The Huasteca, & North

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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 as 

"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 questions about: 



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 two difficulties.

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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