Matamoros and the Texas Revolution

By Craig H. Roell | Go to book overview

1.
INTRODUCING MATAMOROS:
PEARL OF GREAT PRICE

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.”1 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 norteños2—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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