Esparza, Carlos (1828–1885)

By: Carlos M. Larralde

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: September 12, 2019

Carlos Esparza, South Texas separatist and supporter of Juan N. Cortina, was born in September 1828 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, to Pedro and Felicidad (Villareal) Esparza. He was privately educated. With his father he managed a ranch twenty miles from Brownsville on the lower Rio Grande. On February 27, 1850, Esparza, his father, Enrique Sánchez, and other citizens of the area attempted to establish a territorial government and separate themselves from the rest of Texas. It was to be named the Territory of the Rio Grande and to be designed to protect the interests of Hispanics. The proposal became politically complicated and was dropped. Also in 1850 Esparza married Francisca García, daughter of Ramón García, who joined him as a guerilla strategist and spy against the Texas Rangers and other enemies of Cortina. Esparza chose his aids for their merit and strict discipline. With Cortina he managed to aid Union and Confederate forces against each other while promoting the Cortinista cause. From 1860 to 1876 he provided military supplies and funds for the Cortinistas. He was to all appearances an ordinary rancher, possessing neither Cortina's striking appearance nor leadership qualities. The eccentric, sharp-tongued Esparza remained Cortina's man in the shadows. Cortina gave him an honorary superintendent's position in Matamoros so that he would have access to city resources and information. In 1873 Esparza was appointed special deputy inspector of hides and animals in Cameron County. Texas Ranger Leander H. McNelly was probably referring to Esparza when he referred on January 24, 1876, to the Cortinistas' "organization...called the 'rural police.' The chief man is owner of a ranch, or the superintendent...He is a civil officer...He sends an alarm to one ranch, and it is sent from ranch to ranch in every direction." After Cortina was arrested in 1875, Esparza retreated to his ranch. Except for his activities as a stockholder with the Rio Grande Railroad Company in Brownsville and other business matters, he became a recluse to avoid criminal charges for his controversial political activities. He also managed to save himself with his witty sayings and business talents. He died on September 28, 1885.

Frank H. Dugan, "The 1850 Affair of the Brownsville Separatists," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 61 (October 1957). Carlos Larralde, Carlos Esparza: A Chicano Chronicle (San Francisco: R&E Research Associates, 1977).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Carlos M. Larralde, “Esparza, Carlos,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 20, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995
September 12, 2019

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