La Matanza — A period of anti-Mexican violence in Texas

Hispanic Heritage Month

HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — During the 20th century, the Rio Grande Valley experienced a painful time in our history, which became known as La Matanza.

La Matanza was a period of anti-Mexican violence in Texas.

“Approximately 250 people of Mexican origin were lynched in Texas alone,” said Monica Martinez, a history professor at the University of Texas. 

Martinez said these lynchings occurred mostly between 1910 to 1920, peaking during the summer of 1915 in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Anybody who looked Mexican, whether they were an American citizen or a national who was living in south texas in the decade of 1910 and 1920, they were not only targeted with vigilante violence and mob violence but also extralegal violence.,” she said.

Martinez says this violence included violence from vigilantes, law enforcement, Texas Rangers, and in some cases, even U.S. soldiers.

“There was a long period of history of displacing Mexicans from owning land,” she said. “But when the legal processes and periods of high taxation didn’t work, some families were targeted with violence.”

Historians say these lynchings almost never resulted in an investigation. 

Martinez went on to say that some Mexicans who were lynched in the Rio Grande Valley, were lynched “despite them being landowners, educated and influential. They were targeted, and there was no investigation into their murders.”

Martinez cites multiple killings during this time, some of which happened at the hands of law enforcement. 

“The family of Florencio Garcia is one example where his father and his wife [asked] local officials to help find him. They reported his absence. Witnesses came forward and said they saw him in Texas Ranger custody,” Martinez said. “They had seen him in the local jail and it wasn’t until weeks later that his remains were found.”

Just like Florencio Garcia, descendants of these lynchings still live in the Rio Grande Valley today. 

Trinidad Gonzales’ great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather were both executed in south Texas by Texas Rangers during this time period. They were accused of being sympathizers to Mexican bandits.

“My great-grandfather was the foreman and had keys that went into the ranches in the area. These insurgents wanted to get through the ranches, so they went to his house and basically asked for the keys and it was basically understood you couldn’t say no to these individuals.”

For ‘helping’, his great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather were both shot on-site by Texas Rangers. Both were never offered due process–which Martinez and other historians say was common during this time period. 

His great-grandmother heard those shots.  “The rangers came back and basically were bragging about killing her husband and father-in-law,” Gonzales said. 

“She was lucky in a sense that she was able to bury her loved ones. In many instances, people were killed and their bodies never recovered,” he said.

Now, descendants and historians are calling for accountability and recognition of these lynchings, to ensure people remember the dead, and it never happens again.

“Until the state of Texas acknowledges and officially apologizes for what occurred, justice has not been served,” he said. 

In a statement, the Texas Department of Public Safety said they said:

“No relationship exists between the modern Texas Rangers or the Texas Department of Public Safety and the incident you reference. The modern-day Texas Rangers are comprised of principled men and women of great skill and integrity who are fully committed to the rule of law.”

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