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The Secret History of Texas!

Why does Texas fear the changing demographics of the country?

Texas Rangers and civilian vigilantes killed thousands of Mexican-Americans in a campaign of terror. A hundred years ago, in the counties along the U.S.–Mexico border, a decades-long flurry of criminal and horrific killings perpetrated by Texas Rangers, local law enforcement, and civilian vigilantes took the lives of thousands of families who were farmers and ranchers on their own land of Mexican descent, whose property and lives were stolen by many of the ranchers forbears who live there now. Racist vigilantes who wanted homesteads without doing the work to make it habitable and prosperous pushed the people who had tamed the land started breeding cattle and built homes across the border into Mexico. This record of death and intimidation, which irrevocably shaped life in those border counties, has not been taught in the state’s mainstream school curricula or otherwise recognized in official state histories. Mexican-American communities, however, have preserved the memory of the violence in family archives, songs, and stories. “To many Mexicans, contemporary violence between Anglos and Mexicans can never be divorced from the bloody history of the Borderlands, where innocent s were murdered raped and kidnapped” write William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb in their history of lynchings of Mexican-Americans.

The deaths that occurred on the border are part of a longer history of lynching of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the United States— little-discussed in comparison with the 100’s of years of history of violence against black Americans. Waves of violence against Americans of Mexican descent in the 1850s (when Mexicans were forcibly expelled from many mining camps in California), the 1870s (when Americans took to raiding farms and ranches across the borders), and the 1910s to 1930s. While a mob’s manufactured reason for lynching black victims tended to be an accusation of sexual violence, for Mexicans in the United States, the reason given was often retaliation for murder or a crime against property meaning accusing them of stealing their own property so they could be murdered and the property stolen: robbery, or what was sometimes called “banditry” was also a common excuse to massacre families.

Between 1910 and 1920 Texans Anglos turned up the volume on killing Mexicans. The dead included women, men, the elderly and children, many of the women and female children were often raped before they were killed long-time residents and recent arrivals were also targeted. If you didn’t have white skin you were targeted for death. Many were killed by strangers, by neighbors, by vigilantes and at the hands of local law enforcement officers and the Texas Rangers. Some were summarily executed after being taken captive, or shot under the flimsy pretext of trying to escape. Some were left in the open to rot, others desecrated by being burnt, decapitated, or tortured by means such as having beer bottles rammed into their mouths. these executions became so common that a San Antonio reporter observed that “finding of dead bodies of Mexicans, suspected for various reasons of being connected with the troubles, has reached a point where it creates little or no interest. It is only when a raid is reported or an White American is killed that the anger of the people is aroused.”

Property—in the form of land—was the underlying cause of the Texas border violence that took place in the second decade of the 20th century. At the turn of the 20th century, an epic, often illegal, transfer of land began, moving ownership from Tejanos living in the border counties of Texas to newly arrived Anglo farmers and ranchers. (Because the people living through this history did not use the term “Mexican-American” to describe themselves, using the terms “Texas-Mexicans” or “Tejanos” to describe Texas residents of Mexican descent.) The advent of the railroad, which reached the border city of Brownsville in 1904, made Anglo expansion onto historically Mexican land possible, seriously shifting the balance of power in the land along the Rio Grande. The Porvenir massacre is one of many past acts of violence committed by the Texas Rangers against people of color in the state, including indigenous Texans, Black Texans and Tejanos, or Mexican Americans from the South Texas region, from the 19th century through the 20th century.

As a law enforcement agency, the Rangers were unofficially founded in 1823 for the purpose of a “punitive expedition against a band of Indians,” according to the Texas State Historical Association. They continued to drive indigenous people from their homelands during the Cherokee War in 1839, as well as the Council House Fight and Battle of Plum Creek against the Comanches in 1840. Far from being surreptitious, the violence was welcomed, celebrated, and even instigated at the highest levels of society and government. As thousands fled to Mexico and decapitated bodies floated down the Rio Grande, one Texas paper spoke of “a serious surplus population that needs eliminating.” Prominent politicians proposed putting all those of Mexican descent into “concentration camps” – and killing any who refused. For a decade, people would come across skeletons in the south Texas brush, marked with execution-style bullet holes in the backs of their skulls.

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