UTRGV professor to discuss mixed race colonies along the Rio Grande

South Texas is known to be a predominantly Hispanic region but there was a time in American history when that culture became a place of refuge for mixed race families from the southern states. The Museum of South Texas History welcomes Roseann Bacha-Garza, the CHAPS coordinator and a UTRGV professor, to present “The Underground Railroad through South Texas to Mexico: Emancipated Slaves and Mixed Race Colonies Along the Rio Grande” on Sunday, Nov. 19, at 2 p.m.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, families of mixed races felt a crescendo of animosity building throughout the southern states. While they were still free to escape, several of these families packed their belongings and made their way to a place where they could settle in peace. The unique characters within these mixed race families sought a new beginning as frontier pioneers along the natural border known as the Rio Grande. They merged with Anglo businessmen and Mexican-Texan families and were also known to have assisted escaped and/or fugitive slaves safely across the newly formed international border in search of sanctuary in Mexico.

Most of the pathways of the Underground Railroad lead north into Canada. However, there was also movement through South Texas and into Mexico. Lured by the fact that slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1829, slaves were able to achieve freedom by slipping over the Rio Grande and settling in colonies throughout northern Mexico. By crossing the treacherous “Nueces Strip” and then avoiding slave catchers and bounty hunters, several slaves successfully slipped away into freedom in Mexico where they settled in small colonies, learned to speak Spanish and made a modest living.

Bacha-Garza is the Program Manager of the Community Historical Archaeology Project with Schools (CHAPS) Program at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Outlined in her thesis, “San Juan and its Role in the Transformation of the Rio Grande Valley” is the succession of Spanish land grantees, displaced Civil War families, Anglo entrepreneurs and Mexican Revolution refugees and their migration to San Juan at various stages of municipal development.

Bacha-Garza co-edited several books including War and Peace on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876 (with Russell Skowronek and Christopher Miller 2018), The Native American Peoples of South Texas and From Porciones to Colonias: The Power of Place and Community-Based Learning in K-12 Education. She and the San Juan Economic Development Corporation authored the book Images of America: San Juan (Arcadia, 2010) which won Preservation Texas’s Heritage Education Award. All of these publications can be purchased at the Museum Store.

Sunday Speakers Series is included in the fee for regular museum admission. FRIENDS of the Museum are admitted free as a benefit of FRIENDship.

This program is made possible with generous support from the Carmen C. Guerra Endowment. Mrs. Guerra was deeply committed to supporting educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley. This named endowment was created at the museum by her family to honor her memory and to continue her commitment to providing opportunities for education to the community.