Monday, January 16, 2017

The Pull from Within

On the other hand, McLanahan’s assertion that the people of New Spain would welcome trade would be born out, at least in Texas. Spain’s policies had punished the interior provinces particularly harshly, something the people of Nacogdoches, as well as Santa Fe, knew all too well. Although trade between Texas and Louisiana continued to be banned even after both became Spanish, such trade flourished underground and was pivotal to Nacogdoches’ survival. The town was too far from other Spanish population centers and ports, and its dense forests made agriculture difficult. Smuggling was much easier than raising crops and much more profitable. Mattie Austin Hatcher notes, “the temptation to violate the law was obviously great. The people had no inducement to devote themselves to agriculture…Foreign traders offered their wares at tempting prices in return for wild stock…and it’s not surprising that many of them fell in with the plans of the intruders.” Indeed, despite a complete ban on trade, Texas authorities admitted that sometimes as many as 1,000 head of cattle were shipped across the border to Louisiana in a single month.[1]
The situation was complicated by the immigration of dozens of settlers from Louisiana to Texas in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Immigrants had come even before this time, including Samuel Davenport, a native of Pennsylvania who came to Texas after becoming a partner with an Irish-born Nacogdoches resident in the late 1790s. Davenport became a Spanish citizen and was appointed to the important post of Indian agent in Nacogdoches. He was an apparently loyal subject for years, probably because he had secured a monopoly of Indian trade and therefore was not dependent on the illegal variety. Nonetheless, Davenport and other Nacogdoches merchants began to see clear opportunities if trade to Louisiana were opened. After the Republican Army of the North took Nacogdoches almost without a shot in August 1812, he joined the bandwagon, signing up as the expedition’s quartermaster.[2]
Davenport’s is one of a handful of Anglo, Irish, and French names that appear in an early Spanish census, almost all immigrants through Louisiana, since Texas had no ports. Many of these men desired free land and the lax regulations they expected to find. Mississippi territorial (and later Louisiana) governor William C.C. Claiborne wrote of these expatriates in a letter to Secretary of State Madison, “The facility with which lands may be acquired under the Spanish authority, and the prevalence of an opinion that the subjects of Spain are exempt from taxation, are the principle [sic] inducements to the abandonment of their Country.”[3]
Among these early American settlers were several who would play a role in the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition, including Charles (Carlos) Beltran, who came to Texas in 1807, Benjamin Allen, who was listed in an 1808 US Census as “Gone to Spain,” Darlington Hall, who immigrated with his wife around 1810, and Elisha Roberts. Some of these men had long and mostly peaceful attachments to Texas, only joining the revolution once the expedition had entered Texas, when even Spanish creoles embraced it. But many others had more complicated relationships with Spanish authorities. One of these was Edmund Quirk, who had served in the American Revolution and moved westward after the war. Settling on two successive homesteads in Kentucky, he moved in 1796 to Natchitoches, Louisiana, at the time a Spanish province. A Spanish citizen now known as Reimundo Kuerke, he soon crossed the Sabine River and bought land on the site that would later become the town of San Augustine. He was listed in the 1799 census of Nacogdoches along with his wife and three sons, aged 6, 10 and 14.[4] Quirk was a cattle rancher, and his choosing of land on the Sabine may have been planned to more quickly smuggle livestock into Louisiana. In October 1808, Edmund’s brother Henry (Enrique Kuerke), was among five Americans smuggling a herd of 162 horses, mules, and donkeys out of Spanish territory. A patrol of nine Spanish soldiers caught up to them, killing one man and capturing the others.[5] During his trial, Henry Quirk stated that he had been living on Edmund’s ranch since 1807 and had been selling Texas horses in Natchez and Natchitoches to raise money to aid his impoverished mother in Kentucky.[6] Henry Quirk’s associates included others who frequented the pages of the Spanish archives as troublemakers, including American settlers with Hispanicized names such as Miguel Quinn and Juan Magee (no relation to Augustus).
Another member of the party was one Juan McFalen – almost certainly the same John McFarland who later joined the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition in the Neutral Ground. McFarland is principally known in the expedition history for a recruiting trip among the Tonkawa and Lipan tribes during which he personally recruited as many as 300 warriors.[7] Such a prodigious accomplishment necessitated a pre-existing relationship with these tribes, which did not live outside of Texas. Horse trading – likely in exchange for American firearms – is the most likely scenario. Since the early incursions of Philip Nolan, Americans had known of the vast supply of wild horses in Texas. As cotton cultivation began to spread in the first two decades of the century, this generated an even greater need for horses. “Alongside the Americans who flooded into places near the Spanish border had come an equally powerful new trading market geared toward supplying them,” notes historian Andrew Torget. “Indian nations in Texas, as a result, had vastly escalated the frequency and violence of their raids against Spanish villages in order to feed this voracious new market with horses and mules.”[8]
Illicit trade was endemic on the frontier, but the American Spaniards proved a particular problem for Spanish officials. Most had immigrated through Louisiana, and utilizing their cross-border ties, they smuggled livestock out and brought American goods in to trade with both Indians and Spanish citizens alike. Edmund Quirk himself owned land in the Neutral Ground directly adjacent to his Texas lands along the Sabine.[9] These smugglers may have been assisted by corruption. Quirk and McFarland’s team of cowboys at trial implicated the commandant at Trinidad as tolerating their activities and he was relieved of command. Magee, Quinn, and Henry Quirk were imprisoned in the Alamo. The three were apparently still in custody at least at the end of March 1812, when the commandant general of the Interior Provinces, Nemesio Salcedo, wrote to his nephew, Texas governor Manuel de Salcedo, ordering him to conclude the long-drawn-out trial of the American Quirk.[10] The Alamo population by that time was growing. Among those imprisoned there was future expedition participant Josiah Taylor, of whom we will hear more, and a total of seventeen other Americans imprisoned in the old mission.[11]
If Edmund Quirk was not hostile to Spanish authorities before, his brother’s imprisonment placed him squarely in the revolutionary camp. He traveled to Nacogdoches sometime in 1811 and met with U.S. Indian Agent and future Gutiérrez-Magee booster John Sibley, informing him that a general revolution had broken out in Mexico. Edmund Quirk would join the expedition in 1812. The first battle of the conflict (Salitre Prairie) was fought on Quirk’s land, suggesting he may have guided the army across a well-established smuggling route for its crossing of the Sabine. Quirk was later captured at the Battle of Medina, imprisoned in the Alamo just as his brother had been before him, then transferred to Monterrey. He was eventually released and was back in Texas farming in 1818.[12]
It is possible that many illegal traders justified their actions as harmless civil disobedience. When virtually all trade is illegal and the need is great, the idea of flaunting the rules may appear acceptable. The Spanish governor even admitted that without such trade Nacogdoches would have to be abandoned. The conditions on the frontier were so difficult that the people of the town at one point were even saved from starvation by eating wild horsemeat.[13] The poverty of the frontier also produced the absurdity of Davenport, the Indian agent, being authorized to venture to Louisiana to buy presents to purchase Indian loyalty, while at the same time the garrison soldiers of Nacogdoches enforcing the ban on illegal trade could not get sufficient clothing from San Antonio to replace rotten uniforms. It was on this trip that Davenport first heard the rumors of the pending filibuster.[14] Smuggling food or cloth or even liquor to Nacogdoches was one thing, but trading weapons to Indians was another. The traders may not have known or cared if the horses were rounded up on the prairie or stolen in raids against Spanish settlements, but either way, the Spanish authorities saw them for what they were: an existential threat to mercantilism, to the security of the colonies themselves, and to Spanish authority.

[1] Mattie Austin Hatcher, The Opening of Texas to Foreign Settlement, 1801-1821. (Philadelphia: Porcupine Press, 1976), 52-53.
[2] “Davenport, Peter Samuel,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association. (accessed September 06, 2016).
[3] William C.C. Claiborne to James Madison, February 16, 1802, quoted in Dunbar Rowland,  ed. The Mississippi Territorial Archives, Vol. I (Nashville: Brandon Printing Company, 1905), 381.
[4] Find A Grave, “Edmund Quirk,” (Accessed April 14, 2016).
[5]  Jean L. Epperson “Trinidad de Salcedo: A Lost Texas Town,” Journal of the Houston Archeological Society. No. 105 (April 1993), 8.
[6] See note 13.
[7] Hatcher, 165 and Ted Schwartz and Robert Thonhoff Forgotten Battlefield of the First Texas Revolution (Austin: Eakin Press, 1985), 28.
[8] Andrew Torget, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 23.
[9] John G. Belisle, History of Sabine Parish, Louisiana. (Many, Louisiana: The Sabine Banner Press, 1912), 69-70. Quirk owned 4 leagues of land on the current site of San Augustine, Texas. Sabine Parish, Louisiana is directly adjacent to it.
[10] Bexar Archives, General Manuscript Series January 1810 – June 1814, Roll 51, Frame 0326.
[11] Schwarz, and Thonhoff, 30.
[12] Find A Grave, “Edmund Quirk,” (Accessed April 14, 2016) and Schwarz and Thonhoff, 20.
[13] Hatcher, 67.
[14] Hatcher, 215.

1 comment:

  1. The general trade between Natchitoches and Nacogdoches leading to the revolution was probably via family ties between the two places, whether contraband or thru channels. Avoiding the main roads was a primary impetus for changing route placements. This began with the Spanish founding Los Adaes, and with the removal caused by the abandonment of Spanish East Texas in 1779?, thence the return by Gil Ebarbo et al, the trade was back to normal, because that was the only trade there was. The family ties did not vanish with the filibustering expedition, rather it was alive and well so the old commerce was continued. Incidentally, I suspect my ancestors from Nacogdoches were invested in these activities. My family names from Nacogdoches include my great, great, great grandparents (my fathers side): de los Santos, Cherino, Raimon, Vascocu. By my best reckoning, at least part of the Vascocu's were at Natchitoches before 1820.