The noose plagued Mexican-Americans, too
Two years ago, a University of Oklahoma fraternity made headlines when it was caught on camera bellowing a racist chant at African-Americans, insinuating that the only good place for a fraternal candidate of color was under a tree (i.e., lynched). Since then, the fraternity has been shut down and banned from campus.
The fact that such vitriol is being repeated in the second decade of the 21st century is disturbing. While the noose has been identified as emblematic of violence and oppression toward African-Americans, it’s often overlooked as a symbol of terror for Mexican-Americans. No region saw this practice toward Mexican-Americans more than South Texas.
One area infamous for this reprehensible practice was Goliad.
From 1846 to 1870, death sentences were enacted along the courthouse lawn, where more than 100 victims were hanged under the famous “Hanging Tree,” many of them lynchings. Many were flogged on “whipping posts” for what were defined as offenses against the public sphere. As with many public trials and executions during the 19th century, Anglo families witnessed these atrocities in a carnival-like atmosphere, bringing picnic baskets and taking photos.
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If these Kafkaesque actions aren’t stomach-churning episodes, the Hanging Tree of Goliad is labeled a historic landmark and tourist attraction.
Documents record 871 Mexican-Americans lynched across 13 Western states after the Civil War. But these numbers don’t compare to what was done in Texas. According to historians William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, from 1910 to 1920, 5,000 Mexican-Americans were murdered in a wave of terror, many by the Texas Rangers.
The Texas Rangers were no strangers to mob justice and deliberate lynchings. The Texas Rangers began as a militia, funded and supported by area ranchers who wanted more land and detested their Spanish-speaking neighbors.
Hangings among Mexican-Americans were not exclusive to males.
Josefa “Chipita” Rodriguez, the first woman legally hanged in Texas, was executed in 1863; this November marks the 154th anniversary of her death.
Rodriguez dwelled along the banks of the Aransas River, near the Nueces River, in a humble cabin that doubled as a guesthouse for trail riders seeking food and shelter around the South Texas coastline. In August 1863, at the peak of the Civil War, Rodriguez, along with Juan Silvera (presumed to be her illegitimate son), were accused of murdering John Savage, a horse dealer.
She was suspected of the crime only because they found the body in the river near her home. Savage, after making a business deal with the Confederate Army, was riding with satchels full of gold. And because many trail riders frequented Rodriguez’s cabin, she was targeted as the prime suspect. While Silvera pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder, Rodriguez refused to admit to a crime she did not commit, entering a plea of not guilty. Refusing to dignify these false allegations and mockery of a trial, she remained silent and maintained her dignity.
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That mere circumstantial evidence was enough to sentence an elderly woman to death is historic proof of the abhorrent justice meted out to Mexican-Americans. Although Rodriguez was pardoned by Gov. Mark White in 1985. Texans must learn to forgive, but never forget, the sins of the past lest they rear their ugly heads again.
Alfredo Torres Jr. is a copy editor for CTN: a Journal of Pedagogy and Ideas, and an independent historian working at Palo Alto College.