Tag Archives: history

Contrasting Transitions:Guerrero and Aguilar Among the Maya

By Randy Jackson

The path of human history is a story of successive transitions. Few transitions are peaceful enough to allow the individuals affected to adjust without a personal cost. The greatest historical transitions are the collapse of civilizations. Pre-Conquest, and over the course of 3,000 years, Mexico has had seven major civilizations: The Olmec, the unknown culture or cultures that built Teotihuacán, Zapotec, Mixtec, the Maya, the Toltec, and the Aztec. The last of these civilizations, the Aztec, ended with the Spanish Conquest.

When wandering the ruins of some of these ancient civilizations, I believe one question intrigues us all: What was it like to be a person living in those ancient times? Anthropologists and archaeologists can articulate many aspects of the daily lives of people in these civilizations surprisingly well. These aspects are things people did, how they lived, even what they might have believed. But, except for the leaders of these civilizations, very little is known about any individual, especially individuals who had witnessed the transition of one civilization to another.

Two exceptions to this are Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero. These two Spanish men survived a shipwreck and were washed up on the shores of the Yucatan in 1511, eight years before the arrival of Cortés. There were between twelve and fifteen men in all who washed ashore that day. Some were killed (their leaders likely sacrificed); the remaining men were all enslaved. All but two died or were killed in the following years.

The only two men to survive, Aguilar and Guerrero, escaped their initial enslavement and ended up among a rival Mayan group. Among this second group the Spaniards were treated somewhat better. By working hard, over some years they were able to integrate with the Mayan people and learned to speak their language.

The different ways these two men integrated into the Mayan society seems to have been a function of the type of person each man was. Aguilar was educated in the Catholic Church and was a Franciscan friar. As a man of faith, he kept his Christian faith and persevered in his time among the Maya. He hung onto some hope that he might, one day, return to Spanish society and even Spain. Less is known about Guerero’s upbringing, except that he was likely a fisherman before joining a Spanish crew heading to the new world. Guerrero distinguished himself in battle fighting for his Mayan compatriots. He became a warrior chief, he married a woman named Zazil Ha, the daughter of the cacique (chieftain) and had a family.

When Cortés approached the Mexican coast, he first stopped on the island of Cozumel for some ship repairs. While there, the Spaniards were approached by a canoe of Mayans. To the Spaniards bewilderment and surprise one of the Mayans asked in Spanish, “Gentleman, are you Christians?” This person was Gerónimo de Aguilar, indistinguishable to the Spaniards from his Mayan companions.

Aguilar had adapted and survived his Mayan captivity. With Aguilar’s ability to speak Mayan he was of great service to Cortés and when teamed up with Malinche (an amazing former noblewoman with command of several Mexican languages – see The Eye, March 2021), Aguilar had a front row seat to the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The societal collapse Aguilar watched was from the perspective of a Spaniard and conqueror.

Gonzalo Guerrero’s perspective was fundamentally different. Before leaving for Cozumel to meet up with Spanish, Aguilar went to Guerrero to tell him about the Spanish ship and to see if Guerrero would join him in meeting with the Spanish. Guerrero refused, telling Aguilar he would never be accepted back into Spanish society. He was tattooed and had nose rings and ear plugs in the Mayan style. And besides, Guerrero added, “And look at how handsome these boys of mine are.”

Cortés and his conquistadors passed through the Yucatán and went on to defeat the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico. The Mayan peoples proved much more difficult for the Spaniards to overcome. It took them decades, and the lives of hundreds of Spanish soldiers, to subdue the Yucatán. The successful Mayan resistance is likely the result of having Gonzalo Guerrero to advise them.

The first Spanish attempt to subdue the Mayan Yucatán was in 1527, six years after the fall of the Aztecs at Tenochtitlán. Francisco de Montejo led a group of Spanish soldiers on this mission; his first effort was to try to get Guerrero on his side. From a ship in the Bahia de Chetumal, Montejo was successful in getting a letter to Guerrero promising to “honor and benefit” him if he became one of Montejo’s “principal men.” Guerrero responded, writing on the back of the letter in charcoal. He once again refused to join his former countrymen.

Montejo’s attempt to conquer the Yucatán was unsuccessful. The Mayans used guerilla tactics, as well as craftily supplying the Spaniards with misinformation. These tactics were considered to have originated with Guerrero. The heat, mosquitos and the Yucatán jungle did the rest. There were further excursions and some battles with the Mayans, but by 1535 the only Spaniard living in the Yucatan was Gonzalo Guerrero. By this time Guerrero had been among the Maya for twenty five years. Earlier, in 1531, Guerrero’s former compatriot, Gerónimo de Aguilar, had died near Mexico City on his encomiendia (an estate allowed to exact tribute from the native population after the Conquest).

Then in 1536, the Spanish attacked and overwhelmed a Mayan cacique named Çiçumba at a fortress in Ticamaya, Honduras. After the battle, among the dead, Spanish soldiers found a bearded man in native dress killed by a shot from an arquebus, an early long gun. The Spanish commander, Alvarado, reported that the man was Gonzalo Guerrero. Stories say he arrived from Chetumal with 50 canoes of warriors to support Çiçumba.

The dictionary definition of “transition” is “the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.” It’s hard to imagine a greater transition than a civilization collapsed by conquest. Millions of people living in what is now Mexico at the time suffered unknown hardships and death. So many individual stories that will always remain unknown to us. As for Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero, we know the main structure of their lives, the decisions they made, some of the things they faced in life, even how they died. Their stories are grand and the transitions they faced are recorded for all times.

Malinche and the Spanish Conquest of Mexico

By Randy Jackson

Up until 500 years ago, the civilizations of Mesoamerica and Europe had been unknown to each other, completely unconnected since the beginnings of human history. But on November 8, 1519, representatives of these two vastly different civilizations met face to face for the first time. They met on a causeway of the splendorous city of Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City).

There now exist many imagined illustrations of this historical event. Any such illustration is without merit unless it shows one of the most important people at that moment. The one person who could enable the representatives of these two civilizations to communicate. That person was a woman known as Malinche. She was the one person on earth who could speak both the language of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma, and the European language of the upstart conqueror Cortés.

Moctezuma and members of his court would have referred to this woman as Malintzin, as ‘tzin’ in Nahuatl denotes honour to the person. Malintzin / Malinche (Doña María to the Spanish) was more than a mere translator. She was from a family of high social standing. She was educated, she was trained in negotiation, and she had a tremendous ability to speak and learn new languages. And in a stroke of bizarre good luck for the Conquistadors, Malinche was a slave to the Mayan peoples when Cortés landed in what is now Mexico.

As Cortés approached the Caribbean coast of Mexico, he presumed he was arriving at a large island like Cuba. He was expecting the peoples of this land to be similar to those of Cuba and Dominica. He could not have imagined a land with a flourishing civilization, with roads and cities, with markets and armies, with engineers and tax collectors. Cortés, without any information about this society and its structures, might not have succeeded in his base desires for gold, conquest, and adventure. Cortés did not know it upon arrival, but he needed someone versed in the workings of this civilization, someone who understood the different peoples, languages, and societal structures, someone who could negotiate with the different peoples of this land. Malinche was uniquely qualified for this.

Upon their arrival in the Yucatan in 1519, after some initial skirmishes with the Mayans, the Spanish were given twenty women slaves to appease them and to secure an alliance. Among the women slaves, they immediately recognized that Malinche was special. Cortés was told of Malinche’s royal heritage. Bernal Díaz, a conquistador with Cortés, noted in his book The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, that Malinche’s noble heritage was very evident in her appearance and demeanor.

When Cortés arrived in the Yucatán, there were two Spaniards who survived a 1511 shipwreck, one was Gerónimo de Aguilar. He was presented to Cortés by the Mayans. By this time Aguilar had learned to speak the Mayan language. Cortés quickly realized that with Aguilar speaking Mayan, and Malinche’s ability to speak Mayan and other Mexican languages, he could communicate with, and learn about, the different peoples of Mexico, and use that knowledge to his advantage.

Besides Díaz’s book, there are few historical documents that provide the scant history of the person we know as Malinche. She was likely born in the year 1500. Evidence of Malinche’s privileged class rests in part with her ability to speak the royal court language of Tecpillatolli (“lordly speech”) which is significantly different from the common tongue. It was the language spoken by Moctezuma. Before the Spanish conquest, children of elite families of Mexico were educated starting at the age of seven. Girls and boys were taught Tecpillatolli, along with such subjects as geometry and religion. They were also taught negotiation and public speaking, as these skills were central to the functioning of their society. Malinche’s negotiations for Cortés have often been cited as significant in helping him obtain allies to oppose the Aztecs.

Around the age of twelve, Malinche’s father died and her mother remarried. Bernal Díaz wrote that Malinche was sold into slavery to favor the male child of her mother’s new marriage. Díaz reports that Malinche was taken away at night to avoid social censure of her parents. For seven years, until the time of Cortés’s arrival, Malinche was traded or exchanged as a slave. Women were often given as gifts or traded to secure alliances between groups, and Malinche would have been seen as a prize gift. She was 19 years old when she was given to Cortés. By the time Cortés met Moctezuma, 10 months later, Malinche could speak Spanish.

The significance of Malinche’s role in the conquest of Mexico seems indisputable. Various codices (contemporary illustrated manuscripts) depict Malinche being as significant a figure as either Cortés or Moctezuma. In fact, Moctezuma referred to Cortés as Malintzin. The life-story, talents, and courage of this intriguing woman suggests a person with real strength of character. All of Malinche’s strengths worked to Cortés’s advantage. The military advantages of Spanish guns, steel and horses would not have been sufficient to defeat the Aztecs without the help of tens of thousands of warriors from alliances – alliances negotiated by Malinche.

After the conquest and after having a son by Malinche, Cortés “gave” her to one of his officers: Juan de Jaramillo. Jaramillo married Malinche and together they had a daughter. Then in 1528 at the age of 28, Malanche died of a European disease along with tens of millions of her countrymen. There are no records of the words of Malinche, only a few second-hand accounts of her role in the Spanish Conquest.

Through the succeeding centuries the mythic Malinche has been interpreted in various ways. To the Spanish she was portrayed as the Mother of New Spain. To Mexicans, starting around the time of the struggle for independence from Spain, Malinche was seen as a traitor. In fact, the word malinchista, still used today, is an insult, meaning a traitor and a fornicator with foreigners.

Before the Spanish Conquest, the peoples of Mesoamerica did not see themselves as one people commonly opposed to this new European group. They were Tlaxcalans, or Aztecs or Mayans, or one of many very different groups that had distinctly different languages and were often in conflict with each other. In this context how should Malinche be remembered? As a traitor – to whom? She was a woman who was traded (no doubt raped and abused) by different groups until February 1519, when one of these groups gave Malinche to this new group – the Spaniards.

All interpretations of Malinche seem self-serving. To those who sought independence from Spain she represented a traitor. To the Catholic Church, Malinche was a temptress like Eve in the Garden of Eden – Diego Rivera portrayed her in an Aztec market, crowned with callas (an erotic symbol) and lifting her skirts, in one of the murals in the National Palace in Mexico City. To the Spanish Malinche represented the romantic notion that she was the mother of New Spain, or romantic partner of Cortés. In fact, Cortés had 4 children (that we know of) with different women of Mexico – two of which were with Moctozuma’s daughters.

None of these interpretations seem to hold any respect for this central person in such a fascinating chapter in the course of human history. Malinche was a woman of her times. Someone who used her unique talents, education and experience. She overcame unimaginable obstacles when discarded by her noble family and traded as a slave. She acted with agency in creating her own mark on the history of the world. Now, 500 years later, the life and experiences of this remarkable woman stands as one of the most enthralling characters in the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.

The History of the Cow in Mexico

By Kary Vannice

In 1521, Capitan Gregorio de Villalobos set sail, probably out of Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola, but there’s evidence he left from Cuba, heading for Veracruz, Mexico, with some heavy weight contraband on board – contraband that would forever change the culture and landscape of North America. Below decks he harbored six cows and one bull, at a time when cattle trading was strictly prohibited in Mexico.

Cattle, first brought to the Caribbean islands by Christopher Columbus, had not yet made their way to Mexico. Spanish stock raisers, afraid they would lose their monopoly for the supply of cattle to the Spanish settlements, had petitioned the crown to institute severe restrictions on the delivery of brood stock to Mexico. They had good reason – the vast landscapes of Mexico made for ideal grazing country.

Modern day cows come from a breed of animal that was domesticated about 10,000 years ago in Asia. This huge beast, called an auroch, was about twice the size of a cow today and originated in India, spread into China, then the Middle East, and eventually to northern Africa and finally to Europe.

When European sailors brought cattle to the Caribbean islands they were a thin-legged, wiry Moorish-Andalusian breed known as “black cattle” (ganado prieto). Turned loose and left on their own, it didn’t take long in their new lush surroundings for them to evolve into the heavy-boned, swift breed that Villalobos smuggled into Mexico.

These first cows arrived in Mexico just as Cortés and his men were completing their conquest of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. By the end of 1521, the conquistadors had all the money and power they could want, but they found the local meat supply not to their liking. Thus, Cortes himself petitioned King Charles V of Spain to lift the restriction on cattle importation.

To supply his men with the meat they desired, Cortés developed a breeding program in the high-altitude valley of Mexicalzimgo (around what is now San Mateo Mexicaltzingo, south of Toluca) and started the tradition of cattle raising in Mexico. The modern-day practice of branding is even attributed to Cortes, who it is said branded all his cattle with three crosses, the first brand recorded in North America.

Soon, missionaries also arrived on the shores of Mexico. As they established communities around their new age culture and religion, rich European landowners mounted native Indians on well-trained horses and began teaching them to handle cattle using methods originating from the Iberian Peninsula in Spain. Missions became the impetus for encouraging the local indigenous people to raise livestock, to supply a steady stream of meat to the growing population of Anglos arriving from Europe.

Native cow handlers quickly blended their local knowledge with their new skill of horsemanship and surpassed their European counterparts in both skill and precision. The wide open spaces of Northern Mexico became a major center for raising cattle. Ranching, farming and trading of livestock became the primary economic activity in that region, which we know today as Texas.

Over the next two hundred and fifty years, the cattle industry grew in Mexico, which at the time included New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, and western Colorado. With such a vast territory and no way to contain herds to a specific tract of land, huge roundups were often held to collect cattle for sale and transport. With their expert horsemanship and roping skills, the hard-riding vaqueros and charros controlled the chaos and laid the foundation for our modern day cowboy culture.

During the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, the number of wild cattle increased as ranchers on both sides turned their attention toward the war effort and no longer had time to organize the huge roundups required to regroup the scattered herds.

After the war ended, with a newly established border, the two countries developed common routes for moving large amounts of cattle between the north and south. The most famous was the Chisholm Trail, which became the path for the greatest movement of cattle ever known. This established a trade network for cattle between the two North American countries and cemented a strong ranching culture in both countries that remains to this day.

An extension of ranching culture in both the USA and Mexico is the rodeo, where charros show off their skills in horsemanship, cow handling, and bull riding. Another Spanish tradition that would not exist without the cow, and is still practiced today in some Mexican cities, is the bull fight.

While the ranching and cowboy culture remain strong in many of the states in both Mexico and the United States, the cattle industry has largely become an industrial affair. Today, industrially raised cattle account for nearly half of the cattle in each country.

In 2016, Mexico reported over 16 million head of cattle within its borders, the vast majority of which would not be considered “open range” cattle, but instead are raised in feedlots to produce meat for both Mexican and foreign markets.

In 2019 beef ranked 58th among Mexico’s top 100 exports, bringing in over a billion dollars in revenue for the country. And that amount does not take into account any of the byproducts such as tallow, rawhide, bones, horns and hooves.

The 2020 beef export numbers may be even stronger because of the pandemic. When factories in the United States were forced to shut down due to COVID-19 protocols, Mexico beef producers came to the rescue. Between January and May, Mexico’s meat export numbers were 32.6% higher than they were in 2019.

So, from its first illegal origins on the shores of Mexico 500 years ago, the humble cow has not only shaped a distinct part of Mexican culture but has also become a major economic contributor to the Mexican economy.

Goliad, Texas:From “Remember the Alamo” to The Ox Cart Wars

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Should your travels to Huatulco be by land, and should they take you through east Texas via the tiny town of Goliad, you will find some outsized Mex-Tex-Mex history.

Located a little over a hundred miles southeast of San Antonio on the San Antonio River as it flows to the Gulf of Mexico, Goliad (pop. 1,908 in 2010) is the site of Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía, a presidio, or fort, built to defend what was then the border between Mexico and the United States. Northerners don’t often think about this, but after the Mexican War of Independence (1810-21), Mexico included much of the southwest – nearly all of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

The Texas Revolution

In the governmental chaos that followed independence, Mexico started out with a short-lived empire, followed by a republic that set off a struggle between conservatives (“centralists”) and liberals (“federalists”). The centralist President Antonio López de Santa Anna enacted policies that ticked off the folks living in what is now Texas; the settlers in this area were both Mexican and Americans; the latter had settled there when Mexico opened up land to immigrant settlers shortly after the War of Independence. On October 2, 1835, the settlers declared their independence from Mexico, and the Texas Revolution was on.

The Texas Revolution was only one of several armed insurrections against Santa Anna’s conservative government, but it was the most dramatic, the most deadly, and the only one that worked. Santa Anna – not without evidence – saw a U.S. plot to annex Texas, and decided this was his war. Following several months of skirmishes along the San Antonio River between San Antonio (then called Villa de Béxar) and Goliad, on February 23, 1836, Santa Anna led his troops to rebel headquarters in the Misión San Antonio de Valero, known as “The Alamo.” Thirteen days later, Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and nearly 200 other Texas fighters lay dead.

About a month later, down the river in Goliad, Mexican General José de Urrea and about 1,400 soldiers approached the La Bahía presidio. Although the head of the Texas army, General Sam Houston, had retreated and warned Colonel James W. Fannin to evacuate his forces from Goliad, Fannin failed to do so in time. Despite fighting Urrea’s advanced forces fiercely over a day, and regrouping overnight, Fannin’s men woke up to find that Urrea’s main army had arrived. The Texans surrendered and were marched back to La Bahía, where they expected to be treated as prisoners of war. Santa Anna was having none of that. All the Texans who could walk were marched out in different directions from the presidio, where they were shot or had their throats cut. Wounded Texans were lined up against the wall or left in their beds to be executed. Over 350 Texans were killed in the Goliad Massacre.

Santa Anna was in serious error if he thought the fate of those who died at the Alamo and Goliad would bring the Texas rebellion to an end. Men flocked to sign up with Sam Houston’s army; he led them out of retreat and towards Santa Anna’s army, which had made it to present-day La Porte, on the Gulf southeast of Houston.

This time it was Santa Anna’s forces who weren’t ready. They had backed themselves into a corner to achieve high ground behind Buffalo Bayou on the San Jacinto River. At 3:30 on a clear afternoon on April 21, 1836, Houston massed his forces and gave the order to advance in silence. It’s been suggested that Santa Anna had no lookouts and that many of his soldiers were taking their afternoon siesta. For whatever reason, the 910 Texans who attacked, raging in revenge and screaming “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” met little resistance. They gave no quarter, slaughtering Mexicans who were crying “Me no Alamo, me no Goliad!” The Battle of San Jacinto lasted about 18 minutes. Houston’s army lost 9 men and had about 30 wounded. They killed 630 Mexicans, wounded 208, and took 730 prisoners.

The Mexican-American War

The independent Republic of Texas was born, the United States annexed it in 1845, Mexico declared that an act of war and started skirmishing along the border, and President Polk got the U.S. Congress to declare war on Mexico on May 13, 1846. The mostly volunteer army handily vanquished the Mexicans, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848.

When the treaty was ratified on May 26, 1848, Mexico ceded nearly half its territory to America, handing over all the lands that now make up the “lower 48” states. The U.S. compensated Mexico to the tune of a little more than $18 million.

The repercussions of the Texas Revolution did not end with the Mexican-American War, at least not in east Texas. As a tremendous influx of northerners and immigrants arrived, east Texas quickly became majority Anglo and began rapid development – creating complicated social, economic, and racial tensions that frequently ended in murdered Mexicans, a long and tangled tale for some other time.

The Mexican-American War also kick-started the regional transportation system. Because there was neither rail transportation nor navigable water routes, the war effort was a huge headache for the military quartermasters who built military outposts and sent supplies to the troops. What there was, was a wagon “trace” – a vague idea of a road marked out by wagon tracks and word of mouth.

The Chihuahua Road ran about 140 miles from Indianola on the Gulf of Mexico to San Antonio; from there, it ran westward to the rich silver, copper, zinc, and lead mines of Chihuahua; a northern section would soon reach what is now San Diego. Different sections of the 1100-mile road had different names; one of them was the Goliad Cart Road.

Cargo offloaded in Indianola and Lavaca a little up the river included millions of dollars worth of construction materials – lumber, shingles, and rails, ties, and equipment to build railroads. Barrels of retail goods headed for the growing number of stores along the route. There were loads of “mixed freight” – barrels of essential and then luxury goods for retail sale, and German, Swiss and French immigrants, not to mention two shipments of camels ordered up by the U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, a mere four years before he became President of the Confederate States of America. Coming back to Indianola from the interior were pecans, cattle, hides and horns, cotton, wool, salt, leather, sugar, molasses, and silver bullion bound for the U.S. Mint in New Orleans.

The Ox Cart Wars

And how did all that stuff get to and from San Antonio and points west? Overland freight drawn by horses, mules, and oxen. There were military wagons, commercial freight wagons, Wells Fargo wagons, stagecoaches, and the classic covered wagons called “prairie schooners,” drawn variously by horses, mules, and oxen. The Chihuahua Road made for a tough and dangerous trek. Wagons had to ford swollen streams and rivers during torrential rains, and were sometimes swept away. There were mountainous hills on the routes; teams and drivers sometimes died when carts slipped, overturned, and crashed over the side.

The star of them all in coping with the trip was the Mexican ox-cart driver, the carretero, whose teams of two, four, six, or eight oxen drew different-sized carretas. The smallest ox-carts were two-wheeled, drawn by a team of two oxen. The largest ox carts were about 6 feet wide and 15 feet long, with thick, 7-foot-high wooden wheels; these carts could carry up to three tons of freight.

Travelers at the time counted anywhere from 160 to 1,000 Mexican-driven ox carts during a day on Goliad Cart Road. The merchants of San Antonio were unsparing in their praise of Mexican carters, preferring them to Anglo teamsters. They were considered efficient, honest, and skilled at handling and caring for their oxen. America’s most famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, traveled widely – and wrote about it. In A Journey through Texas: Or a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (1857), Olmsted’s impression that Mexicans “with oxen and two-wheeled carts” carried “almost all the transportation of the country.” He noted that they cut travel expenses by living off the land, had their families working as assistants, and passed their businesses on to family members, increasing skills and efficiency as time went by, enabling them to charge less than the Anglo teamsters.

Mexican carreteros provided about two-thirds of the cartage services and comprised the largest occupational group in Bexar county, of which San Antonio was the county seat. Most carters lived in San Antonio, where the folks with Spanish surnames made up half the population. Few people of Mexican heritage lived in the towns along the Chihuahua Road between San Antonio and Indianola; for the Anglos who did, the carreteros’ success was galling – they “remembered Goliad” all too well. They went to war again, this time against the Mexican ox-cart drivers. The “cart-cutters” from Goliad betook themselves to ambushing the carreteros, cutting the axles and destroying the wheels of the carts, stealing or destroying the cargo, and escalating into shooting the drivers down.

From July through November of 1857, there were five documented attacks. On July 3, men in disguise attacked a train of six carts, wounding all six drivers. On July 14, about 20 cart-cutters attacked another train, cutting up the wheels of the carts. On July 31, three carreteros were wounded and an Anglo named C.G. Edwards, whose freight was being carried, was shot as he lay sleeping under one of the carts; he later died of his wounds. On September 12, about 40 men, most in masks, opened fire on a cart train carrying military supplies. Antonio Delgado, a prominent Tejano from San Antonio, was shot dead by 14 bullets. Finally, on November 20, cart-cutters opened fire on a cart train as the carreteros were “getting up” their oxen to start the day’s trek, killing either two or five of them.

The documented attacks account for four to seven dead. Several sources, including two letters from Manuel Robles Pezuela, the Mexican Ambassador to the United States, to Lewis Cass, the U.S. Secretary of State, put the number of Mexicans killed in the Ox Cart Wars at 70 to 75.

On the north side of the Goliad County Courthouse stands a huge southern live oak tree called either the “Cart War Oak” or the “Hanging Tree.” The missing Mexicans in the Cart War body count? Apparently, they were lynched on this tree. A Texas Historical Marker for the tree points out that when the court handed out a death sentence, the defendant was marched outside and strung up immediately. However, in a masterpiece of euphemism for “lynching,” the marker also says, “Hangings not called for by regular courts occurred here during the 1857 ‘Cart War.’ … About 70 men were killed, some of them on this tree.”

The Ox Cart Wars came to an end when Secretary of State Cass called on Texas governor Elishu Pease – who had received several letters about the attacks – to take care of business. On November 30, 1857, ten days after the last major attack, Pease said, “It is now very evident that there is no security for the lives of citizens of Mexican origin engaged in the business of transportation along the road from San Antonio to the Gulf, unless they are escorted by a military force. … It will require an appropriation of about fourteen thousand and five hundred dollars.”

The legislature forked over the money, the Texas Rangers took over, and the Ox Cart Wars came to an end. The Cart War Oak wasn’t done with its hanging duties, however; local citizens were suddenly outraged, and turned the cart cutters in. They were speedily tried, condemned to death, and hung from the limbs of the tree.

Remember all that freight with steel and wood to build railroads? The railroad from Indianola to San Antonio did get started, continuing in fits, starts, and foreclosures until it was bought by Charles Morgan, a New York shipping magnate who had been landing his steamships at Indianola since 1848, and railroad entrepreneur Henry S. McComb. They consolidated six rail lines into one company by 1871; in 1875, Indianola was wiped out by a massive hurricane. Morgan and McComb moved their railyards upstream and soldiered on. Other railways connected with San Antonio. The turbulent days of the Chihuahua Road and its Mexican ox carts were over.

Ten Gifts from Mexico

By Brooke Gazer

December is the month that many of us associate with exchanging gifts, so I thought it would be a good time to remember some of the scrumptious gifts that Mexico has given the world. I’ve wrapped each gift in some interesting bits of history and trivia.

Popcorn
This may be the world’s oldest snack. Next time you go to the movies, thank Mexico when you order a tub of popcorn, called palomitas in Mexico. The people of Mexico domesticated corn some 10,000 years ago, but even before that, a hard variety of corn called teosinte grew wild. These kernels were too hard to eat or to grind into flour but could be popped; some form of popcorn existed a millennium before the domesticated corn used for tortillas came into being.

Avocados
Archaeologists have found evidence of avocados growing in central Mexico 12,000 years ago. Due to the shape of the fruit, the Aztecs called them ahuacatl from the word huacatl, meaning “testicle,” and they were thought to be an aphrodisiac, possibly due to this shape.

Chewing gum
Ancient Mayans chewed a sticky substance from the Manilkara sapota, or the chicle tree. Later, when the Aztecs adopted the practice, they established firm social rules surrounding its use. Only children and single women could chew it publicly, while men and married women could only chew it in private. It was used to stave off hunger and to freshen their breath. In the 1850s, a New Yorker named Thomas Adams was working as secretary to General Antonio de López de Santa Anna, the exiled former president of Mexico. Santa Anna was a chewer of chicle, which Adams had imported as a possible substitute for rubber. When it proved unsuccessful, Adams adapted it as the base for chewing gum and the popular brand Chiclets was born.

Chili Peppers
Chili peppers may have been the world’s first introduction to fusion cuisine. When Columbus discovered America, he found chili peppers growing on the Caribbean islands. However, the word chili comes from the Aztec language. and this plant was originally domesticated around 5000 BCE in the Tehuacán Valley, which lies between the cities of Puebla and Oaxaca. The word pepper was combined with the name chili, because of the hot taste. Columbus was seeking a similar plant; black pepper corns were known in Europe as “Black Gold” and before long chili peppers were grown around the world.

Beans
If you are on a budget, these could be your best friends. One cup of cooked beans equals 14 grams of protein, the same as 2 ounces of lean meat, which only provides 9-13 grams of fiber. While a few varieties are from Africa or the Middle East, most beans originated in Mexico, with evidence of their cultivation dating back seven thousand years. Some 200 different varieties of Mexican beans have been identified, but the most commonly known are kidney, pinto, black, red, and white beans.

Papaya
Some people associate this exotic fruit with Asia, but it originated in southern Mexico and Central and South America. Spanish explorers spread its cultivation; papaya was the first crop to be genetically modified for human consumption.Aside from its mildly sweet flavor and soft buttery texture, this tropical fruit contains enzymes that aid in digestion and protect tissues that line the digestive tract. And without papaya, New York City would have been bereft of its beloved combo, papaya juice and hot dogs. Purveyed by Papaya King, Gray’s Papaya, Papaya Heaven, Papaya Paradise, Papaya Place, Papaya Circle, Papaya World, Frank’s Papaya, etc., etc., from the 1950s on (Papaya King lays claim to another two decades, 1932), the combo had its heyday in the 70s. No less than Julia Child declared the hot dog served at Papaya King the best in New York, better even than Nathan’s Original! After many ups and downs and franchise failures hither and yon, you can still get a Papaya King drink and a dog on St. Marks Place downtown and on East 86th Street (the original) uptown in Manhattan.

Tomatoes
Some say that tomatoes grew wild in the Andes, but the Aztecs had domesticated and cultivated them by 500 BC. Cortez brought them to Spain and tomatoes became popular in southern Europe soon after the conquest. In some parts of Europe, however, they were considered poisonous. This was because acidity from tomatoes caused the lead in pewter plates and flatware to leach into food. Over time, lead poisoning is fatal. It was not until the time of the American civil war that tomatoes became a common part of our diet. Thank goodness they did, because without tomatoes from Mexico, there would be no pizza today!

Tequila
Compared to some spirits, tequila is a fairly modern development. The Aztecs fermented the juice of the agave cactus into a drink called pulque somewhere around 300 BC, but the Spaniards found it a bit rough for their tastes. Using the same plant, they distilled something called Vino de Mezcal. Later, copper stills were introduced and they enjoyed an even more refined product. In the 17th century, the town of Tequila in Jalisco developed a reputation for the fine quality of mezcal they produced from a variety of blue agave.

Soon people began referring to all distilled agave spirits as tequila. However, in 1902, an official distinction was made and only blue agave spirits from this region in Jalisco could be labeled “tequila.” All tequilas are technically mezcals, but not all mezcals can be called tequila. (See many articles in The Eye by Alvin Starkman on the making and enjoying of mezcal.)

Vanilla
This delicious flavoring is from the pod of an exotic orchid of the genus Vanilla. It grew only in what is now the state of Veracruz and the Totonacs were the first to cultivate it. The flavor quickly became popular in Europe, but until the 1840s, Mexico had the vanilla market cornered. This was because the orchid needed to be pollinated by hummingbirds or bees specific to the region. Then a French entrepreneur discovered how to pollinate the plants by hand, and production of vanilla expanded to other countries. Like saffron, vanilla is a labor-intensive product, making it an expensive flavoring regardless of where it is produced. However, many experts agree that Mexican vanilla is smoother, darker, and richer, with more floral notes. So, if you are going to spend the money – wouldn’t you want the best?

Chocolate
Cacao trees grew wild in Mexico for nearly10,000 years, until the Olmec people began cultivating them. Mayan glyphs suggest that a beverage made with fermented cacao pods was reserved for only the most elite members of society. The dried beans from the cacao pods were so prized that the Mayans used them as currency to trade with the Aztecs. The Aztecs mixed them with chilis to make a bitter drink that no one today would recognize. Our English word “chocolate” derives from the Aztec word chocolātl, or xocoátl, but it was not until 1590 that cacao began to gain popularity. This was when Oaxacan nuns had the brilliant idea of sweetening the beverage. From that simple innovation, chocolate spread across Europe becoming the world’s favorite flavor.

Thank you, Mexico!

Brooke Gazer runs Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean view Bed and Breakfast in Huatulco (www.bbaguaazul.com).

A Shift Towards Realism: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

By Randy Jackson

Having a young son at a certain age when the Ninja Turtles were all the rage meant I knew the Ninja Turtles were named after four Italian Renaissance artists (Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael). Raphael (he was the one with the red eye sash) was the biggest of this group of unlikely superheroes. He was a snapping turtle and the leader of these anthropomorphic crime fighting turtles living in the sewers of New York City.

Until recently, beyond the Ninja Turtle character, I was only vaguely aware of the Renaissance artist Raphael’s contribution to the world of art. That changed when I came across a photo of a certain painting, and not even a painting by Raphael himself, but rather a painting by one of a group of painters trying to resist Raphael’s influence in painting some 400 years after Raphael set brush to canvas.

Raphael – Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520) – is widely considered to be the consummate high Renaissance painter. Following the traditions of Greek and Roman art in which artists sought to portray beauty in the ideal human form, Raphael painted humans with grace and dignity and with backgrounds of an idealized and ordered world. His influence endured for centuries and was particularly revered in the Victorian era in England.

By the mid-19th century, though, a group of young, highly talented artists resisted the historical style of painting practiced by Rafael and others. This group became known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The particular painting that caught my roaming attention was one of the Brotherhood’s earlier works portraying sacred subjects in a stark and realistic way. Painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, it was titled Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation). The Annunciation was the announcement by the Angel Gabriel that the Virgin Mary would bear the son of God in her womb.

Normally paintings of the Annunciation are portrayed as glorious events with a winged Angel Gabriel bathed in golden light towering over a pious Mary who is looking demure and apparently calmly accepting this dramatic world-changing event in which she would be a central figure.

In this painting, however, Mary is a scared, uncertain young girl, still in her sleeping clothes, pulling away against the wall of her tiny room while a draped but otherwise naked, all powerful angel tells her of her role as commanded by God.

This painting was like a gut punch to me, so it was of no surprise to learn of the powerful reaction against the painting in Victorian society of the time.

The painting was considered scandalous and morally shocking. The author Charles Dickens wrote scathing criticisms of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, calling them “odious, repulsive, and revolting.” Dickens articulated the concern that an artist’s search for beauty is inspired by an ideal and not found in the raw reproduction of reality.

In fact, this painting of the Annunciation was not the work that drew the most scorn and criticism of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The full weight of condemnation fell upon them with their showing of a painting by John Everett Millais titled Christ in the House of His Parents.

In this painting, a thin timid looking Christ is being comforted after an apparent injury by an old, ordinary looking Mary. A bald, unremarkable Joseph works at his table, while John the Baptist, a half-naked street urchin, appears cowed and subdued with a bowl of baptismal water. This depiction of the sacred family of Jesus with details such as toenails that are broken and dirty shocked Victorian society. It was viewed by many as scandalously sacrilegious. Queen Victoria had this painting brought to her so she could see for herself what all the controversy was about. This left the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood nearly broken by the condemnation.

The challenge by the Brotherhood was to the Renaissance portrait of beauty as an ideal in art. This method of painting was represented by Raphael’s style and artists espoused it centuries. However, the Pre-Raphaelite kerfuffle was not just a reaction against a false ideal of beauty. It needs to be seen in the wider context of the time. Kenneth Clark’s Civilization (a 1969 BBC television series, followed by a history textbook) has a segment/chapter on “The Worship of Nature.” Clark argues that starting in the year 1725, Christianity as a source of creativity markedly declined, especially in England. Over the following hundred years people came to the notion that divinity is expressed in Nature. The artistic shift towards realism portrayed by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was an expression of this shift away from the artistic notions of the ideal and towards nature as it actually is.

As radical as these early works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood seemed to be at the time, they were also understood by some as an expression of the concurrent Naturalism Movement. One such person was the highly influential artist, philosopher, patron, and social thinker John Ruskin. Ruskin became a principal defender of the Pre-Raphaelites against their critics. He encouraged all artists to “go to Nature in all singleness of heart rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing.” Nature, according to Ruskin, should be reflected in art in a realistic way, not an idealized version. What’s more, Ruskin believed truth is reflected in realism.

Ruskin’s view and influence won the day and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood went on to achieve outstanding success in their lifetimes. They became significant contributors to the evolution of art in the western world. The Brotherhood quickly moved beyond the paintings of sacred subjects discussed here. The majority of their subsequent paintings portrayed the stark reality of many aspects of everyday life in the Victorian era; we should note that Charles Dickens, shocked as he might have been by the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, addressed shocking Victorian social conditions throughout his novels.

Much more information is readily available on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including:

A BBC Documentary on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkWONORqHZw

Artist Movements on the Art Story Website:
https://www.theartstory.org/movement/pre-raphaelites/artworks/

A BBC Drama series on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, “Desperate Romantics”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAiv1_qZ2Cw

A Brief History of Cooking

By Randy Jackson

Today, perhaps more than any other time in human history, food has been elevated on a cultural pedestal of reverence. The depth of knowledge and appreciation for a wide variety of cuisines among so many people seems to be a cultural characteristic of our times. Celebrity chefs, food shows and food networks, never mind food pictures posted on Instagram, are only a few of the many indicators of this interest. The term “foodie” was first coined in the 1980s and is now in common use. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a foodie as “a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and who eats food not only out of hunger but due to their interest or hobby.” Travel, immigration, and the abundance of food and ingredients from all over the world have all had a hand in this current cultural obsession with food and cooking. However, today’s modern hipsters of cuisine are only the most recent green sprig of growth in the long history of cooking.

Our evolutionary record shows the harnessing of fire coincided with the growth of the human brain relative to body size. This development took place roughly 1.9 million years ago. Harnessing fire had multiple benefits to humans, but chief among them was that it allowed the cooking of food. Cooking food increases the caloric value and reduces the energy required to digest it. Cooking food also enabled early humans to eat certain tubers and roots that were otherwise inedible.

I think it safe to assume that grilling was the first cooking method. Studies of primitive tribes, even today, show how an animal is cooked (it’s estimated that there are more than a hundred “uncontacted peoples” worldwide, half of them in the Amazonian jungle). The entire carcass is thrown onto the open fire. The fire, along with some scraping, removes the fur. Then as bits of the animal are deemed cooked, they are cut or torn from the carcass and consumed. It’s easy to see the direct lineage of this form of cooking to the tossing of a piece of meat onto the barbeque today.

The earliest dishes beyond grilling were probably soups and stews. There is some evidence from Japan dating back 10,000 years of a type of stew made by putting flesh and water into an animal’s paunch and boiling it over a fire. No doubt soups and stews were being made much earlier than this. Once mankind had figured out how to cook in a container of some sort, it only made sense they began boiling up bits of almost anything they could find.

There is an ancient tradition in Oaxaca – still practiced – of making “stone soup.” National Geographic has a documentary showing this
(https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/intelligent-travel/2010/10/04/mexicos_stone_soup/). The cooking method consists of putting water, vegetables, and fish into a smooth rounded depression in the rocky ground. Then a stone is heated on a fire before dropping it into this natural cauldron, and the soup is cooked. It’s easy to imagine how different flavors were discovered by experimentation or by chance when something new was added to the soup or stew.

Let’s not forget about bread. Archaeologists in Jordan have found the remains of flatbread made with wild barley and plant roots – about 14,000 years old, it predates agricultural practices by thousands of years. Societies all over the world have independently found ways to make bread. Mash up grains, add water to make a paste, fry on a hot rock – and presto! For example, the original inhabitants of what is now California developed a complex procedure to make flour for flatbread out of acorns. Source material for bread was everywhere once man learned to harness fire.

Harnessing fire and cooking required greater social organization and division of duties – there had to be fire tenders, wood gatherers, hunters, etc. A central fire also brought people together for longer periods, especially at night, which increased social complexity and likely helped in the evolution of language.