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Texas Matters: William Hanson, violence, murder and corruption on the Texas Border 1910-1920

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Violence, corruption and a white supremacist agenda on the Texas Mexico border—that was the state of things a century ago.

There was a deliberate campaign to misinform the public that the border was lawless, dangerous and a threat to national security. And this was done to justify the taking of land and political power from Mexican American residents of South Texas.

Orchestrating much of this was one man, William Hanson. He was an agent of chaos who actively spread misinformation about the border in order to create political opportunities for himself and his family to profit from.

An examination of the career of Texas Ranger and immigration official Hanson illustrates the intersections of corruption, state-building, and racial violence in early twentieth century Texas.

At the Texas-Mexico border in the 1910s and 1920s, Hanson was a witness to, and an active agent of, history. As a Texas Ranger captain and then a top official in the Immigration Service, he helped shape how US policymakers understood the border, its residents, and the movement of goods and people across the international boundary. An associate of powerful politicians and oil company executives, he also used his positions to further his and his patrons' personal interests, financial and political, often through threats and extralegal methods.

Hanson’s career illustrates the ways in which legal exclusion, white-supremacist violence, and official corruption overlapped and were essential building blocks of a growing state presence along the border in the early twentieth century. In this book, John Weber reveals Hanson’s cynical efforts to use state and federal power to proclaim the border region inherently dangerous and traces the origins of current nativist politics that seek to demonize the border population. In doing so, he provides insight into how a minor political appointee, motivated by his own ambitions, had lasting impacts on how the border was experienced by immigrants and seen by the nation.

The story is told in the new book, “William Hanson and the Texas Mexico Border: Violence, Corruption and the Marking of the Gatekeeper State."

Guest: John Weber is a historian and author of “William Hanson and the Texas Mexico Border: Violence, Corruption and the Marking of the Gatekeeper State.” He is a San Antonio native and professor of history at Old Dominion University in Norfolk Virginia. It's published by the University of Texas Press.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi