Report on Texas
After the imprisonment of Austin in Mexico City and the rise of Santa Anna to power, Col. Juan Almonte was given both a private and public set of instructions from the Mexican Minister of Foreign Relations in January of 1834 to travel to Texas, make observations and reports concerning the state of the province. Titanic struggles within the Mexican government were occurring during Almonte's visit including the assumption of dictatorial powers by Santa Anna and open declaration of centralism in May 1834. The purpose of the mission was both to determine the status of independence movements in the province and the ability of the province to make war should an rebellion occur, but also to address the concerns of loyal colonists and to hopefully, in the words of the Minister, to put an end to "fears which, not without foundation, have existed concerning the situation in the colonies of Texas." Presumably this referred to fears of Texians and the central government of Mexico regarding its sovereignty over the province. Almonte's specific private instructions present in the Mexican Archives were:
1. Sr. Almonte will successively visit all of the colonies; he will inform himself as to the state of opinion; he will classify the parties which there may be in each of them; he will carefully draw up a report of the number of inhabitants and the degree of prosperity in which they are found, making special mention of location and products.
2. As soon as it may be possible be will inform the government which are the most populous places in the colonies and which can offer the greatest resistance if the affair must be settled by force [si llega el caso de obrar por la fuerza].
3. He will report the number of fighting men, more or, less, upon which the colonists might be able to count in the event of necessity; and he will also give a report of the arms and munitions which they may have at their disposal.
4. He will inform himself as to the most important men in the colonies.
5. He will place himself in communication with the consular agent in Natchitoches, with the Consul at New Orleans, with the Charge d'Affaires in Washington, with the Commandant General of the Provincias Internas and with the boundary commissioners of said Commandancy General if that should be convenient.
6. Upon arrival at the Mexican settlements, as San Antonio de Bexar, Bahia del Espiritu Santo and Nacogdoches, he will investigate the condition of those settlements and will report upon the condition in which they are found, as to population, resources and soldiers upon which they may count for defense.
7. Sr. Almonte will offer the special protection of the government to the colonists who are attached to it and shall even flatter their ambition by promising them further grants of land.
8. Sr. Almonte shall attempt by as many means as may be at his disposal to paralyze the movements of the colonists, with the view of gaining time so that the supreme government, unburdened by the cares with which it today finds itself surrounded, may be able to dedicate all of its endeavors to the conservation of the integrity of the territory of the republic.
9. As one of the reasons which must be advanced for Texas not being made into a state is that it does not have the population which the constitution requires, it may happen that the colonists will answer that it does have it, and in this event Sr. Almonte should find. an excellent opportunity to gain time by saying that he has orders from the government to ascertain if actually there is or is not the required population, and by making an inspection of each place, he will be able to waste all of the time which seems prudent so as not to give rise to suspicions.
10. Finally, Sr. Almonte is authorized to do and promise everything which is in the power of the supreme government and which it can rightly grant, and of his Excellency, the Vice- President, etc.
11. If the colonists wish to know anything about Sr. Austin, Sr. Almonte will answer that he has only been arrested on account of having been accused of having instigated a revolution in the colonies against the supreme government, but that it is hoped that he will clear himself, proving his innocence.
12. The purpose of his commission concluded, Sr. Almonte will return to this capital and will make an oral report to the supreme government, notwithstanding that he shall previously have made one in writing from Texas.
Almonte arrived in Nacogdoches via New Orleans and Natchitoches on 27 Apr 1834. From New Orleans and Natchitoches he acquired sufficient intelligence or impressions to report by letter to his superiors that Austin's imprisonment had not caused the rebellion that was predicted and that his actions were denounced by some factions. However, he did suggest the urgency for delivery of more troops to Texas if Mexican authority were to be maintained and immigration controlled. Almonte's piecemeal private reports and other records reveal a continuous surprise that his worst fears and those of his government had largely not come into play. These included the fact that Austin's imprisonment had not resulted in open insurrection, the dramatic changes in central Mexico had not precipitated such, land speculation was not as rife as he had thought and even the Indians were more peaceful than imagined. In addition to his open statistical reporting on the population and economy of Texas, Almonte privately estimated the number of men who could be recruited to bear arms in the event of insurrection in Texas was 3,800 and 900 for the Departments of Bexar, Brazos and Nacogdoches, respectively. Almonte concluded that sentiment for and against an independent state for Texas was divided, the influential in Bexar were against it, those in Nacogdoches were more vocal, but largely inactive in prosecuting the issue and intense agitation was limited to a few in the department of the Brazos. He concluded that the farmers were against independence simply based on economic grounds that they were not prepared to support an independent government.
The following summary of the Almonte Report is from British consular official William Kennedy's work, Texas: The Rise, Progress, and Prospects, 1841. He notes "my copy of Almonte's work, which is about the size of an ordinary pamphlet, bears the following imprint: 'Mexico-Impreso Por Ignacio Cumplido, Calle de los Reheldes, n. 2. 1835.' [Subject headings have been added by the current editor, WLM].
Colonel Almonte cannot be suspected of partiality to the Anglo-Texans; and as his Report illustrates their social progress during a period of ten years, beginning with the settlement of Stephen Austin's first colony in 1824, an abstract of its more important contents may be usefully incorporated in the general narrativeIn his prefatory remarks, the author [Almonte] observes that he had not contemplated the publication of his research in Texas, both from the reserve incumbent on an agent of the Government, and from the want of sufficient time to examine the great resources of that extensive and interesting country. In deference, however, to the desire for information evinced by many, he had, with the sanction of the Supreme Government, determined on publishing his Statistical Observations, which, although imperfect, might not perhaps be regarded with indifference, as they would afford some idea of what Texas is and what it was.
Prediction of prosperity. "What it [Texas] will be, it is not difficult to anticipate. If we consider the extraordinary and rapid advances that industry has made; its advantageous geographical position, its harbors, the easy navigation of its rivers, the variety of its productions, the fertility of the soil, the climate, &c., the conclusion is, that Texas must soon be the most flourishing section of the Republic. There is no difficulty in explaining the reason of this prosperity. In Texas, with the exception of some disturbers, (concepcion de a1gunos revoltosos), they only think of growing the sugar-cane, cotton, maize, wheat, tobacco, the breeding of cattle, opening of roads and rendering the rivers navigable, Moreover, the effects of our political commotion are not felt there, and often it is only by mere chance our dissension are known. Situated as Texas is, some 450 leagues from the capital of the Federation, it is easy to conceive the rapidity of its progress in population and industry, for the reason that Texas is out of the reach of the civil wars that have unfortunately come upon us. The inhabitants of that country continue, without interruption, to devote themselves to industrious occupations, giving value to the lands with which they have been favored by the munificence of the Government.
Proposal of for-profit agricultural corporations. If, then, the position of Texas is so advantageous, why should not the Mexicans participate in its benefits? Are not they the owners of those valuable lands (preciosos terrenos)? Are they not capable of encountering dangers with firmness and courage? Let small companies be formed; enter into contracts with agricultural laborers; appoint to each of the companies its overseer, agent, or colonial director; and I will be the surety that, in less than one or two years, by the concession of eleven league grants of land, which will not cost perhaps more than a trifle for the stamped paper on which the title is made out, the grants will be converted into a property worth more than from fifteen to twenty thousand dollars. Let those who wish to test the worth of this assurance visit the plantations of the colonists, and they will perceive I am no dreamer."
The Commissioner, adverting to the objection of the remoteness of Texas as a field for Mexican colonization, remarks that it is not necessary to remove thither by land: from the city of Mexico to Vera Cruz it was but four days' journey, and the voyage from thence to Galveston or Brazoria might be made in six or eight days more.
"If, as is possible, I return to Texas as colonial director, I shall have great pleasure in affording to purchasers of land and Mexican Empresarios all the information in my power for the better colonization of the country. I do not hesitate particularly to assure retired officers and invalids that the best way to provide for their families is to solicit permission of the Government to capitalize their pay, and go and colonize Texas. There they will find peace and industry, and obtain rest in their old age, which, in all probability, will not be found in the center of the Republic."
The Report opens with a general notice of Texas, and then enters upon separate statistical details respecting the three Departments-Bexar, the Brazos and Nacogdoches. My object being to adduce the Commissioner's authority as Mexican evidence to fact, I shall refer to his testimony in the order of his own arrangement. The investigation commenced in the spring, and terminated in the autumn of 1834.
"The population of Texas extends from Bexar to the Sabine River, and in that direction there are not more than 25 leagues of unoccupied territory to occasion some inconvenience to the traveler. The most difficult part of the journey to Texas is the space between the Rio Grande and Bexar, which extends a little more than 50 leagues, by what is called the Upper Road, and above 65 leagues by the way of Laredo. These difficulties do not arise from the badness of the road itself, but from the absence of population, rendering it necessary to carry provisions, and even water during summer, when it is scarce in this district. This tract is so flat and rich in pasturage that it may be traveled with sufficient relays, and at a suitable speed, without the fear of wanting forage.
In 1806 the Department of Bexar contained two municipalities; San Antonio de Bexar, with a population of 5,000 souls, and Goliad, with 1,400; total 6,400. In 1834 there were four municipalities, with the following population respectively: San Antonio de Bexar, 2,400; Goliad, 700; Victoria, 300; San Patricio, 600; total 4,000. Deducting 600 for the municipality of San Patricio (an Irish settlement), the Mexican population had declined from 6,400 to 3,400 between 1806 and 1834. This is the only district of Texas in which there are no Negro laborers. Of the various colonies introduced into it, only two have prospered; one of Mexicans, on the river Guadalupe, by the road which leads from Goliad to San Felipe; the other of Irish, on the river Nueces, on the road from Matamoros to Goliad. With the exception of San Patricio, the entire district of Bexar is peopled by Mexicans. The greater part of, the lands of Bexar can easily be irrigated, and there is no doubt that so soon as the Government, compassionating the lot (suerte) of Texas, shall send a respectable force to chastise the savages, the Mexicans will gladly hasten to colonize those valuable lands which court their labor. Extensive undertakings cannot be entered on in Bexar, as there is no individual capital exceeding 10,000 dollars. All the provisions raised by the inhabitants are consumed in the district. The wild horse is common, so as rarely to be valued at more than 20 reales (about 10 shillings British) when caught. Cattle are cheap; a cow and a calf not being worth more than 10 dollars, and a young bull, or heifer from 4 to 5 dollars. Sheep are scarce, not exceeding 5,000 head. The whole export trade is confined to from 8,000 to 10,000 skins of various, kinds, and the imports to a few articles from New Orleans, which are exchanged in San Antonio for peltry or currency (peleteria y mettilico).
Lack of schools. There is one school in the capital of the Department supported by the municipality, but apparently the funds are so reduced as to render the maintenance of even this useful establishment impossible. What is to be the fate of those unhappy Mexicans who dwell in the midst of savages without hope of civilization? Goliad, Victoria, and even San Patricio, are similarly situated, and it is not difficult to foresee the consequences of such a state of things. In the whole department there is but one curate (cura), the vicar died of cholera morbus in September last.
The capital of the Department of the Brazos is San Felipe de Austin, and its principal towns are the said San Felipe, Brazoria, Matagorda, Gonzalez, Harrisburg, Mina, and Velasco. The district containing these towns is that which is generally called 'Austin's Colony.' The following are the municipalities and towns of the Department, with the population: San Felipe, 2,500; Columbia, 2,100; Matagorda, 1,400; Gonzalez, 900; Mina, 1,100: total, 8,000. Towns: Brazoria, Harrisburg, Velasco, Bolivar. In the population are included about 1000 Negroes, introduced under certain conditions guaranteed by the State Government (introducidos balo ciertas condiciones, garantizadas por el gobierno del estado); and although it is true that a few African slaves have been imported into Texas, yet it has been done contrary to the opinion of the respectable settlers, who were unable to prevent it. It is to be hoped that this traffic has already been stopped; and it is desirable that a law of the General Congress and of the State should fix a maximum period for the introduction of Negroes into Texas, as servants to the empresarios, which period ought not, in my opinion, to exceed 10 or 12 years, at the end of which time they should enjoy absolute liberty.
Prosperity of the Austin and DeWitt Colonies. The most prosperous colonies of this Department are those of Austin and Dewitt. Towards the northwest of San Felipe there is now a new colony under the direction of Robertson; the same that was formerly under the charge of Austin. In 1833, upwards of 2,000 bales of cotton, weighing from 400 to 500 lbs. each, were exported from the Brazos; and it is said that in 1832 not less than 5,000 bales were exported. The maize is all consumed in the country, though the annual crop exceeds 50,000 barrels. The cattle, of which there may be about 25,000 head in the district, are usually driven for sale to Natchitoches. The cotton is exported regularly from Brazoria to New Orleans, where it pays 2 1/2 per cent duty, and realizes from 10 to 10 1/2 cents per lb for the exporter, after paying cost of transport, &c. The price of cattle varies but little throughout Texas, and is the same in the Brazos as in Bexar. There are no sheep in this district; herds of swine are numerous, and may be reckoned at 50,000 head. The trade of the Department of the Brazos has reached 600,000 dollars. Taking the estimate for 1832 (the settlements having been ravaged by the cholera in 1833), the exports and imports are estimated thus: 5,000 bales of cotton, weighing 2,250,000 lbs, sold in New Orleans, and producing at 10 cents per lb, 225,000 dollars net; 50,000 skins, at an average of 8 reales each, 50,000 dollars. Value of exports, 275,000 dollars (exclusive of the sale of live stock). The imports are estimated at 325,000 dollars.
Lack of schools. In this Department there is but one school, near Brazoria, erected by subscription, and containing from 30 to 40 pupils. The wealthier colonists prefer sending their children to the United States; and those who have not the advantages of fortune care little for the education of their sons, provided they can wield the axe and cut down a tree, or kill a deer with dexterity.
The Department of Nacogdoches contains four municipalities and four towns. Nacogdoches municipality has a population of 3,500; that of San Augustine, 2,500; Liberty, 1,000; Johnsburg, 2,000; the town of Anahuac, 50; Bevil, 140; Teran, 10; Tanaha, 100: total population, 9,000, in which is included about 1,000 Negroes, introduced under special arrangements (convenlos particulares).
Development inhibited by land speculation. Until now it appears that the New York Company are only beginning to interest themselves in settling their lands, bought or obtained by contract with Messrs. Zavala, Burnet, and Vehlein, empresarios, who first undertook the colonization of the immense tracts which they obtained of the State of Coahuila and Texas, and which are laid down in the maps of the North as lands of the 'Galveston Bay Company.' In consequence of that transaction, the Company are proprietors of nearly three-fourths of the Department of Nacogdoches, including the 20 leagues of boundary from that town to the Sabine. Of the contracts of Zavala, Burnet, and Vehlein, some expired last year, and others will expire during the present year. The Supreme Government, if at all anxious to do away with a system of robbing so ruinous to the lands of the nation, at the hands of a few Mexicans and foreigners, ought, without loss of time, to adopt means to obviate the confusion daily arising out of contracts with the speculators, which create a feeling of disgust among the colonists, who are dissatisfied with the monopoly enjoyed by companies or contractors that have acquired the lands with the sole object of speculating in them.
Criticizes government land policy. The settlements of this district have not prospered, because speculators have not fulfilled their contracts, and the scattered population is composed of individuals who have obtained one or more leagues of land from the State, and of others who, in virtue of the law of colonization inviting strangers, have established themselves wherever it appeared most convenient. But the latter have not even the titles to their properties, which it would be only fair to extend for them, in order to relieve them from that cruel state of uncertainty in which some have been placed for several years, as to whether they appertain to the United States or to Mexico. And as these colonists have emigrated at their own expense, it seems just that the contractors on whose lands they have settled, and who were not instrumental to the introduction of their families, should not receive the premium allowed by law. In stipulating with those contractors (empresarios) both the General and State Government have hitherto acted with too much negligence, and it would be well that they should now seriously turn their attention to a matter so deeply important.
Lack of support for schools. There are three common schools in this department; one in Nacogdoches, very badly supported, another at San Augustine, and the third at Johnsburg. Texas wants a good establishment for public instruction, where the Spanish language may be taught; otherwise the language will be lost: even at present, English is almost the only language spoken in this section of the Republic.
The trade of this Department amounts for the year to 470,000 dollars. The exports consist of cotton, skins of the deer, otter, beaver, &c., Indian corn, and cattle. There will be exported during this year about 2,000 bales of cotton, 90,000 skins, and 5,000 head of cattle, equal in value to 205,000 dollars. The imports are estimated at 265,000 dollars the excess in the amount of imports is occasioned by the stock which remains on hand in the stores of the dealers. There are about 50,000 head of cattle in the whole Department, and prices are on a level with those in the Brazos. There are no sheep, nor pasturage adapted to them. There are above 60,000 head of swine, which will soon form another article of export.
There are machines for cleaning and pressing cotton in the Departments of Nacogdoches and the Brazos. There are also a number of sawmills. A steamboat is plying on the Brazos river, and the arrival of two more is expected; one for the Neches, the other for the Trinity. Money is very scarce in Texas; not one in ten sales are made for cash. Purchases are made on credit, or by barter; which gives the country, in its trading relations, the appearance of a continued fair. Trade is daily increasing, owing to the large crops of cotton, and the internal consumption, caused by the constant influx of emigrants from the United States."
*Entering at Brazoria, Matagorda & Copano; nr = no record
[As a footnote author Kennedy remarks: In a new and fertile country, settled by industrious agriculturists, the high price of provisions is a symptom of prosperity, the consumption being occasioned by the increase of population. Apart from exports, the demand for Indian corn and other produce to meet the wants of immigrants brings large returns to the farmers of Texas. The settler who pays high prices this year may be enabled to exact them the next.]
Kennedy's comments continue: The Commissioner, in a tabular return, estimates the whole population of Texas Proper at 36,300; of which 21,000 are civilized inhabitants, and 15,300 Indians. The number of hostile Indians is estimated at 10,800, and of friendly tribes 4,500; of the former, 9,900 are appropriated to the Department of Bexar, and the remaining 600 to the Brazos. The Northern Indians in the Department of Nacogdoches are described "as generally attached to the Mexican Government." They had applied to the President of Mexico for a grant of land. "The statement accompanying the petition," says the Commissioner, "will show who are friends and who are in arms against us in Texas."
[In a footnote, author Kennedy remarks: Although the Anglo-Texans had suffered grievously from cholera in 1833, their numerical strength is evidently underrated. The scattered settlements rendered it extremely difficult to number the colonists with accuracy, and it did not accord with the policy of the Mexican Government to represent them as formidable in any respect. They probably amounted to about 30,000, exclusive of the 2,000 Negroes.]
Beyond the foregoing facts, Colonel Almonte's Report supplies no information calculated to throw light on the social condition of Texas in 1834. The meager character of the publication is admitted by the Commissioner himself, who, in apologizing for an important omission, makes a revelation more curious than creditable, as regards the state of the arts in Mexico. "I had proposed," he says, "adding to this notice a map of Texas which is in my possession, that the reader might judge at a glance of the extent of its immense territory, but finding that impossible, from the difficulty attending engraving or lithography in our country, I shall content myself with recommending him to procure one of the maps published in New York, and usually found in the libraries of that capital." Noticia Estadisfica Sobre Tejas, p. 89.
Author Kennedy closes his narrative with: According to the Gazette of Coahuila and Texas, published at Monclova, Colonel Almonte had arrived in that city on the 24th of September, 1834, after executing the duties assigned him by the General Government. His next visit to a country of which he spoke in most eulogistic terms, was in a very different capacity. Brief and superficial as is the Report of the Mexican Commissioner, it has afforded very seasonable aid at this stage of my narrative. It has described, in the cold phraseology of official inquiry, the change effected in ten years, by the Northern Colonists, in the solitudes, of a land neglected and abandoned by its rulers. The statistics of Almonte form the proudest testimonial to the labors of those fearless and persevering spirits who first rendered the golden globe of Texas tributary to the enjoyments of civilized man, and supply a conclusive answer to the charges brought against the Texans by persons who, in the fervor of a philanthropic enthusiasm in behalf of the Indian and the Negro, are ready to sacrifice not only time and money, but the solemn obligations of truth and justice.
SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS