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  • History Friday: The Great Adventure of Captain McNelly

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 22nd November 2013 (All posts by )

    (I’m off to a book event today – the Christmas Market, or Weihnachtsmarkt, at the conference center in New Braunfels, for the launch of The Quivera Trail. In the mean time, another thrilling frontier adventure. The details and the quotes are taken from Walter Prescott Webb’s history of the Rangers, which is so powerfully testosterone-laden that I have to keep it sectioned between a couple of … milder-themed books which have a sedating effect.)

    After the debacle of the Civil War, the Texas Rangers barely existed as an entity – either in Indian-fighting, or law-enforcing. The Federal government would not countenance the organization of armed bodies of volunteers for any purpose. Combating Indians or cross-border bandits was the business of the regular Army; interested semi-amateurs need not apply. But a Reconstruction-Republican governor, E. J. Davis, did institute a state police force in 1870, the existence of which was lauded as necessary for the preservation of law and order – such as it was. The state police under Davis was relatively short-lived and unadorned by laurels during its brief term, being dissolved at the end of his administration – but one of their officers had such a sterling reputation that when the Texas Rangers were formally reorganized, he was charged with heading one of the two divisions. One was the Frontier Battalion, dedicated to the Ranger’s traditional mission of fighting hostile Indians. The other – the Special Force – was charged with generally upholding law and order, shortly to become the Ranger’s modern raison d’être. Leander Harvey McNelly served for only a brief time in the interim of the change from Indian fighting to upholding law and order – but his leadership inspired many of those Rangers who took note of his personal example to heart.
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    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, History, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    History Friday:War in the Borderlands – Juan Cortina

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 25th October 2013 (All posts by )

    In the last few years before the outbreak of the Civil War, another war stalked the borderlands of the Rio Grande Valley, this one between Mexico and Texas, personified by a reckless young Mexican grandee named Juan Nepomunceno Cortina. He was the ‘black sheep’ son of a large and wealthy family with considerable holdings on either side of the border; a handsome, dashing and impulsive man, quick to take offense at insult. For a number of reasons, most to do with his family wealth and influence, he was also seen as the champion of the poorer Mexican residents, who were not infrequently stung by Anglo contempt and injustice. For his own part, Cortina violently resented certain Anglo ranchers, including one Augustus Glavaecke, who had often accused Cortina of helping himself to his and other Anglo rancher’s livestock.

    In spite of this, in 1858, Cortina was living at one of the family properties near Brownsville – close enough that he rode into town every day and whiled away the morning at a popular local coffee shop, drinking coffee and reading the newspapers. But one mid-June day, a former employee of his – Tomas Cabrera was drunk and disorderly, disrupting the peace and quiet of the coffee shop. Robert Spears, the city marshal, tried to arrest Cabrera, over the objections of Cortina. Spears answered Cortina with an insult, whereupon Cortina whipped out his pistol and shot Spears in the shoulder. He then grabbed his horse, pulling Cabrera up behind him, and galloped out of town. It was a spectacularly theatrical exit, and made him even more popular than ever among the poorer Mexicans along the border.

    Cortina lay low at the ranch for some month, while those Anglo residents of Brownsville – especially those who entertained lively suspicions about him – wondered what he would get up to next. He was buying horses and recruiting men for some purpose, probably nefarious. It didn’t come clear until the end of September, the morning after a grand ball in Matamoros, which practically everyone of means, Anglo and Mexican had attended. In the wee hours of the morning, Cortina rode into town with a hundred of his mounted, well-armed new best friends, and took it over, lock, stock and both barrels. He was after a number of his bitterest enemies, rancher Glavaecke and Marshal Spears among them. They escaped, but three other Americans and a Mexican who tried to shield one of the Americans died at the hands of Cortina’s men. They broke into the jail, liberating about a dozen prisoners, but murdering the jailor. They also tried to hoist the Mexican flag over the deserted American compound of Fort Brown.
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    Posted in Americas, History | 3 Comments »