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Line in the Sand

Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border

Rachel St. John
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Line in the Sand
    Book Description:

    Line in the Sanddetails the dramatic transformation of the western U.S.-Mexico border from its creation at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 to the emergence of the modern boundary line in the first decades of the twentieth century. In this sweeping narrative, Rachel St. John explores how this boundary changed from a mere line on a map to a clearly marked and heavily regulated divide between the United States and Mexico. Focusing on the desert border to the west of the Rio Grande, this book explains the origins of the modern border and places the line at the center of a transnational history of expanding capitalism and state power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    Moving across local, regional, and national scales, St. John shows how government officials, Native American raiders, ranchers, railroad builders, miners, investors, immigrants, and smugglers contributed to the rise of state power on the border and developed strategies to navigate the increasingly regulated landscape. Over the border's history, the U.S. and Mexican states gradually developed an expanding array of official laws, ad hoc arrangements, government agents, and physical barriers that did not close the line, but made it a flexible barrier that restricted the movement of some people, goods, and animals without impeding others. By the 1930s, their efforts had created the foundations of the modern border control apparatus.

    Drawing on extensive research in U.S. and Mexican archives,Line in the Sandweaves together a transnational history of how an undistinguished strip of land became the significant and symbolic space of state power and national definition that we know today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3863-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    The land border between the United States and Mexico is hard to miss these days. It rises out of the Pacific Ocean in the form of metal pilings that cast a shadow across a beach where families gather and Border Patrol jeeps leave tracks in the sand. It then cuts east across coastal bluffs until a dense tangle of traffic erupts around it at the San Ysidro port of entry. There, helicopters circle overhead and street vendors wind their way through the long lines of cars that wait to pass through an array of electronic scanners and vehicle barriers and...

  5. Chapter One A NEW MAP FOR NORTH AMERICA: Defining the Border
    (pp. 12-38)

    On September 6, 1851, the four highest-ranking members of the Joint United States and Mexican Boundary Commission met on a high desert plain about sixty miles southeast of Tucson. Their respective governments had sent them to survey and mark the new boundary line between the two republics. U.S. boundary commissioner John Russell Bartlett had only arrived on the border earlier that year. The others, Mexican boundary commissioner Pedro García Conde, Mexican surveyor José Salazar Ylarregui, and U.S. surveyor Andrew B. Gray, had been at this work for over two years, during which they completed an arduous survey of the California–...

  6. Chapter Two HOLDING THE LINE: Fighting Land Pirates and Apaches on the Border
    (pp. 39-62)

    In March 1856, as the Joint United States and Mexican Boundary Commission prepared to draft the final maps of the boundary line in Washington, DC, the last Mexican troops pulled out of Tucson. As American settlers raised the U.S. flag, the Mexican soldiers and their families marched south through a storm, headed toward Santa Cruz, just across the new boundary line in Sonora.¹

    The Sonora that they returned to was a state under siege. Apache raiders swept down from the north, attacking cities and outlying settlements. At the same time private armies of French and American adventurers, known as filibusters,...

  7. Chapter Three LANDSCAPE OF PROFITS: Cultivating Capitalism across the Border
    (pp. 63-89)

    On October 25, 1882, a crowd gathered on the border approximately seventy miles south of Tucson to celebrate the joining of the Sonora Railway and the Arizona and New Mexico Railroad at the international boundary line. William Raymond Morley, chief location engineer of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and general manager of the Sonora Railway, had selected the crossing point in Nogales Pass on the Guaymas-Tucson trade route. His wife drove in a ceremonial spike at the boundary line. As the crowd cheered, two engines, one draped in the red, white, and blue of the United States and...

  8. Chapter Four THE SPACE BETWEEN: Policing the Border
    (pp. 90-118)

    By the 1890s John Brickwood’s saloon was among the many buildings that crowded the boundary line between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora. Brickwood’s saloon straddled the border on the aptly named International Street, which ran along the boundary line, its northern edge in U.S. territory and the rest of the road in Mexico. On the sidewalk piled against the building was a mound of stones, the remainder of the boundary monument that marked the border where Brickwood built his business.

    Brickwood’s saloon was strategically positioned to take advantage of the border. The saloon could sell both Mexican cigars and American...

  9. Chapter Five BREAKING TIES, BUILDING FENCES: Making War on the Border
    (pp. 119-147)

    Just after 4 p.m. on August 27, 1918, an unknown man approached the boundary line in Nogales, Arizona. Suspecting that the man was smuggling something, U.S. Customs Inspector A. G. Barber ordered him to halt, but the man continued walking toward Mexican territory where Mexican guards waved him on. Drawing his gun, Barber, a Nogales resident who had left his job as an electrician to become a customs inspector only six months before, repeated his order to halt. Two U.S. soldiers posted nearby also raised their rifles. Across the line, Mexican customs and immigration officers mustered their weapons as well....

  10. Chapter Six LIKE NIGHT AND DAY: Regulating Morality with the Border
    (pp. 148-173)

    On January 30, 1926, Thomas and Carrie Peteet and their two daughters, twenty-six-year-old Clyde and nineteen-year-old Audrey, left their home in San Diego for a week’s vacation in Tijuana. They passed through the border gate at San Ysidro near the spot where only fifteen years before Americans had gathered to watch the Magonista invasion. But like the thousands of American tourists who regularly visited Tijuana’s bars, brothels, casinos, and racetracks in the 1920s, the Peteets were seeking a different kind of thrill. Thoughts of war would have been far from their minds as they drank and gambled, enjoying their vacation...

  11. Chapter Seven INSIDERS/OUTSIDERS: Managing Immigration at the Border
    (pp. 174-197)

    In July 1925, while tourists rushed into Tijuana, Charles Geck, a seventy-three-year-old U.S. citizen who had been living and mining in Sonora for sixteen years, filed an angry complaint with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration. Geck was furious with the chief of the Naco, Arizona, immigration office, Nick D. Collear, who he claimed had detained respectable Mexican women, subjected them to “vulgar and indecent” questioning, and prevented them from crossing the border. When Geck intervened on behalf of one of these women, Collear demanded he produce documents to prove he was a U.S. citizen. When he could not, Collear denied...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 198-208)

    In 2006 the U.S. Congress passed “an Act to establish operational control over the international land and maritime borders of the United States”—an act better known as the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The latest in the U.S. state’s efforts to assert authority over the U.S.-Mexico boundary line, the Secure Fence Act defined “operational control” as “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”¹ It was one piece of a broader government agenda that focused on bulking up national security and increasing border...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 209-248)
    (pp. 249-272)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 273-284)