An article earlier this summer hinted that the defining factor in the development of Texas chili is chili powder, but the ingredient that makes chili a Tex-Mex dish is cumin, a spice imported from the Old World. Chili con carne is the crowning achievement of San Antonio cuisine. Most historians date its origin to 1880, with the rise of the “chili queens” that sold the dish to the public in outdoor stands. But that date is an function of the name chili con carne existing in published sources. A stew of meat and chili peppers had been around long before that. So how do you define chili con carne in order to find its origin? An article at Smithsonian gives some of the conflicting origin stories, including one that goes back as far as an uprising in 1813. It was another in the long line of wars fought over Texas.
Most of that, save for the two post-San Jacinto Mexican incursions, is well known. Far fewer people remember the troubles of 1811 and 1813, even though the latter of those conflicts featured the bloodiest battle ever fought on Texas soil, and, according to San Antonio tradition, produced the first Chili Queen.
Were it not for the fact that the (partially) American side lost in ignominious fashion, movies would have been made about the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition of 1812 to 1813.
Encouraged by the near-success of the 1811 Casas Revolt in San Antonio, and with covert support from Washington, D.C., Spanish Texan revolutionaries traveled to Louisiana and enlisted Anglo and Louisiana Creole soldiers of fortune in a joint “Republican Army of the North” to sever Texas from Madrid for good. (The Spanish and Anglo contingents had different plans—the former wanted Texas as part of a free Mexico, while the latter preferred annexation to the U.S., or perhaps an independent republic as envisioned by Aaron Burr. It seems both sides agreed to set that matter aside until they had seized Texas.)
And from there is born a love story, when a wealthy young Louisiana Creole fell for a teenager from a prominent San Antonio family. Read that story and how Jesusita de la Torre became the first of the “chili queens” at Smithsonian. -Thanks, WTM!