Born about 1740, Jean Baptiste Bousquet was a French Indian trader with deep connections among the Wichitas. He is known for developing peace with the Taovayas in 1785 when Spanish Texas was on the verge of collapse.
A resident of New Orleans, Bousquet first entered Texas from Spanish Louisiana in 1775 as a government-sanctioned trader sent by Athanase de Mézières to live among the Tawakoni Indians. His time among these Native Peoples began tumultuously when another Indian trader, Nicholas (or Nicolás) Chef, killed a Tawakoni woman and her small child. Enraged, the Tawakonis held Bousquet hostage until Chef was eventually brought to justice. In spite of this, Bousquet proved adept at fostering positive relationships with the Tawakonis and other Texas plains tribes.
In 1778 Bousquet found himself once again imprisoned, this time by the Spaniards for reputedly dealing with the Comanches. After roughly eight months, commandant general Teodoro de Croix ordered Bousquet’s release, in May 1779, due to insufficient evidence. Bousquet requested a passport to live in San Antonio, which Domingo Cabello y Robles, the governor of Texas, granted.
Governor Cabello hit a stroke of good luck with Bousquet’s presence in San Antonio. When Athanase de Mézières perished in late 1779, so too perished invaluable connections that Mézières had fostered with Native Peoples in Texas. Left with no way of opening dialogues with the First Peoples who threatened the undermanned presidios and missions, Cabello required people like Bousquet—French-born traders familiar with American Indian customs and languages—to act as emissaries. In November 1780 Cabello sent the trader Nicholas de La Mathe, accompanied by Bousquet and Francisco Hughes, to make peace with the Norteños and to search for signs of English influence among American Indian nations of the North.
Returning in 1782, the expedition had mediocre diplomatic results. The Spaniards had over-promised Native Peoples tribute in the past and had failed to deliver. But for Bousquet personally, the trip resulted in the possibility of fabulous success. The French merchant found signs of precious metal two leagues (approximately six to seven miles) from a Taovayas village. Excited at the prospect of discovering a silver mine, Bousquet returned to the Taovayas soon after and brought back a larger load of metal, had it tested in the mining town of Vallecillo, and received encouraging results.
Therefore in July 1784 Bousquet petitioned Governor Cabello to make another journey to the Taovayas to acquire a substantial quantity of unrefined rock. Embroiled in a war with the Norteños, Cabello refused Bousquet on the grounds of his own safety. But after Bousquet made “endless requests”—insisting that he would not be harmed—Cabello relented and allowed the French trader to make his journey. In addition to bringing back ore, Cabello tasked Bousquet to act as a diplomat: he was to find out why the Norteños continually attacked the Spaniards, admonished the responsible parties, and attempted to bring leaders to San Antonio for peace talks.
Bousquet arrived among the Taovayas at an opportune time. Repeated Comanche attacks and a lack of direct Spanish trade had revitalized the Wichitas’ want of peace. After visiting for half a year, Bousquet returned to San Antonio with four Taovaya envoys who were sent “on behalf of [new] Chief Guersec”; with three Europeans who had been living amidst Norteños, including the invaluable Pedro (Pierre) Vial; and with a large load of unrefined ore, that to Bousquet’s dismay, did not result in larger mining operations. The Taovayas ultimately agreed to cease hostilities, and the Spanish agreed to open trade and provide annual tribute at Nacogdoches. The peace that Bousquet cultivated lasted for two years until the killing of two Wichitas near San Antonio in September 1786. Governor Rafael Martínez Pacheco resurrected the peace at the beginning of 1787.
From 1785 to 1793 Bousquet continued to trade with the American Indians of the North. As Spanish Texas stabilized, the presence of these traders, once a required nuisance, shifted to be perceived as an internal threat to the Spanish state. To begin, the Spanish were inherently uneasy of whites living and acting more like American Indians instead of proper “españoles.” As the new governor of Texas, Manuel Muñoz stated in 1794, “it will not do for such a class of men [French traders] to continue living among our Indian friends, because their customs and relaxed standards [of behavior] are capable of alienating their affection and inclination from us, converting them from allies into enemies.” Moreover, with the French Revolution churning and with Spain declaring war on its former French allies, the suspicion of any French nationals in New Spain increased dramatically.
In 1793 Governor Muñoz ordered that Bousquet cease living with the Norteños and return to his wife (Juana Polonia Romero) and two daughters in San Antonio. Chief Quiscat of the Tawakonis sucessfully extracted Bousquet from Indian Territory. Upon Bousquet’s arrival at Béxar, Muñoz commanded Bousquet and his family to move south to Punta de Lampazos in present-day Nuevo León—more than 500 miles away from the Norteños—effectively ending the possibility of Bousquet trading with his longtime friends.
At the news, Bousquet fled San Antonio, abandoned his family, and returned to the Tawakonis’ territory. Governor Muñoz sent two soldiers, Antonio Leal and Luis Arman, to hunt down the errant trader. The two presidials located Bousquet, but, because the Norteños refused to give up Bousquet, the pair left empty-handed. By the end of 1794 Bousquet had taken in with other French traders living among the American Indians of the North and was spotted leading a herd horses into Louisiana. After 1794 Bousquet, at that time approximately fifty-four years of age, became absent from Spanish government records.
Jean Baptiste Bousquet began his career in Texas by building fruitful relationships with various Native American groups—relationships that markedly benefitted the Spanish government—and ended his career a fugitive. Although French traders, including Bousquet, had carried most of the burden in achieving peace between American Indians and the Spaniards in the late eighteenth-century, once this peace was established, the Spanish demanded absolute control.