Local Borders: Mexicans’
Uncertain Role in the
United States
Martin Amador took full advantage of the economic opportunities on
the nineteenth-century U.S.-Mexican border.∞ Based in southern New
Mexico’s Mesilla Valley, Amador operated a number of lucrative busi-
nesses, including a freight-hauling enterprise from Chihuahua to Santa
Fe and a major hotel located on Water Street in the center of the Ameri-
can town of Las Cruces, New Mexico. By the time of his death, in 1903, he
was a well-known businessman with important cross-border commer-
cial connections, including his daughter’s marriage into the powerful
Terrazas family in Chihuahua.≤
At the height of his economic success Amador unexpectedly found
himself defending his claims to being American and his status in the
region. In 1898 the merchant came to the U.S. Federal Court in New
Mexico with a fairly banal request for compensation for horses and other
supplies he had lost to Mescalero-Apache raiders in the Mesilla Valley.
At the time, federal troops had the duty of protecting American property
from ‘‘Indian raids.’’≥ When the army failed in its task, U.S. citizens could
request compensation from the federal treasury. Government agents
who contested such claims conventionally attempted to prove that the
claimant had exaggerated the actual cost or the circumstances of the loss.
The U.S. attorney John Stansbury took a different approach in Ama-
dor’s case, however, arguing that the merchant was not an American
citizen and therefore lacked the right to file a claim for governmental
recompense. Although Amador had a long-standing reputation in the
region as a loyal American, including service as probate judge and county
treasurer, Stansbury asserted that Amador could not be a legal citizen of
the United States because he was ‘‘Mexican.’’∂ In the U.S. attorney’s
framing, Mexican identity was an issue of race; as a Mexican, Amador
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