Whither Texas?

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The America I grew up in couldn’t wait for the future to happen. We knew Hanna-Barbera’s The Jetsons was a cartoon TV series, but its vision was a foregone conclusion. Things have changed. For one thing, I’m still waiting for my flying car, but any optimism about a better future seems rare indeed, even among young people. This is a very different America than the one I once knew.

This sense of pessimism about the future is not unwarranted. Even the next model of I-Phones is a meh event. In recent years, examples of anything getting better are rare indeed. But there are some. The 21st Century started a comedic drought of historic proportions whereas the last half of the 20th Century had been something of a golden age. From Groucho Marx to Ray Romano, we could always find things to laugh at on television.

To be sure, Tina Fey was a shooting star in the first decade of the new century. 30 Rock offered hope a new generation of comedy might be dawning, but its promise of future laughs died aborning. Ms. Fey somehow lost her magic and the stifling grey gloom of the century’s second decade drained us dry. Would we have elected Donald Trump if we had something else to laugh at?

But now we have Dry Bar, the best comedy I have seen since back in SNL’s first decade when the show was actually funny! On top of that, the internet has spawned a new sort of humor – memes. The Patriot Post and Babylon Bee are two sites sure to start my day with a smile.

I generally avoid videos on the internet. All too often two or three hours simply vanish, but I make an exception for The Babylon Bee. Awhile back, they had a series of short videos about an Adorable couple moving from California to Texas. It was a hilarious commentary on the exodus of the Golden States most “precious” citizens and the challenge they present to their new neighbors.

California increasingly resembles the country from which so very many of its citizens tried to escape – the failed State of Mexico. I sympathize for their plight, but as Joe Louis taunted Billy Conn in the boxing ring – “You can run but you can’t hide”.

California has been hemorrhaging Deplorables for at least the past forty years. What is new is that California is now losing its Adorable population. Colorado used to be the preferred destination of California’s dispossessed. But Joe Louis’s taunt holds true even in the Mile High City.

In the 14th Century Genoese ships escaping plague stricken Black Sea ports brought Bubonic Plague carrying rats along back to Italy. Today, those refugees escaping California brought with them the progressive virus. And as the Black Death eclipsed Europe, Colorado has now “awoken”.

But now it is Adorables fleeing California. Colorado is no longer a refuge, beginning to bleed as well. Texas is now seen as the port of refuge, a safe haven from the dysfunction of the “woke” – a fact which the Babylon Bee uses to hilarious effect. Will the culture of Texas withstand the incoming tide of the “woke”? Only time will tell. Colorado was a child’s sand castle on the beach, its culture washed away by the incoming wave of the “woke”.

But Colorado has always been a shallow culture with few roots. In my four decades here, Colorado has served as a way station for those with ambition on their way to corporate headquarters, a modern day Bent’s Fort serving the wider region or a comfortable club for wildcatters. None of these populations provide the soil for any enduring culture to develop.

Texas is different. It has roots, deep roots many centuries old. Texas culture is a unique amalgam of diverse peoples forged over centuries in a crucible of hardship, conflict and adversity. As a result, unlike Colorado, Texas is comfortable with itself, not looking to be anything other than what it is, Will Texas be absorbed into the hive mind as Colorado before it or has the richness of its history inoculated it against adolescent fancies?

California’s expatriates have established a beachhead in Texas, the state capital of Austin. Also a college town, it has always been a bit of an outlier in Texas, but now more nearly resembles San Jose, CA than anything resembling a Lone Star character. Will Austin be Normandy, a beachhead serving as the beginning of an invasion that turns Texas into another progressive paradise? Or will it be Gallipolli, an isolated cul-de-sac surrounded by a hostile countryside forcing it to turn in on itself, extinguishing the contagion?

The city itself, nearly two centuries old, is named after Stephen Austin – one of those quintessential hardheaded American dreamers we once celebrated. His father, Moses Austin, was another recognizable American type, an irrepressible serial entrepreneur with an impressively long string of failures behind him.

Moses Austin had negotiated a land grant in 1820 with the Spanish governor of Mexican Tejas Province. The land grant was for an area in South Texas between the Colorado and Brazos Rivers east of San Antonio extending all the way to the coast.

Moses Austin died shortly after negotiating the land grant, leaving his son Stephen to make the dream a reality. Stephen stepped into his father’s shoes and did just that. It wasn’t easy as he was forced to persevere through a decade of chaos.  Just as he was getting efforts underway Mexico was convulsed by revolution, ultimately winning its independence from Spain. Then he endured a decade of revolving caudillo governments in Mexico City, the capital of the newly independent country. Each new government wrangled with Stephen Austin over the terms of the land grant even as native tribes were a constant menace.

In spite of this, Austin persevered and had put Texas on the map by 1830. Tens of thousands of settlers from the United States were pouring into the newly formed State of Coahuila y Tejas (modern day Texas and the Mexican State of Coahuila) in an independent Mexico. While some of these immigrants had their papers in order, it was very like the situation on the Texas Rio Grande border today – illegal immigration on a broad front. Only in the 1820-30’s it was illegal Anglo-Americans pouring into the state.

The existing population of Coahuila y Tejas was around 7,000, perhaps half of them living in San Antonio de Bejar (modern day San Antonio). By 1836, there were approximately 35,000 Anglo-Americans immigrants in place, with more coming every day to homestead the “empty lands of Texas”.

This enormous influx of colonists from the United States simply overwhelmed the existing population. These new Americanos had a lot of ideas about freedom, self-rule and slavery that didn’t go over well with the chaotic Mexican government. Soon talk of revolution and Texas independence was everywhere. The unstable government in Mexico City was growing increasingly fearful, intent on cracking down on these bumptious foreigners.

In October of 1835 an incident in Gonzales, a town of 350 people some 70 miles east of San Antonio, was the spark that ignited the Texas Revolution. In many respects it was reminiscent of the incident at Lexington that kicked off the American Revolution 60 years earlier. Concerned about the growing tensions and an increasingly hostile countryside outside of San Antonio, the military commander of its presidio decided to secure a cannon previously lent to the people of Gonzales for defense against Indians.

Colonel Ugartechea dispatched a company of dragoons to secure the cannon. An impromptu militia of Texans gathered to dispute the cannon’s seizure. Shots were fired, the Mexican troops retreated with casualties and the Texas Revolution had begun.

The new Presidente, a caudillo named Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, sent troops to bring order and end this abortive rebellion. General Martin Perfecto de Cos landed in Matagordo Bay with 500 fresh soldiers. The General first dissolved the legislature in session at Monclova and then moved his troops and headquarters to San Antonio.

In short order he was besieged there by a force of Anglo-Americans led by Stephen Austin. After two months, the Texans launched an assault that fell just short of victory on Dec. 7. General Cos surrendered two days later on December 9. He and his men were allowed to return to Mexico after giving their pledge to take no further part in the fighting.

The following year, 1836, saw Mexican President, General Santa Anna, lead an army of 5,000 men north to put down the rebellion. In early March, he besieged a small company of rebels in an old mission church outside San Antonio – the Alamo. It was the same position that General Cos had held, but now was manned by 189 Texans, or Texians as they called themselves.

After thirteen days the Alamo was taken at dawn by direct assault. General Cos led one of the columns assaulting the Alamo. Obviously he did not take his pledge seriously. Virtually all the Alamo’s defenders were killed in the assault. Those few captured were brought before Santa Ana, who had them bayoneted on the spot.

A second force of Texas militia had been mustered at Goliad, some 90 miles SE of San Antonio. The ineptitude of its commander, Col. James Fannin, resulted in the capture of the nearly 400 Texan solders there. Santa Ana had them marched to an open field where they were surrounded by soldiers. The soldiers opened fire and then finished the massacre with bayonets.

The bravery of the Alamo’s defenders coupled with the brutality of Santa Ana made “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad” rallying cries for the Texas rebels. Sam Houston, the commanding officer of Texas’ army, pursued a Fabian strategy for the next six weeks, continually retreating before Santa Ana. Then at San Jacinto (modern Pasadena, TX), Houston turned on Santa Ana, destroying his army as well as capturing him. And so Texas won her independence.

It’s a story often told, at least it used to be. Modern sensibilities find the whole thing embarrassing if not appalling. On top of that there is no sympathetic central character to build a story around. Susannah Dickinson is a Proverbs 31 wife rather than a spunky proto-feminist. An African American male, Joe Travis, survived – spared rather than executed by the Mexicans because he was an African American. As far as is known there were no LBGTQ participants. You can see the problems for a modern audience.

In so far as anyone writes about Texas early history today, slavery is the central focus. The modern scholarly consensus is that the real reason bringing all these Anglo immigrants into Coahuila y Tejas was the desire of Austin and others to extend slavery into new lands. And in fact, the British consul based in the region estimated the enslaved black population in 1836 to be around 5,000.

The story is about the Anglo-American immigration and its causes. But I think that misses a very large part of the era’s tapestry. What is puzzling to me is why Mexico invited these land hungry gringos to come in the first place. After all, the United States’ neighbors like Mexico, Canada and British/French/Spanish Caribbean all knew our country’s aggressive freebooting attitude very well.

The United States had been alternatively threatening and cajoling since the days of the Louisiana Purchase (1803) to buy Texas from Spain and then later, Mexico. Inviting Stephen Austin et.al. to bring tens of thousands of Anglos into Coahuila y Tejas was making a deal with a very hungry devil, tempting a snarling carnivore with a large chunk of bloody meat.

But Stephen Austin and his father’s decades long effort to do just that was looked on favorably by everyone in Mexico City, first the Spanish colonial authorities before the revolution and then a succession of Mexican governments after the revolution. The question is why? Why invite these land pirates into an empty land ripe for the taking?

The standard answer is that Mexico wanted the area developed, turned into productive land and needed people. The State of Coahuila y Tejas covered an area of 215,000 square miles. When the Austin’s successfully negotiated their land deal in 1820, the population of this area was around 7,000 people with virtually all of them concentrated in the towns of Saltillo, Monclova and San Antonio. There was obviously a lot of land for the taking.

Interestingly enough, in 1820 these three towns were already old. Saltillo and Monclova, established in 1577, were nearly 250 years old while San Antonio, established in 1718, had been around for a century. If these towns were ever going to grow, there had been plenty of opportunity. As the Anglo-American immigrants quickly proved, the land was fertile and easily made productive. Why had the land lain empty for so long and why were successive Mexican governments so eager to invite in people they knew would be trouble? After all, Mexico has never suffered from a shortage of its own people.

There is a tendency to ascribe a certain ineptitude to the Spanish/Mexican colonization of Mexico that coupled with the racist bullying of its northern neighbor caused a weak and passive attitude toward its northern lands. But then the United Sates didn’t exist in the 16th, 17th and most of the 18th Century. Also, while the Spanish conquistadores didn’t follow the English or French models of colonization, they were very effective everywhere except northern Mexico.

By the late 1500’s there was a substantial Spanish presence all along the Rio Grande, South Texas and up into Northern New Mexico, evidenced by the founding of Monclova and Saltillo in these years. In 1540-42, Francisco Coronado had led an expedition of nearly 2,000 men on a thoroughgoing reconnaissance in force of this area. His two-year exploration of the area had enormous long term consequences as it introduced the plains tribes to the horse. The horses the Apache were riding were descendants of horses that escaped from Coronado’s expedition.

The Spanish had developed what they named the encomienda during their centuries’ long reconquest of their Iberian homeland from the Moors, known as the Reconquista. This well-established process worked in Mexico as well all through the 1600’s. Encomienda was essentially an adaption of medieval feudalism to the America’s, with the Spanish conquistadores as lords and the Indians as their vassals. The lord provided protection to his vassals and the vassals provided their labor to the lord.

As the Spanish moved north into the range of the Apache, they found the encomienda needed to be modified. These lands were home to the Pueblo tribes. The Pueblo, sedentary peoples accustomed to farming, fit into the model of the encomienda quite well, but there was another imperial power moving into the area at the same time as the Spanish, the Apache.

The Apache were something different, something decidedly new. The Apache were the first mounted Indians the Spanish had seen. The Apache Nation consisted of a half dozen tribes already controlling a vast area, stretching from northern New Mexico east to the plains of Kansas and extending to the Neches River of East Texas and south.

They attacked the encomienda settlements, coming out of nowhere and then vanishing. They attacked whole Pueblo villages, burning, raping, torturing and killing. When Spanish troops arrived to defend the smoking ruins, the Apache easily outdistanced any pursuit. The heavily burdened Spanish horses, carrying dragoons wearing steel armor and loaded down with muzzle loading harquebuses as well as pikes and swords, could seldom catch the Apache warriors on their nimble mustangs born and bred on the prairie.

This inability to protect their Pueblo serfs broke down the entire logic of the encomienda. The ravaged Pueblo vassals began to be restive, rebelling in 1680, driving the Spanish out of New Mexico for twelve years. But the Apache remained, continuing to prey on the Pueblos. In 1692 the Spanish returned when the Pueblo’s agreed to return into the encomienda. Some protection was better than no protection.

The Spanish responded to the weaknesses of the encomienda system by building high walled forts called presidios. Alongside the presidios would be the mission church, the ranchos of the colonists and the villages of the Pueblos. From time to time heavily armed expeditions would strike out into the countryside seeking to chastise the Apache.

But then around 1700, things changed. The Apache raids on Spanish settlements tapered off, virtually stopping. Spanish expeditions sent out to investigate reported that many of the semi-permanent Apache villages were deserted or had been burnt out.

Reports began to filter in of a new and frightening menace out on the plains, virtually naked warriors painted with black – the color of death. These ghostly riders wore only breechclouts and rode like the wind. They were horsemen beyond anything ever seen before. These gargoyles were the stuff of nightmares, seeming to bear a virulent hate for the Apache. They relentlessly hunted down the Apache, killing the men and enslaving the women and children.

These black painted raiders seemed to appear out of nowhere. They fought on horseback, unlike the Apache who rode horses but fought on foot like Spanish dragoons. They attacked at dawn, navigating by the stars at night. They crossed hundreds of miles on their raids from moveable villages that couldn’t be found, burning out the Apache in their fixed semipermanent villages built around rudimentary corn fields.

In 1724, a group of around eighty Jicarilla Apache’s approached a Spanish presidio asking for protection. These demons had attacked the Jicarilla village, burning it to the ground, carrying off most of the women and killing all but this small band of survivors. This pitiful remnant of traumatized survivors asked the comandante to shelter them under the protection of the presidio.

That same year the Spanish governor of Texas received reports of the nearly complete destruction of the entire Lipan Apache tribe in a bloody nine day battle with the Comanche at a place known by the Spanish as El Gran Cierro de La Ferro (Great Mountain of Iron) in what is now the Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma.

Two years later in 1726, a Spanish soldier, Brigadier Pedro de Rivera y Villalon, gave one of the first accounts by a European of this new force on the plains:

“Each year at a certain time, there comes to this province a nation of Indians very barbarous and warlike. Their name is Comanche. They never number less than 1,500. Their origin is unknown, because they are always wandering in battle formation, for they make war on all the (Indian) Nations . . .”

The name “Comanche” is derived from a Ute word meaning “anyone who wants to fight me all the time”. By 1750, these new peoples, known as the Comanche, were supreme on the plains. The Apache, what little remnant survived, had fled their former territory, finding themselves exiled to the deserts of Arizona. Now the Comanche patrolled their borders, a 240,000 square mile area the Spanish began to call Comancheria, preying at will on the Utes of the Four Corners area, the Kiowa of Kansas/Colorado even the Blackfeet up into Wyoming. Most of the time they observed an armed truce with the powerful Cheyenne along the Arkansas River.

The Spanish presidio’s did not escape their attention. Beginning in the 1720’s, raids against Spanish settlements began and swiftly escalated. The Spanish retaliated, sending expeditions into the plains to attack these Comanche. But finding them in the trackless plains was no easy task, something the US Cavalry would rediscover 150 years later. Many times the Comanche simply waited for an auspicious night, stealing the horses of the hapless Spanish dragoons and simply leaving them to die of thirst or starvation on the trackless plains.

The Spanish had been in a position of unquestioned military superiority over the indigenous peoples of the Americas for two hundred years. After all, they had subjugated the advanced civilizations of the Aztecs and the Incas. The Apache had forced them to modify their methods, as well as remaining a thorn in their side, but they had handled them. Now these naked savages were raiding hundreds of miles deep into their empire.

Spain naturally expected to overcome this new challenge and continue to expand its empire, just as had always been true before. However, maintaining large military forces to fight the Comanche was both expensive and difficult and San Antonio/Santa Fe were a long way from Mexico City. The required logistics involved long and slow supply chains. While expensive is never a good word for colonial authorities to use in reporting to the Capital, this was doubly true in mid-18th Century Spain.

Just at the time the Comanche arrived in Northern Mexico, Spain’s King Charles II died – childless and without a direct heir. Europe was thrown into turmoil as any of his surviving relatives with a claim to Spain’s throne were sorted through by Spain’s barons. Depending on who they chose to ascend the throne, the power balance of Europe would be profoundly affected.

The Spanish nobility eventually settled on the 18 year old grandson of the dead king as his heir. This young man, crowned Philip V of Spain, was a grandson of the French king and 3rd in line to his grandfather’s throne. If the newly crowned Philip V’s father and older brother died, he would become the king of France as well. This possible joining of Spain and France was a fearful prospect to the rest of Europe. That he married his first cousin and granddaughter of that same king shortly after his coronation aroused suspicions.

In short order the War of Spanish Succession began. Spain and France faced off against the Grand Alliance of England, the Netherlands and Austria. As wars tend to do, it soon widened to the Americas where it is remembered as Queen Anne’s War. Spain lost. Incidentally it was the sixth great-grandfather of Winston Churchill who was the architect of the French and Spanish defeat. As a result, John Churchill, one of Britain’s greatest generals, was raised to the peerage, becoming the 1st Duke of Marlborough for his victories.

As a result of the war, Phillip V retained his throne but Spain lost a great portion of her empire in Europe. For the rest of his 44 year reign – the longest reigning king in Spain’s history – he intrigued and fought wars to regain his lost possessions. His efforts were expensive, draining Spain’s treasury as well as taking Madrid’s attention away from the needs of her colonies. Spain needed the silver coming from the mines in the America’s and Mexico suffered the fate of acquiescent cash cows in every time and place.

The Spanish authorities in Mexico did their best to repel the Comanche menace to their northern possessions but anything that cost money in Mexico was a potential career killer. Imperial bureaucrats understood that careers would be made in Europe, but they could easily die in Northern Mexico. Perhaps it was the War of Jenkins Ear fought in the last years of Philip V’s reign that was the final blow.

The War of Jenkin’s Ear between Spain and England lasted from 1739 to 1746, taking place primarily in the Caribbean with some action in the American colonies, modern-day Florida and Georgia. The war finally ended with little changing other than the deaths of around 50,000 soldiers, mostly to tropical diseases, as well as the loss of a great many ships. But again, it was very costly and threatening to Spain’s financial lifeline, the silver mines of Mexico.

Needless to say, these externalities bled Spain’s efforts to pacify Northern Mexico. Events came to a crisis point in 1758. The Spanish had a presidio and associated mission, the Mission Santa de San Saba (Menard, TX), on the San Saba River, about 130 miles northwest of San Antonio. Early on the morning of March 16, 1758, approximately 2,000 Comanche warriors surrounded the mission. In full view of the soldiers watching from the walls of the presidio, the Comanche attacked the mission. They slaughtered the priests and other people in the mission before burning and sacking it. Needless to say, the Comanche, like all of the plains tribes, were very creative in their methods of killing painfully and slowly, providing the watching soldiers a show to remember.

News of this outrage spread like wildfire throughout Northern Mexico. Fear and panic shortly became outrage. Even the Viceroy in far off Mexico City was roused to action, putting his career at risk. The resources were painfully raised to take revenge on this slap in the face of Spanish prestige, this desecration of the Church must be avenged.

Over a year later in August of 1759, a force of nearly 750 soldiers and scouts, along with a large supply train, left San Antonio to punish the Comanche, to pay them back for the outrage at San Saba – with interest! However, its commander, Don Diego Ortiz de Parrilla, was both wise and experienced. Even though his Indian scouts told him the Comanche were to be found out in the northern plains, he hung to the edges of the East Texas timber. Experience had left him rightly hesitant to venture out in the trackless plains, the home turf of the Comanche. The bleached bones of a great many Spanish soldiers decorated those empty plains.

The expeditionary force finally came upon an Indian encampment. His scouts told Parrilla that this was not Comanche, but Tonkawa, themselves bitter enemies of the Comanche. Whether because of anger, pride or a simple need to report success back to Mexico City, he ordered an attack anyway. He burned the village, killing 75 and taking 150 prisoners. It was to be the fate of many unfortunate peaceful villages ill placed in the warfare on the plains over the next 100 years. However it must be said that the description “peaceful village” in the context of the Plains Indians is a bit of an misnomer if not an actual oxymoron, something on the order of describing the Biden family as entrepreneurial.

Continuing north, a month later Parrilla found himself on the Red River near modern day Ringgold, TX – some 80 miles northwest of where Ft. Worth is today. There he came upon a “prodigious assemblage of Indians”, thousands of Comanche warriors. Parrilla ordered his troops to charge. At least that is what he reported.

While a few of his soldiers followed him, most chose discretion over valor and did not only retreat but ran. Parilla and those few brave souls following him did the only sensible thing and ran as well.

It might have been a massacre but the Comanche seemed content to sack Parrilla’s considerable supply train. The Comanche seemed to possess few cultural assets beyond horsemanship and a warrior ethos, but they were skilled in some domestic arts. They were the first plains tribe to practice animal husbandry, breeding horses.

They also were also very smart businessmen and great traders. Even as the Comanche battled everyone everywhere, they maintained active trading networks with them, making a specialty of ransoming captives back to their families. Though it must be said the ransomed captives were somewhat the worse for the wear. Since 1848, they had been welcomed into the annual trade fair in Taos even though outside of Taos the Comanche were everyone’s enemy. Parilla’s supply train was the mother lode, a bonanza of goods and supplies that could be put to good use.

The debacle on the Red River was a career ender for Don Diego Parrilla. Once back in Mexico City, he had a difficult time explaining such an ignominious defeat that suffered so few casualties. The powers that be, pondering the wreckage of their own careers, wondered as to the actual events on the Red River.

The Spanish had done their best and suffered ignominious defeat. Now began the long ebb tide of Spain in Northern Mexico. Outlying presidios and their missions began to be abandoned. Even more than before, Northern Mexico became a backwater for the ambitious, a posting only for the half-witted or incompetently corrupt. Mexican influence in Northern Mexico slowly drained away, air in a leaky balloon.

Fast forward through 60 years of steady decline to 1820. This pushy Americano, Moses Austin, arrives in Mexico City wanting to bring countrymen into Texas, mostly Scotch-Irish as poor as dirt. Austin says they will become citizens and make the land productive. I’m sure the Spanish, and later Mexican, authorities took the statement about “becoming citizens” with a grain of salt.

But what are the Spanish/Mexican authorities options in 1820? Northern Mexico is not really New Spain or Mexico, but Comancheria. This vast area is peppered with abandoned outposts. San Antonio, Santa Fe and Taos along with a few remaining isolated presidios are the only Spanish areas and their future looks bleak. The Comanche are a ghostly presence in the countryside, appearing when and where they choose, striking without warning.

Travel at the time from San Antonio to Santa Fe provides a telling picture of conditions. Instead of proceeding by some direct route heading north and west, caravans leave San Antonio moving south, traveling deep into Mexico before turning once more to the north and west to Santa Fe. Even heavily guarded caravans with military escorts are not safe.

These poor Americanos that Austin proposes as immigrants, the Scotch-Irish. Most of them hail from Kentucky/Tennessee, known as the “dark and bloody land” only a generation before. They and their parents have lived on a dangerous frontier and tamed it before. If any population can change the dynamics of Comancheria, these people are it.

To the extent that slave owning cotton planters arrive, they will hug the eastern edges of the territory where cotton can be grown. In 1820, slavery exists and is deplored but has not yet become repugnant. Cotton is a good cash crop but has not yet become King Cotton. The repugnant practices of cotton planters will be contained, even as they provide badly needed sources of income. Remember – Northern Mexico is poor as a church mouse and a drain on Mexico City. If the entire province is to not be abandoned, some way to generate revenue for the province is a must.

And so Moses Austin is successful in obtaining land grants from the Spanish authorities. Once the revolution makes Mexico independent, the dynamics do not change. In fact Mexico is even more cash hungry than Spain, less able to support the losing operation of Northern Mexico. The more clear eyed members of Mexico’s government surely realized that unless the vast empty plains of Coahuila y Tejas were soon populated, their neighbor, the United States, will simply take it from them on one pretext or another.

One wonders if they didn’t secretly smile. These smug Americanos’. They think they will waltz into Tejas and just take our land. These arrogant Yanquis. Ha ha. Wait till the first Comanche Moon. We will see. Ha ha.

Most of the early Anglo-American settlers settled in or around San Felipe de Austin. Located on the site of an existing ferry across the Brazos River some 60 miles west of modern Houston’s downtown, Stephen Austin picked the site to be his headquarters, as well as his home. The town was burned down in 1836 to prevent Santa Ana from capturing it during the War for Texas Independence.

Austin picked the location, acting on the advice of an associate, Felipe Enrique Neri, the Baron de Bastrop. The town was named for him. Felipe had been a business partner of Stephen’s father Moses Austin. Felipe was another serial entrepreneur with a long history of boom and bust, having much in common with Moses Austin.

But adding spice to the pot, Felipe was also a 60 year old imposter, another type well known in early America. He had been born Phillip Hendrik Nering Bogel in the Netherlands. Accused of embezzlement, he had fled the Netherlands with a very large reward on his head. Landing in Philadelphia in 1795, he assumed a false identity – that of a Dutch nobleman. In America, Phillip Hendrik Nering Bogel became Phillipe Enrique Neri, the Baron de Bastrop.

As the eastern seaboard cities of America in the 1790’s were awash in European nobility fleeing the guillotine of the French Revolution or the Napoleonic Wars, Felipe was readily believed. Continuing to pursue his “aspirational lifestyle” in the New World, his wife and children left him a few years later, returning to the Netherlands. By 1806 he was living in San Antonio and operating a freighting business.

Felipe had met Moses Austin in a roadhouse back in 1800 Missouri, no doubt sharing adult beverages in the common room, i.e. bar. Over the years they continued their association. It was in San Antonio that Felipe found his true vocation – politics. He became the alcalde of San Antonio, a combination mayor/judge, and confidante of the great and good in the provincial government at Monclova.

From this position he was instrumental to the success of both the Austin’s in their negotiations. Initially chosen to be the go-between the Spanish administration and the colony, he then became the colony’s representative to the legislature in Monclova when Mexico became independent. He died in 1827 at the age of 68. Despite all the machinations in his life, or perhaps because of them, he died penniless. His burial expenses were paid by a collection taken up in the legislature. Bastrop County in Texas is named after him.

But just as the Spanish/Mexican authorities had anticipated, the Anglo-Americans suffered from hostile Indians. Initially the Anglo-Americans were settling along the forested coastal regions of Matagordo Bay where it was the Karankawa Tribe, a tribe said to practice cannibalism, rather than the Comanche offering opposition. The Comanche were harassing the Karankawa, but coastal areas, swampy and forested were not their kind of lands.

As settlers poured into the area in their thousands during the 1820’s, the frontier moved inland where they came into more and more contact with the Comanche. Though there were numerous skirmishes, there is a sense that the sheer number of American settlers and speed of settlement unsettled the Comanche. Clashes between these new trespassers and the Comanche involved only small numbers and the newcomers gave as good as they got.

Stephen Austin recognized that the Mexican authorities were of limited help. A century’s experience fighting the Comanche had left Mexico’s soldiers well aware of their impotence against the Comanche riders. The Americans had not come to Texas to live clustered around the walls of San Antonio’s presidio.

And so, Austin formed two companies of men, paying for them and their expenses out of his own pocket. He tasked them as “men . . . to act as rangers for the common defense”. This company of soldiers/militia/lawmen would become legendary as time went on, becoming known as “The Texas Rangers”.

For the next years, Austin’s opening of Coahuilla y Tejas to immigration from the United States succeeded, probably beyond anything either Austin himself or the Mexican government had thought possible. Its success created intolerable pressures that would create an explosion at some point in the future, but right now the Anglo-Americans were a steady stream of people pouring into the lands of the Comanche.

In the decades to come, these Anglos would succeed where the Spanish and Mexicans had failed. But it would not be easy or painless. The Comanche would come in force. Over the coming decades, the scales would tip first one way and then another. There would come a time when Comancheria would be only a memory, but fifty years must pass. Names like Cynthia Ann Parker, Prairie Flower, Peta Nocona, Sul Ross, Ranald MacKenzie, Buffalo Hump, Jack Hayes, Quanah Parker, Kit Carson would gain fame, marking the passage of Comancheria in their life stories.

Texas has a history unlike any of its sister states. It is truly a diverse tapestry, woven in the clash of three empires across the centuries. Will it withstand this latest immigration or will it join the Zombieland of the Woke as has my own home?

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    What I’m Reading

    The Twelfth Department
    By William Ryan

    What happens when we forget, or never bothered to learn, what we believe in and why we believe? What happens when the emotional whirls of Facebook and Twitter are the depths of our understanding? Evil, great evil, is regularly found lurking in the unexamined depths of good intentions. Mathew Arnold put our present political climate in memorable words years ago:

    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night

    Novels, good stories, provide a lens to see life, including our beliefs, without camouflage. As an example, JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the finest Bible commentaries ever written. Progressive political ideals may lack in recent electoral success, but have undisputed possession of today’s moral high ground. And while death and taxes may be the only sure bets, the eventual victory of those holding the high ground have very good odds in any battle.
    And so fiction provides a look at eventual victories. There is no question that the outlines of today’s progressive agenda can be clearly seen in other times and places. William Ryan takes us to a time and place fondly imagined, idealized at the time, by the forefather’s of todays progressive leadership. In The Twelfth Department, we see a police captain in 1930’s Moscow. Captain Alexei Korolev is just a man trying to be a good father, a good citizen, a good police officer. In many ways Alexei is a fortunate man, with a good reputation and many more material advantages than the average citizen. But a high profile murder brings him into ambiguous circumstances. The tone of the book is respectful of life in Moscow, with no axes to grind. It is just a portrait of a man trying to do his job, bringing a gruesome killer to justice, among ordinary human beings seeking only to live normal lives in a progressive paradise.

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