Friday, March 27, 2020

Booknotes: War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier

New Arrival:
War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier, 1830–1880 by Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga (OU Press, 2020).

With much in the way of documented justification, the historical characterization of the nineteenth-century borderland between the United States and Mexico has often been one of "violence fueled by racial hatred, national rivalries, lack of governmental authority, competition for resources, and an international border that offered refuge to lawless men." However, conflict and violence obviously do not comprise the entire story. Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga's sweeping new study War and Peace on the Rio Grande Frontier, 1830–1880 also examines "the region’s other everyday reality, one based on coexistence and cooperation among Mexicans, Anglo-Americans, and the Native Americans, African Americans, and Europeans who also inhabited the borderlands." What emerges is a picture of the border as a place "that gave rise not only to violent conflict but also cooperation and economic and social advancement."

More from the description: "Meeting here are the Anglo-Americans who came to the border region to trade, spread Christianity, and settle; Mexicans seeking opportunity in el norte; Native Americans who raided American and Mexican settlements alike for plunder and captives; and Europeans who crisscrossed the borderlands seeking new futures in a fluid frontier space. Historian Miguel Ángel González-Quiroga draws on national archives, letters, consular records, periodicals, and a host of other sources to give voice to borderlanders’ perspectives as he weaves their many, varied stories into one sweeping narrative. The tale he tells is one of economic connections and territorial disputes, of refugees and bounty hunters, speculation and stakeholding, smuggling and theft and other activities in which economic considerations often carried more weight than racial prejudice."

The book's coverage spans five decades encompassing "Anglo settlement of Texas in the 1830s, the Texas Revolution, the Republic of Texas , the US-Mexican War, various Indian wars, the US Civil War, the French intervention into Mexico, and the final subjugation of borderlands Indians by the combined forces of the US and Mexican armies." Among American Civil War readers, the book's broadest theme of a borderland region rife with paradoxes of societal and cultural attraction and rejection (along with contrasting forces of violence and cooperation) might evoke some commonalities with Andrew Masich's recent award-winning book Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861–1867 (2017). However, the two studies are more complementary than otherwise. While both authors make extensive use of  U.S. and Mexican archives, González-Quiroga concentrates his efforts on the lower Rio Grande while Masich focused on the lesser-studied (at least for the Civil War era) upper Rio Grande. The time span covered by each book (50 years of border history versus 7) is obviously much different, as well. For his own examination of the Civil War years, González-Quiroga devotes two long chapters to the same 1861-67 period that comprised Masich's entire study. The first discusses the impact of concurrent civil wars (U.S. and Mexican) on the Rio Grande frontier, and the second delves into aspects of cross-border cooperation in wartime (with great emphasis placed on expansive commercial ties as a salient feature of an otherwise chaotic time).

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