The First Civil War, 1830-1842

Custom, & the Ports

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 
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 duties. 

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. 


The Where

Besides Tecolutla, in the Huasteca, and Ratón Pass, in New Mexico, note:
  • 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.

The Who

And note also the kinds of transitional people who appeared, not just in these places, but in many intermediate situations:

And What They Did

The things these people did, while often legal, had a way of crossing conventional boundaries:

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 zone.

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.


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