May 16, 1824 - October 30, 1894
Juan Nepomuceno “Cheno” Cortina was born on May 16, 1824 in Camargo, Tamaulipas, the son of Estéfana Goseacochea and Trinidad Cortina, a prominent ranching family.
In 1846 General Mariano Arista, commander of the Army of the North, directed the 22-year-old Cortina to form a brigade of irregular cavalry in an attempt to stop General Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation from marching south from Corpus Christi. Cortina enlisted the local rancheros and organized the “Tamaulipas” brigade, which he commanded in the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.
Like many norteños, Cortina had little affection for the central government in Mexico City, and as Taylor’s army moved south to Monterey, he ceased to play a role in the defense of the homeland.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo proved ruinous for the Cortina family, whose vast estate ranged along both sides of the Rio Grande. Homesteaders considered the area on the U.S. side to be open range, and Texas authorities in the Brownsville area sided against Cortina. Tensions between Cortina and the Brownsville authorities erupted in July, 1859 in what is known as the First Cortina War. Cortina occupied Brownsville for two days in September, but was defeated later that year by Texas Ranger and U.S. troops at the Battle of Rio Grande City. When Texas seceded from the Union in 1861, Cortina attacked Zapata County. The so-called Second Cortina War ended with his defeat by Confederate forces at the Battle of Carrizo.
Cortina used the French intervention to consolidate his power in Tamaulipas, twice appointing himself governor of that state. Often switching allegiances if it suited his political advantage, Cortina eventually incurred the wrath of both the Juarez and Diaz regimes. Meanwhile, Texas ranchers continued to accuse Cortina of leading raids across the border. Twice arrested by the Mexican government, he would spend his final years in central Mexico, dying in Azcapotzalco, a suburb of the capital, on October 30, 1894.
Thompson, Jerry D. Juan Cortina and the Texas-Mexico frontier, 1859–1877, Texas Western Press, 1994
Thompson, Jerry D. “Juan Cortina and the Texas-Mexico Frontier, 1859-1877,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 98, No. 2, Oct., 1994