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57 A s i n g l e d e c i s i o n can alter the rest of a person’s life. Plácido Benavides, alcalde of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Victoria, could not have foreseen the terrible consequences of his choice, but he knew he had reached a personal crossroads. He was a staunch federalist , a supporter of the liberal principles heralded in the Mexican Constitution of 1824. With growing distress, Benavides watched Antonio López de Santa Anna emerge as a dictator; watched as he centralized the national government; watched as he discharged state militias; watched as he crushed a federalist revolt in Zacatecas. Now, in June 1835, the tyrant’s minions were riding toward Victoria to arrest José María Jesús Carvajal, Benavides’s brother-in-law and political ally. He could watch no longer. It was time to act. Exercising the prerogative of free men, Benavides said “no” to authority—and it would cost him everything.1 Benavides intended to greet the centralist cavalrymen properly. He polled his constituents. Thirty Victorianos (citizens of Victoria) volunteered to stand against the centralists. The ferryman received instructions to alert citizens when the solders hove into view. Just as Benavides had anticipated, the horsemen ferried across the Guadalupe River and boldly entered the town’s central plaza. The detachment ’s commander demanded an immediate audience with the alcalde. Benavides, like a Tejano Cincinnatus, was tending his corn- field when the officer dispatched a townsman to summon him. Wiping dirt from his hands, Benavides presented himself to the captain and enquired how he might be of service. The captain presented a warrant for Carvajal. On reading the order, the alcalde informed the captain that he would not surrender Carvajal or any other citizen. He was, Benavides insisted, a “constitutional officer, and not at all amenable to the [centralist] military.”2 The captain discovered himself in no position to debate the matter . On Benavides’s signal, his militiamen blocked off the corners of the plaza and leveled muskets at the dismounted cavalrymen. As armed militiamen closed in, the captain saw resistance would be hopeless. According to one witness, “The officer, seemingly in dread PLÁCIDO BENAVIDES fig hting tejano federalist Stephen L. Hardin 5 8 · s t e p h e n l . h a r d i n of precipitating a crisis, ordered his men to saddle their horses. . . . This was the end of the affair.”3 The wily border captain had again defended Victoria and its citizens . Yet, by resisting centralist authority, he had earned a place on Santa Anna’s hit list. As the hoodwinked horsemen rode out of Victoria , Benavides knew that this incident was but the opening act of a dark drama. Even as he accepted the congratulations of his fellow Victorianos, he realized that their lives would never be the same.4 The road that brought Benavides to this uncomfortable juncture had been long and circuitous. Like many of the state’s heroes, he was not originally a Tejano. A native of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Benavides was born in 1810. His godfather was Captain Enrique Villareal. The association proved vital. Villareal paid for the boy’s education and in 1828 dispatched the young man to Texas. There, Benavides accepted the position as secretary to Fernando De León, commissioner of the De León colony and the son of empresario Martín De León.5 The twenty-two-year-old secretary did not arrive alone. Three married brothers—Ysidro, Nicolás, and Eugenio—traveled north with him. They claimed lands south of Victoria. Plácido’s duties kept him in town, where his talents impressed the empresario. As secretary , Benavides oversaw correspondence, recorded business transactions , and mastered the inner workings of a borderland colony. No job could have better groomed him for a leadership role. Lettered and respectable, Benavides also assumed responsibilities as the colony’s teacher.6 Benavides grew comfortable in Victoria and made plans to sink his roots there. He began construction of a house—and what a house it was. The structure was a torreón, a circular defensive bastion. It had gun slits on the first floor and a heavy, reinforced door. Because of Comanche and Apache raids, such strongholds dotted the northern frontier. A distinctive Victoria landmark, the structure became recognized as “Plácido’s Round House.”7 There seemed to be no task Benavides could not master. In 1832, Victorianos elected him...


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