The Bexar Archives are the Spanish and Mexican records of Texas, assembled in San Antonio during its long history as the capital and principal community of Texas. Both in their volume and breadth of subject matter, the Bexar Archives are the single most important source for the history of Hispanic Texas up to 1836. The Archives, housed at the University of Texas at Austin since 1899, constitute more than eighty linear feet of materials, in a quarter million pages. The documents are rich in sources about the administrative, legal, military, religious, economic, and social life of Texas and surrounding areas from the founding of the presidio of San Antonio de Béxar in 1718 to the independence of Texas from Mexico in 1836.
The Bexar Archives reflect the growth and development of Spanish Texas and Mexican Texas. Earlier documents deal with the affairs of settlers from the Canary Islands, and relations between the military, civil, and missionary communities that constituted San Antonio and other centers. Major topics during the eighteenth century include Indian policy and relations, military affairs, cattle raising, trade, legal proceedings, and exploration and communications. After 1803, the documentation also reflects a growing Anglo-American presence in the area, the development of trade and colonization, and currents of political unrest and revolution. As the affairs of Texas and the region grew in complexity, so does the volume of documentation in the Bexar Archives. Fully half of the collection represents the Mexican period (1821 to 1836).
The University of Texas received the Bexar Archives in 1899 through the efforts of university history professor Lester G. Bugbee. By agreement with the Bexar County Commissioners Court, the university undertook to house, organize, calendar, and translate the collection. Certain land and legal documents were retained in San Antonio for use in county business. Since much of the original order of the Bexar Archives had been disturbed over the years, University of Texas librarians and historians arranged all the documents—whether provincial, municipal, military, or private—into chronological order in the following series:
1. Coahuila y Texas Official Publications, 1826–1835
2. General Governmental Publications, 1730–1836
3. Non-governmental Publications, 1778, 1811–1836
4. General Manuscript Series, 1717–1836
5. Undated and Undated Fragments
The physical arrangement and a corresponding early calendar (1932) provided easy access to the Bexar Archives for such scholars as Eugene C. Barker and Carlos E. Castañeda, who began to make ample use of the Bexar Archives in their research. By the 1930s a systematic translation program had also begun. By the end of 2011, translations existed for the following portions of the archives:
Series I: 1717–1793 (197 volumes)
Series II: 1804–1808 (38 volumes)
Series III: Printed Decrees, 1803–1812 (4 volumes)
The University of Texas greatly expanded access to the Bexar Archives when it microfilmed the entire collection between 1967 and 1971. That project produced 172 reels of film, a corresponding set of published guides, and a new, corrected calendar keyed to microfilm frame numbers. Copies of the microfilm, as well as translations done to date, are now available at major educational institutions nationwide. In the late 1980s, university scholar Adán Benavides compiled a comprehensive name guide to the Bexar Archives (University of Texas Press, 1989), based on all substantive documents as they are entered in the microfilm edition.
The university’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, where the Bexar Archives are housed, has now created the Bexar Archives Online, a web-based resource that joins digital images of the original Spanish documents with the corresponding English-language translations. Through a series of TexTreasures grants beginning in 2009, the project has digitized thousands of original documents covering the period 1717–1801, as well as the 37-volume Bexar Archives Calendar, which describes every document in the collection. Researchers may browse, by year, the originals and their translations, compare an original and its translation side-by-side, or do full-text searching of the translations. They may also search document descriptions from the Bexar Archives Calendar, or download a digital reproduction of the calendar itself. Finally, the Bexar Archives Online project has begun integrating the indexes of places and names found at the end of each translation volume, and offering that index as an online access point.