James Michener’s “Texas” is a massive, monumental historical novel about the state that is larger than some countries, large enough that it retained the option when joining the Union to separate into as many as five states. Michener extensively researched his books (30 months on “Texas”) and based his fictitious characters and locales on historical people and places.
Michener illustrates the fighting over the Gadsden Purchase and the mistrust between Mexicans and norteamericanos. The Gadsden Purchase, signed in 1853, added a strip of Mexico territory to Arizona and New Mexico. Although the U.S. had added Texas, which claimed to have won its independence in 1836, to the Union in 1845, Mexico had never recognized Texan independence, and adding the state to the U.S. was one factor that led to the Mexican War in 1845. The defeat of Mexico added New Mexico, Arizona and California to the Union and solidified Texas’ claim.
A possible transcontinental railroad route led through the Gadsden Purchase. The federal government surveyed four routes in the 1850s, an extreme northern route near the Canadian border, a central route from St. Louis to northern California, a southern route from Arkansas to Los Angeles, and an extreme southern route from northeast Texas to San Diego. The last route entered what was then Mexico, land that the Gadsden Purchase added to the Union. James Gadsden, U.S. minister to Mexico, negotiated the purchase of 29,640 square miles for $10 million. Boundaries were the Gila River on the north, the Rio Grande on the east and the Colorado River on the west.
Little action other than surveying occurred because North and South argued over a route for a railroad and, as with most issues before the Civil War, could find no agreement. But the war broke out before a route was determined, the South’s secession eliminated the bickering, and the final route chosen was that surveyed by two private individuals, Theodore Judah and Grenville Dodge. The Union Pacific ran west from Omaha, Neb., and the Central Pacific ran east from Sacramento, joining in 1869 in Utah. By 1893, five routes spanned the West: the Great Northern followed the northerly route; the Northern Pacific ran slightly to the south of the Great Northern; the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe went from Kansas City to Los Angeles; and the Southern Pacific ran from New Orleans to Los Angeles, following that part of the southerly survey that ran through the Gadsden Purchase.
Many Americans felt the country owed Mexico for practically robbing it of its northern possessions, and the purchase eased a bit of their guilt. Michener explains that the war began when Americans claimed the Mexicans had killed Americans on American land, but the site of the fight lay in the disputed area between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River.
“Texas” enlightened me on the continuing border problems and the Hispanics’ belief that they will eventually gain control through population growth over land that was once theirs. Michener guides the reader through a mighty land, portrays the rich Spanish inheritance of our Southwestern states, and shows how much of our country could have remained Mexican had only a few victories fallen to Mexico.
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