WHAT THEY CALLED "CIVIL WAR":
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
V. Gómez Farías
Wm. Lyon Mackenzie
A. L. de Santa Anna
Puebla & Charleston
Guanajuato & Bravo
Loot & development
Texas & Florida
Guatemala & Carrera
The Huasteca, & North
The Costa Grande
Outcomes, and Vision
|As the "Civil War" of the 1830s ground on, communities throughout the
continent reacted, sought their own alliances, and counter-attacked.
Their effort questioned the security of the liberal/conservative compromise.
In New Mexico, in 1837, one detail said it: rebels forced the priest at Santa Cruz de La Cañada to carry out burials within the church building. This flew in the face of one "modern" regulation where the Church agreed with liberals. Both sides of criollo society would suppress disorderly popular practices that threatened public health.
A new governor, Albino Pérez, had arrived from central Mexico in 1835, one of the right-wing army officers with whom Santa Anna was establishing new ties. After Santa Anna's defeat in Texas, the group stayed in power, drafting a constitution that would tighten administration and tax-collecting, and impose severe property qualifications on political participation. By the spring of 1837, Pérez the administrator was running into resistance from all the informalities and networking of local society. In July, he adopted a quick, high-pressure time-table for the complete restructuring of the regional political system.New Mexico was not the only reaction point. People were rising in many areas where grounded networks had long been active:
Up through the late 1830s, the terms of trade over much of the Plains network were settled by hostile encounters between peoples who were sometimes outright rivals, like the Lakotas and Arikaras, but sometimes actually exchange partners, like the Cheyennes and Comanches. At the same time, any people needed allies. The Cheyennes formed close bonds with the Arapahos in their immediate vicinity, and looser arrangements with the large Lakota group to their north. The Comanches took as allies both the Kiowas and the Plains Apaches.
And the situation was inducing people on both sides to put out feelers for peace. Both groups traded at Bent's Fort, where they were exposed to alien notions about businesslike trade. Outside commerce also brought new waves of disease, and smallpox hit the Kiowas in 1839. Then, early in 1840, the contrast between Texan and Comanche ideas of negotiation came to a bloody head in San Antonio. The subject was captive-taking, which to the Comanches was a normal way to recruit labor. Just as Seminoles in 1837 resisted giving up runaway slaves, so Comanche leaders in 1840 believed that their captives were a matter for pragmatic social policy. Chiefs from the southern Comanches came in to San Antonio to deal, thinking to bargain. The Texans assumed that there was no thinkable outcome except returning all captives to their original families. As the impasse became clear, the Texans took the chiefs hostage, a fight broke out, and much of this southern Comanche leadership was killed.
The Comanches as a whole had two possible responses, neither of which involved retreat from criollo society. They took both.
One course was to continue and intensity the southward raids by which they accumulated capital and labor. Some Comanches, who were in a position to retaliate directly for the San Antonio fight, staged raids deep into Texas, all the way to the coast between Corpus Christi and Galveston. Others raided farther and more heavily than ever before south of the Rio Grande. Every winter now, as they migrated away from the cold of the high Plains, they reached staging areas from which they struck south into Tamaulipas or Chihuahua or Durango. When they penetrated south of the Rio Grande, they recruited occasional support from some locals (dismissed in Mexico as bandits). Moving unobserved through desert areas and mountain valleys, they struck easily at isolated ranches and small settlements, killing herders, taking women and children captive. The raiders, by attacking horse and cattle herds, drained haciendas of working capital and sent many hacienda workers fleeing to safer areas. Comanche bands, far from accepting some inevitable defeat by criollo society, were insisting that the labor and movable capital of the area should be tributary to a network of decentralized societies that was growing out of the logic of migratory herding.This gathering of energies on the Plains coincided with a sharp increase in local resistance activity in the south -- all down the Gulf Coast of Mexico, and in the upland areas from Michoacán to Guatemala. Sometimes these were risings by groups on the popular edge of liberal politics. Sometimes they carried popular hostility against intrusive liberal policies. Criollo leaders feared that "race war" would erode the safe boundaries around the criollo political process.
At the same time, northern Comanche bands took the second course, protecting all Comanches by broadening the range of trade and negotiation with Cheyennes and other peoples of the central Plains. Over 1840, the major alliance groups of the area made their formal peace.
One testing point lay, to the north, with the question of policy toward the Comanches. These bands were on fair commercial terms both with New Mexicans to the west and Anglo traders to the east. They conducted increasing raids against other groups to the south, whether Anglo-Texans to the southeast or Chihuahuans and other Mexicans to the southwest; and they might conceivably concentrate those raids in one direction or the other. They had earlier maintained a protracted alliance with Spanish officials against the Apaches. These officials had seen the Comanches as a barrier, too, against French or Anglo intrusion.
Mexican-Indian alliance failed to materialize. For one thing, Mexican criollos then did not have enough, both that they could give to indigenous peoples, and that they were willing to give. Criollo Mexico was "land-poor," fearful, and ungenerous. Conservative talk of defending "communal" values, whether indigenous or ecclesiastical, was a sentimental gesture. To conservatives just as much as to liberals, the raiders were bárbaros to be resisted, not allies to be armed. Realistically, resistance to liberal expansion would have required that a military colonization policy in northern Mexico work in alliance with a Comanche dynamic, redirecting action eastward, presenting together an expansive force strong enough to counter Anglo settlement. This never happened. Mexican failure to support the Comanches was in the same class with the earlier British failure to support Tecumseh. Intellectually, Mexican conservatives appreciated the logic of the Adams diagnosis. As an internal political matter, though, they never understood how to work with Indians who were not dutiful peasants.
The successes in Guatemala and New Mexico emerged from the building
of networks for trade and protection. Carrera's raids provided support
for Indian actions against liberal policy. When he took over as ruler,
this pattern continued into the way he heard complaints, on which he would
(often) compel legislative or judicial action. New Mexico's markets
and churches provided a center from which lines of support and exchange
could extend for hundreds or even thousands of miles -- from the Cheyenne
country of northern Colorado, out to the coast range between the San Joaquin
valley and the Pacific. Río Arriba, as long as it was free
to work out local relationships on its own, was a creative regional capital
to which people like the Comanches had access, even as they were mounting
raids deeper into other parts of Mexico.
The fact of conservative alliance, in some areas, has left a misleading impression for later generations: that the actions of indigenous and popular societies were only a self-defense by backward-looking communities. This has contributed to the myth that the only "progressive" thing such communities could do would be to give up and become proletarians within an advancing industrial society.
In contrast, these communities had long been generating the links of
an alternative political and economic system, with its own centers and
its own projects. The "reactive" popular battles of the late 1830s
embodied the strength of that older, autonomous drive.
Site Map | About
Janet Lecompte, Rebellion in Río Arriba 1837 (1985) Peter John Powell, People of the Sacred Mountain (1981) David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: the American Southwest under Mexico (1982) Cecilia Méndez Gastelumendi, "Pactos sin tributo. Caudillos y campesinos en el Perú postindependiente: el caso de Ayacucho," in Leticia Reina, coord., La reindianización de América, siglo XIX (1997) Heraclio Bonilla, "The Indian Peasantry and 'Peru' during the War with Chile," in Steve J. Stern, ed., Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness in the Andean Peasant World, 18th to 20th Centuries (1987)
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