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“You must go as a friend to Mexico and as an enemy of the followers of Cortina and Ochoa”

Legendary Texas Ranger “Rip” Ford to Tejano Santos Benavides


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191.     FORD, John Salmon (“Rip”). Autograph letter in ink signed to cavalry Captain Santos Benavides giving him permission to cross into Mexico to pursue Cortina and Ochoa. Head Quarters Rio Grande Military District, Fort Brown, May 29, 1861. 1-1/2 pp., on a white lined bifolium. 4to (25.3 x 19.4 cm). Docketed in contemporary hand, “Orders Capt. Benavides, concerning crossing the Rio Grande to attack Cortina, May 29, 1861. Copied.” Creased where formerly folded, small piece of lower left corner wanting, a few minor splits at folds (no losses). Bold signature. Overall very good. Excellent letter reflecting delicate international issues. Letters of this legendary Texas Ranger are rare in commerce, and when found are usually much later reminiscences of events, rather than on-the-spot events as they actually unfold, as is the case here. The recipient, content, time, and place make this one of the finest “Rip” Ford letters one might ever hope to acquire.

     Ford informs Benavides that he has been visited by Mexican General Guadalupe García, who has expressed interest in cooperating with Ford’s Confederate troops in “pursuing and attacking Cortina and his followers.” Ford warns Benavides, however, that if he enters Mexico he must avoid molesting or bothering innocent civilians and that he should not act “unless you should be in possession of reliable information that partizans of Cortina and Ochoa are at certain points and probably within your reach.” Finally, he admonishes the captain, declaring: “You must go as a friend to Mexico and as an enemy of the followers of Cortina and Ochoa.”

     Juan Nepumoceno Cortina (1824-1894) was a constant agitator in the Brownsville area for Mexican rights, which he felt were being violated by the Anglos. In some instances, he resorted to arms. Cortina is variously perceived as a Mexican folk hero or a violent agitator and accomplished cattle rustler-raider. This letter was written at the time of the Second Cortina War, during which Cortina invaded Zapata County from Mexico and attacked the county seat, Carrizo. Cortina was assisted in the Carrizo raid by his companion in arms Antonio Ochoa. In that action on May 22, 1861, they were defeated by Santos Benavides, who here is authorized to pursue Cortina and Ochoa across the river.

     Benavides (1823-1891) was commissioned a captain in the 33rd Texas Cavalry (Benavides’ Regiment) and assigned to the Rio Grande Military District. He defeated Cortina on May 22, 1861, at the Battle of Carrizo, just one of many distinguished military victories in his long career. A fifth-generation Texan, his great-great grandfather founded Laredo. Benavides brought a traditionally isolated region closer to the mainstream of Texas politics while preserving a sense of local independence. He was the highest ranking Tejano in the Confederate Army and quelled local revolts against Confederate authority. The states-rights principles of the Confederates were closer to Benavides’ support of regional autonomy, just as he supported the Federalists in the late 1830s and 1840s, rather than the Centralists. His greatest military triumph was his defense of Laredo on March 19, 1864, with forty-two troops against 200 soldiers of the Union First Texas Cavalry, commanded by Col. Edmund J. Davis, who had, ironically, offered Benavides a Union generalship earlier. Perhaps Benavides’ most significant contribution to the Confederacy came when he arranged for safe passage of Texas cotton along the Rio Grande to Matamoros during the Union occupation of Brownsville in 1864. "Rip" Ford wrote that the Benavides family "broke ground in favor of secession" and "did the Confederacy an immense favor by declaring for her." Benavides’s Company was utilized on a number of occasions by Ford for scouting purposes because of the Tejanos’ familiarity with South Texas.

     "Rip" Ford (1815-1897) hardly needs an introduction. He was a true Renaissance man of Texas—excelling both in peace and on the battle front—serving variously as a newspaperman, historian, soldier, legendary Texas Ranger, and politician. Ford was involved in the action against Cortina in the First Cortina War, as well the action documented in this letter. During the Civil War, Ford served as commander of the Rio Grande District and led Confederate troops in what was also that war’s last battle (the May 13, 1865, battle at Palmetto Ranch in far South Texas), which he won for the Confederates over a month after Robert E. Lee had already capitulated to the Union on April 9. Ford and his Texans and Tejanos were fully aware of events in the East and still willing to fight for Southern independence. Although Palmetto Ranch did nothing to change the War’s outcome, it added the final irony to a conflict replete with ironies, unexpected successes, and lost opportunities. For these reasons, it has become both one of the most forgotten and most mythologized battles of the Civil War. See: Jeffrey William Hunt, The Last Battle of the Civil War (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002). Perhaps Ford is best known to many people for his nickname "Rip," which he acquired during the Mexican-American War Ford while serving as adjutant of John Coffee "Jack" Hays’ regiment and in command of a spy company. When officially sending out notices of deaths, he thoughtfully included in the message, "Rest in Peace," but later, under the exigencies of battle conditions, this message was shortened to "R.I.P."

     This unusual and dramatic letter demonstrates an unusual instance of peaceful Mexican-Texas cross-border military cooperation. See Item 526 herein for another Rip Ford letter. The Handbook of Texas Online has lengthy articles on Ford, Benavides, Cortina, and the Cortina Wars.


Sold. Hammer: $10,000.00; Price Realized: $12,000.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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