After the defeat of Santa Anna’s forces by Sam Houston’s army at San Jacinto, relations between Texas and Mexico entered a “cold war” phase involving threats and counter-threats of invasion, and deep suspicion of each other’s intentions lasting for almost a decade. Mexican officials refused to recognize Texas’ independence, and consistently clamored for a war of re-conquest, though hampered by the French blockade in 1838 and the turbulence of Mexican internal politics. Texans, on the other hand, unofficially at least, gave assistance to Mexican Federalist factions in revolt against the Centralist government of Anastasio Bustamante, ordered the Texas navy to secure an alliance with secessionist Yucatán, and at length in 1841 dispatched an expedition in the direction of Santa Fé.
In the complicated story of Texas-Mexican relations, the major area of conflict, as Professor Nance points out, was the trans-Nueces country, a veritable no-man’s-land where “Mexican, Anglo-American, and Indian met, mingled, and fought either singly or in some form of alliance of one with another against the third.” Here men of many nations congregated and competed outside the law for fame and fortune—smugglers, thieves, freebooters, spies, brigands, “cow-boys,” and the like. But the trans-Nueces region was more than just a wilderness on the southwestern frontier of Texas—it was an area claimed by both Texas and Mexico, and one in which both nations had a considerable stake.
Texas’ interest in the trans-Nueces country was to secure the Rio Grande river as an uncontested boundary, provide for an adequate defense against possible invasion, and to make the area safe for peaceful and legitimate trade. Largely because of lack of funds, however, little was accomplished. Mexico’s concern with the area, on the other hand, involved a Federalist uprising in the north that in 1840 succeeded in establishing an independent Republic of the Rio Grande, comprising three Mexican states south of the river and the trans-Nueces region to the north. Officially, the Texas government took no part, and could not have done very much even if it had wanted to; but it was difficult for the Mexicans to understand that the Texans who aided the revolution did so as private citizens. Mexico therefore threatened invasion, and talked about removing the Federalist cancer and avenging San Jacinto. The Texans countered with warnings of the consequences that any hostile Mexican force might expect should it dare to cross the Rio Grande. Actually, neither nation was capable of concerted action; but the clamor on both sides, most of which was for political effect and domestic consumption, intensified the bitter feeling and made the possibilities of settlement more remote.
This study, which carries the story of Texas-Mexican relations through 1841, and is the first of a proposed three-volume series, is quite obviously the product of extensive and painstaking research. The bibliography is impressive, particularly in Texas materials; the footnotes are copious; the coverage of detail is encyclopedic; and the scholarship is of a high quality. Sixteen photographs add to the book’s attractiveness, and the maps are useful. Unfortunately, the style is laborious, and some of the material is repetitious. The book could have been condensed and better arranged. But if the specialist is searching for details on the subject of Texas-Mexican relations, 1836-1841, he will find them here.