The First Civil War, 1830-1842
Custom, & the Ports
Custom, & the Ports
Nat Turner, & Others
Mills & Planters
Alamán & Calhoun
Rancheros & Pilots
War of the South
Siege & Contagion
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
Outcomes, and Vision
|Puertos were apt to be openings from law into custom.
Even from old law into new custom.
Tecolutla, some hundred miles north of Veracruz, was only a small
port, good for coastal shipping, a place where rebels could slip into Mexico,
a place where an easy-going official might play his own games with customs
Ratón Pass, some hundred and fifty miles north of Santa
Fe, was also what in Spanish is called a puerto -- in this case,
an opening in the mountains from one region into another. It
was not one of the great dramatic passes over the Rockies, only a route
across one spur of the mountains, by which Missouri traders and Comanche
hunters could make their way into New Mexico.
In the political world of 1830, not all important puertos were
large ports. Or even legal. Or even on the sea -- though many
were. Others, like El Gallinero in Guanajuato, or like the passes
between Guadalajara and San Blas, were strategic control points between
sectors of the Mexican economy.
Many such puertos, off the beaten track, were frequented by local
populations who had their own techniques for getting along with criollo
culture, or -- much the same thing -- for keeping authority at a distance.
Whether we look at the Huicholes and Coras, west of Guadalajara, or
at the Pueblos of New Mexico, or at the communities of the Huasteca, north
of Veracruz, we find people who preserved their own religious customs alongside
official Christianity. Their observances could turn holy days into
something more intense than the Church had planned. By the 1830s,
the intersections between old and new were now custom -- like the "old
processions" of the Huasteca, or the Penitente demonstrations of mestizo
communities in New Mexico.
"Custom" was no uncomplicated tradition. It was what people had
come to expect, in a mixture of cultures.
The same applied to the business done through these puertos.
What people expected did not always include paying what governments considered
"customary duties" on the goods that moved from one nation to another.
Many parts of North America were prime areas for cultural and religious
"syncretism." Many of them were also places where allegiance to a nation-state
was precious little barrier to smuggling.
Besides Tecolutla, in the Huasteca, and Ratón Pass, in New Mexico,
San Blas, on the Pacific coast of Nayarit (then simply the western
part of the state of Jalisco). It was a minor port, not like Acapulco
an old center for distant traffic. It served the inland town of Tepic,
from which a ridge road wound up above the canyons toward Guadalajara.
Parral in Chihuahua, and Parras in Nuevo León:
towns on the edge of the desert, poorly connected with New Mexico to the
north or with central Mexico to the south. Still, they were points of transit,
where locals coped with whoever came through.
what the British called the "Mosquito Coast" -- the Atlantic edge
of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Yucatán, inhabited by the
Miskito Indians, visited by many others, outlet for a series of
rivers that led into the white-settled areas of the up-country and Pacific
coast -- and home also to some rather valuable hardwoods.
and if these seem obscure, consider also what much of French Louisiana
had been in the previous century: the Ohio Valley, facing both the
French center in Quebec and the intrusive English across the Appalachians;
or the lower Mississippi, buffered between French and Spanish forces.
Both areas were traversed by indigenous nations who balanced claims to
their own territory with an assumption that it was natural for peoples
And note also the kinds of transitional people who appeared, not just in
these places, but in many intermediate situations:
local notables who collaborated with interests from outside -- indigenous
nobility from the old days, hacendados who kept up some social connections
with distant capitals
the brotherhoods or cofradías that managed community chests
in many parishes
non-élite members of a community, repeatedly negotiating to make
sure that "their" leader represented their interests
non-Indians who moved into indigenous communities
resident merchants from other countries, like the Barrons in Nayarit who
also acted as British consuls, or like the Bents in New Mexico
soldiers, or other armed men
priests who responded to local interests, not just to inquiries from the
shamans whose daily interest centered in some herd or plot of land
and of course, "everywhere," mestizos or métis, visible evidence
that outsiders migrated into local communities.
The things these people did, while often legal, had a way of crossing conventional
And What They Did
Some, like the cofradías, were the people who had herds of cattle,
even when cattle created questions about property lines.
Cofradías disputed with clerics the control of their property, and
insisted on conducting rites that priests considered superstitious
Newcomers were often simply rancheros -- neither hacendados nor peasants.
Newcomers, even when they became legal members of a community, and were
allocated community land to work, tended to treat that land as individual
Armed men, if bandits on any large scale, controlled trade routes, and
depended on merchants to market stolen herds to outsiders.
Resident merchants depended on armed men (not soldiers) to protect their
Resident merchants often mixed legal traffic with smuggling, which included
the contraband sale of arms.
Local peoples, if they wanted to defend their autonomy, depended on imported
Foreign merchants often made marriage alliances with local families, partly
to avoid legal restrictions on property-owning.
In parts of Mexico, individuals opening small silver mines had to find
their own ways to get the product to market.
Outsiders often flattered themselves that they had "gone native," and really
understood local culture,
And through it all, some locals saw themselves as members of both worlds
-- as indeed they were.
As of 1834, the territory of New Mexico was still not subject
to central taxation, though it was expected to support its own government
establishment, of which it made do with as little as possible. Its
merchants took part in the trades to Missouri, Comanchería, and
California, smuggling when that paid. Customs duties went often uncollected
-- whether the external levies on goods imported from Missouri, or the
internal on goods sent to Chihuahua. For practical purposes, and
with some allowances for public decency, New Mexico expected to be a duty-free
Local involvement did not disable long-range prophecy. Year after
year Father Antonio Martínez, of Taos, denounced the influence
of Americans and Protestants in New Mexico, and of traders north of the
border. Expounding on the hidden role of foreigners in land grants,
he demanded that the governor administer titles properly. Closer
to daily need, he complained that the increased hunting of buffalos on
the Plains was threatening to destroy a source of meat in the New Mexican
diet. In that, he was offering one of the first serious warnings
against the extermination of the herds.
He was also defending one of the ways in which New Mexico served as
an area for exchange. Trade with Comanche meat-producers was part of local
subsistence. For him, of course, this community did not include the
trade that Comanches carried on with merchants to the north and east.
Much of the continent was occupied by communities that were not any
one thing. They were not "closed corporate communities," even when
they had communal legal status. They were not regiones de refugio
for some kind of ethnic purity. Even when mostly indigenous, any
one population could find some place for people from other indigenous nations.
And these were not abstract markets. They were places of interchange
and transaction, for all the elements of human life.
Site Map | About
David J. Weber, "American Westward Expansion and the Breakdown of Relations
between Pobladores and "Indios Bárbaros" on Mexico's
Far Northern Frontier, 1821-1846," New Mexico Historical Review
William L. Merrill, "Cultural Creativity and Raiding Bands in Eighteenth-Century
Northern New Spain," in William B. Taylor and Franklin Pease G.Y., Violence,
Resistance, and Survival in the Americas: Native Americans and the Legacy
of Conquest (1994)
Virginia Guedea, La insurgencia en el Departamento del Norte: los Llanos
de Apan y la sierra de Puebla, 1810-1816 (1996)
Dorothy Woodward, The Penitentes of New Mexico, Yale diss. (1935)
James F. Brooks, "Violence, Justice, and State Power in the New Mexican
Borderlands, 1780-1880," in Richard White and John Findlay, eds., Power
and Place in the North American West (1999)
- James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community
in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2002)
- Ross Frank, From Settler to Citizen: New Mexican Economic Develoment
and the Creation of Vecino Society, 1750-1820 (Berkeley: UC Press, 2000)
Amos Megged, "The Religious Context of an 'Unholy Marriage': Elite Alienation
and Popular Unrest in the Indigenous Communities of Chiapa, 1570-1680,"
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