Matamoros and the Texas Revolution

By Craig H. Roell | Go to book overview

2.
ENVISIONING MATAMOROS:
REFUGE AMONG THE ESTUARIES

TO SEE MATAMOROS AS THE GREAT GATEWAY to Mexico— the reason the city was so desirable to so many contestants in the Texas Revolution—requires an appreciation for its challenging geography, inviting appearance, and vital economics. It is hard to imagine how astonished early settlers must have been when they first encountered this rich and exotic land teeming with wildlife, a unique ecosystem of resacas, meandering streams, estuaries, mudflats, lomas, and clay dunes, its vegetation both severe and beautiful. Summers have historically been long and hot, droughts frequent, hurricanes threatening, and the otherwise mild winters disrupted by legendary biting “northers,” whose rain and dramatically dropping temperatures were enemies faced by soldiers on both sides of the Texas Revolution.

Spaniards dubbed the lower course of the great river the Río Bravo, denoting “wild, bold, fierce, angry,” terms prophetically suitable for the area’s turbulent history. The sharp hairpin turns of the lower Bravo— which contributed both the river’s historic wildness and its characteristic resacas—made it (in a phrase common among boatmen) “exceedingly tortuous” to navigate, even though the river measured about eighty yards in width and, varying according to the seasons, from seven to nine feet in depth for about one hundred miles from its mouth. While Matamoros was only about thirty-one miles (fifty kilometers) from the Gulf of Mexico, the anfractuous windings of the river nearly doubled that distance. Moreover, a sandbar at the entrance of the harbor, which only smaller vessels usually could negotiate, added to navigational hazards. Punta de Isabel (Point Isabel), established some twenty miles north overland, served Matamoros as a much-needed deep-water port, while Bagdad, established about half a mile from the Bravo’s mouth, offered an unloading station for boats unable or unwilling to negotiate the winding river to unload at Matamoros itself. In both cases, cargo was unloaded and hauled to Matamoros by mule packs or oxcarts.

The dense and thorny brushland characterizing the lower Rio Grande

-18-

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