Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler have given us a history tour de force with their new book “The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906-1920”. Published by University of New Mexico Press, this recently released 488-page study is much more than simply an El Paso history as the title suggests. It is Texas history and Mexican history skillfully blended with U.S. diplomatic history as well. Secret War is for anyone interested in the Texas border and the Mexican revolution in those dangerous but intriguing times. The 107 pages of notes, bibliography and index is a valuable scholarly resource by itself. The research in Secret War is stellar and the book is so well written it is impossible to discern that two writers actually penned it. Secret War isn’t one of those books the reader cannot put down before finishing. When I picked up my copy at Cactus Book Shop in San Angelo, I told Felton Cochran I would read it and have a review posted in a few days as is usually the case with a new read. Two weeks and more than one yellow highlighter later, I finished Secret War and find it not easy to express how impressed I am with this work. Perhaps I should simply say I think it the best and most finely detailed Texas-Mexican history I have ever read.
Secret War is fascinating with all the exciting elements of a world-class work of fiction but this is not an invented story. Here you will find real Texas Rangers, Federal agents, inventive smugglers, filibusters, spies and counter spies, traitors, thieves and murderers, gunrunners, secret codes, counterfeiters, shyster lawyers, and Mexican revolutionists from Victor Ochoa to Pancho Villa. It should be the goal of quality historians to interpret the past to the issues of today and inform the reader of why the past cannot be ignored. In this, Harris and Sadler truly demonstrate their work to be outstanding.
While the book offers an impressive bibliography, one most important collection of documents in the National Archives has finally emerged as being vital to the study of Texas and the Mexican revolution. This is RG 65, the Records of the [Federal] Bureau of Investigation, 1908-1922. It contains some 80,000 pages of documents.
I first encountered these documents many years ago when I had the opportunity to do some research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Thanks to some funding from the Permian Historical Society, I went to D.C. in 1988 to research the records of the Big Bend Military District in RG 391, the Records of the United States Army Mobile Units 1821-1942. These include the official reports and records of the U.S. Cavalry stationed in the Big Bend during the so called “bandit raid” years. In the first few days of my D.C. research, I went through the Big Bend records in some ten or so boxes and made copies of those things I found of interest. But keep in mind, these are the official records that include things like troop movements and dates, logistical records such as the construction of the border outposts, and returns and casualties. My gut said there must be more and thanks to the advice of a astute archivist, I traveled to the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland. It was here that I found the classified and secret documents concerning the U.S. Cavalry actions in the Big Bend. At the time, many of these documents were classified even though more than seventy years had passed. While I was permitted to read most of these documents, each individual piece of paper I wanted to copy had to be examined and declassified by a military officer. The first day, a U.S. Army Captain only approved for copy a very few documents probably because he didn’t want to make things known that might be embarrassing to the army. My luck changed the following day when a U.S. Navy officer approved everything I found. I came back to Texas with two suitcases full of documents that have been the basis of my research of Big Bend military since that time.
Over the years, I have made every effort to encourage our Texas universities and archives to obtain the now declassified and available on microfilm RG-65 for study. Usually the only response I get is a blank stare from a professor or archivist who explain there is no funding available for such and must have thought, what is he talking about? Harris and Sadler have made it obvious they have access to RG-65. I know of no institution in Texas that has or is interested in RG-65.
“The Secret War in El Paso” is in stock and available at Cactus Book Shop in San Angelo and Front Street Books in Alpine. For more information or to purchase Secret War go to:
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