January 21, 2010


Gitlin, Jay, Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders and American Expansion (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2010) (“What we have here is not a dramatic narrative like the Lewis and Clark adventure, but rather a series of smaller stories about the founding of critical western places by shrewd French-speaking merchants. Throughout the middle decades of the antebellum period, the Chouteau companies and other French traders were consolidating their positions from Oklahoma to the Dakotas. By the 1840s and 1850s, as frontiers once again began to converge, thousands of ordinary Americans were moving west. Families searching for new homes in Oregon and forty-niners seeking gold and adventure in California were making their ways to jumping-off places for the overland trails that would take them to the West Coast. What they found along the way were ferries across the Missouri and Platte rivers operated by Frenchmen, some former Chouteau employees and others who had been independent traders. . . . All across the first half of the trail,, the emigrants found trading posts—the rest stops of their day—run by French Creoles. These men, mostly from St. Louis, had spent twenty years in the west fur trade by this time and had built posts and ferries throughout the region. As the fur trade began to decline, they turned their attention to the new greenhorns. In the words of one historian, they were ‘canny entrepreneurs who anticipated the profit potential in catering to the many needs of overland travelers.’” Id. at 109 (citations omitted). ‘[T]he French, experienced middle-grounders by the 1820s, had an established repertoire for achieving their bottom line, which was, quite consistently, commercial exchange and frontier development. That repertoire included intermarriage, cultural flexibility, and the identification of political leaders willing to act as allies and brokers. And to this we must add a last and crucial point: the Creole French of St. Louis came from a place that had itself been the site of transition from empire to republic, Indian country to settlement frontier, French rule to Spanish rule to Anglo-American dominance. They were survivors, the sons and daughters of families who had avoided violent confrontation and marginalization and profited from change. They knew what to expect.” Id. at 120. “The title of this book was meant to startle with the juxtaposition of ‘bourgeois’ and ‘frontier.’ We end with another such juxtaposition: ‘French’ and American.’ It may be hard to acknowledge that these frontier actors were both, but we must recognize this side of our national ancestry. Move over Uncle Sam and make room for Oncle Auguste.” Id. at 190.).

Johnson, Benjamin Heber, Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion and Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans into Americans (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2003) (“The uprising began at the southern tip of Texas in the summer of 1915, as a series of raids by ethnic Mexicans on ranches, irrigation works, and railroads, and quickly developed into a full-blown rebellion. Groups of armed men—some from across the Rio Grande, others seemingly from out of nowhere—stole livestock, burned railroad bridges, tore up tracks, killed farmers, attacked post offices, robbed stores, and repeatedly battled local posses, Texas Rangers, and the thousands of federal soldiers dispatched to quell the violence. The group ranged from two or three assailants who quickly vanished into the brush to scores of well-organized and disciplined mounted men.” “The raids appeared to be the fulfillment of a manifesto titled the ‘Plan de San Diego,’ which was drafted in south Texas in early 1915. The Plan called for a ‘liberating army of all races’ (composed of Mexicans, blacks, and Indians) to kill all white males over age sixteen and overthrow United States rule in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The freed territory would form an independent republic, perhaps to rejoin Mexico at a future date.” “Although obviously a failure in its wider ambitions, the rebellion did make significant headway in south Texas. Aided for a time by a revolutionary faction in northeast Mexico, ethnic Mexican rebels . . . killed dozens of Anglo farmers and drove countless more from their homes. . . .” “In response, vigilantes and Texas Rangers led a far bloodier counterinsurgency that included the indiscriminate harassment of ethnic Mexicans, forcible relocation of rural residents, and mass executions. The wave of terror left few south Texans untouched. Prominent citizens formed ‘Law and Order Leagues’ and carried out many of the atrocities. The Rangers and vigilantes took a high toll on the population. . . .” “Just as some of their Anglo neighbors fled north or to urban areas, so too did many Texas-Mexicans choose to cross the river into Mexico, then wracked by famine, epidemics, and warfare. The reprisals cleared large sections of ethnic Mexican residents. . . . Perhaps those who fled chose wisely, for even observers hesitant to acknowledge Anglo brutality recognized that the death toll was at least three hundred. Some of those who found human remains with skulls marked by execution-style bullet holes in the years to come were sure that the toll had been much, much higher, perhaps five thousand.” Id. at 1-3.).

Merry, Robert W., A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009).

Truett, Samuel, Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2006) (“The Apache Wars, Cananea strike, Mexican Revolution, and Bisbee Deportation thus found common terrain not only in the same transnational landscape, but also in symbolic webs associated with the frontier. In all these contexts, the frontier became a useful ideological weapon in the effort to rally border ‘citizens’ behind corporate and state visions of power and control, by anchoring the policing of space to a timeless, naturalized defense of civilization. Yet these relationships were anything but timeless. In the end, the Mexican Revolution also served as a key turning point in the history of frontiers and borderlands, Before the Mexican Revolution, Mexicans and Americans claimed transnational kinships as Indian fighters and pioneers. Frontier imagery underpinned shared ideas of progress and shared journeys into a modern future. But for Americans, frontier imagery during the revolution began to articulate differences between Mexicans and Americans. Emerging from this insurgent terrain, U.S. border residents imagined themselves as persisting frontier heroes, and these new heroes held the line against barbaric Mexicans.” Id. at 176.).