Rio Grande

views updated May 23 2018

Rio Grande

Rio Grande, a river that rises in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado and flows south past Santa Fe and Albuquerque as it bisects New Mexico. Near El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, it gradually bends and begins a southeasterly flow toward Brownsville, Texas, and, finally, to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. The 1845 annexation of Texas by the United States precipitated a boundary dispute with Mexico, in which Mexico maintained that the Nuences River (to the north of the Rio Grande) formed the southern border of Texas. Both sides amassed troops to defend their claims, and the 24 April 1846 clash at Carricitos convinced the U.S. Congress to vote for war (the Mexican-American War). Today, the river forms the boundary between Mexico, where it is known as Río Bravo, and the United States, between El Paso and the Gulf of Mexico.

Although it extends 1,885 miles and drains an immense region, the Rio Grande has become a mere trickle in some places, or is entirely dry. Irrigation demands and the needs of increasing populations along its banks have siphoned off any excess flow. The upper Rio Grande in New Mexico was settled by the Spanish as early as the seventeenth century. In recent years, the populations of cities along the Mexican side of the river have mushroomed as manufacturers take advantage of low Mexican wages and proximity to U.S. markets to set up Maquiladoras (assembling plants). In the past several decades, the Rio Grande has been the final obstacle for hundreds of thousands of Mexican and Central American immigrants looking for work in the United States or fleeing war and poverty in their own countries.

See alsoChamizal Conflict; United States-Mexico Border.


Paul Horgan, Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History, 2 vols. (1954).

Pat Kelley, River of Lost Dreams: Navigation on the Rio Grande (1986).

Additional Bibliography

Kearney, Milo, and Anthony K. Knopp Studies in Rio Grande Valley History. Brownsville: University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, 2005.

Los Caminos del Río: the Roads of the River: Legacies of the Borderlands. Austin: Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Historical Commission, 2004.

Westerhoff, Paul. The U.S.-Mexican Border Environment: Water Issues along the U.S.-Mexican Border. San Diego, CA: San Diego State University Press; Tempe AZ: Herberger Center for Design Excellence, College of Architecture and Environmental Design, Arizona State University, 2000.

                                     J. David Dressing

Rio Grande

views updated May 09 2018


RIO GRANDE, a North American river, thirteen hundred miles of which form the boundary separating the United States and Mexico. It is the fifth longest river in North America. It rises in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado and flows generally southward through New Mexico until it reaches El Paso, Texas. It then flows generally to the southeast until it empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico.

After the Louisiana Purchase, American expansionists claimed the Rio Grande as the southern and western border of the territory covered by that purchase, but Spain successfully insisted on the Sabine River as the border. After Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, numerous American colonies sprang up in Texas. Still, dispute over the Texas-Mexican border was one of the main causes of the Texas Revolution in 1835–1836.

The Texas Republic maintained that the Rio Grande constituted its southern and western boundaries. The United States inherited those claims with the annexation of Texas in 1845, but Mexico's unwillingness to accept the river as the boundary was an immediate cause of the Mexican-American War. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war, recognized the river as an international border.

The Rio Grande is not important as a trade route, but its waters have long been important for irrigation in the arid southwest. In prehistoric times, the Pueblo of New Mexico built elaborate irrigation systems. In modern times, irrigation water from the Rio Grande supports the commercially important citrus and truck farm regions in the Rio Grande Valley in both Texas and Mexico. Cooperation between the two countries has resulted in various irrigation and flood-control projects, the most spectacular being the vast Amistad Dam.


Francaviglia, Richard, and Douglas W. Richmond, eds. Dueling Eagles: Reinterpreting the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846–1848. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2000.

Kelley, Pat. River of Lost Dreams: Navigation on the Rio Grande. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

Rivera, José, A. Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.

Donald W.Hunt/a. e.

See alsoGuadalupe Hidalgo, Treaty of ; Rivers ; Spain, Relations with .

Rio Grande

views updated Jun 08 2018

Rio Grande (Rio Bravo del Norte) River in North America. It rises in the San Juan mountains of sw Colorado, USA, and flows s through New Mexico. It forms the border between Texas and Mexico, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico just e of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico. One of North America's longest rivers, it is unnavigable and is used for irrigation and hydroelectricity. Length: c.3035km (1885mi).

Rio Grande

views updated May 11 2018

Rio Grande ★★★ 1950

The last entry in Ford's cavalry trilogy following “Fort Apache” and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” A U.S. cavalry unit on the Mexican border conducts an unsuccessful campaign against marauding Indians. The commander of the lonely outpost, Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (Wayne), plays no favorites when his only son, Jeff (Jarman Jr.), arrives as a new recruit and is soon followed by Yorke's estranged wife, Kathleen (O'Hara). Featuring an excellent Victor Young score and several songs by the Sons of the Pioneers. 105m/B VHS, DVD . John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Ben Johnson, Claude Jarman Jr., Harry Carey Jr., Victor McLaglen, Chill Wills, J. Carrol Naish; D: John Ford; W: James Kevin McGuinness; C: Bert Glennon; M: Victor Young.