Angel Navarro to Houston, January 26, 1860
Depending on who told the tale, Juan Nepomuceno (Cheno) Cortina (Cortinas) was either a folk hero, a bandit, or both. The heir to a large land grant in the Rio Grande Valley, Cortina fought as an irregular in the Mexican War. After the war, he occupied himself with stealing cattle and otherwise bedeviling the clique of judges and attorneys in Brownsville who, Cortina believed, were cheating Mexican Texans out of their land.
The first of the so-called Cortina Wars began in Brownsville July 13, 1859, when Cortina witnessed the brutal arrest of a former employee by the Brownsville city marshall. He confronted the city marshall, shooting him and making off with the prisoner. In September 1859, he returned with a large force of men and seized control of the town. Five men, including the city jailer, were shot during the raid, as Cortina and his men raced through the streets shouting "Death to the Americans" and "Viva Mexico."
Although persuaded by Mexican authorities to withdraw, Cortina's audacity had made him a hero to Mexicans on both sides of the river. Hostilities grew between his followers and white citizens of Brownsville, which were only made worse when an undisciplined force of Texas Rangers under William G. Tobin showed up in November. Tobin's forces terrorized Mexican civilians, and they feared him more than Cortina. Between Cortina and those who opposed him, the farming and ranching life of the country was completely disrupted.
In December, a second company of Rangers, commanded by Rip Ford, arrived, as did Major Samuel Heintzelman with regular troops. Cortina began a retreat upriver under the disciplined onslaught, laying waste to the lower Rio Grande Valley as he did so.
In January 1860, Governor Houston sent two trusted advisers, Angel Navarro and Robert H. Taylor, to investigate the situation and to organize Texas troops against Cortina. Taylor would write Houston that they were "met at first with little courtesy by the citizens of this place in fact they talked of ropes vengeance &c &c." Navarro, the son of a well-known Tejano patriot, recommended that Cortina be pursued into Mexico, and that Mexico be invaded and occupied if necessary.
It was not to be. Cortina continued his activities on both sides of the border until 1875, when he was finally removed by Mexican authorities to Mexico City. He died in 1894.
Brownsville Jany 26th 1860
Genl. Sam Houston
My dear Genl:
We have organized our Company,
Angel Navarro to Houston, January 26, 1860, Records of Sam Houston, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.