The U.S.-Mexican War and
the Peoples of the Year 2000
Inputs from History:
Inputs from the Politics of Today
Inputs from History
Population & Rebellion
Deluded White Chieftains
Conflicts of 1846-48:
Opening Attack on Indigenous Life
A Border World Rebels
Officers Capitulate: Ampudia and Taylor
A Note on Strategy
A Note on Severed Heads
Leader within Walls: Santa Anna
Generals for Social Order
The Sorting of Identities
The Future of New/Old Nations
|The roots of the migration question are woven
deep through the soil of history:
The major force behind U.S. expansion across the continent was the unrestrained
reproduction of large families, with one of the highest net reproduction
rates of any large population in history.
The indigenous population of the continent as a whole was regaining growth
rates by the early decades of the 19th century, moving into a general recovery
that became visible in northern parts of the continent only during the
Along with this demographic recovery, indigenous-American and African-American
groups, over much of the continent and the West Indies, undertook social
and military initiatives that challenged the pretensions of the European-American
U.S. purposes in the period, and in the U.S.-Mexican War, were a compound
of the aggressive settler expansion with a conservative determination to
resist any indigenous or African initiatives
The ranchero population of Mexico shared some traits with aggressive U.S.
settlers, just as hacendados did with conservative planters
The network of local conflicts, complex
as it was in detail, involved three simple continent-wide struggles:
The initiatives, and rumors of initiative, coming from peasant, indigenous,
and African-American groups, included the following and more:
Leaders in the nation-states kept reacting as if these initiatives might
be linked. They feared a guerra de castas -- race war -- not
just in particular places where it was obviously real, but as a widespread
conspiracy fed by agitators moving from one area to another. Thinking
in this easy conspiratorial vein, observers often missed:
Nat Turner's rebellion in Virginia (and the collateral resistance actions
in neighbor areas)
slave rebellion in Jamaica, leading toward emancipation in the British
Anastasio Aquino's rebellion in El Salvador
indigenous rebellion in Guatemala, led by Rafael Carrera
peasant rebellion in Quebec
the "War of the South" in Mexico, centered in what would later become the
state of Guerrero
the long effort by Comanches, Apaches, Lakotas -- and others -- to bring
the mountain-plains interior of the continent under the control of nomadic,
emergence of new refugee nations in central California, made up of persons
who had fled from the missions
the effort by Seminoles of Florida, to build a biracial society together
with fugitive slaves, followed by the long resistance of Seminoles against
intrusion by slaveholding settlers
the threatened slave conspiracy in Cuba, called "La Escalera"
episodes of slave resistance in Puerto Rico
defense of cultural and economic aspects of community life, in Papantla
and other parts of the Huasteca (in eastern Mexico), and in the Yaqui country
of northwestern Mexico
resistance against conscription and central control, in the Sierra Gorda
north of Mexico City.
resistance against conscription and economic burdens, in the Yucatán.
the fragmentation and competition among many specific resistance groups,
the broadly nonlocal character of the longer-term initiatives coming from
American-indigenous and African-indigenous populations.
How Details Became Network
And how could these many initiatives amount to any kind of network? After
all, the times at which different populations began to recover from the
"Great Dying" of the colonial period were staggered over several generations,
all the way from the early 18th century for some Mesoamerican groups, to
1920 which is the conventional nadir cited for indigenous groups within
the borders of the United States.
The indigenous-mestizo population stream gained force only gradually,
what with the spotty growth of immunity to "non-American" disease, and
the slow recovery of the Mexican economy after the break from Spain.
The time when any particular Indian group began to recover depended partly
on when whites slacked off in direct military attacks, but also on medical
factors: only if a group was partly integrated into the European
disease pool would its children grow up with some immunity. If these
shifts had appeared in many Spanish colonies in the 18th century; they
were not to happen in the Plains and Rockies until the late 19th or even
20th century -- too late for the survival of a small interior group like
the Mandans, too late for any but scattered individuals in some California
Once population began to grow again in a community, people often discovered
that it had reproduced beyond what their farming could get from its land.
They might see that some of its old lands had long since slipped into the
control of a neighbor hacienda, or that a neighbor community (also indigenous)
still had "surplus" land. Locals would go to court to claim the needed
land, or in some cases would just move in. Through separate episodes, then
not so separate, it became clear that many communities faced the same shortage.
Indians and mestizos, living in country communities, were beginning
to recover population after centuries of disastrous loss, caused largely
by exposure to European diseases. Constrained within the resources
available to them, they were pushing to reclaim lands and water rights
that they had lost in earlier generations.
While all mixed-race populations had, in the nature of the case, been
exposed to the European disease pool, some acted as part of the "white"
growth stream, some as part of the indigenous. Some mestizo or African
American groups took up residence within what had been indigenous communities.
Others moved into a ranchero population in Mexico, or a ladino population
in Guatemala, both of which became identified as part of expanding European
society. Some Indians took up individual landholdings that made them
hardly distinguishable from rancheros. When civil wars broke out,
the allegiance of these transitional groups was not always predictable.
The differences in when population began to recover were partly a matter
of difference between sedentary groups to the south, and nomadic to the
north. This difference between southern and interior demographic patterns
had paralleled a difference in the character of Hispanic and Anglo expansion
movements. When observers failed to detect the broader resurgence of indigenous
peoples as a whole, they were accepting the doctrine that Indians were
a "vanishing" race. They were taking the continuing losses of the
Plains Indians as their sole model, accepting a silent version of divide-and-conquer
thought, acting as if there existed no connection between the northern
and southern parts of the indigenous population.
Pro-Indian observers within Anglo-American society, anxious to defend
the moral rights of the tribes they confronted, paid little attention
to the fact that indigenous populations north of the Río Grande
were much smaller than those to the south. This oversight, ignoring
the real center of gravity of indigenous population, has been reinforced
since then by an over-emphasis on the idea that Anglo-America and Latin
America have distinct histories. In that way "virtuous" white intellectuals
have "virtually" torpedoed any vision of a wider indigenous movement.
Between Nation-States and Nonlocal Peoples
Competition among neighboring communities gave leverage to colonial and
later nation-state authorities, who could offer their legal systems
as a way to mediate among rivals. But not all groups acknowledged
this authority and this leverage.
The confrontation of the 1840s erupted at a time when conditions had
come to a turning point. The devastation of the Mandans by smallpox
in 1837 was the kind of collapse that had been even more common in earlier
generations and earlier centuries. The Lakotas of the Upper Missouri
area were able to move into the vacated territorial niche because they
had already participated enough, in interchange with the outside world,
that they were not likely to be destroyed by a single epidemic. A
more explicitly "mixed" group of the region, the Métis, had once
furnished many trappers and provisioners to the Hudson's Bay Company, but
had now grown to such numbers that the Hudson's Bay Company could not employ
them all, and were beginning to disperse into varied places and economic
roles within the area. The Métis were literally mestizos of the
north, rooted partly in traditional communities, but generating new ways
of life that more complex than anything envisioned by the "modernizers"
of that period.
Over much of the continent, migratory and sedentary societies presented
alternative ways of organizing life. Outside units like the Hudson's
Bay Company offered their kind of "transnational" approach to these problems.
The Métis were partly linked to that Company, partly tied to the
more migratory peoples of the interior. In contrast, strong nomadic
groups like the Lakotas, Cheyennes, or Comanches made their own effort
to impose decisions on sedentary indigenous peoples, seeking to articulate
the sedentary and the migratory on terms that would be autonomous of outside
control. These leader groups sometimes fought each other, sometimes
achieved some kind of understanding. They were "rival firms" within
a general situation understood by all of them.
In areas where no nation-state had effective power, working relations
among all groups were a matter for the exercise of autonomous authority,
or for day-to-day negotiation This situation, a fertile ground for
the emergence of new ethnic or national groups, offers even now a model
for non-authoritarian (not necessarily pacific) negotiation among mobile,
For nearly two centuries, nationalities of all kinds have been evolving
in the Western Hemisphere, sometimes channeled into the standard identities
provided by the new nation-states, but often independent of any such cultural
monopoly. The populations that have regrown after earlier loss are
just as potential of nationality as they ever were.
The nation-states of the 19th century saw themselves as the champions
of sedentary, civilized life. They presumed to act as "virtual representatives"
of the non-white parts of the sedentary population -- that is, of much
of the whole population of agricultural labor. These dependent populations
had a choice -- more real than many people understood at the time -- between
accepting the nation-state and looking for more open roads. They
might some day choose to move out from their local roots into a profoundly
nonlocal existence. This is now coming to fruition, at the end of
the 20th century.
The time lapse between 1800 and 2000 is a short gap in human history.
Except for the fact that the whole world population has increased tremendously
over the 200 years, the white expansionist movement of 1800 and the mestizo
expansionist movement of 2000 are simply different emphases, within time,
for rival phenomena that are really simultaneous. In the jargon of
1998, what we have long seen is the struggle between a command-oriented
transnationalism on the one hand, and a popular or cooperative transnationalism
on the other.
John W. Verano and Douglas H. Ubelaker, eds., Disease and Demography
in the Americas (1992)
Robert H. Jackson, Indian Population Decline: the Missions of Northwestern
New Spain, 1687-1840 (1994)
Russell Thornton, We Shall Live Again: the 1870 and 1890 Ghost Dance
Movements as Demographic Revitalization (1986)
Rodolfo Barón Castro, "El desarrollo de la población hispanoamericana
(1492-1950)," Cahiers d'Histoire Mondiale (1959)
Ann M. Palkovich, "Historical Population of the Eastern Pueblos, 1540-1910,"
Journal of Anthropological Research (1985)
D.A. Brading and C. Wu, "Population Growth and Crisis, León, 1720-1860,"
Journal of Latin American Studies (1973)
Leticia Reina, Las rebeliones campesinas en México, 1819-1906
Jean Piel, Sajcabajá: muerte y resurrección de un pueblo
de Guatemala, 1500-1970 (1989)
Jack D. Forbes, Aztecas del Norte: The Chicanos of Aztlan (1973)
Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization
Jonathan D. Hill, ed., History, Power, and Identity: Ethnogenesis in
the Americas, 1492-1992 (1996)
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