A glance at the drowsy village of Guerrero, Coahuila, suggests meager prospects for research in local history. True, on December 30, 1917, Texas rangers, soldiers, and civilians crossed the Rio Grande on the trail of goat rustlers and killed six or twelve or seventeen. But highway builders—and before them railroaders and stage operators—preferred the crossings at Paso de Águila, thirty-five miles upstream, or downstream at Laredo.
Robert Weddle demonstrates that from the time the Spanish frontier reached this place until mid-nineteenth century, the site of Guerrero with its fords, Paso de Francia and Paso Pacuache, was the gateway to Texas. Here passed the soldiers and missionaries sent to counter La Salle’s intrusion. Here in 1700 Spain established Mission San Juan Bautista and then several others. Presidio del Río Grande soon was added. Here came the debonair Frenchman Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, who won the hand of Manuela, granddaughter of the Spanish commandant. From this site issued the several entradas for the reoccupation of Texas under such leaders as the Ramóns and Martín de Alarcon and Fathers Hidalgo and Espinosa. Fray Antonio Olivares transferred one of the gateway missions to the bank of the San Antonio. In 1731 the Canary Island pobladores for the Villa de San Antonio passed through.
Later the presidio served as base for numerous Indian campaigns. It: was also on the itineraries of the Marqués de Rubí, Nicolás de Lafora, Juan Morfi, Hugo O’Cónor, Teodoro de Croix, and Zebulon Montgomery Pike. In the War for Independence the people of the presidio supported both sides, first by intercepting the fleeing royal treasurer of Coahuila and the treasury of some 300,000 pesos, then by taking counterrevolutionary action against Hidalgo and Allende and against, the Magee-Gutiérrez forces in Texas.
After independence the missions were secularized. The presidio was renamed “puesto de Río Grande” and shifted to Villa de Guerrero. Visitors now included a Texas empresario with a party of settlers on their way from San Antonio to present Kinney County; Ben Milam, hero in an early action of the Texas Revolution; the army of Antonio López de Santa Anna en route to attack the Texans at the Alamo; skirmishers in the contest between Centralists and Federalists; Adrian Woll and almost a thousand men en route to capture San Antonio; and the San Antonio prisoners on their way to the dungeons of Perote.
In 1846 Harney’s raiders occupied Guerrero temporarily. Monterrey having fallen, Guerrero admitted General John Wool’s Army of Chihuahua without resistance. Meanwhile a small American detachment tested the navigability of the river. Their little steamer reached Laredo, but in a descent by dugout from Guerrero they found many and serious obstacles. Guerrero might remain “the most historic place on the lower Rio Grande,” but it was not destined to flourish any longer.
Parts of the history of San Juan-Guerrero have been covered by chroniclers such as Espinosa, Rubí, Lafora, Morfi, Pike, and Gregg and by historians such as Bolton, Castañeda, Alessio Robles, Hoffman, Kinnaird, Vigness, Brinkerhoff, Faulk, Avera Sánchez, Nance, and Horgan. Weddle draws on their findings, but also on manuscript materials in the archives of Spain, Mexico, Saltillo, and Béxar and in the University of Texas collections. On a number of points he offers corrections, and on the total history of this important way-point he provides excellent coverage. His book is a most useful addition to the literature on the Spanish borderlands.