Life and Death on the Border 1910–1920

Texans had divergent reactions to revolution in Mexico.

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In the second decade of the 20th century, Texans read headline news of a “great war” in Europe, while at the same time a rebellion closer to home was having a more immediate impact on those living along the borders of Texas and Mexico.   

More than 1,200 of the 1,900 miles of the border shared between the U.S. and Mexico are located along Texas boundary lines. Inhabitants in the 19th century included land-owning families of Mexican descent who wielded economic and political power. An influx of Anglo settlers, speculators, and developers, using unscrupulous and often illegal tactics, displaced original land owners. When the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, racial tensions escalated as fear spread. Among those sent to control the area and purportedly make the border safe for settlers were the Texas Rangers.

The violence is well known among historians, but it is little known among the broader public... El Paso Times (Read more.)

The reputation of the Rangers as upstanding enforcers of the law has often been seen as beyond reproach, assisted by the romanticism of the rough and heroic image of the Texas Ranger that first became popular in the 1930s and remains so into the present day. The exhibition's in-depth analysis exposes the Rangers’ participation in and instigation of racially-motivated violence during this period of westward development by the United States along the border region. Yet, it also reveals the significant steps that Mexican Americans took to fight for their civil rights and justice, and use artistic expression to bring attention to their cause.

In the Bullock exhibit, the truth is beginning to be told.San Antonio Express-News

This exhibition is currently traveling. Learn more from Refusing to Forget.

Inside the Exhibition

Life and Death on the Border 1910-1920 re-examines historic events in Texas during which some of the worst state-sanctioned racial violence in the U.S. occurred. Photographs, postcards, court documents, and rare artifacts, including a silver-trimmed saddle belonging to Francisco "Pancho" Villa all tell the story. Family heirlooms, field tools, Texas Ranger artifacts, and a decoded page of the Zimmerman telegram sent to Mexico from Germany help illustrate the international context, cultures, and life along the Texas Mexico border at the turn of the 20th century. The search for justice inspired a renaissance of Tejano literature, art, and music, and influenced the creation of the Mexican American civil rights movement. Illustrations, posters, paintings, and a music listening station portray the formation of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in 1929 and the Chicano movement that flourished in the 1970s.

Selected Artifacts

Related Media Resources

Música Tejana

Rooted in Mexican heritage and incorporating styles, beats, and instruments from around the world, música Tejana captures both the history and the enduring passion of the Texas-Mexico border.

Texas Story Project

In two special editions of the Texas Story Project, exhibition scholars share their family connections to the history of this period.


Banner image courtesy Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Support for the Bullock Museum's exhibitions and education programs provided by the Texas State History Museum Foundation.