I hadn’t planned to post again so soon after the last post, but I came across this and had to address it.
“The ‘We Stand America’ rally is planned for Friday through Sunday and is being hosted by several conservative, anti-illegal immigration groups, including Women Fighting for America, Veterans for America First, and Latinos for Trump, according to the Women Fighting For America’s website.
“The rally is part of a ‘Take Action Tour’ and will highlight border law enforcement, which organizers describe as ‘the essence of domestic security.’ There also will be a Sunday ‘rolling car protest on the border,’ the website says.
“’The McAllen, Texas, event will focus on border law enforcement and the direct connection to election integrity from a Biblical worldview,’ according to the We Stand America website.
“Most listed speakers are from out of town, including former U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan, who served under President Donald Trump, and retired Gen. Michael Flynn. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller also is listed as a speaker.”
Border security is, of course, an important topic. Borders are the entryways to any country and as such, they tend to be vulnerable. Defending those vulnerabilities is an important government function. But the questions that citizens of any country with borders has to ask is “what is the government protecting me from?” Illegal drugs and other contraband have been problems along the border with Mexico for decades. But even the degree of threat is questionable. George Diaz writes that “[f]or much of the border’s history, contraband trade across the international line consisted of tariff evasion on consumer goods, not the smuggling of prohibited items.” Abraham and Van Schendel contend that “international organized criminal gangs” do not represent the majority of smugglers. But there is no question that illegal drugs coming across the border is a serious problem. And that is the issue.
Conservatives like to throw around the term “border security.” But what do they mean? Texas governor Greg Abbot deployed the Texas National Guard to the border with Mexico in response to a crisis. That “crisis”? The arrival of Haitian immigrants to Del Rio Texas. Of course, by the time Abbott responded, that particular “crisis” had been dealt with by both the U.S. and Mexican governments, but apparently, Abbott believes thousands of immigrants showing up at the border is a constant threat. It hasn’t happened since. But Abbott, ready to jump on any fearmongering bandwagon likely to get him reelected launched Operation Lone Star (not to be confused with this Operation Lone Star, which sounds like a pretty good idea). Operation Lone Star, by the way, is not just a problem to liberals. Both The Military Times and The Army Times have taken issue with it (but as you probably know, both publications are liberal rags😒).
Even the Bush Institute recognizes the contributions of immigrants to American culture.
If Operation Lone Star and the desires of conservatives were about border security, Abbott would have sent the National Guard to the border specifically for drug interdiction. If their primary concern was American safety, there would be more administrators on the border, streamlining the immigration process in order to make sure that we know who is entering the country and their intentions. If this were all about security, we would be making friends with our neighbors, not vilifying them. If Abbott cared about the safety of Texans there would be mask and vaccine mandates and sensible gun laws that would have prevented the incredible amount of gun deaths in Texas this past year. But this is not about security. It is about white supremacy. It is about maintaining the status quo. Consider this quote from We Stand America:
“These illegals are beholden to their Marxist overlords. They get on the government dole, which is nothing other than redistributing your wealth to them. They are housed, fed, and transported across the country, again with government dollars (your dollars), tens of millions, reaching into the hundreds of millions, being funneled through Catholic Charities (who pretend destroying America is some kind of biblical imperative, that illegal immigrants have the same rights in a country that actual citizens have).”
This is what Operation Lone Star and the conservative fight for border security is all about. The immigrants are the enemy. The Catholic Church is the enemy. People of color who have made the borderlands their home for centuries are the enemy. All built on lies and misinformation.
This is about the bleaching of the borderlands.
 George T. Diaz, Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling Across the Rio Grande (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015), 2
 Willem van Schendel and Itty Abraham, Illicit Flows and Criminal Things: States, Borders, and the Other Side of Globalization (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), 4.
The late 1850s saw the Chinese government attempting to intervene in the treatment of Chinese immigrants in the Western states. American officials weren’t unresponsive, but the American consul in Kwangtung differentiated between the “coolie trade” and “voluntary emigration of Chinese adventurers.” He opined that regulations regarding voluntary labor could be addressed in future treaties, but that coolie traffic should be condemned “as a matter of humanity and policy.” But in 1859, the U.S Attorney general declared that any remedies had to come from congress. It would take a mutiny involving involuntary Chinese laborers for Congress to enact a law prohibiting their transport on American ships and subjecting Chinese ports to inspection. In essence, this meant that from that day forward, any Chinese laborer arriving in the US had been certified as free by the American government. But instead of really benefiting the laborers, it simply made acquiring them that much easier.
There was still fierce opposition to Chinese laborers in the West, especially California, but Western capitalists and business owners continued to promote their advantages as “womanlike labor.”In 1862, the California Joint Select Committee of the Assembly recommended that all resistance to Chinese labor be dropped since the coolie problem had been “solved” and all laborers were now free. To the surprise of probably no one, the Assembly rejected the resolution, choosing instead to send a long letter to Congress warning of the unassimilable Chinese immigrants and the dangers of bringing laborers who were so close to slave-like into California. The Senate blocked the letter.
The demand for Chinese laborers, though, was intense. Even though Governor Leland Stanford claimed, in his inaugural address of 1862, that the “settlement among us of an inferior race should be discouraged by every legitimate means…” railroads continued bringing in more Chinese workers. In fact, as the demand rose, merchants in California started to directly recruit laborers from China. But this was the far West. Most of the country was kinda busy in the early 1860s. Even so, in Abraham Lincoln’s December 1863 address to Congress, he shows a fairly keen interest in immigration. (Ok, he talks about a lot of stuff in the speech, but for our purposes, its immigration that matters.) In his speech, Lincoln tells Congress that “I again submit to your consideration the expediency of establishing a system for the encouragement of immigration. Although this source of national wealth and strength is again flowing with greater freedom than for several years before the insurrection occurred, there is still a great deficiency of laborers in every field of industry…” Lincoln believes “that under the sharp discipline of civil war the nation is beginning a new life.” He clearly sees that the War is leading to the necessity of an influx of workers. While not specifically mentioning it, the War is having a heavy toll on the country’s male labor pool and clearly they will not be replaced naturally. Lincoln does not mention Chinese laborers, but since the country will certainly be needing workers when it is reconstructed after the War, there must be a place for the Chinese, right? Maybe. Probably. But no.
Heather Cox Richardson writes that the mid- 1800s “was a complicated story in which sectional animosities, racial tensions, industrialization, women’s activism, and westward expansion cut across party lines to create both a new definition of what it meant to be an American and a new vision of the government’s role in the lives of its citizens.” Reconstruction was exactly that: an attempt to reconstruct the country and redefine roles and relationships that had been destroyed. So many aspects of the country changed. Relationships were redefined and those who formerly had no voice began to find theirs. Everything was different. Almost. It would be disingenuous to say that nothing much happened regarding Chinese immigrants from 1848 to 1882. Quite a bit did. But what did not happen is Chinese laborers finding a voice. Events unfolded around them. Americans argued for and against their presence, even the Chinese government spoke up. Mostly though, they continued to work, they continued to arrive (although never in the numbers that California sinophobes claimed). This is not to say that Reconstruction would not play a role in Chinese exclusion. In the congressional debates, Southern politicians would use the language of Reconstruction to push for exclusion and it would get ugly.
Another thing that didn’t happen was that the federal government did not show any interest in Chinese immigrants. Local governments did. Western state governments did. But the federal government stayed mostly uninvolved. The Burlingame Treaty would be the beginning of all that changing. Hatred of Chinese people would prove to a unifying force in a country fragmented in so many ways.
 Lucy M. Cohen, Chinese in the Post-Civil War South: A People Without a History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984),35-39
 Edward Prince Hutchinson, Legislative History of American Immigration Policy, 1798-1965 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), 44, 48
 Aristide R. Zolberg, A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008), 179
 Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer and Roger Daniels, The Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 43
In many ways, I am like a toddler. I am cranky without a nap; I prefer to eat with my fingers. I eat rice with a spoon. I always yell “cow” when I see one from a car. Squirrels and shiny objects will always distract me. But mostly, I thrive on patterns and routine, all of which have been hard to come by in the last year.
So I just kind of stopped.
The pandemic meant that my contract at my last school was not renewed (which turned out to be a good thing). I eventually got a new job, but found myself in a new part of the country, teaching much larger classes with a learning platform I had never used as an instructor. Everything else was put on multiple backburners. What’s important, though, is that after years of reading and writing about the U.S. border with Mexico, I finally live here, working with first and second generation Mexican American students, and Mexican students who come up from Mexico for school. A good proportion of them are first generation college students working their way through college. This is the first time that I have thought I am actually actually accomplishing something on a large scale. And it is a great feeling.
But let me tell you about the Rio Grande Valley. Its beautiful in a sparse sort of way, but the towns love parks, trees, and lawns. There are lots of bike paths and places to walk. There is an amazing birding center ( birds are kind of a thing here). There is also a staggering array of corporate stores. I have a theory about this. The Valley is incredibly cosmopolitan. There are people here from all over the country. They show up, settle in and think “people would sure like that place I like from back home.” So you get a Baskin Robbins.
Food here is delicious and varied. Not just Mexican, but barbecue, Chinese, delis, burgers, sushi, pretty much everything anyone could want. There are halal restaurants, vegan restaurants, shakes, smoothies, ice cream, bakeries (like the omigod Lara’s in Harlingen) and places I will try when I am not afraid of being murdered by the general public. Mostly, though, I am not sure I could ever function with HEB again. Their tortillas are all I could ever need in a bread product.
Driving through McAllen is like driving through any other similar sized town in America. Make no mistake. South Texas is America. Are there lots of taquerias? Yep. But New York was full of pizza places and Seattle was full of restaurants that serve deconstructed vegetable soup in hubcaps. Its the regionalisms that make towns unique.
There are also more hospitals, doctors, clinics, and a surprising amount of aesthetic medical offices. There is a children’s hospital now and two(!) more are being built. This tells me three things. First, the Valley is the center of it all more miles around. In the below map, the Rio Grande Valley serves all of the tan area. What is not shown on the map is the second thing I learned. Many Mexicans, especially the wealthy, come to the Valley for healthcare and to shop. In fact, there is a Tesla dealer in Brownsville. There is money here and that is only going to grow, as evidenced by the third thing I learned. There a LOT of young children here. Population growth overall here has been uneven in the last few years with Edinburg the clear winner (mostly due to the University of Texas- Rio Grande Valley, which obviously benefits me) and poverty is an issue, but one thing is for sure: the many, many elementary schools, three children’s hospitals, innumerable pediatricians (a pediatric endocrinologist!) means something. There is a feeling here that the entire place is about to explode. It seems that it took Covid to slow down the pace.
Of course, all of this comes with a downside. For me, it is the traffic and the sheer amount of people. There is heavy traffic all of the time, twenty four hours a day. Some people speed, others take their time, many cut across three lanes of traffic twenty feet before turning left or right. Not only that, there is constant construction and the interstate is being expanded. Its funny. When I first moved here, my car insurance went up. Also, I noticed that there are more lawyers (especially personal injury attorneys) than any place I have ever lived. ONE DAY of driving and I understood both.
Grocery stores are packed. Starbucks has lines into the street from open to close. Drive through windows take forever. And grackles. Just…grackles. I have never felt sensory overload like this. What makes it all worthwhile is that the people here are so great. They are warm, welcoming, and masked. My students are an absolute pleasure and my coworkers have been exceptionally helpful. This is a good place for me right now.
Well, that’s the Valley, my home for the foreseeable future. I will periodically report on the local goings on, but mostly I intend to get back to the history. This post, though, for what it’s worth is just to let anyone who cares know: I am as happy as could be expected under the circumstances.
“The world is a vampire Sent to drain Secret destroyers Hold you up to the flames And what do I get For my pain? Betrayed desires And a piece of the game.”
“Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage Then someone will say, “What is lost can never be saved” Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage.”
Smashing Pumpkins (“Bullet with Butterfly Wings”)
So, I’ll be honest. I skipped a week on this blog. Sure, I was busy. This is the first week of school in person (the last two weeks were online). But it was bigger than that. I’m frustrated. I’m angry. I’m at a loss as to what to do next. This is not the academia I signed up for.
So lets go back a ways, when I was a fresh-faced, optimistic innocent, first entering the world of academics. I had originally gone back to school because I needed to get my bachelors in order to progress in my chosen field (far from academia). But as I finished that, I was seduced by the lure of history. I decide, what the hell, let’s get a master’s, but that will be it. As I was working on that, I would hear “keep going. You could some day teach at an R1 university like this.” That became ” you could teach at a lower level university,” which shifted to “you could teach at a four year liberal arts college,” then “you might be able to teach at a community college,” finally settling on “you should really explore alt-ac careers.” I had fallen victim to an academic bait and switch.
The problem is who do I blame? I can blame myself, of course. In 2016, when Trump was elected, I should have seen the writing on the wall more clearly. The distrust of experts and higher education was pretty clear and likely to get worse (and it did). But I was functioning in a bubble, a bubble that reinforced that what I was doing was good, necessary, and productive. That is an allure that is hard to resist. I could have blamed the Republican Party, but that’s too easy. They only fed on a fear that existed outside of them, a fear with really deep roots in society (to be honest, academia has never really done itself any favors in regards to its relationship with society. The term “ivory tower” exists for a reason). As much as it pains me, I think the party is a reflection of its members, not so much the members’ guiding force. Besides, on a bad day, Republicans are way less than half the country. Where did the other half go? (Unfortunately, that is a complicated political question I just don’t have the energy for.)
I could blame administrations. But they are all reacting to forces larger than themselves. The push to see colleges as businesses (for the record, my students are NOT my customers), expecting them to respond to challenges in the same way that a business would, is driving many of the choices made my college administrations. But doesn’t that make sense? Look at the average Boards of Regents and Trustees. Lots of CEOs, businesspeople, and whatnot. Not so many educators or people with PhD’s in social sciences and humanities. When finances get challenging, when profits are low (I know most colleges are nonprofit, but do the boards know?), how do you expect them to respond? When all y0u have is a hammer…
Even so, the choices being made are bewildering. The arts and sciences are extraordinarily vulnerable at the moment as STEM threatens to take over. And why not? What good are the humanities? Well, sociology helps us understand how we interact with each other and why. Psychology helps us understand ourselves. Journalism (at least journalism practiced by trained journalists, anyway) keeps us informed. History shows us where we have come from and helps us see where we might be headed. The fine and performing arts show us that there are many healthy ways to express ourselves. our experiences, and our emotions. All of these disciplines contribute to a well rounded, informed, engaged citizen. They don’t all generate revenue, but they all help develop the American that I would think we all want. Yet they are all, in some ways, on the chopping block.
Let’s talk about tenure. I always wondered about tenure. As far as I know, only college professors and federal judges get tenure (I’ve always been suspicious of the latter). So if no one gets it, why is it important? All I can speak of is my own experience, but let me give you an example. Over the last few years, I have seen many professors call out their institutions for hypocrisy, racism, sexism, etc. They have also been quick to let everyone know when responses to COVID were inadequate. Many professors make sure that the schools they work for are held accountable for their actions. I, on the other hand, rarely draw attention to the iniquities I see, to failures of the administration, to things that I know are wrong. What’s the difference? I have never had tenure. There is no one to protect me when I speak out. Nothing to stop whatever college I work for from firing me. Like a lot of people, I need my job. Now, let’s imagine a school where everyone is like me: at worst an adjunct, with nothing really invested in the school, and at best, an at will employee. Who will speak out when the administration acts egregiously? Who will confront a school’s troubling past? Who will teach subjects that upset the largely white, male, conservative boards of regents? Students in the humanities will get careful, paranoid educations from professors afraid to risk their jobs. Good for administrations, bad for education.
I can’t say any of this surprises me. I knew that there had been a push to cut the humanities and eradicate tenure well before now, but the pandemic has allowed schools to push forward with those goals even quicker. My gut feeling is that the next year will see a scorched earth policy towards the social sciences. Then, schools will pick through the rubble, finding survivors, hiring them for non tenure track jobs. In the meantime, as positions are cut, remaining professors will be reminded of how lucky they are to have a job and told to make the shortages work. And they will. I have been lucky enough to have been taught by and worked with incredibly talented educators who get through difficult situations with aplomb. I suppose the question is, what will the other side of all of this look like? I have no idea. But I do know that I have to figure something out. I have given the last thirteen years of my life to academia. At this point, its all I know.
This is why history is so fascinating to me. The connections between people, events, or places is often surprising. When I first started looking at the men who patrolled the border with Mexico before the Border Patrol, I had no idea that the story would begin in earnest in California, more than 500 miles away from Mexico in San Francisco. When all the world headed to California in 1848 to find their own little gold mine, Chinese showed up also. Their very presence would eventually lead to the first major anti-immigration legislation. You may be thinking “but Americans have always been tolerant and respectful of foreigners, even those with different cultures, appearances, and languages.” (Seriously? That’s what you think? You need Jesus. And a history textbook not printed in Texas.) Unfortunately, nope. Nativism, the belief that native born Americans were superior to everyone else, was just gaining steam in the early 1850s, but it was a mostly East Coast thing, so California needed its own special racism.
Historians have tended to separate nativism and Chinese Exclusion. I kinda get that. Nativism was primarily an East Coast phenomenon and the Chinese were almost all located on the West Coast. But that approach tends to let East Coast politicians off the hook. Andrew Gyory has pointed out that East Coast politicians, most having never seen, let alone talked to, a Chinese person, used Chinese exclusion to court West Coast voters. When East Coast leaders decided to use Chinese immigrants as scapegoats, they built on years of racist rhetoric that had been directed to the Irish, the Italians, or the Jews. Irish teamster Dennis Kearney successfully used nativist rhetoric similar to that being used against the Irish in the East against the Chinese in SanFrancisco. This language and violence overlap meant that nativism and Chinese exclusion were two sides of a very unequal coin. Chinese had little effect on nativists, but the nativists would prove devastating to the Chinese community.
I must admit. I have always been slightly befuddled by the Chinese Exclusion Era. The Chinese population was never especially large before or after federal restrictions; their numbers peaked at almost 107, 500 in 1890 and the vast majority in California.  Yet from 1882, when Congress passed the first Chinese Exclusion Act, through the early 1900s, the United States government became so terrified of Chinese immigration that one could look at the Congressional Record and believe that the country was on the verge of a full-scale invasion. How the government managed to scare itself is both simple and incomprehensibly stupid. The simple answer is racism. Many Americans feared the Chinese because they stubbornly refused to become just like them. Matthew Frye Jacobson refers to this resentment as Americans “bristl[ing] at the general failure of the world’s peoples [such as the Chinese] to adopt obediently the roles scripted for them by the nation’s economic requirements…” (And really, who doesn’t want to be American? Patriotism and love of one’s culture were clearly invented by Americans. Right? Hello? Anybody?) But what is incomprehensibly stupid is that the Chinese were never a threat to the United States in any way. Many, in fact, were happy to work a while, go back to China, and come back again later to do it all over again. I can’t explain racism or stupid, but I can help you understand how it all went to hell and that’s a start.
White Californians considered Chinese as far below them, when they considered them at all. For white protestant guys, California was a golden paradise, where all manner of dreams could be realized. Not so much for nonwhites. For them, California was a place that offered a break from crushing poverty (many would return home after raising a little money), a place to eke out a living, mostly by serving the needs of dream chasing white men. Chinese in particular were especially punished during the Gold Rush, even as they did the work white men refused to do. California was never an even playing field. White Californians and white new arrivals kept did everything they could to keep Chinese immigrants down, making sure that their impressive work ethics would never lead to an economic rivalry. But that wasn’t enough. When the Gold Rush ended, California whites simply decided that the Chinese had to go.
One of the earliest references to fear of the Chinese in California on a governmental level is the Minority Reports of the Committee on Mines and Mining Interests from March 10, 1856. The report gist of the report was that miners were upset at a proposal to lower the special tax on Chinese miners by one third. The committee lamented that “the working men of California” needed the tax left the way it was because “[t]hey believe that [it] encourage[s] the Chinese to gradually leave the State.” [Italics in the original.] The committee wanted “the Legislature to enact a law which would more effectually rid the State of the disgusting presence of the Chinese…” Like virtually everyone else who hated the Chinese, the report overestimated the numbers of Chinese in California, and overstated how many would immigrate to California in the future. This would become the language of bigotry in the West. Exclusionists often described Chinese as a “horde,” soon to be invading America by the millions. But clearly words were not enough.
Chinese in the U.S. West endured wave after wave of physical violence, especially during the years leading up to 1882. Armed white men murdered and set on fire Chinese men in Chico, California in 1877; vigilantes often roamed Chinatown in San Francisco, attacking its Chinese residents; there were also riots in Los Angeles in 1871; Denver in 1880; and, after the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Rock Springs, Wyoming in 1885, and near the Snake River in Oregon in 1887. All of this was fed by violent language. For decades the Chinese had shown themselves to be no threat to anyone in the West, and certainly not in the Midwest and the East, yet arguments over Chinese exclusion raged. The federal government continued to warn Americans of the dire threat of the Chinese “hordes,” while magazines regularly published articles regarding the un-Christian and un-Constitutional exclusion of the Chinese and, less frequently, reasons why the Act should be extended. Newspapers focused on political debates but chose whose speech to print based on the newspaper’s location. For as long as they had been in the United States, Chinese immigrants’ relationship with Americans was largely one of words, especially since most of America had never even seen or met a Chinese immigrant. These words would continue to sharpen as restriction became exclusion. From the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 through each of the Chinese Exclusion Acts and their many iterations, words dominated the world of Chinese immigrants, through editorials, treaties, and especially legislation.
You have no doubt figured out that this is about to get pretty exciting, especially if you consider congressional debates exciting. But you will have to be patient. Next we will make another geographical leap and discuss Reconstruction. Its gonna matter later.
 Andrew Gyory, Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 76.
 Eleventh Census of the United States- 1890; Census Reports Volume I- Population Part I, 474.
 Matthew Fry Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876- 1917 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001), 5.
 For more on the early treatment of Chinese immigrants by white Californians, see Iris Chang, The Chinese inAmerica: A Narrative History, (New York, NY, U.S.A.: Penguin Books, 2003); Bennet Bronson, and Chuimei Ho. Coming Home in Gold Brocade: Chinese in Early Northwest America. (Seattle, WA: Chinese in Northwest American Research Committee, 2015); Ryan Dearinger, The Filth of Progress: Immigrants, Americans, and the Building of Canals and Railroads in the West, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016). Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
James Allen, ed., Minority Report of the Committee on Mines and Mining Interests (Sacramento, California: California Government Printing Office, 1856), 4, 5.
 See Andrew Gyory, Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). For more on anti-Chinese violence also see Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants since 1882 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004); Erika Lee, At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Roger Daniels, ed. Anti- Chinese Violence in North America (New York: Arno Press, 1978); Liping Zhu, The Road to Chinese Exclusion: The Denver Riot, 1880 Election, and the Rise of the West (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas Press, 2013). The 1871 and 1885 massacres were especially brutal. In Los Angeles there were 17 dead; in Wyoming 28 dead and 70 homes were burned. For more on the Los Angeles riot, see Scott Zesch, “Chinese Los Angeles in 1870-1871: The Makings of a Massacre.” Southern California Quarterly, Summer, 90, no. 2 (2008): 109-58.
 Beth Lew-Williams posits the argument that word choice made a significant difference in 1882 as contemporaries referred to the Chinese Exclusion Act as the “Chinese Restriction Act” in an attempt to retain diplomatic ties with China. Only after restriction failed and China gave in to exclusion did the United States enact Chinese Exclusion in 1888. See Lew-Williams, Beth. “Before Restriction Became Exclusion.” Pacific Historical Review 83, no. 1 (2014):24-56.
So why all the hullabaloo about wanting the southern borderlands and much of the West anyway? Didn’t the U.S. already have enough land for everyone to become the yeoman farmer of Thomas Jefferson’s dreams? Probably, but as far-fetched as it may sound, the land owned by the United States and “acquired” from Native Americans was not enough. After Mexico had won its freedom from Spain, it outlawed slavery in Texas. But Texans were pretty big fans of slavery so there were demands from within and without the state for the United States to annex Texas. In 1836, Texas won its independence from Mexico and really, really wanted to join America. Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren weren’t big on the idea so they resisted. Neither really wanted to start a war with Mexico. That would all change with John Tyler.
Tyler was elected president in 1840, and while it would not be correct to say that Jackson and Van Buren were not big on slavery (they were just more politically paranoid), Tyler was a bigger fan and by 1844, an agreement made Texas eligible for admission as a territory and opened the door for admission as a state. Under Tyler, Texas was annexed. This was big step, but if Tyler wanted a new slave state, it would take a true Texas fanboy, James K. Polk, to actually bring Texas into the fold. He would do that by starting the war Jackson and Van Buren never wanted.
In 1845 John O’ Sullivan (probably) coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny,” meaning that God gave the United States all of the continent to do with as it pleased. But there were large swaths of the continent where other governments disagreed with God. The first of those governments was Britain, which owned what is now Oregon, Washington State, and Idaho, plus most of British Columbia. Polk wanted all of it. His campaign slogan was “54 40 or fight,” referring to extending the U.S. border just north of Oregon. By bid 1846, the Polk administration had negotiated with Britain and through diplomacy came to a peaceful resolution in which Oregon would be divided along the 49th parallel. The other country not fully convinced that God was an American was Mexico. But through the same diplomacy between two countries that respected each other, the U.S. would reach a compromise with Mexico and acquire a reasonable portion of southwestern territory.
Nah, not really.
By 1846 the United States was in a full blown war with Mexico, determined to take all the land it wanted with as little negotiation as possible. Negotiating with a Catholic country full of brown people would mean admitting that Mexico was the political equal of the United States, which was not likely to happen. Through sheer force, the United States ended up with more than half a million square miles of territory, including what is now Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico, and part of California. So how did the war start? I think a reminiscence from my life would be useful at this point.
When I was about 11 and my sister was about 6, we were playing on our own sides of the room (it was more peaceful for both of us if we did that). In the middle of the room was a toy we both wanted (I can’t remember what it was). Technically it was on my side of the room and technically my toy, but my sister wanted it anyway. A fight over the toy ensued. Eventually my father burst in and asked what happened. My sister claimed that the entire fight started WHEN I HIT HER BACK. My father gave me not only the toy she wanted, but told her to pick some more of mine. I lost a lot of toys.
So, if my sister was the United States, I was Mexico, the toy was the Nueces River in South Texas, and my father was the American people, then there you go. But in order for the analogy to work, you also have to picture my sister as a 300 pound, armed and angry five-year-old. In the War with Mexico, Mexico was pretty over matched. Mexico and the United States go to war.
Lots of war stuff happens.
In February of 1848, Mexico and the United States sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the war is over. But it is the treaty itself that will be so important to the history of the border with Mexico. First, it led to the final form of the continental United States (mostly. More on that soon).
Next, Mexico gave up all claims to Texas and recognized the Rio Grande as America’s southern boundary.
The U.S. did, though, throw a bone to Mexico and settle all claims of U.S. citizens against Mexico. But what did it all mean in terms of U.S. border enforcement? The answer lies in Article 11, which states:
“Considering that a great part of the territories, which, by the present treaty, are to be comprehended for the future within the limits of the United States, is now occupied by savage tribes, who will hereafter be under the exclusive control of the Government of the United States, and whose incursions within the territory of Mexico would be prejudicial in the extreme, it is solemnly agreed that all such incursions shall be forcibly restrained by the Government of the United States whensoever this may be necessary; and that when they cannot be prevented, they shall be punished by the said Government, and satisfaction for the same shall be exacted all in the same way, and with equal diligence and energy, as if the same incursions were meditated or committed within its own territory, against its own citizens.”
“It shall not be lawful, under any pretext whatever, for any inhabitant of the United States to purchase or acquire any Mexican, or any foreigner residing in Mexico, who may have been captured by Indians inhabiting the territory of either of the two republics; nor to purchase or acquire horses, mules, cattle, or property of any kind, stolen within Mexican territory by such Indians.”
“And in the event of any person or persons, captured within Mexican territory by Indians, being carried into the territory of the United States, the Government of the latter engages and binds itself, in the most solemn manner, so soon as it shall know of such captives being within its territory, and shall be able so to do, through the faithful exercise of its influence and power, to rescue them and return them to their country. or deliver them to the agent or representative of the Mexican Government. The Mexican authorities will, as far as practicable, give to the Government of the United States notice of such captures; and its agents shall pay the expenses incurred in the maintenance and transmission of the rescued captives; who, in the meantime, shall be treated with the utmost hospitality by the American authorities at the place where they may be. But if the Government of the United States, before receiving such notice from Mexico, should obtain intelligence, through any other channel, of the existence of Mexican captives within its territory, it will proceed forthwith to effect their release and delivery to the Mexican agent, as above stipulated.”
And finally, this:
“For the purpose of giving to these stipulations the fullest possible efficacy, thereby affording the security and redress demanded by their true spirit and intent, the Government of the United States will now and hereafter pass, without unnecessary delay, and always vigilantly enforce, such laws as the nature of the subject may require. And, finally, the sacredness of this obligation shall never be lost sight of by the said Government, when providing for the removal of the Indians from any portion of the said territories, or for its being settled by citizens of the United States; but, on the contrary, special care shall then be taken not to place its Indian occupants under the necessity of seeking new homes, by committing those invasions which the United States have solemnly obliged themselves to restrain.”
All of this meant three things:
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo meant that as of 1848, the US military would control not only the interior of the newly acquired territory, but the border
The army would prevent incursions into Mexico by Indians
In other words, the initial goal of border enforcement was to protect Mexico
Article 11 would not last, of course, but Mexico was in no position to argue. But they would try. The first big argument would be over the Mesilla Valley, which both countries claimed.
Mexico wanted compensation for Indian attacks in the area. The U.S. claimed that it did not agree to compensation (the treaty is pretty vague on the subject). Even more important, this was the only route for a southern transcontinental railroad to go through Mexican territory and Mexico had evicted U.S. citizens from the Mesilla Valley. Governor William “Not on My Watch” Lane of New Mexico unilaterally declared the Mesilla Valley part of the U.S. territory of New Mexico. So the United States sent in Lt. James Gadsden (who, in unrelated news was interested in developing a southern transcontinental railroad and needed Mesilla Valley to complete those plans) to negotiate. Gadsden had three goals in his negotiations with Mexican president Santa Anna. First, he intended to renegotiate a border that provided a route for a southern railroad (it’s still a mystery why Gadsden found that so important). Second, he wanted to arrange for a release of U.S. financial obligations for Native American attacks and third he sought to settle the monetary claims between the countries related to the Garay project (Mexico granted Mexican Don José de Garay the right to build colonies for Americans on an isthmus in the disputed territory with capital from the New Orleans Company. Fearing the colonists would rebel as those in Texas had, former Mexican President Juan Ceballos revoked the grant, angering U.S. investors).
This is where it gets crazy.
The United States got everything it wanted and the FINAL contours of the continental United States were established. But the interesting part is that the United States government agreed to work toward preventing American raids along Mexico’s border and Mexico voided U.S. responsibility for Native American attacks. This effectively voided article 11 of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo but it also meant that the origins of federal border enforcement were in keeping Americans from illegally crossing into Mexico.
To quote Florence Johnston, “ain’t that a pip?”
This was all super interesting for me, but it is not in my dissertation. I am not sure why. I do go into detail about the California Gold Rush in 1849, but only in relation to Chinese exclusion. I think the problem was that I had started my research with Chinese immigration so moving from 1849 California to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 kind of made sense, especially as the Act forced Chinese to attempt to enter the country across the border since the ports were pretty well controlled. But that meant that taking a broader view of my dissertation means that I kind of imply that nothing of any real importance was occurring along the border until 1894 when the first border stations were built. I knew that wasn’t true of course, but I developed tunnel vision of a sort, focusing too much on the federal presence along the border with Mexico, since there was minimal federal presence there before 1894 outside of a few customs inspectors and the military. I realize now that was a mistake.
So the book will have more in the way of prologue. There is so much of importance occurring along the border from 1848 on and I need to describe it. I am writing more about the War with Mexico, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, all of which contributed to not only the Chinese Exclusion Act, but the hardening of the border with Mexico. The groundwork was there for the 1894 border stations and understanding not only that groundwork, but also the Texas Rangers and Reconstruction in deeper ways than I explored in my dissertation means a better understanding of what’s going on now. And that is the entire point.
Ok, I know what you are saying. “Sure looks like you are romanticizing the Texas Rangers, there, Jim.” I’m not. I promise. But to understand the Rangers, you have to understand how they are remembered, how they are memorialized. The primary resource for all things Texas Ranger is the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco, Texas. The following biographies are from their website and will help explain how deep the lionization of Texas Rangers goes in Texas, why they influenced early border enforcers, and why their presence can still be felt in the Border Patrol.
Stephen Fuller Austin, born in southwestern Virginia, is often called the Father of Texas. He can also be called the Father of the Texas Rangers as he founded the earliest precursor of the famous law enforcement organization.
In 1820, during the last year of Spain’s control of Mexico and Texas, Moses Austin, obtained a commission as an empresario (a settlement agent) to bring settlers to Texas. Moses Austin died before he could carry out this new venture and his son, Stephen F. Austin decided to continue with his father’s plans. He arrived in Texas in August of 1821.
The new government of Mexico was in turmoil and, after canceling and then reinstating his commission, warned Austin that he must be responsible for the conduct of his colonists and provide for their defense.
Following clashes with the Karankawa Indians, Austin formed two companies of “men. . . to act as rangers for the common defense” and paid for their services himself. The first company was formed in May of 1823 under the command of Moses Morrison and responded to raids along the Texas coast by Tonkawa and Karankawa Indians.
In August 1823, Austin asked for an additional ten men to supplement the Morrison company. These two companies are regarded as the predecessors of the modern Texas Rangers. In 1835 a council of colonial Texas representatives created a “Corps of Rangers” to protect the frontier, formalizing the militia that Austin created.
Austin commanded troops during the siege of Bexar in the Texas Revolution (October 1835 – April 1836) and lived to see the creation of the Republic of Texas. He died of pneumonia on December 27, 1836, at the age of forty-three.
John S. Ford was born in South Carolina on May 26, 1815. He grew up on a plantation in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Ford was a good student and by the age of 16 was qualified to teach, but instead he went on to study medicine. He moved to Texas in 1836. Joining the Texas Army he served until 1838. Ford settled in San Augustine and practiced medicine for eight years. During this time he also studied law and passed the bar exam.
In 1844 Ford was elected to the Texas House, where he introduced the resolution to accept annexation to the United States. This was the beginning of a long career of public service. Ford relocated to Austin in 1845 and reported on the activities of the annexation convention as a reporter for the Texas National Register. By the end of the year he had purchased the paper and changed the name to the Texas Democrat. During the Mexican War he served as regimental adjutant under Jack Hays. It was as adjutant that Ford earned his nickname “Rip.” One of his main duties was to report on men killed in action. He completed each report with the words “rest in peace” after his signature. As the number of fatalities increased he abbreviated the phrase to “R.I.P.” Soon the men were calling Ford “Old Rip.”
In 1849 Ford made an exploration of the country between San Antonio and El Paso, publishing a map of what became known as the Ford and Neighbors Trail. He was also named captain of Ranger company stationed between the Nueces and Rio Grande. In 1858 he accepted a commission in the state troops and defeated the Indians in two battles near the Canadian River. IN 1859 he and his troops were sent to the Rio Grande. Here they spent many months trying to quell the activities of Juan Cortina. During the Civil War Ford was elected colonel of the Second Texas Cavalry, with a command in the Rio Grande District. In May of 1865 he led the Confederate troops in the battle of Palmito Ranch, the last battle of the Civil War.
In the years following the War, Ford continued his work as a newspaperman and politician. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1875 and served in the Texas legislature from 1876 to 1879. In his later years, he wrote his reminiscences as well as several articles on Texas history. He died in San Antonio on November 3, 1897. He was buried beside the San Antonio River.
Jack Hays was born 28 January 1817 at Cedar Lick in Wilson County, Tennessee. By the age of fifteen he had moved to Mississippi and began to learn surveying. By mid-1836 Hays was in Texas where he joined a Ranger company under Erastus “Deaf” Smith. He took part in a skirmish with the Mexican Cavalry and assisted in the capture of Juan Sánchez. He was appointed deputy surveyor of the Bexar District. Hays combined his knowledge of Indian warfare with his rangering.
In 1840, Hays was appointed a captain of the Rangers. He proved himself to be a fearless fighter and a good leader of men. His Ranger companies, often mixed groups of Anglos, Hispanics and Indians, engaged in battles and skirmishes with both the Comanches and other hostile Indian tribes, as well as Mexican troops, throughout the early years of the 1840s. Hays and his Rangers were involved in important actions at Plum Creek, Cañon de Ugalde, Bandera Pass, Painted Rock, Salado, and Walker’s Creek. The battle at Walker’s Creek marked a turning point in Indian warfare with the first effective use of repeating firearms in close combat with the Comanche. Hays gained further respect as a fighter during the Mexican War. The First Regiment, Texas Mounted Riflemen, under the command of Colonel Jack Hays, served with the army of Zachary Taylor. Hays’ men scouted for the army and took part in the Battle of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico in 1846.
George W. Baylor 1832 – 1916
George Wythe Baylor was born August 2, 1832 in Fort Gibson, Indian Territory. The family moved often during his early years. In 1836 they relocated to Natchez, Mississippi where his father died. Over the next several years the family moved to Fort Gibson to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Little Rock, Arkansas, and finally back to Fort Gibson.
In 1845, Baylor moved to Texas to live with his brother John in Ross Prairie near La Grange. He went to Rutersville College and later, through the influence of his uncle R.E.B. Baylor, he attended Baylor University at Independence, Texas. He worked for a short time as a clerk with the Commissary Department of the U. S. Army at the Alamo in San Antonio.
Gold fever took him to California in 1854. 1856 finds Baylor in San Francisco and a member of the Vigilance Committee. According to family letters, George could not find steady employment or strike it rich in the gold fields. By late 1859 he was back in Texas and living with his brother in Weatherford.
Baylor joined the Confederate cause at the outbreak of the Civil War. Serving first with his brother’s Arizona brigade, by late summer, he was aide-de-camp to Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston. Following the battle of Shiloh, Baylor returned to Texas and was elected colonel of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment of the Arizona Brigade. He also led a Cavalry regiment during the Red River campaign of 1864 and was commended for gallantry. Following the war, Baylor continued his restless lifestyle, never staying in one place for long.
In September of 1879, Baylor was commissioned a lieutenant in the Texas Rangers and ordered to take over the command of a detachment of Rangers in El Paso. Baylor was able, through his knowledge of Spanish and his friendships with many of the leading citizens of El Paso, to put to rest the lingering hatreds caused by the Salt Wars. He was soon involved in protecting the region from attacks from the Apaches. Baylor used local guides and worked closely with Mexican authorities on the south side of the Rio Grande. One of Baylor’s greatest successes as a Ranger came in January 1881. For several weeks the U. S. Tenth Cavalry and the Rangers were kept busy in pursuit Victorio’s band of Apaches.
In January 1881 a small band of Apaches attacked a stagecoach in Quitman Canyon. Following the cold trail, Baylor and his Rangers tracked the Apaches down the bank of the Rio Grande and into Mexico. Along the way they found items taken from the stage. The trail turned back into Texas, where they found a fresh camp site. Following the trail into the Eagle Mountains, the Rangers came across a camp that was only hours old. Baylor’s men met up with a detachment of Rangers from Lt. Nevill’s company at Eagle Springs. After more tracking, the Rangers finally came upon the Indian camp. A fight ensued on the morning of January 29.
The fight, though small, has come down through history as the last Indian battle in Texas. In 1882 Baylor was promoted to captain of Company A. In 1885 Baylor’s Company A was disbanded due to budget cuts. After his Ranger service, Baylor was elected from El Paso to serve in the Texas State House of Representatives. He also served as clerk of the district and circuit courts for a number of years. He died on March 17, 1916 in San Antonio. He is buried in the Confederate Cemetery in San Antonio.
John B. Armstrong was born January 1850 in McMinnville, Tennessee. After having spent time in Missouri and Arkansas, Armstrong moved to Texas in 1871 and settled in Austin.
In the early 1870s, Armstrong was a member of the Travis Rifles (named after William Travis). On May 20, 1875, he enlisted in the Texas Rangers, becoming a member of Capt. Leander McNelly’s Special Forces. He was soon made Sergeant, and took part in the Las Cuevas War. He was also involved in the killing and capture of several suspected criminals in the area between Eagle Pass and Laredo.
After McNelly retired from the Ranger service, Armstrong continued to serve under Lee Hall working in the Eagle Pass area. Armstrong’s most famous exploit was his capture of John Wesley Hardin. It was Hardin’s killing of Comanche County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in May 1874, that put the Rangers on his trail. Captured in Louisiana in September 1874 and returned to Texas, Hardin soon escaped and remained out of sight until August 1877.
Recuperating from a gunshot wound, and walking with a cane, Armstrong still applied to the Adjutant General for permission to work the Hardin case. Detective John Duncan was assigned to work with him. Learning of Hardin’s whereabouts in Alabama, Armstrong got a warrant for him, and with Duncan went in pursuit. Hardin’s gang had been menacing the railroad and the railroad was happy to assist the Ranger in way possible to capture the outlaw. Tracking Hardin to Florida, the Ranger enlisted the aid of local lawmen in Pensacola to assist them in the capture.
When the train carrying Hardin came into the station, Armstrong entered the front of the coach. Switching his cane to his left hand, he drew his Colt .45 with his right and confronted Hardin and four members of his gang. One of the men drew and shot at Armstrong who returned the fire killing the man. Hardin’s gun had hung up on his suspenders allowing the Ranger time to hit Hardin over the head, knocking him unconscious. He unarmed the other three men. Returning to Alabama, Armstrong awaited extradition papers and returned Hardin to Texas.
In 1882 he established a cattle ranch in Willacy county. He died 1 May, 1913, and is buried in Austin at the Oakwood Cemetery.
Marvin (Red) Burton was born in 1885 in McLennan County. He never wanted to be a policeman, but he served as Waco’s chief of police for more than four years.
He began his career as a Ranger with his appointment by Governor Pat Neff in 1922. He was instrumental in cleaning up the professional whiskey makers and other major crimes of the troubled oil-boom town of Borger.
In February, 1922, a series of ax murders and rapes began in McLennan County. Two men were convicted of the crimes, but Burton did not believe they were guilty, and even testified in their defense. Later the real murderer was arrested. Burton helped to control the crowd of 5000 at his hanging – the last legal hanging in Texas, in 1923.
Burton’s service as a law officer included police chief, deputy sheriff, Special Ranger, and Texas Ranger. He died in 1970.
Jesse Lee Hall was born in Lexington, North Carolina on October 9, 1849. The original spelling of his name was “Leigh,” but Hall changed it to Lee soon after moving to Texas in 1869. He first worked as a schoolteacher, but soon became a city marshal in Sherman, a deputy sheriff in Denison, and the sergeant of arms for the Texas Senate.
In August 1876, Hall became the second in command of Leander McNelly’s Special Force of Texas Rangers. Serving in the Goliad region, Hall soon broke up a gang of vigilantes and gained the goodwill of the community. In October 1876, Hall became the acting commander of the Ranger company.
He moved the company to Cuero to suppress the Sutton-Taylor Feud. The company was reorganized at Victoria in January 1877. Hall was made 1st Lieutenant and company commander with John B. Armstrong serving as the 2nd Lieutenant. Hall used the company to help suppress cattle rustling, raids across the border fueled by the Diaz revolution in Mexico, and the raiding of John King Fisher and his men. In 1880 Hall retired from the Rangers, turning over command of the company to T. L. Oglesby.
In the early 1880s Hall managed the Dull Ranch and worked to help stop the fence cutting activities in that area. He served briefly as agent to the Anadarko Indians before settling in San Antonio. With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Hall raised two companies for service in the First United States Volunteer Infantry regiment. After the release of the regiment from duty, Hall reentered the
army and saw action as a leader of the Macabee Scouts in the Philippines. He was discharged on October 6, 1900.
Lee Hall died on March 17, 1911 and was buried in the National Cemetery at San Antonio. Former Adjutant General Wilburn H. King characterized Hall as “a man of daring and almost reckless physical courage, of fine physique and resistless energy.”
John Reynolds Hughes was born 11 February 1855 in Illinois. The family later moved to Kansas. At the age of fourteen Hughes left home and eventually made his way into Indian Territory. He lived among the Choctaw and Osage Indians for about four years and then lived with the Comanche in the Fort Sill area. There he worked as a trader and for a short time as a trail driver. Hughes’ right arm was partially disabled during a fight, but he quickly learned to shoot with his left hand. Hughes moved to Texas, buying a farm near Liberty Hill where he raised horses.
In 1886 several horses were stolen from his and neighboring ranches. Hughes trailed the men for several months, killing some of them and capturing the rest. He returned the stolen horses to their owners. His feat gained the attention of not only the outlaws but also the Texas Rangers.
In July 1887, Hughes helped Texas Ranger Ira Aten track down and kill escaped murderer Judd Roberts. In August 1887, Hughes was persuaded to join the Texas Rangers. He had risen to the rank of sergeant in Company D Frontier Battalion by 1893. When their Captain, Frank Jones, was killed in June 1893, Hughes was promoted to captain of Company D. For most of his career, Hughes served along the border of southwest Texas.
In 1901, when the Frontier Battalion was abolished and the State Rangers created, John Hughes was selected as one of the four Captains of the new companies. He served until his retirement in 1915. During the 28 years he was a Ranger, Hughes dealt with a wide variety of cases including thefts at the Shafter silver mines, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, murders and even the Maher-Fitzsimmons prize fight. He was known as “the border boss.”
In his book Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger, W. W. Sterling described Captain Hughes in this way: “John R. Hughes had every requisite of a great captain: initiative, courage, intelligence and judgment. He loved the Service. One of the axioms he used in enlisting his men. . . was ‘Nerve without judgment is dangerous, and has no place in the Ranger Service.’ “
John Hughes never married. He spent his retirement years prospecting and traveling by automobile. He was also involved in the banking industry, becoming chairman of the board and largest stockholder of the Citizens Industrial Bank of Austin, but he continued to live in El Paso.
In 1940 John R. Hughes received the Certificate of Valor, an award commemorating the the bravery of peace officers. He moved to Austin to live with a niece, and on 3 June 1947, after living through the end of the frontier and two world wars he committed suicide at the age of 92. He was buried in the State Cemetery in Austin, Texas.
James B. Gillett was born in Austin, Texas on November 4, 1856. By 1872 the family had moved to Lampasas. Gillett soon started working at the local ranches. In 1875, he went to Menard and joined the Texas Rangers.
His first service was with Captain D. W. Roberts Company D. He later served with Captain N. O. Reynolds and G. W. Baylor. Gillett served mainly in the counties of Kimble, Mason, Menard, Kerr, San Saba, Llano, Lampasas, Burnet, and El Paso counties. In addition to fights with the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Indians, Gillett also dealt with cattle thieves and outlaws. In January of 1881 Gillett, as part of a company led by G. W. Baylor, participated in what is called the last fight between Texas Rangers and Indians. After a pursuit of Apache Indians who had attacked a stagecoach, the Rangers surprised the Indian camp, killing six, including women and children, capturing a woman and two children and scattering the rest of the band into the mountains.
In December of 1881, after six years service, Gillett resigned from the Rangers. He was appointed assistant city marshal of El Paso. In June of 1882 he became Marshall of El Paso. Gillett had a reputation as a man without fear. He left the Marshall’s office in April 1885, becoming the manager of the Estado Land and Cattle Company. He held this position for six years, resigning to begin ranching for himself.
Gillett ranched south of Alpine until 1904 when he moved his family to Roswell, New Mexico. The family moved back to Texas in 1907. He bought the Barrell Spring Ranch and began building a premium herd of registered Herefords. Gillett retired from ranching in 1923, leased his ranch and sold his cattle to his son Milton. Moving to Marfa he became very active in service clubs and helped to organize the West Texas Historical Association.
In 1921, Gillett wrote and published his memoirs, Six years with the Texas Rangers. It has remained in print ever since. The book was condensed into a textbook in 1928 and was used in public schools for many years in at least seventeen states. James B. Gillett died of heart failure on June 11, 1937. He was buried in the Marfa cemetery.
This is probably a good point to note that much of this blog will be broad outlines and will not go into any real depth. There is so much more to the Texas Rangers than what I am about to say, but I really just need to you to understand who they were and how their mythology is so embedded in U.S. border enforcement. So this is broad, and arguable. I get that. But for later border guards, who we think the Texas rangers were is far more important than who they actually were. Always keep that in mind.
The U.S. border with Mexico was always kind of blurry, at least until the war ended in 1848. But Texas has always had a border with Mexico, especially when Texas was Mexico. Beginning with its independence from Mexico in 1836, Texans have long fetishized the border, often seeing the state as the protector of America’s innocence from the ravages of “illegal aliens.” Today, the great state of Texas is known primarily for two things: tacos in every gas station and the Texas Rangers. One of those two things has turned out to be a gift to both Texans and visitors alike. Unfortunately, it’s not the one you think.
On the first page of Walter Prescott Webb’s paean to the Texas Rangers, he writes that “the character of the Texas Ranger is now well known by both friend and foe. As a mounted soldier he has had no counterpart in any age or country…. Chivalrous, bold and impetuous in action, he is wary and calculating, always impatient of restraint, and sometimes unscrupulous and unmerciful. He is uninformed, and undrilled, and performs his active duties thoroughly, but with little regard to order or system….” To ride a horse and wear a badge in South Texas has long meant riding with the spirit of the Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers mythos is all over Texas, with every nook and cranny oozing “independence,” “patriotism” (to Texas? To the United States? Depends on who is president), and a weird sort of racism that makes being Mexican American really complicated. Many racist Texan Anglos will set aside their dislike of people of color (at least temporarily) for the relative middle ground of being Texan. Much of this incredibly complicated racist tapestry can be traced back over a century, to when everyone in Texas was either a Texan or not, when a newly independent Texas had to protect itself from external interlopers. That was the job of the Texas Rangers.
The Texas Rangers were officially created in 1835 in an “Ordinance Establishing a Provisional Government.” The ordinance included a call for “a corps of rangers under the command of a major.” The framers of the ordinance were looking for an irregular force unlike traditional law enforcement or volunteers, and if anything describes the Texas Rangers, its “irregular.” The Rangers would supply their own weapons, horses and powder and shot, which was not as big a deal as it sounds. Every Texan had his or her own weapons, horse, powder, and shot. Each company was led by captain who answered to a major. The Rangers were formed to protect the residents of Texas from Indians, who continued living their best lives with or without the Mexican government.
The Texas Rangers would get about thirteen years of Indian killing under their belts before they got the opportunity to do what had made their daddies great: fight Mexico. They would go on to distinguish themselves in the War with Mexico, in much the same way that my childhood friend Grant distinguished himself with me. He would protect me from bullies, but if there were no bullies, he would beat me up himself. He also peed in my bunkbed at a sleepover, somehow managed to lose my turtle, and broke my dad’s Maglite (broke.my.dad’s.Mag Lite.) Both Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott commented negatively on the discipline of the Texas Rangers and positively on their fighting ability, likely believing as I did about Grant that maybe the occasional loss was worth not associating with someone who peed in their bunk. Regular soldiers were also not impressed with the discipline of the rangers. Sure, the Texas Rangers were vicious fighters and killed a lot, but they did it when they felt like it, how they felt like it. It was like firing a gun and never really knowing which end of the gun the bullet would come out of, if at all. Even so, as historian Robert Utley points out, “[t]he Mexican War nationalized the Texas Ranger tradition and earned it an enduring place in the imagination of Americans.” The Texas Rangers, historians agree, were pretty good at rangering, but sometimes discipline is helpful. The Texas Rangers were never absorbed into a larger agency, which worked out best for everyone involved. After the war, the Texas Rangers went back to doing whatever they wanted to in Texas.
But the realities of Texas Rangers never really mattered. Sure, they were good fighters, but they killed Indians for no reason other than being Indians, they harassed Mexicans and Mexican Americans, and they lynched whoever they wanted for whatever reason they had. They were as violent as cats in a washing machine. But the public, oh my God,the public. Not only in Texas, of course, but on the East Coast, readers, especially male readers, would get all atwitter at the adventures of the Texas Rangers. Not the real adventures, the shooting unarmed, outgunned Indians, lynching Mexicans and Mexican Americans, or breaking the law in a myriad of creative ways, but the romanticized exploits of the great white saviors of the West. In the latter half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century countless books were produced that detailed the adventures of the Texas Rangers (both real and imagined, but generally some combination of the two).
For example, in 1856, publisher R.M. Dewitt published The Rangers and Regulators of the Tanaha; in 1865, J.R. Hawley published The Scout and Ranger: Being the Personal Adventures of Corporal Pike, of the Fourth Ohio Cavalry, as a Texan Ranger, in the Indian Wars ; around the turn of the century, publisher John E. Potter released The Scouting Expeditions of McCulloch’s Texas Rangers in Philadelphia; and in 1906, Whipkey Printing Company published Captain Jeff or Frontier Life in Texas with the Texas Rangers. These were pretty exciting adventures, as loyal to the real Rangers as almond milk is to milk. The stories had the faint odor and texture of Ranger life, but were mixtures of actual events, mythology, exaggerations, and retellings of stories that originally probably made the Rangers look less godlike. Times and places were vague, virtually impossible escapes were choreographed, and very little that occurred could be verified one way or the other. But nobody read the books for truth, which is often kind of boring. They read them for drama, excitement, and what early twentieth century readers considered entertaining prose. Consider this quote regarding an Indian attack from The Rangers and the Regulators of the Tanaha: “The frowning Fates hovered around them, and the very atmosphere they breathed was full of mortal poison, as the dark shade of that Indian tree, whose piercing odor is prompt and powerful to kill as the lightning of heaven!” Or this, from “The Ranger’s Song” in The Scouting Expeditions of McCulloch’s Texas Rangers in Philadelphia:
Mount! mount! and away o’er the green prairie wide, The sword is our sceptre, the fleet steed our pride; Up! up! with our flag! let its bright star gleam out Mount! mount! and away on the wild border-scout!
Give me a moment. I always have to sit down after reading that. Gets the knees weak. Straight white guys (and white guys desperately needing to appear straight in a time where hypermasculinity and aggressive heterosexuality was valued) looked to dime novels as evidence that somewhere adventure could still be had. It is hard to imagine that the books did not influence men facing the crowded urban conditions of eastern cities. This is incredibly important and I will return to it later. Suffice it to say that this ethos, this search for masculine validation through the Texas Rangers, the West, and especially the borderlands, will be at the root of the first armed, militarized, federal agency to patrol the border, but it’s not the one that just popped into your head.
Next post, meet some Texas Rangers
So, like I said, this actually comes later in the book. I had to make some decisions so the book actually has two sections, roughly pre 1907 and post. The question for me was where to fit in the Texas Rangers. My research focuses on 1894 to 1924 and the Texas Rangers are not really at the center of it. But they are very important. They don’t show up until near the end of the first part because most of the first part is about the press and politics. The federal government didn’t care about the border until 1882 with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act so I had to explain the origins of anti-Chinese sentiment and how a West Coast issue comes to dominate national politics even as it reveals itself to really be a nonissue. In fact, in the first days of my research I didn’t really think about the Texas Rangers. But then, something changed.
All of my early research focused on the years leading up to the creation of the Bureau of Immigration (lots more on them later). Inspectors for the Bureau initially worked the ports, especially Ellis Island, then also Angel Island. The Bureau did not even assign any officers to the Mexican border until 1884 or so. That led me to wonder where they got those men. Early on they were locals. They were also Customs officers who had been there a while. So I started to wonder what type of men wanted these jobs. The reports showed an amazing stubbornness and unwillingness to be led. The later years (when there were better records) showed many Bureau of Immigration and Customs inspectors came from the ranks of the Texas Rangers. It all suddenly made sense. I could connect the Rangers to the Border Patrol.
The section on the Texas Rangers shows up when I introduce the line riders (a colloquial name for United States Immigration Service inspectors, but again, much more on them later) because I needed to explain not only who they were and what they did, but try to explain their motivations. This is hard to do with government records, but the tone of the records, what really triggered the inspectors, their methods, how and when they defended themselves to their superiors, all took me back to the Texas Rangers. For the blog, though, they come first because its where they go chronologically. Next is the War with Mexico (after I introduce you to some Rangers), but I don’t really go into too much detail except with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. That is a key document in the history of border enforcement.
Mike Cox, Mike. The Texas Rangers (New York: Forge, 2000)
Utley, Robert Marshall. Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002),
Webb, Walter Prescott. The Texas Rangers; a Century of Frontier Defense. [2d ed.] (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965),
 Walter Prescott Webb, The Texas Rangers; a Century of Frontier Defense. [2d ed.] (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965), 2. [This quotation is originally from Luther Giddings, Sketches of the Campaign in Northern Mexico: In Eighteen Hundred Forty-six and Seven / by an Officer of the First Regiment of Ohio Volunteers (New York: G. P. Putnam & co., 1853), 97.
 Mike Cox, The Texas Rangers (New York: Forge, 2000), 47.
 Robert Marshall Utley, Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 58, 47.
 Alfred W. Arrington, The Rangers and Regulators of the Tanaha, or, Life Among the Lawless: A Tale of the Republic of Texas (New York: S. C. Reid, 1856); The Scouting Expeditions of McCulloch’s Texas Rangers, or, The Summer and Fall Campaign of the Army of the United States in Mexico–1846: Including Skirmishes with the Mexicans, and an Accurate Detail of the Storming of Monterey; also, the Daring Scouts at Buena Vista; Together with Anecdotes, Incidents, Descriptions of the Country, and Sketches of the Lives of the Celebrated Partisan Chiefs Hays, McCulloch, and Walker (Philadelphia: John E. Potter. [publishing date unknown, likely 1890]); W. J. Maltby, Captain Jeff: or, Frontier Life in Texas with the Texas Rangers; Some Unwritten History and Facts in the Thrilling Experiences of Frontier Life… (Colorado, Tex.: Whipkey printing co. 1906).
Defining America at the Border: The Line Riders of the Mexican Border District, 1892-1924 is the title of my dissertation, a title that historian David Wrobel had a strong hand in developing. I can’t use the same title for my book (rules is rules), but it is a title that perfectly sums up the overall theme of not just my book, but my research. It would be a shame if something were to happen to that title so it is now the title of this blog.
Immigration law is the micro level attempt by the U.S. government to define the American empire by determining what each individual component of the citizenry looks like. It is a ground level attempt to define American identity by determining, one immigrant at a time, who has access to the “American Dream.” If focusing on immigrants seems like a waste of resources, consider that according to the Pew Research Center, in 1960, immigrants in the United States accounted for 5.4 percent of the population (9.7 million) and by 2018 “[t]he foreign-born population residing in the U.S. reached a record 44.8 million, or 13.7% of the U.S. population.” That number is projected to double by 2065. Add that to the yearly increase in the nonwhite populations while the white population stagnates and the historical focus on keeping the country white is in danger. The government cannot, of course, control the rate at which its citizens have children ( although the war on drugs and mass incarceration are certainly attempts to do so with people of color) but immigrants are controllable. Outside of the war on drugs and mass incarceration, federal white supremacy is at its most active, its most virulent along the border. This focus on the whitening of America is consistent but it is by no means new.
In 1879 Senator James Blaine (R-ME) claimed that the United States should not allow the entry of any people “whom we ourselves declare are utterly unfit to become citizens.” He was referring to Chinese immigrants, but it could very well be adopted as the official United States immigration slogan except that the shoulder patches would be too big. This is why Donald Trump, in 2016, claimed “[Mexican immigrants] are not our friend[s], believe me. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” This was no dog whistle. It was a loud, out of tune piccolo that signaled his commitment to not only continuing the “whites only” goal of immigration policy, but doubling down on it. For Trump, and many like him, nonwhite immigrants are not only “unfit to become citizens,” they are literal dangers to the safety of American citizens.
This seems to be a good time to explain how the blog will progress. The book will not exactly be chronological. It is more conceptual so to a small degree it will jump around a bit in time (I limit that. I’m no Foucault) but it makes sense in the book. For the blog, since my primary goal is to teach the history of U.S. enforcement of the border with Mexico, the intention is for it to be fairly straightforward chronologically. This means it will be helpful to read the blog in order, but not essential. I will tag the key points of each post in case you need to find something. I will also list references at the end of the blog ( no footnotes and probably no actual page numbers. I can’t do all the heavy lifting). I will begin with Texas independence and the Texas Rangers. In a way the Texas Rangers bookend the story. Their imprint is all over the Border Patrol.
So, coming soon, Texas independence and not for the last time in immigration history, race and slavery.
And the posts will be relatively short. We all got stuff to do.
That is a fair question. Since you made it this far I suppose you deserve an explanation. While I am certainly here for everyone’s amusement, there is a more specific reason for this blog. I am a historian of the Gilded Age/ Progressive Era (with a smattering of the Reconstruction). My work focuses on how the United States federal government first began enforcing the border with Mexico and why. The answers to those questions, and many more, are not as simple or as obvious as they sound. The border was not always a concern of the federal government, not until after the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. While there was certainly activity and many vibrant cultures along the border before that, for me the story begins in earnest in 1894 with the establishment of the first border stations in El Paso, Texas and Nogales, Arizona.
That is not where my research begins, of course. All stories have prologues and the story of federal border enforcement is no different. For my purposes the story begins in the 1820s with the Texas Rangers, winds its way through Texas independence, the U.S. war with Mexico, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, and Progressivism. All of those events and eras left imprints along the border and the border, in turn, imprinted itself on the history of the United States. The history of border enforcement is a long, complicated, nuanced story that involves race, citizenship, belonging, and the growth of federal white supremacy, not only along the border, but throughout the country. The border is a reflection of not only who we are, but why we are who we are and how we got here. The reflection of the nation can be seen in the shimmering sunlight bouncing of the southwestern desert.
What this all means is that I have a complicated story to tell, one that digs deeper than my dissertation. Turning that dissertation into a book will be a new experience for me. I decided that a blog would be the best way for me to sort out my thoughts, to throw out ideas and concepts that may or may not work. Along the way I will also tell the story of the history of enforcing the border with Mexico, looking at motivations, not only of immigrants looking to enter the the United States, but also of federal agencies attempting to prevent that from happening, and of politicians capitalizing on fear, paranoia, and white fragility. Each blog entry will likely have two sections, the first will be history, the story itself, narratives, and, lessons to be learned. The second will be my process, how I decided what to leave in, what to leave out, and the mechanics of writing a book. I will post some of the primary documents I am using.(There will also be the occasional foray into the world of academia, my professional journey. That promises to be…interesting.) All this means that you, the reader (my new favorite person), will learn a whole lot about the border between 1894 and 1924.
I would like to say you will learn a lot about the historical process, but all I can promise is that you will learn a lot about my process, what’s going on inside my head. If you are here for broad proclamations about the sweep of human history, this not the place. In fact, if you want insight into the United States before the 19th century also probably not the place. I am quite comfortable staying in my own lane, driving a bit over the speed limit, and only occasionally veering off into tangentially related areas. But I will always find my way back to my lane.
Jim Dupree: proudly staying in his own historical lane since 2013.