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Tyler County’s Fort Terán proves immigration debate is long lasting

  • May 6, 2016

Immigration has been a hot topic this election season.

However, way before Republican presidential candidate He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s comments on Mexican in the U.S. and the subsequent protests against his remarks and before the Rio Grande was the border between Mexico and Texas, a part of the Neches River in Tyler County was the site of immigration tension on the border of what was Mexico’s Texas territory.

The remote part of the Neches River that borders Tyler, Jasper, and Angelina counties was at one time a bustling crossroads for Native Americans, Mexicans, French, and Americans.

“Here we are at the old Nacogdoches-Oroquisac crossing, and this is also where the Alabama trace and the Coushatta Trace cross,” said Executive Director Jonathan K. Gerland of the The History Center in Diboll. “This was a major road crossing in the days of Spanish and Mexican Texas.”

In the early 1800s, the crossroads was precious to the newly independent Mexican government due to its long-lasting tradition as a massive throughway.

In the summer of 1827, the Mexican government sent General Manuel de Mier y Terán to set-up what we would consider a border control operation.

Meanwhile, there was a garrison of 200 troops was set-up in Nacogdoches that checked passports and did other immigration procedures.

Terán decided to put up a fort on the Neches River called Fort Terán.

“Most likely the fort would have been located just up on the bluff, maybe a little bit off of the river, and it was more of a border patrol station that was manned at night by citizens of the United States,” said Gerland. “And by citizens of Mexico who were guarding against illegal immigration not from Mexico but from the United States.”

In a letter to Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria, the first president of the Mexican Republic,Terán wrote of Nacogdoches and the area: Mexican influence stopped greatly by San Antonio “so much so, that it becomes clear that in this town, that influence is almost nonexistent.”

In 1831, Mexicans began construction on Fort Terán under the watchful eye of Mexican commander, Peter Ellis Bean, an American national.

While nothing remains of Fort Terán now, what we do know about it comes from writings from those who visited like Colonel Jose de las Piedras of Nacogdoches.

The piece of land Fort Terán was on now belongs to business owner and Lufkin city council member Mark Hicks.

“This is something you don’t see anywhere else on the river – very unique to East Texas,” said Hicks.

The Mexican government only kept Fort Terán working for a year before they retreated back to Mexico City.

While Fort Terán only remains in the journals of those who visited, in 1936, state leaders did erect a monument to remember it. It can be found in a Tyler County park.

And myths like Mexican gold buried in a nearby cave do surround the fort. One person died trying to find that mythical gold.

But the details that do remain of Fort Terán shows us that immigration was and always will be a contentious and continual political topic.

“So you know it’s very unique to essentially own a piece of Texas history, really world history, you could almost say,” said Hicks. “Something that’s been traveled for hundreds of years, but it’s something that I like to preserve and see preserved for future generations to see.”

For more on Fort Terán click here.

KTRE fall intern Iris Rios contributed to this story. A special thanks to The History Center in Diboll.

See this article on KTRE

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