Juan Cortina’s Raid of Brownsville, TX 1859: Part 1

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  • 21 October, 2020
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This is the first episode of a two part series which centers on the Raid of Brownsville, TX by Juan N. Cortina.

In this new video installment  we will immerse ourselves to a time in history which saw major territorial changes, and in the process learn more about the fascinating story of Juan Nepomuceno Cortina. Cortina is regarded as the man who had the distinction of raiding and invading a US town on this side of the border in 1859. It is a confusing, yet controversial story, fraught with much debate more so because some scholars opted to present the narrative that  Cortina was nothing more than a bandit and a horse thief, seen as the man responsible for the “reign of terror” on the border.  Conversely, others saw him in a different light, as a man who stood up to tyranny and oppression, who showed a special sensitivity to Hispanics in general.  Cortina saw himself as a person who assumed responsibility for the welfare of Mexicans on both sides of the border whose lives were impacted negatively from post war occupation.

As I delved deeper into the story of Cortina, his actions certainly provoked terror on the border, there was some horse stealing attributed to him but those actions were reactive because of the changing circumstances, as Tejas transitioned into becoming a territory of the United States.

Juan Cortina’s War of Brownsville, TX 1859: Part 1

The widely held notion by some historians that Cortina was just a bandit is also problematic because it is an incomplete and inaccurate treatment of the man’s historical legacy. We will explore this assumption in this video and in the second part that will be forthcoming at a later date as well. Additionally, my research on Juan Cortina was troubling because of the activities and actions of the Texas Rangers towards the Mexican population, particularly, against the landowning class. There were clashes between Cortina and the Texas Rangers, one of which precipitated the Raid of Brownsville, TX which then led to counterinsurgency activities.

The subject of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, covered in the Jose Maria  J. Carvajal two part series, is an important event which cements the inner convictions which drove Cortina to commit the actions history accuses him of doing.

“I saw myself compelled in Texas to defend the Mexican name.”
Juan Nepomuceno Cortina – August 20, 1875

During Cortina’s time, Texas had recently become a territory of the United States, the matter of Spanish Land Grants became a source of great consternation among Mexicans who found themselves on this part of the border once the deal was done. Cortina also found himself playing both sides of the Civil War, the Union and Confederate armies, never losing sight of the cause he undertook which involved the very land itself. In my research, I found that Cortina was courted by both sides for various political and military reasons.

The second part of this two part series will launch in about two  months, so stay informed and sign up to be on our mailing list and don’t miss out.

Questions? I have one: 

Was Juan Cortina credited with founding La Raza Unida Party? Most people are convinced that La Raza Unida Party, a mutual aid society, originated in Crystal City, Texas but some scholars disagree. Cameron County is considered the birthplace of La Raza Unida Party and Cortina as its founder, at least by noted scholar of the Lower Rio Grande, Carlos Larralde.

  • 0:58 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
  • 2:21 Six Former Mexican States
  • 3:08 Article 8 of the Texas Constitution
  • 3:38 Enter Juan Nepomuceno Cortina
  • 4:00 Description of Juan Cortina
  • 4:52 Walter Prescott Webb's Description of Cortina
  • 5:22 Ben McIntyre's Description of Cortina
  • 5:50 Brownsville Herald's Description of Cortina
  • 6:19 Jose Tomas Canale's Description of Cortina
  • 7:07 Charles Goldfinch's Description of Cortina
  • 7:25 New York Times Article of Cortina
  • 8:09 Texas Ranger N.A. Jennings Views on Cortina
  • 8:21 Corpus Christi Ranchero Views on Cortina
  • 8:31 Frank Dobie's Views on Cortina
  • 9:10 John "Rip" Fords Accounts of Cortina
  • 10:13 The Making of a Revolutionary
  • 11:33 Disputes of Spanish Land Grants
  • 12:02 Espiritu Santo Land Grants
  • 13:27 Estefana Cavazos
  • 13:53 Illiterate Seaman Writes to Governor Sam Houston
  • 15:08 John L. Haynes Describes What Sets Off the Cortina War

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