In a four-part series, policy consultant Jamie Shaw explores the role infamous political renegade Pancho Villa played in American cannabis prohibition and the Mexican Revolution. Check back later for part four which delves into the impact of the Philippines. Click here for part one and part two.
Previously, we listened to the Hiaki sing of the cockroach, and it taught us one of the cultural practices unique to the part of the world now divided by the border between the U.S. and Mexico. This coming division would have profound effects on the Hiaki people, and in particular, how they would be viewed by the rest of the world. Much like the acts that would divide their home, their demonization at the hands of cannabis prohibitionists had nothing really to do with them at all: they simply happened to be in the way.
Just prior to 1800, North America’s political map looked very different. The majority of indigenous tribes had already been severely disrupted and isolated; in the east, British North America followed the line of the modern Canada-U.S. border until the Great Lakes. In the west, it dipped down into what are now the states of Washington and Montana.
Territory in Maine, Kentucky, and Tennessee had no official recognition; Vermont was an independent republic that would soon become the 14th U.S. state; Russia claimed two small pieces of Alaska’s coastline; both the British and Spanish had outposts throughout British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon; and Spain held dominion over everything else. New Spain, in fact, was not only comprised of most of North America, but much of South America, the Caribbean, and even the Philippines far to the west in the Pacific Ocean. It was a country larger than any existing today, one that was about to be devoured by both internal strife, and other nations, particularly the United States of America. It would be this U.S. manifest destiny that would be responsible for much of the rhetoric around cannabis prohibition, and that would prove most successful at raising the fear and alarm necessary to win enough support to enact it.
In 1762, France ceded its last significant North American territory to Spain, territory that included land in what is now Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. This gave Spain control from the Pacific Ocean to the west bank of the Mississippi. Unfortunately for the U.S., it had access to this important river’s east bank, but not to a port at its entrance. New Orleans was under Spanish control, and while it had signed a treaty allowing Americans to access this port, it was rescinded in 1798.
A series of ‘coincidences’ then followed: two years later, Spain secretly agreed to give Napoleon’s France this whole territory back; three years after that, the agreement was made public and the transfer of power occured; three weeks later, France sold the entire tract of land to the United States. This strange series of transactions was muddled further by the fact that the exact boundary of the territory would not be defined in France’s original ceding of the land to the Spanish, nor in the Spanish agreement to give it back, nor in the purchase agreement from the United States. In particular, the disputed land would include parts of Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and a small piece of northern Texas. At this point, the Hiaki homeland was entirely within the borders of New Spain.
By 1810, New Spain was still a vast and sprawling domain, and in a small town in what would become the country of Mexico a single priest named Hidalgo would declare a ‘loyalist revolt’. Joining forces with both the local Spanish army captain and the local militia leader, they were able to capture some towns; however, a year later, Hidalgo and some of his other soldiers would be executed by firing squad in the city of Chihuahua. Another priest took over leadership, named Morelos, who would capture some key towns, declare the independence of North America, and in 1815, be executed. By the end of the decade, Spain would cede what is now Florida to the U.S., but would retain all of its other holdings, including the Philippines.
In 1820, with Hidalgo’s revolutionary movement on the verge of collapse, the government of New Spain would send General Agustín Cosme Damián de Iturbide to mop them up. Iturbide had other ideas however, and joined forces with the revolution. In 1821, Iturbide was crowned emperor of the First Empire of Mexico, which still included all of modern Mexico and Central America, as well as what is currently California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, almost all of Colorado and Texas, and some of Wyoming. In 1823, Iturbide was deposed, and the United Mexican States was formed.
Some stability then followed, but it was short-lived. While most Native populations had already been decimated and subjugated to colonial interests, the Seminole Nation in Florida continued to hold out. While the Comanche and Apache had been displaced somewhat, they were still strong enough to carry out devastating raids, which they did all through the northern United Mexican States, particularly in what we now call Texas.
In an effort to populate the area with more non-Indigenous people to defend against these raids, the government made enticement to Americans to come settle in these lands. So they exacerbated the initial problems the tribes had by displacing them farther, and provided them with bigger targets for revenge raids.
This policy would backfire in numerous ways. While it ultimately succeeded in pushing the tribes farther back, the Comanche and Apache raids would continue into the next century. By then, however, the settler population of the area contained a large demographic that had no particular loyalty to either the United Mexican States, nor New Spain.
In 1836, when the federal government of the United Mexican States announced it was scrapping the constitution and becoming a ‘centrist republic’, rebellions broke out across the country. Many were put down brutally, but an area in the eastern half of what we now call Texas claimed independence from the United Mexican States.
The Texan Wars of Independence would be short, but bloody. After initial success, the Texans would see one defeat after another, beginning with the famous Battle of the Alamo. A small Texan garrison was outnumbered 150 to 1, killed twice its number, but was annihilated. The Texan army and civilians were steadily on the run backward for the rest of the war, almost all the way back to Louisiana. Desperate and out of options, the Texan army launched a successful surprise attack.
With emotions running high, it turned into a massacre, with even those Mexicans who tried to surrender being killed. The battle also ended with the capture of a Mexican general, and with that, Texas was able to achieve a standoff (a Mexican standoff in fact). While the United Mexican States refused to acknowledge the fledgling Republic of Texas, the United States of America did, and the war was essentially over.
The United Mexican States was not to have peace however, as the next two years would see the Pastry War with the French, followed by the attempted secession of the Republic of the Rio Grande. Comprising the southern part of modern-day Texas and northern Mexico, this revolution would end in failure before the end of the year. In 1845, the Republic of Texas would be annexed by the U.S., becoming its 28th state, and the next year the Mexican–American War would begin.
Until that point, all of the warfare between colonial powers, and all of the raids by tribes further to the east and north had left the Hiaki homeland untouched. Colonized long ago, it hadn’t seen any further conflict, and was basically free to travel on its ancestral lands. With the Mexican-American War, that all changed. By the end of it, the Mexican-American border would run right through its tribes’ settlements, with only half remaining in Mexico. The rest would be divided by the U.S. states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico that were ceded along with parts of Wyoming, Colorado, and all of Utah and California. These states would go on to play a pivotal and leading role in cannabis prohibition, the seeds of which were planted there, in 1848.
The turmoil in Mexico would continue for most of the century, and would see the establishment of the Second Empire of Mexico that would see the Habsburgs rule for a short time, the Mexican Resistance, and in 1867, Porfirio Diaz taking power for a month. He seized power again in 1877 for three years, during which time Pancho Villa was born. Diaz would do so again when Pancho Villa turned six, and would hold that office until Villa and his fellow revolutionaries deposed him almost three decades later.
The U.S. had not given up its aims on Mexico during this time, but it would become involved in a bigger conflict, one that would change the face of the world and dominate diplomacy for the next 250 years. After 50 years of posturing between New Spain and the United States, the resulting ridiculous three-month war would have far-reaching consequences. Before the end of the 1800s, a U.S. battleship would blow-up in Havana. The U.S. demanded that New Spain cede Cuba to them, and so Spain declared war. The U.S. declared war back, but remember the size of New Spain? Fighting was not only in Cuba, but in Manila as well. By August of 1898 the U.S. had gained not only Puerto Rico and Cuba, but Guam and the Philippines as well. This would set the tone for the century ahead, not only in Cuba, but in the Pacific, where by that year they had also annexed Hawai’i, and forced the end of Japan’s chosen isolation from the outside world.
While abroad this short-lived war’s consequences would be more war. Internally in the U.S., it would add another racial issue to the fire. The United States now contained large swaths of territories and kingdoms where Hispanic people were the dominant population: a people the United States had been in conflict with for a hundred years. And remember the Comanche and the Apache? They were both still raiding Spanish and American settlements into the 1900s.
If you were one of the many lower-class whites who also lived in this land of anxiety, these were real fears, real emotions, that while not generated by race, would later be focused on it. It would be this history with New Spain and these fears in these places that would be used to redefine the legend of Pancho Villa, and demonize both the Hiaki and cannabis.