Peacock at General Taylor’s camp site

Peacock in Rockport, Texas, May 2021.

We recently visited Rockport, Texas, and I discovered a park called “Camp Site of General Zachary Taylor, 1845.” A few yards away, a peacock was wandering around the area and we learned that it belonged to one of the residents of a local RV park. The peacock caught my attention because it seemed out of place. As I thought of Taylor’s camp site, I realized that the strange appearance of the peacock along the streets of this South Texas gulf coast town in May 2021 was probably as bizarre as the appearance of Taylor’s Army must have appeared to Tejanos in the region in August 1845.

Camp of the Army of Occupation near the Nueces River, October 1845.

The camp site commemorated the area where General Zachary Taylor’s Army stopped near Corpus Christi, awaiting instructions from President James Polk. Polk sought to provoke a war with Mexico, and was successful in doing so after he ordered Gen. Taylor into the so-called “Nueces Strip,” the disputed area in South Texas between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande River. While the Republic of Texas claimed its southern boundary extended to the Rio Grande River, Mexican authorities argued that its southern boundary was at the Nueces River.

Thorton Skirmish Historical Marker along U.S. 281 in Cameron County, Texas.

Polk ordered General Taylor to the Rio Grande, where he received a letter from Mexican Commander Pedro de Ampudia, who wrote, “Your government … has not only insulted but also exasperated the Mexican nation bearing its conquering banner to the left bank of the Rio Bravo … I require you [within] … twenty-four hours, to break up your camp and retire to the other bank of the Nueces River.” Taylor refused, and on April 25, 1846, U.S. Captain Seth Thorton and two squadron of dragoons engaged in an armed confrontation with Mexican General Anastasio Torrejón’s troops at El Rancho de Carricitos. As a result fourteen U.S. soldiers died and seven were injured. The U.S. provocation allowed President Polk to declare incorrectly, “Mexico has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil” and asked Congress to declare war. Years later, Ulysses S. Grant, commented on the movement of troops to the disputed territory by observing, “we were sent to provoke a fight, but it was essential that Mexico should commence it.”

Rockport, Texas, May 2021.

The park commemorating the camp site of Taylor troops reminded me of the various place names throughout the United States that serve to remind us of the U.S.-Mexican War. Most of these place names commemorate U.S. politicians, soldiers, and battles won by the United States. In places as far away from the U.S.-Mexico border as Georgia, Iowa, South Carolina, and Tennessee, returning U.S.-Mexican War veterans linked counties and towns to the U.S.-Mexican War with names like Palo Alto county, Iowa, Cerro Gordo, Illinois, Buena Vista, Georgia, Saltillo, Tennessee, and Churubusco, Indiana.

Nations have typically remembered their triumphs in war through commemorations and monuments, but the U.S.-Mexico War memorials in the United States have overlooked the conflict’s effects on Mexican Americans. Likewise, scholarship on historic sites in the United States does not address the long-term consequences of the war on Mexican Americans. Mexican Americans have remembered the U.S.-Mexico War even as others in the United States have forgotten the conflict.

La Causa published by the Brown Berets, copy from UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center.

The collective memories of Mexican nationals differ from those of Mexican Americans as the former focus on the nation’s loss of territory, its resulting impoverishment, and demoralization. But for Mexican Americans, the conflict is singularly important as it led to their physical separation from the Mexican nation, as well as their loss of social, economic, and political status. The treaty ending the war also provided Mexican Americans with United States citizenship, but the treaty’s promises were never enforced by the United States. Nevertheless, the treaty remains significant for the civil rights goals of Mexican Americans. As historian Deena González reminds us, “Perhaps New Englanders or other U.S. citizens have forgotten the event [the war], but most Chicanos in the Southwest, and Mexicanos in Mexico, recall it very well; the most informally educated person on both sides of the border has much to say about the war.”

Peacock at General Taylor’s camp site

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