Amerindians and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

The arid desert terrain vibrates as an incoming stampede approaches a Mexican town. Upon the horses, ride the mighty Comanche people. They gallop to pillage the resources of the Mexican settlers, who inhabit the land that once belonged to the Comanche. Though many historians detail these raids, few scholars attempt to construct a holistic understanding of the nineteenth-century U.S.-Mexican borderland disputes with the indigenous. The United States and Mexico presented legislation, such as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, to bring peace among both countries and to maintain control over the Amerindian population. This study examines the impact of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Mexican-American War on the indigenous people. One crucial article in the treaty, Article XI, allied the two governments against the growing threat of indigenous encounters in the newly established U.S-Mexico borderlands. Additionally, this study further explores the indigenous struggles against the rising U.S. and Mexican powers in the nineteenth-century. Thus, the legislation and rhetoric of Article XI exhibited the dehumanization of the Amerindians and their culture.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo remains an essential aspect of U.S.-Mexican diplomacy. Signed on February 2, 1848, the treaty ended the Mexican-American War and forged new boundaries between both countries. According to Richard Griswold de Castillo’s The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: A Legacy of Conflict, the treaty consisted of twenty-three articles. Article XI explained the U.S.-Mexican management concerning hostile indigenous raids. The treaty bestowed the responsibilities of indigenous supervision to the U.S. government. The agreement enforced the U.S. to protect the citizens of both countries from these attacks. Additionally, Article XI prohibited the U.S. from purchasing any captive or stolen property of Mexico from the Amerindians. The U.S. government ensured to rescue and return the captives to Mexico. Ultimately, Article XI formed an alliance between the U.S. and Mexico, which required the United States to police the entire borderlands region of any indigenous raids. [1]

Before the Mexican-American War, Mexican settlers of the northern states suffered a long period of indigenous raids. In the 1830s, many southern plains Amerindians raided Mexican towns, ranches, and haciendas. The Amerindians who participated in the raids included the Comanche and Kiowa. [2] Brian DeLay, professor of history at the University of California Berkeley, emphasizes the importance of Article XI. He discusses its strong demand among the citizens of Northern Mexico. In his monograph, War of A Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S. – Mexican War, DeLay provides data regarding Amerindian and Mexican violence along the northern states. He collected the data from various archival sources dating from 1831 to 1848. DeLay presents graphs that account the number of Mexican and Comanche/Kiowas deaths. The Amerindian communities killed approximately 2649 Mexican settlers, whereas the settlers killed an estimated 702 Comanches and Kiowas. [3]

The number of violent accounts within this region encouraged the passing of Article XI in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. According to DeLay’s article, “Independent Indians and the U.S.-Mexican War,” most northern Mexicans believed that their government failed to protect them from Amerindian raids. During this period, the Mexican government’s resources and security lacked in the northern states due to the conflicts between the centralists and federalists of Mexico. This forced northern Mexicans to turn to foreign powers. Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the U.S. managed all indigenous raids for the northern states of Mexico. Northern Mexicans viewed the U.S. government as their saviors from the native raids. [4] According to a treaty ambassador named Nicholas Trist, the northern states of Mexico agreed to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo solely for Article XI. [5]

DeLay and others illuminate the Mexican perspective on the raids of the Comanche people during the Mexican-American War. As the dominant indigenous raiders within the borderlands, the Comanche continued to attack the weakened and distracted Mexico throughout the Mexican-American War. [6] According to Pekka Hämäläinen, author of The Comanche Empire, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo forced the Comanche’s home territory to fall in the center of U.S. control. He examines how the powerful Comanche viewed themselves as vigorous combatants and diplomats during the Mexican–American War. [7] In 1846, Pia Kusa, a Comanche leader, attempted to negotiate with the U.S. to form an alliance against Mexico in return for arms and ammunition. U.S. General John Wool rejected his request. Wool then threatened, the Comanche with punishment if they attempted to raid any Mexican town without motive. [8] Cases such as these strengthened the settlers’ calls for action, and proved the importance of Article XI for both countries. Later, Hämäläinen discusses how the United States’ obligations to protect Mexico from Amerindian raids proved to be impossible. The extensive resources became too costly. Instead, Indian agents, such as James Calhoun, dispatched emissaries to the Comanche territory, known as Comanchería, to purchase any Mexican captives and return them to their country. [9] Calhoun’s approach followed the agreement as stated in Article XI.

For the local indigenous peoples, the new legislation between the U.S. and Mexican powers proved to be problematic. The conflicts in the borderlands occurred during the height of the United States’ oppression of the Amerindians. The U.S. government prioritized the removal and elimination of natives. For instance, the U.S. military attempted to annihilate the American bison. As an important resource and cultural symbol to many plains Amerindians, the bison’s extinction meant the extinction of the Comanche and other indigenous groups. [10] Thankfully, the U.S. military’s efforts failed. The white settlers of the United States considered other methods of indigenous removal. They believed that the Amerindian presence posed an obstacle for Manifest Destiny. In Rhetoric and Reality on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Place, Politics, Home, K. Jill Fleuriet, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, focuses her research on the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and reconstructs the contemporary idea of the border. When contextualizing this important monograph, Fleuriet states that Manifest Destiny and colonialism share an “expansion for land, belief that indigenous communities were inferior and dangerous, and a religious and moral justification to conquer and assimilate.” [11] Article XI strictly highlighted the indigenous people of the borderlands as “savage” and dangerous. [12] Nineteenth century discourse concerning Amerindians shifted cultural and social processes. The policies between U.S. and Mexico exhibited this type of vocabulary.

Scholars have inspected the distasteful discourse within the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo’s Article XI. The phrasing within the treaty portrayed the natives as villains, and not as a society who lost their home to the practices of Manifest Destiny. The rhetoric referred to the Amerindian communities as “savage tribes,” which displayed a damaging bias within the foundation of this document. [13] Viewing the natives as “dangerous” assisted in the U.S. government’s endeavor to occupy native lands. The rhetoric of Article XI influenced other Amerindian communities. Blake Gentry and his team examine the topic of elimination in their article “Indigenous Survival and Settler Colonial Dispossession on the Mexican Frontier.” They follow the Tohono O’odham, a sedentary Sonoran indigenous group, and their toils for land rights. The authors, a team comprising of various interdisciplinary fields, explain that elimination involved occupying a targeted group’s land, rather than directly destroying a group’s race or identity. Because a community’s land presented an aspect of their character, land stripping helped the U.S. and Mexican powers dehumanize the Tohono O’odham, the Comanche, and all the indigenous groups. [14]

Gentry states that Article XI specifically targeted horse-riding indigenous communities, which included the Comanche. In addition to the Mexican citizens, equestrian communities often raided the Tohono O’odham. Alas, the treaty failed to offer U.S. protection for sedentary indigenous communities. Additionally, Brendan Lindsay, author of Murder State: California’s Native American Genocide, 1846-1873, reveals another factor regarding the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo’s neglect towards Amerindians. The U.S. provided Mexican citizens, who lived in the newly acquired territory, the choice to remain a citizen of Mexico or to become a U.S. citizen. The treaty failed to address any citizenship concerns to the indigenous peoples of California. [15] Though the treaty directly targets equestrian native groups, it also inflicted a strong impact on sedentary groups.

While the settlers of Mexico benefitted from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo’s Article XI, the Amerindians struggled under the dehumanizing laws established to steal their land. The historical narratives prove that the nineteenth-century borderlands were a harsh environment under constant unrest for all participants. This research shows that legislation with an ethnocentric bias forms a foundation of destructive policies within a territory. Future laws then stem from these discriminatory institutions affecting contemporary communities. This analysis shows the violent side of several societies, and how it remains essential to explore perspectives from many historical players. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo forged an essential aspect of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Its impact will continue to welcome new historical questions from future scholars of U.S.-Mexico relations and indigenous studies.