Friday, January 17, 2014
Taming the Nueces Strip
By Kathleen Rice Adams
Texas always has been a rowdy place. In 1822, the original anglo settlers began invading what was then Mexico at the invitation of the Mexican government, which hoped American immigrants would do away with the out-of-control Comanches. Texans dispensed with the Comanches in the 1870s, foisting them off on Oklahoma, but long before that, the Texans ran off the Mexican government.
From 1836 to 1845, Texas looked something like the map above. The green parts became the Republic of Texas as the result of treaties signed by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana after Sam Houston and his ragtag-but-zealous army caught the general napping at San Jacinto. The treaties set the boundary between Texas and Mexico at the Rio Grande.
This caused a bit of a fuss in the Mexican capital, because Santa Ana did not possess the authority to dispose of large chunks of land with the swipe of a pen. Mexico eventually conceded Texas could have the dark-green part of the map, but the light-green part still belonged to Mexico. Arguments ensued.
While Texas and Mexico were carefully avoiding one another in the disputed territory, outlaws, rustlers, and other lawless types moved into the patch between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. After all, no respectable outlaw ever lets a perfectly good blind spot on the law-enforcement radar go to waste. The area, 150 miles wide by about 400 miles long, came to be known as the Nueces Strip.
In 1845, the United States annexed all of the land claimed by Texas, including the disputed territory, and came to military blows with Mexico over the insult. By the time the two countries signed the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 to settle once and for all who owned what — sort of — the lawless element was firmly entrenched in the strip of cactus and scrub between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. For nearly thirty years, brigands raised havoc — robbing, looting, raping, rustling, and killing — on both sides of the border before retreating to ranchos and other hideouts in no-man's land.
That began to change in 1875 when Texas Ranger Captain Leander McNelly was charged with bringing order to the Nueces Strip. Newly re-formed after being disbanded for about ten years during the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Rangers were determined to clean up the cesspool harboring notorious toughs like King Fisher and Juan Cortina. With a company of forty hand-picked men known as the Special Force, McNelly accomplished his task in two years … in some cases by behaving at least as badly as the outlaws. McNelly was known for brutal — sometimes downright illegal — tactics, including torturing information from some prisoners and hanging others. He and his men also made a number of unauthorized border crossings in pursuit of rustlers, nearly provoking international incidents.
Nevertheless, the “Little McNellys” got the job done. By the time McNelly was relieved of command in 1876, the Nueces Strip was a safer place. Though he remains controversial in some circles, the residents of South Texas raised funds and erected a monument in his honor.
The Nueces Strip plays a small role in “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas,” my contribution to Prairie Rose Publications’ new anthology, Hearts and Spurs. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, this collection of nine western historical romances by nine authors leaves no doubt that Cupid is a cowboy, and he’s playing for keeps.
I'll give one visitor today an e-book version just for stopping in to say howdy! (Be sure to leave a way for me to get in touch.)
A washed-up Texas Ranger. A failed nun with a violent past. A love that will redeem them both.
His partner’s grisly death destroyed Texas Ranger Quinn Barclay. Cashiered for drunkenness and refusal to follow orders, he sets out to fulfill his partner’s dying request, armed only with a saloon girl’s name.
Sister María Tomás thought she wanted to become a nun, but five years as a postulant have convinced her childhood dreams aren’t always meant to be. At last ready to relinquish the temporary vows she never should have made, she begs the only man she trusts to collect her from a mission in the middle of nowhere.
When the ex-Ranger’s quest collides with the ex-nun’s plea in a burned-out border town, unexpected love blooms among shared memories of the dead man who was a brother to them both.
Too bad he was also the only man who could have warned them about the carnage to come.