Arredondo: Last Spanish Ruler of Texas and Northeastern New Spain by Bradley Folsom
While Mexican forces under Santa Anna were preparing to attack Texas rebels at the Alamo, an officer asked what was to be done with prisoners. "The example of Arredondo," was the general's curt reply. The reference was to the Battle of Medina some twenty-three years before, during which forces under Joaquín de Arredondo ruthlessly defeated the MageeGutiérrez expedition. Arredondo's reputation for brutality has persisted ever since.
In this first book-length biography of Arredondo, Bradley Folsom wishes to move beyond this simple portrayal, attempting to "explain what Arredondo did and why he did it [and] leave moral judgment to the readers" (9). He succeeds, presenting a man whose harsh defense of the Eastern Internal Provinces was accompanied by attempts at reform.
Joaquín de Arredondo was born to wealth in Barcelona. Entering the Royal Spanish Guards as a cadet in 1787, he was commissioned approximately nine years later, and in 1802 sailed for service in New Spain. In 1810 he was promoted to colonel and given command of the infantry regiment of Veracruz. While in that post he took the province of Nuevo Santander from Mexican revolutionaries, torturing and hanging half a dozen insurgent leaders in the process. It was during his subsequent tenure as governor of Nuevo Santander that Arredondo first evinced the dual nature of his governing style: his forward-looking reforms, such as mandating Indian and mestizo representation in ayuntamientos, coexisted with his tolerance for the rape of local women by his soldiers. [End Page 339]
Still, Arredondo prevented a resurgence of revolution in Nuevo Santander, an accomplishment that helped him earn a promotion to commandant general of the Eastern Internal Provinces. Within months of assuming that position, Arredondo met the Magee-Gutiérrez expedition at Medina on August 18, 1813. Arredondo ably led royalist forces to a smashing victory and imposed a draconian and bloody post-battle campaign against surviving invaders and revolutionary sympathizers. It was during this period that Arredondo earned his reputation as (to use one of Folsom's chapter titles) the "Caligula of Texas."
Arredondo's seven-month tenure in Texas consisted of more than butchery. He played an important role in establishing a primary school in San Antonio, repaired the Mission San Antonio de Valero, and endorsed a plan to provide welfare payments to families of fallen soldiers. These accomplishments were counterbalanced by an ineffective Indian policy and economic and demographic devastation wrought on East Texas via his post-Medina operations.
When Arredondo left Texas for good in March 1814, he still had approximately seven years ahead of him as commandant general. During that time he crushed the filibustering expedition of Francisco Xavier Mina and approved the petition of Moses Austin to bring settlers to Texas. A lack of resources and Arredondo's habit of squabbling with viceroys prevented further accomplishments. A steadfast royalist, Arredondo was one of the last officials in New Spain to endorse the Plan of Iguala and to swear allegiance to the new Mexican nation. Shortly after the Mexican War of Independence, he retired to Havana, where he died in 1837.
Folsom has provided a solid, balanced, and well-researched biography of one of the most caricatured figures in Texas history. The author is particularly adept at placing the life of Arredondo within the contexts of the Napoleonic Wars, the Mexican Revolution, and the racial caste system in Spanish Mexico. Unfortunately, the lack of definitive source material, which is no fault of the author, requires him to rely on hedging and speculation. That Arredondo "may have" done this or that appears three times on one page alone (219). Otherwise, this is an impressive book.