely as I have them.” Regardless, he looked to establish bridges. When several prisoners from the Cameron County jail escaped into Mexico, he promised he would hunt them down. Rather than concede the results of the election, Juan Canales and his supporters appealed to the state legislature controlled by the governor, Servando Canales. In a hastily called special session, the legislature declared the results of the election null and void. Always the fighter, Cortina responded by refusing to acknowledge the authority of the legislature. In turn, Governor Canales appealed to the central government. Cortina was consequently informed he must relinquish either his military commission or his position as head of the ayuntamiento. As was his custom, he refused to respond and played for time. Out of patience and hearing an endless litany of complaints coming from the border, Lerdo ordered the military to remove him by force. In Texas, Americans continued to accuse Cortina of complicity in cattle rustling, saying that, in early March 1874, three hundred head of cattle had been crossed at Las Rucias. Such accusations were not surprising given the related assertion that Cortina kept a lawless, desperate group of recognized criminals around him...


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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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