David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
The Liberators: Filibustering Expeditions into Mexico, 1848 – 1862, and the Last Thrust of Manifest Destiny. By Joseph Allen Stout, Jr. Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1973. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Map. 202 pages. $7.95.
Reviewed by Bert M. Fireman, Lecturer in History, Arizona State University. Co-author with Madeline F. Paré of Arizona Pageant and Arizona Adventure.
Viewed from Mexico City, the northwest frontier of Mexico long has been a breeding ground of internal as well as international trouble. Several revolutions started along the United States frontier which became a convenient refuge for dissident Mexicans evading prosecution for political protest, heresy, and revolt; the mines of Chihuahua and Sonora and the custom house at Guaymas provided funds to buy arms and pay conscripts; and across the border often lurked soldiers of fortune and adventurers willing to join in overt acts against Mexican authority.
One particular phase of this long pageant of strife on the U. S. border is the subject of Liberators…which unfortunately bears hardly at all upon freedom-seekers in the heroic sense but mainly upon a half-dozen filibusters and colonizers who were villains of the borderlands in mid-19th century.
There is very little new in the book. It is largely a rehash of material well-known to historians and buffs of the Mexican frontier and the American Southwest. To new readers of regional history it brings an acceptable vista of two Frenchmen and four Americans who provided the residents of Sonora and Baja California a welcome respite from native trouble makers.
As an account of foreign invaders it is heavily larded with background information about the turbulence in Mexican political-military circles in the hectic half-century after the Republic was created. The professional historian would gladly trade this familiar review for more depth and detail about the six adventurers who have been miscalled liberators.
The main character in the book is Henry A. Crabb, whose misfortune has yet to be better told than by the late revered Professor Robert H. Forbes, whose Crabb’s Filibustering Expedition into Sonora, 1857 (Tucson: Arizona Silhouettes, 1952) has been drawn upon heavily to retell the story. Sadly, Professor Stout has repeated the apocryphal canard of hogs eating the bodies of the executed adventurers and of Crabb’s head “floating” in a jar of mescal, the latter impossible as anybody would know who has observed specimens preserved in laboratories and morgues.
In relating the Crabb story, the author has minimized—where he should have emphasized—the essential fact that inner turmoil and unrest in Mexico induced Mexican citizens to invite interventionists to their land as investors, entrepreneurs, technicians, or colonists, as well as military allies and further, as in Crabb’s case, political changes at home brought the visitors violence instead of the welcome mat that induced them to cross the frontier.
The author stumbled over one individual, Acting U. S. Consul C. P. Stone at Guaymas in 1859, who offered unmined possibilities of being one of the most revealing intruders of them all. Charles Pomeroy Stone, West Point graduate and former San Francisco banker, reached Sonora as head of a party of engineers of the Jecker Company, a Swiss-French banking firm, which had a contract to survey northwest Mexico as a prelude to major settlement efforts. When his Mexican project fizzled on the heels of the French invasion of Sonora, Stone stuck around Sonora for a while, becoming involved in others’ troubles, but during the Civil War as a brigadier general helped defend Washington, D. C. from the Confederate advance. He found his greatest success as a soldier of fortune in faraway Egypt, where the Khedive Ismail hired him as Chief of Staff to develop an army of 18,000 men.
The map drawn for the book is another excellent original by cartographer Don Bufkin of Tucson, but no explanation is given for the failure to include the important site of Sonoyta where Crabb first met trouble crossing the border, Saric where Raousset-Boulbon’s party holed up for months, or Rayón where the other French filibuster met a mysterious death. The graphics failed again on page 54 where a seaport labeled Guaymas will readily be recognized, instead, as San Diego, California.
For the uninitated [sic], the book will be a welcome beginning; for the academic and scholarly reader it suffers for what it is, a rewrite job with a minimum of new material.