The Rio Grande Valley, home to balmy weather, subtropical species, and lots of wintering Texans, spent a brief period of time as a renegade Mexican nation. Although never fully recognized (a condition not unfamiliar to the neighboring members of the Republic of Texas who were engaged in their own battle for Independence from Mexico), the Republic of the Rio Grande defined its new confederation as the area encompassing Tamaulipas and Coahuila northward to the Nueces and Medina Rivers. The breakaway nation, courtesy of Federalist leaders in northern Mexico unhappy with President Santa Anna, included a south Texas region already in dispute, the area between the Rio Grande River and the Nueces. The Republic of Texas’ own president, Mirabeau Lamar, considered the new Federalist republic a benefit to the Texas claim on the region and a buffer against further Mexican aggression. The Texan and his Congress had already determined that the Rio Grande served as southern border of the Texas republic, a cause not embraced by Santa Anna.
Encouraging dissension within the ranks of the hostile, and neighboring, nation could only help move the border determination towards permanency. Publicly, Lamar remained conspicuously neutral regarding the conflict, privately encouraging members of the Texas military to enlist in the Federalists’ army, but the Republic of the Rio Grande lasted as an independent nation for less than a year. In that time, between January 17 and November 6, 1840, Laredo served as its capital and the home of Bartolome Garcia, rancher and mayor of Laredo, served as its capitol building. Today, the house is one of the community’s oldest surviving structures, located on the historic San Agustin Plaza in downtown Laredo. The classic Mexican vernacular structure is designated a Texas Historic Landmark and is now home to the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum. Inside, visitors may explore memorabilia from the river Republic era and tour three restored rooms, including an office and parlor, bedroom, and kitchen, all portraying a classic residence of the 1840s. While the Federalists lost their battle for independence, Texas did not and, during the road to statehood, the Rio Grande River became the state’s southernmost border, encompassing some of the most compelling historic sites (and best winter climate) in the country.