Spatial Legacies in the Borderlands: Land Speculation and the U.S. Colonization of Northwest Mexico, 1853–1934
AuthorUrias Espinoza, Cristina
AdvisorBeezley, William H.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
EmbargoRelease after 08/31/2028
AbstractThis dissertation explores the process by which U.S. expansionism transformed northwest Mexico between 1853 and 1934. By focusing on the stories of farmers and religious groups seeking cheap land, mine prospectors looking for rich ores, and U.S. capitalists pursuing profit through land speculation, this study examines the ways they redirected the land market and U.S. immigration south of the border. It argues that this phenomenon created a spatial legacy in the borderlands as eighteen U.S. colonies emerged within the states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Sinaloa, and the Territory of Baja California. Building on the existing historiography and drawing from a vast corpus of documents, including diaries, memoirs, letters, reports, promotional pamphlets, maps, and newspapers located in twenty archives in the U.S and Mexico, this study presents the first comprehensive analysis of the U.S. colonies in northwest Mexico. Also, it advances borderlands history in two ways. First, it uncovers silenced voices of prospectors, land speculators, and migrant families from the historic record. Secondly, by emphasizing their narratives, it shows the feelings and motivations of their trajectories, which complicates existing interpretations that privileged the influx of U.S. capital and obscured U.S. immigration into Mexico. This story of encounters and transformations has two parts. The first part traces the patterns of land speculation practices that prompted U.S. settlement in northwestern Mexico from the mid-nineteenth century to the Mexican Revolution. Chapter One presents how American mapmakers and surveyors systematically explored and collected valuable information on the northwest’s geography and natural resources because they foresaw its potential richness for mining and agriculture. Chapter Two shows how the U.S.-based land companies fulfilled plans for land control by displacing indigenous peoples and contracting with Mexican officials’ under the 1883 colonization law, which granted companies permission to acquire ‘vacant lands’ and place U.S. settlers in Mexico. Chapter Three explains how U.S. companies’ and promoters’ land selling practices attracted ‘land-hungry Americans’ to the new land market in northwest Mexico. It discloses how colorful maps, images, books, pamphlets, and travel reports lured people’s imagination by depicting the region as the next frontier or ‘The California of Mexico.’ Chapter Four unpacks U.S. colonization stories in Mexico and the transformation of the built environment. It reveals the links between the U.S. economic crisis and Mexico’s colonization booms, as thousands of distressed farmers, mainly from the Great Plains, were attracted by Mexico’s cheap land and crossed the border, searching for a new frontier of opportunities. The second part presents how the Mexican Revolution disrupted the land market dynamics and speculation practices. Chapter Five shows how stories of destruction and chaos triggered fears leading to the exodus of colonists and the call of land investors for U.S. intervention. It concludes that the U.S. colonization of northwest Mexico was a direct response to opening a new land market south of the border, a land market systematically created by U.S. capitalists for U.S. purchasers. Thus, when the revolutionary outbreak disrupted the region, it halted U.S. migration as well as the public interest in acquiring Mexican land, causing confidence and American property values to crash. Ultimately, warfare, Mexico’s 1917 Constitution, and new land taxation squandered economic prospects, demarcating a limit to U.S. expansion in Mexico. This research reveals a forgotten chapter of the history of U.S. expansionism and migration south of the border. It shows how the quest for land and land speculation practices moved powerful desires and emotions that reshaped Mexico’s northwest social, cultural, and physical landscape leaving behind a legacy in the borderlands.
Degree ProgramGraduate College