Matamoros and the Texas Revolution

Matamoros and the Texas Revolution

Matamoros and the Texas Revolution

Matamoros and the Texas Revolution


The traditional story of the Texas Revolution remembers the Alamo and Goliad but has forgotten Matamoros, the strategic Mexican port city on the turbulent lower Rio Grande. In this provocative book, Craig Roell restores the centrality of Matamoros by showing the genuine economic, geographic, social, and military value of the city to Mexican and Texas history.

Given that Matamoros served the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila and Texas, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Chihuahua, and Durango, the city's strategic location and considerable trade revenues were crucial. Roell provides a refreshing reinterpretation of the revolutionary conflict in Texas from a Mexican point of view, essentially turning the traditional story on its head. Readers will learn how Matamoros figured in the Mexican government's grand designs not only for national prosperity, but also to preserve Texas from threatened American encroachment. Ironically, Matamoros became closely linked to the United States through trade, and foreign intriguers who sought to detach Texas from Mexico found a home in the city.

Roell's account culminates in the controversial Texan Matamoros expedition, which was composed mostly of American volunteers and paralyzed the Texas provisional government, divided military leaders, and helped lead to the tragic defeats at the Alamo, San Patricio, Agua Dulce Creek, Refugio, and Coleto (Goliad). Indeed, Sam Houston denounced the expedition as "the author of all our misfortunes." In stark contrast, the brilliant and triumphant Matamoros campaign of Mexican General José de Urrea united his countrymen, defeated these revolutionaries, and occupied the coastal plain from Matamoros to Brazoria. Urrea's victory ensured that Matamoros would remain a part of Mexico, but Matamorenses also fought to preserve their own freedom from the centralizing policies of Mexican President Santa Anna, showing the streak of independence that characterizes Mexico's northern borderlands to this day.


Lo que nada cuesta, nada vale (Whatever costs nothing is worth nothing).
—Spanish proverb

“MATAMORAS LIES IN A PLAIN exposed to all winds; those most frequently prevailing are the North and South, which may be called prevalent.” These words of Mexican physician Dr. Antonio Lafon, in an otherwise mundane nineteenth-century medical report concerning yellow fever in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, provide a tempting metaphor for the magnetism of this bustling city on the lower Rio Grande, which historically has drawn to itself the “prevailing winds” from north and south, figuratively speaking. As such, the city offers an exceptional view for the Texas Revolution, an understanding that is essentially unappreciated north of the river. Cosmopolitan and international, Matamoros was economically strategic as a commercial center and port by the late 1820s, not just to the local and upriver ranching settlements and towns—the Villas del Norte— but to the larger northeastern regions of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, Chihuahua, and even beyond to Mexico’s national economy, thanks to ever-increasing trade revenue for goods brought from Europe and the United States, particularly New Orleans. The merchants of Matamoros brought the northern region of Mexico into permanent contact with the market economy of the United States, often with dramatic and unintended consequences still relevant today.

Tossed about in the feverish political disputes blowing northward from Mexico City and blowing southward from Texas and the United States, Matamoros was certainly “exposed to all winds.” Vital to the dwellers of Mexico’s northeastern frontier communities upriver—the norteños —and to the many ranchos on the Rio Grande’s banks, the port city was also important to Texas settlements served by the famous Matamoros-La Bahía Road. San Patricio, Refugio, La Bahía (Goliad) and Victoria were populated by Tejano and Irish colonists and increasingly by norteamericanos— Anglo Americans pouring into Texas from the United States—who rou-

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