This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS. Today, we finish the story of one of the most important rivers in the United States, the Rio Grande.
The river flows from the mountains of Colorado south to the Gulf of Mexico. It forms the border between the United States and Mexico for two thousand kilometers.
By the early fifteen-hundreds Spanish explorers arrived in the southwest of what is now the United States. They moved up the Rio Grande looking for gold and treasure. They found none. The native Pueblo Indians of New Mexico were friendly until they were treated badly by the Spanish. Then the Indians pushed the invaders out. But the Spanish returned in Sixteen-Ninety-Three. After some fighting, they finally made peace with the Pueblo Indians.
More and more settlers arrived and established new towns along the Rio Grande. Soon people from other countries began arriving. They came from France, England, and, by the end of the Seventeen Hundreds, from the newly formed United States to the east.
By the early nineteenth century, Americans had begun settling in the Rio Grande area, especially in the territory of Texas, east of New Mexico. The Spanish government in the American Southwest began to lose control as Spain became less powerful in Europe.
Soon more and more people settling near the Rio Grande began to think of themselves as Americans. In Eighteen-Twelve, the Mexican territory of Texas rebelled and declared itself an independent republic. Spain regained control of Texas, but the seeds of revolution had been planted. In Eighteen Twenty-One, Spain withdrew from the Americas.
A new age was beginning in North America. Two young nations, the United States and Mexico, would now decide their own futures and the future of the Rio Grande area. One of the most important questions facing the two countries was who would control Texas.
That was not an easy decision to make. In Eighteen-Twenty-Three, the Mexican government agreed to permit a group of Americans to live in Texas. Mexico said the Americans, led by Stephen Austin, could stay there permanently.
More Americans settled in Texas. Many people wanted to make Texas a part of the United States. At the same time, more Mexicans wanted to push all Americans out of Texas.
South of the Rio Grande, there were three revolutions in Mexico’s first eight years of independence. North of the river, Americans were more and more unhappy with Mexican rule. In Eighteen-Thirty-Two, Stephen Austin went to Mexico City to ask that Texas become a separate Mexican state.
At this time, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was struggling to gain control of Mexico and become its ruler. He faced a number of rebellions in different parts of the country. General Santa Anna told Stephen Austin he would make Texas a separate Mexican state. Yet events were moving in another direction.
In Texas, demands for change became demands for independence from Mexico. This led to an invasion across the Rio Grande of thousands of soldiers led by General Santa Anna. He planned to quickly crush the rebellion. As Santa Anna moved his army into Texas in Eighteen-Thirty-Six, a group of Texans signed a document declaring Texas an independent nation.
To answer this, General Santa Anna led a strong attack against a group of rebels near the city of San Antonio. The place they attacked was called The Alamo. There were one-hundred-twenty-eight men in the building defending it against the many thousands of soldiers in Santa Anna’s army. After many days of fighting, the Mexican army broke through the defenses of the Alamo and killed everyone inside.
Santa Anna and his army began a march across Texas. They burned towns and villages. They chased the small army of Texans but were unable to catch them. The Mexican soldiers were tired. The Texans attacked, shouting “Remember the Alamo”. There was a fierce battle. Only forty Mexican soldiers escaped. All the others were killed, wounded or captured. General Santa Anna was among those captured.
General Santa Anna met with Texas leader, General Sam Houston. The Mexican leader agreed that in return for his freedom Texas would become independent from Mexico. He agreed that the Rio Grande would be the border between Texas and Mexico. General Santa Anna went home to Mexico City. The new Republic of Texas looked to the future.
The future was not all good. President Santa Anna declared war on Texas eight years after his defeat by the Texan army. However, he never carried out his threat of war. He was removed from office. And the next year, Eighteen-Forty-Five, the United States government invited Texas to become a state.
This was not acceptable to Mexico. War began. In Eighteen-Forty-Six, Mexican soldiers crossed the Rio Grande. The Americans quickly defeated the invading army and began moving into Mexico, toward Mexico City. Other American soldiers began moving west into New Mexico. The government in Santa Fe quickly surrendered.
In February Eighteen-Forty-Eight, Mexico surrendered to the American army. The Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo declared the border between the United States and Mexico to be along the Rio Grande and then west to the Pacific Ocean. The new land belonging to the United States included New Mexico, Arizona and Upper California. For all this territory, the United States paid Mexico fifteen-million dollars.
Becoming a part of the United States presented both political and social problems for Texas. The state of Texas permitted slavery. Governor Sam Houston opposed joining the Confederate states that also permitted slavery and were seeking to separate from the United States. He was removed from office. Texas joined the southern states in the Civil War. After the northern forces won the long war and the country united, Texas was re-admitted as a state.
At this time, the expanding population of the Rio Grande country faced other problems. Criminals from both sides of the Rio Grande attacked the people. Also, Indian tribes such as the Apache and Comanche resisted the spread of white settlers into their lands. The settlers were destroying the Indians’ way of life. The Indians attacked and killed many white settlers. By Eighteen Seventy Four, government troops had forced many Indian tribes out of their traditional lands.
The United States army also was ordered to take action to stop criminal activities along the Rio Grande. It was given permission to chase criminals across the river into Mexico. Also, the army acted to stop Indian attacks.
Over time, fighting ended in the Rio Grande Valley and the surrounding territory. The United States and Mexico developed friendly relations.
Yet tensions continue along the border between the two countries today. One problem is illegal immigrants. The other is illegal drugs. No one knows for sure how many people cross the border from Mexico to the United States. Officials have estimated that the number is in the millions.
The illegal immigrants come from Mexico, and from Central and South America. Most come to the United States for economic or political reasons. A few come to sell illegal drugs. Many of the illegal drugs in the United States are transported across the border.
The river itself can create problems too. The Rio Grande flows where it wants to flow. Dams, canals and other man-made devices cannot always control it.
Most of the water from the upper Rio Grande does not flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Almost all of the water is completely used for agriculture and by cities and towns along the upper part of the river.
Down the river, many springs and several other rivers flow into the Rio Grande, renewing the water supply. Two major dams create electric power and provide water for agriculture and other needs of people living along the lower part of the river.
Yet man-made controls do not prevent changes in the path the river takes in many places. Some changes make it difficult to know exactly where the border is between the United States and Mexico. The great river, the Rio Grande, continues to flow across the land and through the history of two countries.
This Special English program was written by Oliver Chanler and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Steve Ember.
And this is Shirley Griffith. Listen again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.