In September 1915, Ben Felton, an African American porter at the Austin American newspaper was approached by several Mexicans who asked him to join an effort to take Texas from the United States. George Washington, Nelson Sneed, J. “Luck” Prosser, “General” Marion Jackson, and African Americans living in the small community of Creedmoor in southern Travis County, had similar experiences.
The Mexicans reportedly met at the California Saloon, in an area bounded by 4th and Lavaca, and often tried to get Blacks to join the fight against the Americans. The Mexicans promised the Blacks land in exchange for their help.
As strange as this might seem to modern day readers, this scene is completely in keeping with provisions of the Plan of San Diego, an irredentist movement in Texas that called for Mexicans in the United States to join a revolution to take back five southwestern states and form a new country. The Plan of San Diego also offered “independence for the negroes.” The Plan said
“We shall grant them a banner, which they themselves be permitted to select, and we shall aid them in obtaining six states of the American union…and they may form theses six states a Republic that they may therefore, be independent.”
In San Antonio, meanwhile, agents with the Bureau of Investigation of the Department ofJustice heard about an African American named “Smith” who claimed that large numbers of well-armed blacks were ready to take arms against the United Sates.
Too often, people assume that the Plan of San Diego’s impact was contained to the Rio Grande Valley, but in point of fact, it influenced events throughout the state. In central Texas, the incident with the African Americans was not an isolated one. In fact, the Bureau agent who was investigating the recruitment of Blacks, was called away on another case in San Marcos.
Local authorities in San Marcos had several Mexicans in jail, having arrested them after finding a letter allegedly written by one of them urging Mexican Americans to join the war to take their land back from the gringos. Ultimately, Matias Rocha was charged with inciting an insurrection against the United States by trying to organize a group of Mexicans for armed rebellion.
Rocha, who was from Redwood, supposedly wrote to Antonio Perales that he had some 4,000 rounds of ammo, 200 carbines and some dynamite ready for Diez y Seis when their plans would unfold. He asked Perales to send Emilio Guajardo to Kyle to speak with Crecencio Gonzalez and inform him the Renterias were with them. He also provided Perales the following list of supporters to the cause:
The agent investigating these events beleived that they were connected.
In the letter, Rocha supposedly asked Perales to get him all the names of the Rodriguez of San Marcos, because he claimed that one of them was a police officer and that all the Rodriguez were trouble to their plans. The following year, Manuel Sorola, the first Mexican American agent of the Bureau of Investigation, learned that Rocha believed that the letter had actually been written by Rodriguez who had forged Rocha’s signature.
All this and more, I will discuss at a book signing event in Austin this coming Saturday, February 13, at the Carver Genealogy Center, 1165 Angelina St. in Austin beginning at 10 a.m. Genealogy and history are first cousins. Genealogists cannot, and should not, focus on names and birthdays alone. It is important that they place their ancestors in a historical context. What was going on in their world that affected their lives. By the same token, historians must not focus only on events and places, but must realize that it is people who made those events happen and that populated those places.