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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

THE MAGEE-GUTIERREZ EXPEDITION

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

During the last three decades of Spanish control of Texas, say 1790s to 1819, the location of the border between the United States and Spanish Texas was a matter of opinion. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 complicated the dispute. The treaty that transferred Louisiana Territory left a legacy of indefiniteness that allowed some US citizens to claim as far west as the Brazos River and Spaniards to argue for a line even east of the Sabine.

To prevent military clashes, in 1806 Generals James Wilkinson and Simon Herrera reached an agreement that created a Neutral Ground between the Sabine and the Arroyo Hondo. This was a 50-mile wide corridor into which neither army would send troops to enforce their nation's laws. This created a haven for folks who do not like obeying laws and a problem when Neutral Ground residents ventured into US or Spanish jurisdictions and continued lawless behavior.

A solution was for Spain to allow the US Army, which was closer, to conduct punitive raids into the Neutral Ground. Lt. Augustus Magee, an early graduate of West Point, drew this duty and he did it well. In the process he became familiar with the Neutral Ground's rough-and-ready residents.

Enter Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara, a nationalist who wanted to end Spain's control of Mexico--and Texas. In 1812 Gutierrez teamed with Magee to recruit the Army of the North from Neutral Ground residents. They were called filibusters, but think more in term of mercenaries. Recruits were paid $40 per month and a promise of rich land endowments when they succeeded in seizing Texas from Mexico.

Why did Magee abandon his career in the US Army for such an uncertain reward? Some suggest that his resignation was a ruse to mask covert government policy to make Texas available for American expansion. Others point to Magee's eventual suicide and claim that his affiliation with Gutierrez evidenced emotional instability even then.

This much is known: Magee and Gutierrez captured Nacogdoches, proclaimed Texas free of Spain, and continued their campaign by capturing the presidio at Goliad. Reinforced Spanish forces besieged them there and during the siege Magee "got dead." Gutierrez claimed Magee committed suicide; others say it was a murder with the motive of eliminating American influence in the new state.

It all came to naught anyway. Magee was replaced by Samuel Kemper and then Henry Perry, and Gutierrez by Jose Alvarez de Toledo. The venture collapsed after Perry's men were defeated by General Joaquin de Arredondo's Spanish soldiers at the Battle of the Medina.


© Archie P. McDonald, PhD
All Things Historical Nov. 24-30, 2002 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association and author or editor of over 20 books on Texas)


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