Way down south, directly on the pointed tip of a very large state, is Brownsville, Texas. A Spanish speaking border town, Brownsville has a rich Mexican heritage with tons of excellent TexMex restaurants, a world-class zoo, and the only National Park Site dedicated to the Mexican American War. Just six miles from the Mexico border, Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park preserves the site of the first major battle of the U.S. Mexican War.
Mexico never accepted the loss of Texas resulting from the Texas Revolution. When Texas became the 28th state of the United States, Mexico challenged the annexation, particularly the boundary of the new state. U.S. President Polk campaigned on a promise to extend the United States to the Pacific Ocean. Polk saw Mexico’s balk at Texas’ annexation as an opportunity to fulfill his promises. He sent General Zachary Taylor and 4,000 soldiers to Texas. Many Americans challenged Texas’ claim of the Rio Grande and President Polk risked criticism and loss of favor with the American voting public. Polk ordered Taylor to stop at the Rio Grande River where the American troops faced Mexican General Mariano Arista’s Army of the North from across the disputed boundary. Polk’s plan was to provoke the Mexican army into crossing the river which could be portrayed as an invasion into America. Polk’s plan was successful. Arista, believing that the U.S. troops were on Mexican soil, marched his troops across the Rio Grande. Eleven U.S. soldiers were killed and Polk seized the opportunity to push for war. On May 13, 1846, Congress voted to declare war on Mexico and the United States and Mexico entered a two-year conflict that ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty forced Mexico to accept the Rio Grande River as their boundary with the U.S. Mexico also had to sell the vast land west of Texas. Polk fulfilled his dream of expanding the borders of the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Today the Mexican/American War can be explored at Palo Alto. A film in the Visitor Center explains the importance of Polk’s strategies as well as the resulting conflict. Excellent maps portray the land acquired from Mexico. A short walk along a paved path leads to the Palo Alto Battlefield where lines of American and Mexican flags wave in the wind revealing the positions of both troops.
Experiencing Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site takes only about two hours. However, the Battlefield represents two years of conflict between two very different cultures. The conclusion of the conflict resulted in a much larger, much expanded United States and added to the various cultures represented in a diverse America.