Primary Sources

Letter to the Citizens of Brownsville

Juan Cortina

In 1859, Juan Nepomuceno Cortina began a protest in the border town of Brownsville. Cortina was a Mexican American landowner on the Rio Grande. He was angered by the way local officials treated Mexican Texans. He believed that local officials were taking unfair actions that cost Tejanos their long-held land. His anger erupted one day when he saw the city marshal arrest a man who had worked for Cortina. Cortina shot the marshal and rode off with the Tejano. Cortina then staged a revolt in which he and his men killed some of those people whom they thought were cheating Tejanos. The revolt attracted support from Mexicans and some Tejanos and caused great disruption. The U.S. Army had to come to the area to defeat Cortina. Cortina continued to live along the Rio Grande and became involved in Mexican politics. Below is an excerpt from a letter that Cortina sent to the citizens of Brownsville after the protest had started. In it, he describes his disappointment with how Tejanos living in the border area had been treated. He feels that they had no choice but to "destroy the obstacles to our [Tejano] prosperity."

All truce between them and us is at an end, from the fact alone of our holding upon this soil our interests and property.… [W]e were induced to naturalize ourselves in [the United States],… flattered by the bright and peaceful prospect of living therein.… [In reality], all has been but the baseless fabric of a dream, and our hopes hav[e] been [cheated] in the most cruel manner in which disappointment can strike[.] [T]here can be found no other solution to our problem than to make one effort, and at one blow destroy the obstacles to our prosperity.

It is necessary. The hour has arrived.…

Innocent persons shall not suffer—no. But, if necessary, we will lead a wandering life, awaiting our opportunity to purge society of men so base that they degrade it with their [shameful ways]. Our families have returned as strangers to their old country to beg for an asylum. Our lands, if they are to be sacrificed to the [greed] of our enemies, will be rather so on account of our own [actions]. As to land, Nature will always grant us sufficient to support our frames, and we accept the consequences that may arise. Further, our personal enemies shall not possess our lands until they have fattened it with their own [blood].…

Rancho Del Carmen,
County of Cameron, September 30, 1859