Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sept 16: Alturas Stock, Mexican Independence

On September 16, 1888, a roving reporter for the Idaho Statesman (in Boise) wrote, “Your correspondent has taken the time and trouble to procure the names of owners of sheep, horses and cattle running on the ranges of western Alturas” County. That area would generally encompasses today’s Elmore County, east and north of Mountain Home. (Starting the following year, the legislature began splitting new counties away from Alturas, and that name disappeared entirely in 1895.)

The article enumerated 47 thousand cattle, 35 thousand sheep, and 8 thousand horses. In the 1890 Census, Elmore County contained far less than 10% of the stock in all of Idaho. The reporter considered his numbers “more reliable” that those of the county assessor, because, he said, “We have been told by gentlemen who have busied themselves on the range that there were bands that had not been assessed for years.”

Working from these values, we may extrapolate that Idaho stockmen were running 600 or 700 thousand cattle and a like number of sheep in 1888, which generally agrees with other estimates of the time. Owyhee County alone had over 100 thousand assessed cattle by 1889. Of course, all this was before the severe die-back during the disastrous winter of 1889-90, when many herds were virtually wiped out.

September 16 is considered Mexican Independence Day. On that morning in 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, parish priest of a village about 130 miles northeast of coastal Mazatlan, issued a proclamation that called for racial equality, land redistribution, and an end to Spanish domination. That set off an armed revolution, but Hidalgo was eventually captured and executed, as was his “successor,” José María Morelos y Pavón, another parish priest.

Revolutionary republicans hung on desperately through the remainder of the decade. Then, the strongly conservative “propertied” classes in Mexico decided Spain had taken a too-liberal turn after the expulsion of Napoleonic forces and reinstatement of a legitimate Spanish monarch. In 1820, they began their own independence movement, hoping to protect New Spain from the new, liberal doctrines. They made common cause with the republicans, at first secretly and then openly. Finally, in August, 1821, they achieved independence, although perhaps not in a form that would have pleased Padre Hidalgo. As the Encyclopedia Britannica essayists said, “In one of the ironies of history, a conservative Mexico had gained independence from a temporarily liberal Spain.”

The connection with Idaho is two-fold. First, until the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, the area roughly south of the Idaho-Oregon border and west of the Rockies was Mexican territory. Thus, American and British-Canadian fur trappers and later settlers (mostly Mormons) were technically trespassing on Mexican land -- not that anyone paid much attention. Second, when that region became U.S. territory, pioneer traffic through Idaho increased -- and then exploded when gold was discovered in California.


  1. So the big boys hijacked Mexican independence. there are those who would argue that the same thing happened here.

  2. That contention does not hold water. Neither Padre Hidalgo nor Padre Morelos nor many of their largely nameless followers lived to see Mexican independence actually happen.
    Eight signers of the Declaration of Independence served at the Constitution Convention -- including Benjamin Franklin, Eldridge Gerry, and Roger Sherman. Declaration signer John Hancock took an active part in the post-Convention debate, and two signers -- John Adams and Thomas Jefferson -- became presidents under the new Constitution.