THE FIRST CIVIL WAR, 1830-1842
The Huasteca, & North
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
A. L. de Santa Anna
Puebla & Charleston
Guanajuato & Bravo
Loot & development
Guatemala & Carrera
Huasteca, & North
Outcomes, and Vision
|Late in 1836, starting off from complaints against one government official
whom they accused of smuggling, the people of Papantla, in the region north
of Veracruz called the Huasteca, went into revolt. At first they
called for social measures like the ones people sought in New Mexico or
Guatemala -- or even Lower Canada. They demanded that ranchers stop pasturing
cattle on barren land next to peasants' fields, which only led to the animals
breaking down fences to get at corn. They defended their local priest
against outside attacks. They demanded the restoration of their "old
processions" (presumably drunken or half-"pagan"), which the bishop had
prohibited. In church money matters, they were willing to preserve
the system of tithes, which would draw proportionately on the hacendados
to support religious functions, and they were willing to see the clergy
charge money for voluntary or luxurious services. But they demanded an
end to all fees for routine masses, or for rites like baptism and marriage
that were a part of people's lives.
And they demanded that their leader, Mariano Olarte, be permitted to
retire to the area, keeping his military rank and privileges, recognized
"Father of the indigenous people, to keep them from being
mistreated, as they had been for three years in these parts."
At the stage when the formal Plan de Papantla was articulated, it
included demands relevant to national politics: a return to the
federalist Constitution of 1824, and the exclusion of imports that competed
with domestic products (like cotton cloth).
The revolt was suppressed, though not quickly or easily. It raised
As Mariano Olarte demonstrated in the country north of Veracruz, federalist
slogans were more than a pretense to cover filibustering expeditions.
They were also the national vocabulary into which a revolt might slide,
even when it was defending a local, indigenous society. Olarte's
father had been one of the caciques of the independence period, able to
mobilize the people of his neighborhood into the insurgent cause.
They did not depend on Veracruz for access to the outside world, but could
use the outlets of local rivers, adequate for shallow-draft vessels.
Thus, they were a line of contact between the insurgents and the outside
world, including exiles in New Orleans. In late 1820, though, the
son heard that Spain was adopting, again, a liberal constitution.
Where conservative, royalist officers in Mexico took that moment to come
out for independence, and against liberalism, young Olarte at that moment
accepted amnesty on the grounds that Spain was adopting the principles
the insurgency had been fighting for. This put him briefly in opposition
to insurgents like Guerrero, who were willing to work with Iturbide.
He regained his footing quickly enough, soon did join the larger independence
movement, but then came out against Iturbide's imperial design. During
the 1820s, promotion boards in the new army, made up mostly of former royalists
who had opted for independence at the "right" time, never wanted to give
Olarte a rank higher than captain. Only under pressure from Guadalupe
Victoria himself, who had landholdings in Olarte's neighborhood, did Olarte
win the rank of lieutenant colonel, and with it the leverage to expand
his political standing, picking up his father's role as a paternalistic
cacique in the area around Papantla, inland from the little port of Tecolutla.
Distrusting the military bureaucracy that had mistreated him, feeling more
like a Guerrero than a Santa Anna, he had good reason to support federalist
causes, but also to back his own people against any government. Late
in 1835, while the Texas conflict was coming to a head, the federalist
exile José Antonio Mejía led a filibustering expedition from
New Orleans to take over Tampico, just north of Olarte's home ground.
Mejía had dubious connections with the Anglos in Texas, but Olarte
reacted to the little expedition as if it were a genuine federalist revolt
within Mexican politics. Putting himself on the scene, he handed
over the main harbor fort to Mejía's band of adventurers, then discovered
that he had again picked the wrong side. Some members of the Tampico
garrison rejected the deal, organized a successful resistance, and threw
the filibusters in jail. Those of foreign nationality were summarily
shot. Olarte fled, going into hiding at a time when neither federalists
nor centralists wanted to admit having anything to do with the Texas rebels.
Like Guerrero in 1830, perhaps like many a dissident captain on the run,
he had nothing left to do except commit himself, finally, to a cause of
people against government.
The government sent in troops, alleging that the revolt was supported by
conspirators linked to Texas. At first, the townspeople used their
own techniques to make the government commander look silly. Though
he could defeat the rebels in open ground, he found his way suddenly blocked
in all directions when he pursued them: they had cut trees almost
ready to fall, held up only by vines, and could quickly finish felling
them when the troops had passed up into the narrow canyons. When he took
Papantla itself, burning peasants' houses and demanding supplies, the population
simply took to the up-country, leaving him with no local supplies, and
establishing a rough blockade around the town.
To save themselves, the government forces finally had to call in Guadalupe
Victoria, the ex-president, to mediate. He took up headquarters in
Papantla, talked some to Olarte but more to his lieutenants and to the
villagers. Finally he persuaded the bulk of them to come down from
the hills, giving them reassurances about many of their practical grievances,
but leaving untouched two points on which it was possible to be precise:
the restoration of the "old processions" (which the bishop insisted had
nothing to do with politics), and the restoration of federalist government.
Each of these ideological points, to the people themselves, was a way of
stating the goal of community self-protection. They were pacified
with words about their economic grievances, and with an end to fighting,
while Olarte was left to wander in the mountains with a tiny patrol, still
standing for a political abstraction that he had tried to link to popular
concerns. At least the people did not betray his person. For
two years he evaded the army's pursuit, keeping also in touch with federalist
rebels like Esteban Moctezuma. His little force eroded under the constant
pressure, until the day came when he was trapped and killed.
Over these next years, revolts continued, all through the plains and
coast ranges, north from Papantla to Matamoros and the lower reaches of
the Rio Grande. Anastasio Bustamante was president, again, trying
to combine quick repression of rebel generals with conciliation toward
local landholders and merchants. This plausible strategy ran into
One was a humiliating defeat inflicted on General Martín Perfecto
de Cos, by José Antonio Mejía headquartered in the
little port of Tuxpán.
The other was the popular support that rebel federalists like Antonio
Canales enlisted, in the area between Matamoros and Monterrey.
This was local support, before any Texan adventurers injected themselves
into the scene. It included some ranchers, and some Indians of the
region, such as the Carrizos. Together they resisted government forces
who were trying to live off the land. They blockaded Matamoros for a time,
raiding the horse and mule herds on which the army depended for mobility.
Government commanders felt trapped, psychologically as well as physically.
With no guide, mail-carrier, spy, or confidant whom they could trust (or
even pay), they confronted a local society that could take care of itself:
Mostly cowmen by trade, from the time they begin to eat
they are used to feeding on nothing but meat. They know the topography
of the country perfectly. They know where they can find fresh horses,
where cattle to eat, and where the camp-sites have water for them and their
animals. So they can cover great distances in a single day, with
no need to use established roads or trails. Born and raised there,
they know the territory, which they cross on routes that suit their purposes.
Outsiders and the Border
That tactical reality was part of a local society that plagued cautious
politicians, north of the Nueces as well as south of the Rio Grande.
During some periods, the Texas government wanted peace on the border, to
facilitate halfhearted, half-secret peace negotiations with the Mexican
government, and to permit a profitable trade with communities in Coahuila
and Chihuahua. It complained about the "cowboys" who upset things
by raiding Mexican towns and rustling Mexican cattle -- or any cattle.
The local ranchers and rustlers, on whichever side of the line, were of
a piece with those New Mexicans who kept up trade with Indian groups who
raided deep into other parts of Mexico, for horses or captives.
General Mariano Arista would be trying in one season to break
the combined resistance of Canales and the Carrizos, in another season
to rouse Manuel Armijo against the Comanches. Some of the federalist
rebels in the north even organized, for a time, a "Republic of the Rio
Grande," with a pretended capital in Laredo. Though their supposed
Republic had no political substance, it reflected the way social and tactics
affected each other on the local scene. Mexican and Texas ranchers,
enemies though they were, shared the border situation.
Any image of indomitable guerrilleros, autonomous because carnivorous,
was partly myth. These local allies of the federalists had fields
and animals of their own to tend, and families to protect, against the
Comanches as well as against the government. They could not stay
on campaign without let-up.
When a few hundred Texan adventurers joined up with the rebels, this
seemed like tactical help for a time, but then strategic disaster.
Since it brought in people who also had to live off the land, and without
any interest in preserving the understandings between Mexican ranchers
and Indians, it compromised the rebel cause. Arista hit the rebel
bands hard enough to make the survivors worry, then found a cousin of Canales
who would mediate a peace agreement -- offering amnesty to the Mexican
rebels and to any European soldiers of fortune who fought with them, but
expelling the Texans.
Neither the Anglo Texans nor the Mexicans proved very competent at making
allies across racial lines. Anglos ignored Sam Houston's variety
of racial paternalism, challenged the loyalty of Hispanics who had supported
the Texas revolution, then made life painful for those who had tried to
survive as neutrals through the 1836 war.
One of these neutrals, Vicente Córdova, then gave up on
living in East Texas, organized a small body of Mexican guerrilla fighters
in the area, tried desperately and unsuccessfully to rally immigrant Indians
into a resistance alliance, and finally made his way to join Mexican forces
south of the Río Grande. The commander in Matamoros, Valentín
Canalizo, was himself sending agents up past the Anglo settlements
in Texas, trying to draw Caddoes, Seminoles, and Kickapoos into an alliance
against the land-grabbing intruders. He and Arista were trying for
a strategy that would vary little from the John Quincy Adams vision.
It would lump Texans, other Anglos, and Comanches together as enemies (ignoring
the conflict between Texans and Comanches), and would attract the emigrant
tribes and the frontier-community Mexicans into a common front against
aggression. The flaw in this strategy was that the Mexican Army did not
have the resources then, or perhaps the will, to reach out effectively
to the emigrant tribes, who in turn had no reason to risk major war unless
they could count on armed support.
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Breve pontificio sobre dimunición de días festivos en
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