These hostilities reduced one of the few employment opportunities for Mexican immigrants in Texas and impaired relations between the Anglo and Mexican populations in the state.
From the time the Spanish established settlements in Texas during the eighteenth century, through the era when Mexico controlled Texas (1821-1836), immigrant teamsters–freighters known as carreteros–provided transport services essential to the existence of these settlements. The teamsters used enormous carts laden with essential goods, pulled by teams of oxen to supply these scattered settlements. As commerce increased in Texas in the two decades following the Texas Revolution in 1835-1836, increasing numbers of Mexican immigrant carreteros emigrated from Mexico to Texas.
During the 1850’s, the leading occupation of Mexicans in San Antonio was reportedly freighting. At that time, Mexican immigrant labor dominated this increasingly lucrative trade. Mexican freighters were able to provide exceedingly low-cost services because their operations were highly efficient. Although no statistics are available on the magnitude of the Texas cart trade during the 1850’s, various estimates place the amount at several million dollars annually. Undoubtedly, the substantial financial rewards that accrued to the immigrant carreteros caught the attention of Anglo-Texan traders. Anglo-Texan teamsters tried unsuccessfully to establish competing freight operations.
During the summer and fall of 1857, Anglo-Texan freighters who found themselves unable to compete with the more efficient Mexican immigrant teamsters employed lawless bands of hooligans to initiate attacks on the Mexican carreteros to intimidate and discourage them. The carreteros were threatened, harassed, beaten, and murdered. Most of the hostile attacks on the Mexican freighters were on the cart road linking San Antonio and the Gulf coast. Although attacks occurred at various locations along the cart road, the most barbarous assaults occurred in Goliad and Karnes counties. Caravans of Mexican carts were repeatedly waylaid and many carts destroyed. Oxen were either driven off or killed and valuable cargos pillaged and confiscated. Some seventy-five carreteros may have died in the wanton attacks, although the exact number of deaths remains in dispute. While the immigrant carreteros endeavored to protect themselves and their cargo, few Anglo-Texan attackers were injured or killed in the conflicts. It is worth noting that in addition to cart trade issues, deeply rooted Anglo ethnic and racial prejudices contributed to the animosity toward Mexicans.
By the end of 1857, the attacks on the immigrant Mexican teamsters had ended. The abrupt termination to the “Cart War” is most attributable to severe economic hardships Anglo merchants and businesses experienced when the Mexican freight operations were curtailed by the attacks. Anglo merchants and businesses suffered significant financial losses when freight deliveries ceased. Affected merchants complained to authorities in Austin. Simultaneously, word of the attacks reached the Mexican ambassador in Washington, D.C., who lodged a complaint with the U.S. secretary of state in October, 1857. The secretary of state then appealed to Texas governor
Although some Anglo-Texan teamsters gained a foothold in the South Texas freight business and several immigrant Mexican freighters ceased to operate because of the attacks, many Mexican teamsters continued their trade for several decades. Reports from the Civil War era suggest that Mexican teamsters prospered from increased trade.
De León, Arnoldo. They Called Them Greasers: Anglo Attitudes Toward Mexicans in Texas, 1821-1900. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983. Navarro, Armando. Mexicano Political Experience in Occupied Aztlán: Struggles and Change. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2005.
Empresario land grants in Texas