Con un pie en cada lado: ethnicities and the archaeology of Spanish colonial ranching communities along the lower Río Grande Valley
Before the Río Grande valley became a contested border between the United States and Mexico, and between predominantly Latino and AngloAmerican societies, it was the northern frontier of Spanish Nuevo Santander and a border between Spanish Mexico and indigenous societies to the north. The pobladores, or colonists, who moved into the region from mining communities to the south in the 1730s, and their descendants to the present day, had to adapt constantly to the changing political, economic, and social environment, as people in borderlands always do. This dissertation involves archaeological excavations and historical analyses of ranches and towns associated with this border in order to understand the nature and articulation of the ranch and town settlements, the types of household production and livestock raising that sustained them, their trade relationships as reflected in their material culture, and the complex issues of ethnic identity construction along a contested border through time. Although my primary goal is to shed new light on a process of colonization and adaptation to a border context that went on a century before the more-studied Anglo-American colonization of the region, this is also a personal journey, because I am a descendant of these early pobladores and my family’s roots are in this border region. Between 1748 and 1755, the civilian colonists of Nuevo Santander established 23 communities, including 6 along the banks of the Río Grande. These pobladores received porciones, or land grants, in 1767 on which to establish livestock ranches. The porciones were on both banks of the Río Grande, because Nuevo Santander’s northern boundary was the Nueces River. The pobladores and their descendents literally lived con un pie en cada lado, with a foot on each side of river. Ethnohistoric information documents the early settler practice of living and growing crops on the south bank, while conducting ranching activities on the north bank of the Río Grande (Casteñeda 1976). Thus, these ranches were among the first of their kind in present-day Texas, representing a unique form of civilian colonization based on the relocation of entire families, and without major emphasis on missions and presidios.