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Juan Cortina and the Battle of Brownsville

 

In my first book, Riders of the Lone Star, one of my antagonists was a man named Juan Cortina, and while his attack on Brownsville was fictionalized in the book, it was based on a historical event. The purpose of this post is to relate the historical version of Cortina’s attack on Brownsville.

Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, was born on May 16, 1824 in Camargo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. His mother was from an aristocratic family and had inherited much land, including the land around Brownsville, in the lower Rio Grande valley, where the family lived. To some, Cortina was a protector of the Mexican people living in Texas, a folk hero who avenged the abuses heaped on poor Mexicans by the Texas authorities. To others he was nothing more than a common cattle thief and murderer. Like most historical figures, how Cortina was viewed depended very much on which side of the border one was from.

Juan Cortina

Juan Cortina distinguished himself during the Mexican War and as a hero, he developed a great following among the people. It was this status that prevented him from being imprisoned when several times after the war he was suspected of cattle theft. There seemed to be a mutual affection between Cortina and the poor Mexicans who lived along the Rio Grande, and he came to despise the political and law enforcement official in Brownsville, who he felt were taking advantage of the Hispanic citizens.

On July 13, 1859 Cortina was in Brownsville and witnessed a man who had once worked for him being arrested. Apparently feeling he was being wrongfully detained, Cortina killed the city marshal, and rode out of town with the prisoner. He returned on September 28, 1859 with fifty men and attacked the town. His men rode through town shouting, “Death to Americans,” and firing their guns. Five men were shot that day, but the ones that Cortina had come to town to kill escaped. The city leaders appealed to Mexican authorities for help, and after a short negotiation, Cortina left Brownsville and returned back across the Rio Grande.

Juan Cortina issued a proclamation asserting the rights of Mexicans in Texas and vowed punishment on anyone who violated these rights. Brownsville, fearing another attack, formed a militia, and with the help of a militia from Matamoros, they attacked Cortina at his ranch. The militia was no match for Cortina’s forces, and they were easily repulsed, losing all of their cannon in the process. With this victory, Cortina’s popularity grew along with his army, as men flocked to his side.

Major Samuel Heintzelman
John Salmon “Rip” Ford

He now had an army of four-hundred men and continued his fight along the Rio Grande Valley. A company of Rangers led by John Salmon “Rip” Ford along with a group of regulars led by Major Samuel Heintzelman, defeated Cortina, who retreated to Mexico. Cortina and his army went on to fight along both sides of the border for years, as both outlaws and revolutionaries. He continued to be accused of cattle rustling, and finally in July 1875, due to diplomatic pressure, he was arrested and sent to Mexico City. On October 30, 1894 Juan Cortina died in Atzcapozalco.

 

©04/29/2017

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Fredericksburg: Something for Everyone

 

Fredericksburg: Something for Everyone

I am very excited to talk about what is probably my favorite weekend getaway destination. Fredericksburg is located seventy miles northwest of San Antonio, but it feels a world away from the crazy pace of the big city. I know it sounds like a cliché, but Fredericksburg literally has something for everybody, from shopping to dinning, from brew pubs to wineries, if you’re into it, they got it.

Antiques, furniture, clothes, décor, gifts, collectibles, no matter what you’re in the market for, you’ll find it in one of the many shops that line Main Street. When we travel to Fredericksburg, my wife and I usually spend a full day leisurely strolling through the shops, and although make the trip several times a year, we never fail to find new and unique items that we just have to buy.  One of my favorites is Texas Jack’s Wild West Outfitters, which is home to everything having to do with the old west. From guns to authentic western wear, Texas Jack’s has it all. My last purchase from there is an antique western hat from the late 1800’s that decorates my study. Yes, given the right circumstances, I can be quite the shameless shopper.

After a day of walking the shops, a pint of the local brew is just the ticket for refreshment, and there is no place better than the Fredericksburg Brewery to take a load off and relax with a cold beer. If you’re not sure which beer to choose then order a sample tray of several of their best microbrews, but trust me, they’re all good. If you’ve got a hankering for a hamburger or chicken fried steak, then take a seat in the dining room and order from the menu. For pub food, the Fredericksburg Brewery has got you covered. If you’d prefer to delve into Fredericksburg’s German heritage, then try one of several Biergartens for a feast of jagerschnitzel and spaetzle, washed down with a cold German stout.

Keeping with the theme of German cuisine, start the day with a pastry or eggs benedict at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant. As a rule, I always believe in eating where the locals eat, and there is no better place to mix with the fine citizens of Fredericksburg than over breakfast at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant, where, unless you’re an especially earlier riser, you’ll have to wait at least a few minutes for a table. Don’t let that deter you though, it’s well worth the wait.

My wife is always on the lookout for awesome vistas and scenic locations, anywhere a great photo op can be had, and in Fredericksburg that need is filled atop the four-hundred-foot summit of Enchanted Rock. If you’re not in particularly great shape then the climb to the top is a little tough, but as long as you take your time, it’s certainly doable, and the view of the Hill Country from the top can’t be beat. Get there early though, because the rock is a fragile eco system and the rangers only allow so many people on it each day.

I make no claim to being a wine connoisseur. I enjoy a good glass, but I tend to prefer the sweeter, less sophisticated blends, but even I can appreciate the superior taste of the mustang grapes grown in the Hill Country. For us, no trip is complete without paying a visit to one of the local wineries and picking up a few bottles for ourselves and as gifts for family and friends. If it’s your first time and you haven’t scoped out a favorite, there are several companies that offer wine tours, and believe me, when the day is over you’ll have picked out at least one or two favorites, and will have spent the day in the company of good people and in beautiful country, and friends, that’s a great day no matter who you are.,

Fredericksburg is a perfect weekend trip, and this is evidenced by the thousands of people that visit every week, so book your trip early, as rooms fill up fast, and rates tend to be much higher for last minute reservations. There are many chain hotels and motels, as well as abundant bed and breakfasts, but it is not unheard of for every room to be filled during the peak seasons, so plan wisely. If you plan on spending the day down town, I would also recommend getting there early and claiming your parking spot, because parking on Main Street is at a premium, but these caveats aside, Fredericksburg is a wonderful leisure getaway, where you can still be as active as you choose to be. As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or suggestions regarding this or any other post, and get out there and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©04/23/2017

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Juan Seguin: Unsung Hero of Texas

 

Juan Seguin: Unsung Hero of Texas

Of all those that helped build what would become the great state of Texas, it would be hard to find one who did more than Juan Nepomuceno Seguin. He started his life of service as a teenager, helping his mother run the family’s post office in his hometown of San Antonio, while his father served in congress. From then until the end of his life, Juan Seguin served as a military and political leader, serving wherever Texas needed him.

Juan Seguin was born on October 27, 1806 in San Antonio to Juan Jose Maria Erasmo Seguin and Maria Josefa Becerra. At nineteen Juan married Maria Gertrudis Flores de Abrego, whose family were prominent ranchers in San Antonio, and together they had ten children. Not long after getting married, Juan began his political career when he was elected alderman in 1828, after which he served on several electoral boards before being elected mayor of San Antonio in 1833.

When tensions between Texas and Mexico boiled over into rebellion in 1835, Stephen F. Austin commissioned Seguin as a captain after he raised his own company. After the Battle of Gonzales, Seguin and his men participated in several scouting and supply operations, and then marched to San Antonio in time for the Battle of Bexar, where the Texian forces took the city back from the Mexican Army. He stayed in San Antonio, and after the arrival of Santa Anna’s army he took refuge inside the Alamo along with three hundred other Texian volunteers. During the siege, he was sent as a courier to Gonzales, making him one of the only adult survivors.

Juan Seguin quickly organized a company and made it back to the Alamo, but by the time he arrived the mission had already fallen. Him and his men provided rear guard actions for Sam Houston’s army, keeping the Mexican Army from intercepting them before Houston could consolidate his forces. Seguin was present at the Battle of San Jacinto, where the Texians defeated the Mexican Army, and he later accepted the Mexican surrender in San Antonio on June 4, 1836.

Through the fall of 1837 he served as the military commander of San Antonio, where he provided one of the most valuable services of his career, holding burial services for the remains of the Alamo heroes. At the end of 1837 he was elected to the Texas Senate, at which time he resigned his commission. He served in the senate until 1840 when he resigned, after which he served several more terms as mayor of San Antonio.

During the 1840’s he was involved in unpopular land speculation and became involved in growing unrest between Anglo Texans and Tejanos, forcing him to flee to Mexico, where he remained until after the Mexican American war. He died on August 27, 1890 and in 1974 his remains where buried in Seguin, Texas, the town named in his honor.

Juan Seguin Burial Site in Seguin, Texas

Whether on the battlefield, the political arena, or paying respect to our honored dead, Juan Seguin’s was a life of service, the dividends of which we are still enjoying to this day. This is the time of year we Texans celebrate the events that led to independence, and it is only fitting that we take a moment to recognize the contributions of Juan Seguin.

 

©04/15/2017

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An Inspiring Experience: A Visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War

An Inspiring Experience:  A Visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War

Fredericksburg, Texas

http://www.pacificwarmuseum.org/

“Inspiring our youth by honoring our heroes.” That is the guiding philosophy of the National Museum of the Pacific War, and what could possibly be a more worthwhile goal than that. As a father, I feel it is one of my main jobs to teach my children to think beyond themselves and to learn that with great blessings comes great sacrifice. Nothing exemplifies this principle more than our WWII veterans who served in the Pacific theatre, and the National Museum of the Pacific War is the only museum dedicated exclusively to telling the story of the war in the Pacific.

The museum is located in Fredericksburg, Texas, and is really three museums in one. The Admiral Chester Nimitz museum is the original portion of the complex and is housed in what was once the Nimitz Hotel, which was owned and operated by Chester Nimitz’s grandfather, and has been a Fredericksburg landmark since the 1800’s. It tells the story of the man who would rise to the position of Commander and Chief of the Pacific Fleet, an expert in submarine warfare, and the United States’ last surviving Fleet Admiral.

The George H.W. Bush gallery tells the whole story of the Pacific war, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri. The number and quality of artifacts showcased in the museum is astounding, and includes; planes, guns uniforms, maps, photographs, and even a Japanese submarine that was used during the Pearl Harbor attack. Some of the most moving and memorable artifacts are the media exhibits, testimonials, and letters, where the horrific battles are described by the servicemen who fought them.

 

The Pacific Combat Zone is a two-acre self-guided exhibit, where you can; stand on the deck of a PT boat, walk through the hanger deck of an aircraft carrier, and see an actual battle play out right in front of your eyes. It is undergoing an eight million dollar muti-phase renovation, the first phase of which is already completed. The purpose of the Combat Zone is to take visitors into the War in the Pacific and show them what it was like for those that fought there. The living history shows take place on a mock-up of a Pacific beachhead and include reenactments that take place several times a year.

My grandfather first took me to the museum when I was eleven, when it was just the Admiral Nimitz Museum, and I remember that it had a very profound effect on me. It was the first time I had really heard the stories from WWII, and saw what the face of war really looked like, and I remember wondering how a person could see his buddy get cut down in front of him and still muster the courage to keep going and do their job. When I reflect on that question I am still in awe of the men and women who display that sort of bravery. I have visited the museum countless times since I was eleven and am very gratified to see how it has grown and what it has become, and as I watch the faces of my children as well as the others walking among the exhibits, I know that they will leave with much the same feeling as I did over forty years ago.

The National Museum of the Pacific War is open from 9am-5pm every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas day. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $10 for veterans w/military ID, $7 for children 6+, and admission is free for children 5 and under as well as WWII veterans. The museum is easy to find, just get on Main Street in downtown Fredericksburg and look for the building that looks like the bow of a ship.

Fredericksburg is my family’s favorite getaway destination, and I will be doing a blog post on the town very soon. There is much to do there regardless of what your idea of a perfect getaway entails, and I will describe it all from firsthand experience, as after many years, there is not much in Fredericksburg that I have not done at least twice.

© 4/6/2017