Medio Creek and the Cart War of 1857

From Student Researcher William Alexander;

Creeks and rivers are major landmarks in our maps. They hold particular interest for surveyors; they are some of the most common natural monuments used as boundaries for properties. Although rivers meander over time, and are thus unsuitable points for georectification, they are still very helpful for helping to place a map in the real world, especially when they intersect with a road or another river. In this article’s map, our most notable landmarks are where Highway 181 crosses over Medio Creek, and where San Domingo Creek converges with Medio Creek a little northwest of the highway.  Medio Creek, while small, is one of the most referenced landmarks in the Pennyfenner collection. It runs through Bee County to Refugio County, commonly serving as a boundary.

When we decided to look into Medio Creek as a subject for an article, Google’s first stop was Wikipedia. Here is the page at the time of this writing:

While elegant in its simplicity and evocative in its brevity, it unfortunately did not tell us much that we hadn’t already figured out. We did check out that historic marker on the right, though, which gave us a much better look at the creek’s impact on local history:

The second paragraph in particular caught our attention:

“The Cart War of 1857 between Texas and Mexican teamsters on the freight route between San Antonio and gulf ports, originated on San Patricio Road, southernmost of the three roads. The Mexican cart drivers used mesquite beans as feed for their teams, starting the mesquite brush which thrives along creek.”

Okay, mesquite trees are nice, but what’s that about a Cart War? That wasn’t something covered in history class. We searched around on the subject. There unfortunately isn’t any single site that tells the whole story, so we’ll retell it here.

In 1857, tensions remained high between Mexicans and Texans at Goliad; the Goliad Massacre about 20 years before was still well in living memory. San Antonio was the endpoint on the west end for this area of Texas, as the state of roads, bandits and Native American attacks, and the unpredictable Texan weather of which we are all still well aware of made journeying beyond that last major trade hub hazardous. Yet as immigrants came in by sea, they required somebody to haul their supplies from the port to their new lands. In between the ports and San Antonio was Goliad County.

At the time, railroads had yet to be developed in Texas, and all material goods were transported by cart. Thus, cart teams would haul freight by oxcart along the routes between the coast and San Antonio. I’ve seen sites that claimed that Mexican teams were either slower or faster than their Texan competition, but what all sources do agree on is that they were primarily cheaper. There wasn’t a lot of money in Texas yet, so some Texans were not fans of Mexicans undercutting what they saw as their market.

In the summer of 1857, a group of these men formed essentially a bandit gang, and began attacking Mexican teams in the Goliad area. There were half a dozen major attacks by years end, wherein Mexican carts were destroyed, their freight stolen, and the Mexicans themselves injured or lynched. Even attempting to divert the route didn’t lessen the naked banditry being practiced. Word reached the Mexican consul in Washington DC, who filed a protest with the Secretary of State, who sent a message to the Texas Governor telling him to get their crap together. The authorities in Goliad had up to this point been apathetic to the pillaging of the past year; the Governor appealed directly to the Texas Legislature for funding to send Rangers to help guard Mexican teams. Before the Rangers deployed though, the townsfolk of Goliad had decided that enough was enough, and took action themselves.

By late 1857, the people of Goliad were feeling the pinch from a number of ways: first, by causing the freight route to be diverted away, there’d been much less trade money going to Goliad’s local businesses. Secondly, so much violence occurring in the local area was getting on everybody’s nerves. And lastly, news of state intervention had come, and if there’s something Texans can’t abide, it’s higher government poking around where they live looking for something wrong. The people of Goliad rounded up the gang themselves, and took them to the judge, where he held court under the local hanging tree:

Most of the trials took an hour or less, execution included. Enough bandits were hung up in a few days that the tree is now registered as the Cart War Oak. Hanging the problem out to dry, and Texas Ranger escorts, discouraged any other would-be cart robbers, and the whole episode passed on into a footnote of history.

That’s all for now. ‘til next time.