BY NORMAN ROZEFF
This is the narrative, less the footnoting, submitted to the Texas Historical Commission:
Matanza of 1915
J.H. Johnson, the American Consul in Matamoros, stated in a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State, “there were many killed whose names will never be known” as he forwarded a partial list of names and locations of Mexican-Americans and Mexicans killed between July and November 1915 that occurred in Willacy, Cameron, and Hidalgo counties. Texas Rangers, local law enforcement and vigilantes killed a documented 103, but estimates range to 300 murdered.
For the size of the Mexican American and Mexican population the documented killed represented .2 percent of the total population, and the estimated killing of 300 represented .8 percent of the total population. More individuals were killed in a shorter amount of time and proportion to their population, than many of the victims of Dirty Wars in Central and South America. In a 1929 editorial Santiago Guzman, editor of El Defensor, referred to the killings as the matanza (massacre), and blamed the Texas Rangers in particular for this tragic moment of Texas History. Individuals engaged in the killings called them “evaporations.”
In September 1911, Mexican-Americans and Mexicans gathered in Laredo at El Primer Congreso Mexicanista (First Mexicanist Congress) to discuss issues of racial violence and discrimination against them.
The peaceful gathering was prompted by the lynching of 13 year-old Antonio Gomez in Thorndale during the spring of 1911, and the burning alive of Antonio Rodriguez in Rocksprings the previous year.
The congress sought to create the first statewide Mexican American and Mexican civil rights organization known as La Grand Liga Mexicanista de Beneficencia y Proteccion (the Grand Mexicanist League of Protection and Benefits). Four years later, the continued racial violence and discrimination against Mexican Americans and Mexicans prompted the Revolución de Texas (July 1915-October 1915)
There were two primary factors that caused the Revolución de Texas. The first factor was the change from a ranching to a commercial agriculture economy in the Lower Rio Grande Valley that led to increased racial violence and discrimination against Mexican Americans and Mexicans during the early twentieth century.
Under the ranching economy of the nineteenth century, a peace structure existed that allowed inter-racial and ethnic alliances to occur through business partnerships and intermarriages.
With the economic shift from ranching to farming, a wave of newcomers from the Midwest brought along their views of Mexicans as racial inferiors, whose only value to society was as an exploitable source of cheap labor. New cities created along the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Rail Road (1903) comprised the first segregated communities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
By the 1910s, cities like San Benito, Harlingen, McAllen, and Mission represented the new social order with strict racial segregation.
With the peace structure diminished, Mexican-Americans and Mexicans began to lose socioeconomic and political power, and, with that loss, became more vulnerable to extra-legal violence.
The second factor that allowed the Revolución de Texas to occur was the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). The movement of arms and men from the United States to different revolutionary factions, and the unstable occupation of Mexican territory along the Rio Grande allowed for an insurgency to occur.
Utilizing safe havens on the Mexican side, revolutionaries were able to launch and retreat from incursions into the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Also, the revolutionaries received supplies and arms from local Carranzista commanders as well as militarily trained men from the local area. With an open border, dense brush, and with some local support on both sides of the river, the insurgency was able to sustain itself.
It was not until the U.S. military occupied the north bank of the Rio Grande, and Venustiano Carranza, First Chief of the Constitutional Forces, was able to solidify military control over the Mexican side of the border and replace the military commander who was supporting the revolutionaries, that the Revolución de Texas came to an end in late October 1915.
One of the sad outcomes of the Revolución de Texas was the matanza. The general Mexican-American and Mexican American populations were intimidated through the use of extra-legal executions by counter-insurgency forces. In the case of the matanza, Texas Rangers, local law enforcement, and paramilitary organizations of civilians engaged in these activities. Regular army units also participated to an extent, but military commanders often worked to prevent such atrocities as the lawlessness hindered their attempts to subdue the insurgency.
The immediate cause of the Revolución de Texas was the killings of six individuals by local law enforcement in late July 1915. Lorenzo Manriquez and Gregorio Manriquez were killed July 24 in or near Mercedes.
Rodolfo Muñiz was lynched on the road between San Benito and Brownsville on July 29, and Desiderio Flores, Desiderio Flores, Jr. and Antonio Flores were killed at the Armendaiz Ranch or Paso Real on August 4.
These killings occurred prior to the August 8 Norias Ranch raid that is considered the official beginning of the insurgency. As the revolution intensified, the backlash against non-combatants increased. The Revolución de Texas itself was a response to the increasing violence against Mexican-Americans and Mexicans, but was utilized as a rationale to justify the matanza.
During the 1919 investigation of counter-insurgency actions of the Texas Rangers by the state legislature, R.L. Knight, Texas Adjutant Counsel stated, “He [José T. Canales] said the rangers committed wholesale executions of innocent people, and I asked him to name a single one that was innocent.”
The chairman of the Joint Committee of the Senate and House Investigating the Texas Rangers responded, “The presumption of law is that they were innocent.” Knight countered, “If that’s the ruling of the Committee, I yield.” The chairman responded, “It is not only the ruling of the Committee, but it is the well recognized law of this state.”
Although the rest of Texas has forgotten these events, the Mexican American and Mexican communities affected have not. The memories of the matanza continue through local oral histories, the documentary Border Bandits by Kirby Warnock, and, to a limited extent, some recent scholarly work.
Much the way war memorials are erected to remember those who lost their lives defending the liberty or the 9/11 memorial is dedicated to the loss of innocent lives, the markers for the matanza would enshrine the memory of those killed by extra-judicial means, both as insurrectionists and uninvolved civilians who lived in a violent and pivotal time in Texas history that should be remembered.