This is a watercolor painting depicting Santos Benavides with his brothers entitled, “Santos Benavides and His Brothers.” The watercolor is by Bruce Marshall who is an artist, writer, and historian. He has produced several paintings that depict events and people from Texas History. In the painting the Benavides brothers are depicted on horseback in Confederate uniforms. In the background the flag of the 33rd Texas Calvary is shown; a flag similar in design to the Texas Flag with a a gold star that has the number “33” in the center of it and around the star it reads, “Texas Calvary.”
Santos Benavides was born in Laredo on November 1, 1823 to a prominent Laredo family. His great-great-grandfather founded Laredo and the family maintained a strong prominence and leading role in the area. Benavides was a successful rancher and merchant, who also distinguished himself politically and militarily. During the Federalist-Centralist wars in the 1830s and 1840s, Benavides fought for the Federalists. The Federalists supported local control for each area, whereas the Centralists wanted the power to be focused in Mexico City. This idea of area rights/state rights was something that Benavides would hold to and fight for throughout his life.
In 1856 Benavides was elected Mayor of Laredo and in 1859 he became the Chief Justice for Webb County. At the completion of the Mexican-American War, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo forced Mexico to recognize the annexation of Texas. When the United States was annexing the Laredo area as part of the treaty, Benavides fought it because he thought it would change the independent nature of the area. When Texas seceded from the United States and joined the Confederate States of America, Benavides and his brothers joined the Confederate Army and served in the 33rd Texas Calvary together during the United States Civil War. Benavides joined the Confederacy because the issue of states’ rights was something he had been fighting for most of his adult life. He enlisted as a Captain and was later promoted to Colonel, though he had turned down a Generalship from the Union. He and his unit put down several revolts against the Confederacy. They also defended Zapata county from an attack on the county seat by Juan Cortina, who was defeated and retreated to Mexico. On March 18, 1864 Benavides defended Laredo with only 42 troops against 200 soldiers of the Union First Texas Cavalry; this is considered his greatest military triumph. He also secured safe passage of cotton from Texas along the Rio Grande to Matamoros when Union forces occupied Brownsville in 1864. During the Civil War he was the highest ranking Mexican American to serve in the Confederacy.
After the end of the Civil War and with the defeat of the Confederacy, Benavides and his brother, Cristobal, continued their lives as merchants and ranchers. Benavides also continued in politics and served in the Texas Legislature three times during 1879 to 1884. He also served as alderman of Laredo for two terms. He still maintained his belief in a non-central form of government and this reflected in all his political dealings. His final act in his political career was to serve as a Texas delegate to the World Cotton Exposition in 1884 in New Orleans. Santos Benavides died in Laredo on November 9, 1891.— By Jennifer McPhail.