- The Rise and Fall of Ignacio Perez Sr. and Jr., Patriarchs of the Most Powerful Family in Early Nineteenth-Century Texas
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In the first days of October 1823, Ignacio Pérez lay dying. At that time, he was the most powerful, influential, and wealthy resident of Texas. He was Texas's most successful rancher, having amassed thousands of heads of cattle on his five leagues of property outside San Antonio de Béxar.1 Many considered Pérez to be northern Mexico's most capable military officer. He had fought numerous sorties against the Comanches and Apaches, whose raids made life difficult for Mexican residents of Texas. He had also defeated revolutionaries and invaders from the United States on multiple occasions, personally leading two expeditions that drove famed filibusterer James Long from Texas. In addition to his economic and military success, Pérez had served in high political offices, including a stint as governor of Texas.2 Having lived such an accomplished life and having willed a substantial fortune to his family, it would be reasonable to assume that the Pérez patriarch closed his eyes for the last time content that he had secured his family's wealth and legacy for future generations. [End Page 145]
On October 26, 1852, Ignacio Pérez's first son and namesake, Ignacio Pérez Jr., stood adjacent to the San Antonio River aiming a gun at his head. In the twenty-nine years since his father's death, Pérez had seen his family's fortune, reputation, and prominence in Texas politics diminish. There were many reasons for the Pérez family's fall from grace, but Pérez blamed himself.3 Unlike his father, who was often willing to use cruelty and cunning for gain, the younger Pérez was known to be kind to a fault. Ignacio Jr. also lacked his father's foresight and military prowess. Throughout his life, the elder Pérez had consistently and successfully predicted the various political shifts that had occurred in Texas and had acted in ways that protected and promoted the best interests of his family. As evidenced by his decision to withhold support for the revolutionaries in the Texas Revolution, the younger Pérez had attempted to do the same but had met with much less success. His actions not only marked Pérez for retaliation from the Anglo Americans who had come to dominate post-revolutionary Texas, but saw his family's fall from the top of Texas's political and economic hierarchy. Within a few years of the revolution, Anglo Americans had chased the Pérez family to Mexico, the new government had seized much of their livestock, and squatters had claimed portions of the familial land. The guilt of losing this fortune drove Pérez Jr. to the brink of insanity, and it would cause him to pull the trigger on his firearm that October evening.4
The rise and fall of the Pérez family illustrate the changing realities in the Texas economic and political system during the first half of the nineteenth century. Under Spanish rule, bold men like Ignacio Pérez Sr., often used military accomplishments, family connections, and profit from raising livestock to become wealthy, achieve high social status, and gain political offices in Texas.5 This formula for success began to change when Mexico gained its independence and invited Anglo Americans to populate Texas. Following the Texas Revolution, Anglo Texans drastically transformed Texas politics in ways that marginalized Tejano elites. These changes also made it easier for Anglo Americans to use the legal system and violence to divest Tejanos of their property.6 Nowhere was this change more evident than in the fall...