The First Civil War, 1830-1842

The Southern Slopes

Real War 
   Grounded Networks 
      The Plains   
      Custom, & the Ports    
      Nat Turner, & Others   
      The Islands   
      The Southern Slopes   
      The Mission Coasts  
  Control Networks 
      Mills & Planters  
      Silver & opium  
      Alamán & Calhoun  
      Rancheros & Pilots  
      The War of the South  
      Siege & Contagion 
A Note on Then and Now 
What They Called "Civil War"  
   Liberal Projects 
   Conservative Demagogues 
   Fight Scenes  
  Grounded Reaction 
Outcomes, and Vision 
Anastasio Aquino gave his own answer to the question of how much Indians should accept from criollo culture, and in what way. He was leading his people in revolt against the government of El Salvador.  They, the "tribe" of Nonualcos, appeared to be good Catholic Christians. They venerated the saints, and an outsider might not distinguish whether much of pre-Christian religion survived within their observances. 
But when the criollos of San Vicente cached their valuables in the church for protection, Aquino simply broke in and seized the hoard.  From the altar, he took the crown on the image of the patron saint -- and used it to crown himself.  It was an aggressive jibe, perhaps no more. It was also an insistence on the right of American people to seize items out of European religion, not as "influences" that they would passively absorb, but as signs of power that they could appropriate to their own ends. 
Through the southern mountains and slopes of Mexico and Central America, such assertions from indigenous communities worked in interplay with the outbursts of nearby urban, mestizo populations. 
Already in 1767, as part of the way groups were reacting against the authoritarianism of the Bourbon "reforms,"  many tried to evade service in militias that were being sent to defend the eastern coasts against English raids.  In Michoacan, the participants in the resistance were not just Indians, previously exempt from military service, but interactive networks of people based partly in cities, partly in outlying towns. The repression of this resistance, by executions and exile, figured in the later collective memory of the region. 

The spectacular recent example was the way the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, himself criollo, summoned up a "horde" of some 100,000 Indians in 1810, from the area north of Guanajuato, leading them to attack that provincial capital, joining the people of the city to sack it, subjecting "respectable" people to days of terror.  From there they went on campaign toward Mexico City (which they did not reach). 

It hardly mattered that it would take another decade before more moderate groups would actually win Mexican independence. The violent start of the Hidalgo campaign was still present in the minds of people in 1828, when a garrison revolt in the national capital set off crowds sacking the Parián, the mall used by Spanish merchants.  This "mob' attack was seconding the presidential claims of Vicente Guerrero, the former anti-Spanish fighter who had begun his career as a mulatto mule-driver in the hills back of Acapulco. 

"Mobs" like those of Guanajuato and Mexico City worked also in small places, and with less complication about what was happening. While many indigenous groups still lived in traditional communities, out in the country, many individuals from those groups had joined the mestizos who worked as individuals or moved into the towns.  Many were poor. All of these people were affected by social crises, like 1810 or 1832.  Some asserted and defended.  Some took.
During the colonial years, each organized indigenous community had had its own jurisdiction, its own lands, and its own internal quarrels.  The workers on the land were free, whatever obligations they might have to family and community.  If villages fell sometimes in conflict with each other over land boundaries, the ebb and flow of local conflict could also surge in the direction of resistance, whether against outside intrusion, or against mobilization into some labor force or army.

 Each region had its mestizos and criollos, whose approach to land and politics was more individualistic, less traditional, than that of community-based Indians.  Not all were poor. Some of the criollos were ranchers; some, parish priests who depended on money collected from the pueblos.  In Oaxaca, they were led by the liberal general (and goat-rancher) Antonio de León, who had acquired prestige during the insurgency.  According to the season, the herders moved their animals from pasture to pasture, sometimes through Indian lands, for which they sometimes asked permission -- and sometimes did not.  Provoked at intrusions, villagers began taking shots at herdsmen, then acted more aggressively.  In 1827, they seized herds, burned ranchers' houses (after nicely moving furniture outside), and threw some ranchers in jail.  Government judges then came in to free most of the ranchers, but nothing was settled.

Up to a point, these locals were surprisingly gentle.  Then their fight was picked up by a more bandit-like figure, Hilarión Medina.  Beginning in 1834, and establishing a strategic refuge in the mountains southwest of the state capital, for two years he raided towns that lay vulnerable in nearby valleys.  When captured, he was tried for 35 killings, all but one of which he blamed on the government's judges. He was then shot.

In any area, trouble grew sharper when the criollos undertook either of two kinds of mobilization:  extending a more commercial agriculture (such as herding in Oaxaca), or drafting men into the armies that were fighting for one political faction or another.  Often these liberal and conservative armies stood for little more than rival interest groups or rival approaches to "progress." Mobilization became a competition between interests to see which could command the labor force.  This pressure intersected with pressure on  land titles, sometimes coming from individual Indians who were opting out of community, often from non-Indians who claimed away at communal lands in order to build private holdings.

Against these pressures, some local leaders saw that the military experience of that generation could be transformed into projects for local improvement.  In the Mexican state of Guanajuato, in 1829, Ignacio Guzmán organized a "plan" in which regiments or batallions would become the basis of a land-reform program.  Each unit, he said, would be given a hacienda (supposedly paid for by the movement or the public), "so that they could have properties to take care of and in this way avoid the revolutions that arise from misery."  Though he was captured easily -- a conspirator with no armed force of his own -- Guzmán was articulating a military approach to colonization and land reform, of the kind that has recurred throughout Mexican history, right up to the plans of Pancho Villa.

And some indigenous communities did exert energies outward.  Those in Los Altos, the western part of Guatemala, were resisting criollo claims, and sent a deputation as far afield as El Salvador, to make common cause with other communities.

There in El Salvador, urban and rural resistance movements threatened to converge, as in the Mexico of 1829-1830, and as later in the Guatemala of 1837.


"Men of Santiago! A hundred of you uphill, a hundred down, then close in!"

Against Aquino, the criollos finally amassed a force of some 5,000.  They sent in a priest as emissary, offering autonomy if the rebel leader would lay down his arms -- which he would not.  With superior arms, they seized the Nonualco towns, drove Aquino into hiding, then pressured the locals into revealing his refuge.  He was captured and shot.  The criollos' own civil wars could resume in peace.



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