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James P. Spencer
Portrait of Juan N. Cortina
Portrait of Juan N. Cortina. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

LAS ÁGUILAS NEGRAS [THE BLACK EAGLES]. Also referred to as the Eagles, Las Águilas Negras was the name given by Juan Cortina to his private spy network and militia, which was active from 1859 to 1875. Seeing himself as the protector of Tejanos in South Texas against legal harassment and abuse at the hands of Anglo Texans, Cortina first organized his militia in the fall of 1859. Following the defeat of a Mexican militia company from Matamoros, Mexico, and a militia of twenty Brownsville citizens called the Brownsville Tigers near Rancho del Carmen, more volunteers joined Cortina’s militia. Given the name Las Águilas Negras, the militia was predominantly Mexicans, including sixty men who escaped from the jail in Ciudad Victoria in Tamaulipas, Cortina’s militia also contained a number of Tejanos, some of whom were well-educated and came from landowning families in the area, and eleven Tampacuas Indians from near Reynosa, Mexico. Since the militia counted among their ranks Mexican army veterans, including Cortina, and army deserters, Las Águilas Negras were well-trained and disciplined. The militia also benefited from the patronage of sympathetic Mexicans in Reynosa and Matamoros, as well as the Matamoros-based English mercantile firm of Hale and Company, who provided money, provisions, and weapons. Las Águilas Negras were armed with Sharps rifles and pistols and had in their possession a cannon and a howitzer obtained after they were left in the field by fleeing Brownsville Tigers and Mexican militiamen. Cortina’s espionage network and fighters engaged in militant activities throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley, but Las Águilas Negras ceased in 1875 when Juan Cortina was captured by the Mexican government.


Jerry Thompson, Cortina: Defending the Mexican Name in Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, James P. Spencer, "LAS ÁGUILAS NEGRAS [THE BLACK EAGLES]," accessed July 05, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qya01.

Uploaded on March 11, 2020. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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