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Public Law 102-304

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site Act of 1991, Public Law 102-304, is a federal law, enacted on June 23, 1992, that established the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Site. Located in the lower Rio Grande Valley, north of modern Brownsville, Texas, the site was the location of the first battle of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), on May 8, 1846. At the time of its establishment in 1992, Palo Alto was the first unit of the National Park Service to commemorate the Mexican-American War, a controversial conflict that ended with the American occupation of Mexico City and the cessation to the United States of Mexican lands in modern California and New Mexico.


The Battle of Palo Alto, fought on May 8, 1846, near modern Brownsville, Texas, was the first battle of the Mexican-American War. On April 30, 1846, Mexican federal troops under the command of General Mariano Arista crossed the Rio Grande into the disputed territory east of the river with the intention of attacking American General Zachary Taylor’s forward base, Fort Texas. Taylor, expecting Fort Texas to be invested, took his main force approximately 20 miles east to protect his main supply base, Fort Polk, leaving 500 men, under Major Jacob Brown, to garrison the forward base. Arista’s investment of Fort Texas began on May 3 and continued for several days, during which time Major Brown was mortally wounded. On May 7 Taylor departed Fort Polk, on the coast near Port Isabel, and began to move west towards the relief of Fort Texas. Arista, given timely intelligence of Taylor’s departure, moved his main force to block Taylor along the Port Isabel Road. The two armies met the next day, May 8, when Taylor’s columns engaged the Mexican line around 2 P.M. The Americans repulsed an initial cavalry charge to their right, and were then able to advance 1,000 yards when a grass fire forced Arista’s line back. After a second failed cavalry charge, Arista advanced on the American left but was driven back by the quick and accurate fire of the American light artillery. Eager to seize the initiative from Arista, a mixed force of infantry and dragoons pressed forward against the retreating Mexican right, eventually driving them from the field. After dusk ended the fighting, Arista began to pull his forces away from the battlefield to a more defensible position in a dry river bed to the south. Taylor pursued the following day, leading to the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, on May 9. [1]

While the battle was a clear American victory and casualties were very light, 5 dead and 43 wounded, two of the dead were the resolute commander of Fort Texas, Major Brown, and the innovative artillery officer Major Samuel Ringgold, whose fast and mobile “flying artillery” would continue to be a major advantage to Taylor throughout the campaign. [2]

Legislative HistoryEdit

The law began its legislative life as House Resolution 1642, (102nd) sponsored by Solomon Ortiz, (D) the Representative for the 27th congressional district of Texas, who introduced it on March 22, 1991. Two months later the House Committee on Natural Resources ordered the creation of a report advising further consideration on the bill. After deliberation, the House approved the bill on June 3, 1991 by a vote of 323-8. The next day, June 4, the bill was approved without changes by the Senate. On June 22, 1992, the bill was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush.[3]

Section OneEdit

The initial section of the law only notes that the measure may be referred to as the “Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site Act of 1991.”[4]

Section TwoEdit

This section contained two specific Congressional findings that helped rationalize the creation of the park. The first finding stated that an earlier Park Service study had “resulted in a precise identification of the location of the Battle of Palo Alto and the area requiring protection,” while the second found that there was “no unit of the National Park System directed to the preservation and interpretation of resources related to the Mexican-American War.” [4]

Section ThreeEdit

The third section of the law officially established the Palo Alto Battlefield Historic Site, “in order,” Congress mandated, “to preserve for the education, benefit, and inspiration of present and future generations the nationally significant site of the first battle of the Mexican-American War, and to provide for its interpretation in such manner as to portray the battle and the Mexican-American War and its related political, diplomatic, military and social causes and consequences.”

This section also established the size and boundaries of the historic area at “approximately 3,400 acres as generally depicted on the map entitled ‘Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site’, numbered 469-80,002, and dated March 1991,” and further ordered the Secretary of the Interior to file a legal description and map of the historic area with House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. [4]

Section FourEdit

This section placed responsibility for the historic site in the hands of the Secretary of the Interior, as the official responsible for the National Park Service, and enjoined the Secretary to “protect, manage, and administer the historic site for the purposes of preserving and interpreting the cultural and natural resources of the historic site and providing for the public understanding and appreciation of the historic site in such a manner as to perpetuate these qualities and values for future generations.” [4]

Section FiveEdit

The law further empowered the Secretary of the Interior to acquire title or interest in any lands need to fill out the boundaries of the historic site by purchase, donation, or exchange. [4]

Section SixEdit

This section authorized the Secretary of the Interior to enter into cooperative agreements with the government of Mexico and owners of Mexican-American war-related properties in the United States “for the purposes of conducting joint research and interpretive planning for the historic site and related Mexican-American War sites.” [4]

Section SevenEdit

Ordered the Secretary of the Interior to submit, within three years, a management plan for the historic site to the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. This plan was to include a resource protection program, a land acquisition plan, plans for visitor use and interpretive programs, a research program, and a general development plan that included roads, trails, markers, structures, and other facilities. [4]

Section EightEdit

Provided for a appropriation of $6,000,000 “for acquisition of lands and interests in lands for purposes of the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site.” [4]

See AlsoEdit

External LinksEdit


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