Without Legal Authority: Lynching in the Texas Borderland, 1910–20

Saturday, January 9, 2016
Galleria Exhibit Hall (Hilton Atlanta)
Nicholas Villanueva Jr., University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
 “Without Legal Authority: Lynching in the Texas Borderland, 1910-1920”

Nicholas Villanueva, Jr.

Department of Ethnic & Racial Studies

University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

This poster illustrates the lynching of ethnic Mexicans in Texas and northern Mexico during the 1910s.  The outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 was an important event for both nations: it was a civil war among Mexicans, but it also led to hostilities between Anglos and Mexicans in the borderland.  This research explores the dramatic rise in the lynching of ethnic Mexicans in the borderland during the decade of the combative years of the Mexican Revolution.  I argue that ethnic and racial tension brought on by the conflict during the Mexican Revolution in the borderland, led Anglo-Texans to feel justified in their anti-Mexican campaign, using the legal system to their advantage and deploying white privilege; their actions, even when illegal, often went unpunished.

This work contributes to the historiography on lynching, global perspectives of violence, and borderland studies by differentiating between the lynching of African Americans in the American South and the lynching of Mexicans in the American West. Initially, lynching referred to a group of men who whipped or beat an outlier of society. It was during the early to mid nineteenth century when lynching lost any semblance of honor or respectability when antislavery proponents used the word to condemn the practice of extra-legal punishment of slaves by white southerners, which usually ended in death.  As lynching moved west by the mid nineteenth century, westerners argued that they had to defend themselves in the lawless western territories—“Judge lynch” became somewhat respectable among these men of the frontier.

This research will benefit form the AHA poster session because of the numerous images, charts, and graphs used in my manuscript. The comparative data by region and time will be displayed on the poster, along with photographs, maps, and a timeline of lynching that spans eight decades. The lynching of ethnic Mexicans in Texas was unique from other historical perspectives of lynching by region and by ethnic/racial group. By examining Texas, this poster will illustrate that three differing motivations for lynching of ethnic Mexicans were present in the state—the Western frontier justification of law and order; a racial component that categorized Mexicans as non-white; and xenophobic concerns during the Mexican Revolution that led Texans to view ethnic Mexicans as an “enemy other” in the state. Thus, this research argues a new rationale for lynching in Texas during the 1910s—I argue that lynching in the Texas borderland was about contesting citizenship and sovereignty.  

Historians recently began examining lynchings of ethnic Mexicans in the U.S.  This poster illustrates the early research completed with my dissertation “No Place of Refuge: Mexicans, Anglos, and Violence in the Texas Borderland, 1910-1920,” and further outlines my manuscript “Without Legal Authority: Lynching in the Texas Borderland, 1910-1920.” This work is supported with a publishing subvention from the Excellence in West Texas History Association for the book that will emerge from the manuscript.

See more of: Poster Session #2
See more of: AHA Sessions