No. 464.
Mr. Foster to Mr. Fish.

No. 108.]

Sir: By an act of the Mexican Congress passed on the 30th of September, 1872, the President was authorized to appoint a commission to inquire into the facts concerning robberies of cattle and other crimes alleged to be constantly committed on both sides of the Rio Grande frontier. An American commission was then in session at Brownsville engaged in the same investigations, and this fact was doubtless the chief incentive to the step taken by the Mexican Congress. The President, as mentioned in Mr. Nelson’s dispatch No. 657, of September 30, 1872, constituted the commission in the persons of Messrs. Emilio Velasco, Ignacio Galindo, and Antonio Garcia Carrillo, with Mr. Agustin Siliceo as secretary. The first-named gentleman, who was the leading spirit of the investigation, is a native of Tamaulipas, and has represented the Matamoras district in several Congresses, including the present one. He is a lawyer of extensive attainments, familiar with American history and jurisprudence, and was retained by this legation as its legal adviser in the claim of Messrs. Barron, Forbes & Co. vs. The United States, two years since. As secretary of the State government of Tamaulipas, Mr. Velasco has been long familiar with the condition of the frontier, and by his speeches in Congress, and his editorial articles in the Siglo XIX, upon the free zone and the border difficulties, gave such proof of fairness and impartiality that several of his productions were forwarded to your Department with commendation by Mr. Nelson in 1870 and 1872, and are published in the diplomatic correspondence of those years. His appointment was considered by this legation as a guarantee of a conscientious investigation which would be certain, whatever might be his conclusions, to throw a vivid light upon the facts of the border troubles. Messrs. Galindo and García Carillo are also lawyers of good repute, [Page 729] resident, the former in Monterey, and the latter in Saltillo, and consequently familiar at the outset with the state of affairs they were instructed to investigate.

The commission was organized at Monterey on the 14th of November, 1872, and immediately proceeded to Matamoras, where it issued a set of rules on the 21st of the same month, inviting the citizens of both banks of the Rio Grande to present their evidence and their complaints upon the subject in question. It remained in session at Matamoras and other towns on the Rio Grande for several months, taking voluminous evidence, amounting to several thousand pages of manuscript, and on the 15th of May of last year, forwarded from Monterey a preliminary report, transmitted with this dispatch, which has just issued from the press as a quarto pamphlet of 106 pages, forming one of the accompanying documents to the report of the minister of foreign affairs for the past two years. This result of the labors of the commission has not disappointed the expectations expressed by this legation, as to the amount of close research which it displays, and the apparent conscientiousness and moderation with which its conclusions are stated. Whether those conclusions, which are in general strikingly opposed to those of the American commission of 1872, can be relied upon as a correct summary of the facts concerning the border troubles, is a question which it would require much time and other sources of information than those in the possession of this legation to determine. I deem it my duty, however, to mention some of those conclusions, and to call the attention of the Department of State thereto.

The invitation extended by the commission to the Texan claimants was not accepted by them, and not a single complaint was submitted by any American citizen. Being obliged, therefore, to derive its facts chiefly from Mexican sources, it was natural that the report should give prominence to the losses and outrages suffered by Mexicans at the hands of Texan malefactors, and while presenting but little in confirmation, should contain much in abatement of the large loss alleged to have been sustained by American citizens. In addition to the verbal testimony received by the commission, it devoted particular attention to the collection of documentary evidence, and it is chiefly upon the records of the courts of the frontier towns that it has relied in the formation of its report. Bearing in mind that the capital question involved is that of the trustworthiness of the witnesses, it took great pains to satisfy itself as to their character, and rejected as unworthy of credit many accusations made against citizens of Texas. There remained, however, several charges of complicity in robberies of cattle, made against persons of some prominence in Texas, by such a number of witnesses of different classes that the commission deemed them sufficiently proved. Among these persons figure authorities of the rank of judge, sheriff, and aldermen, and most of them appeared before the American border commission presenting claims against Mexico for hundreds of thousands of dollars in each case.

The Mexican commission had in its hands the report of the said border commission, and took some pains to refute its general conclusions, and especially to show the falsity or unlimited extravagance of the principal claims. By reference to the published statistics of the cattle owned, or upon which taxes have been paid, during a series of years, in the frontier counties of Texas, it shows that there has been, until the year 1871, a constant and normal increase in the numbers of the said cattle; that the number of cattle alleged to have been stolen from Texas in specific years is vastly in excess of the entire amount [Page 730] ever owned in the counties in question; that the entire official valuation of real estate in those counties forms but a fraction of the alleged losses, and gives as specimens several instances of persons who have alleged losses of thousands of cattle, when, in the years in question, they either paid no taxes on cattle, or paid them upon but a few scores or hundreds.

The commission has given a historical sketch of the frontier troubles since the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, showing the fluctuations of crime, its methods, causes, and consequences, and has entered into numerous personal and topographical details concerning the most notable criminal organizations. It has devoted especial research to the antecedents of General Juan N. Cortina, (now, 1874, mayor of Matamoras,) upon whom a great part of the odium of these crimes has fallen for the last fifteen years. It asserts that at the time of the famous “Cortina raid” of 1859, that person was a private individual, an American citizen, and a resident in Texas, as were most of his companions; that his movement had a quasi-political character, being caused by the injustice with which persons of Mexican origin were habitually treated in Texas; and that during the recent period when Cortina exercised military command on the frontier, far from protecting crime, he attacked and destroyed several bands of cattle-thieves; that the numerous accusations brought against “soldiers of Cortina” for robberies committed during the years 1871 and 1872 are generally entirely false, and when true in some degree, the criminals did not at the time belong to the forces of Cortina, but were deserters therefrom.

The conclusion of the commission is, that although robberies of cattle are still frequently committed on both sides of the Rio Grande, the proportions of this crime are now much less than in former years.

The excitement upon this subject, promoted for two or three years past by the residents of the American frontier, is attributable, in great measure, to a desire to involve the two republics in war, for purposes of annexation. As practical remedies, the commission proposes the amendment of the penal laws of Texas and of the frontier States of Mexico, so as to facilitate the conviction and punishment of the criminals, and especially the revision of the extradition treaty of 1861, so as to make it applicable to all cases of cattle-stealing, and similar crimes on the frontier, as also to the deserters from the armies of both republics. It calls attention to the fact that many of the criminals live alternately, and exercise political rights on both sides of the frontier; it therefore proposes that persons who thus exercise the attributes of citizenship in either republic be subjected to the effects of the extradition treaty on demand of the authorities thereof.

I am, &c.,