Spanish Bluff

By: Dan L. Flores

Type: General Entry

Published: July 1, 1995

Spanish Bluff is a landmark about six miles northeast of New Boston on the Texas side of the Red River in Bowie County (at 33°31' N, 94°24' W). The name originated with traders or early settlers. Here in 1806 President Thomas Jefferson's Red River expedition was blocked by a Spanish army commanded by Francisco Viana and forced to abort its exploration of the Southwest. Spanish Bluff, an imposing bluff 100 feet high, vegetated with large oaks and pines, stretches nearly half a mile along the south bank before the river swings away from it; it was a well-known landmark on the Red River long before the coming of Europeans. J. R. Swanton believed it was the location of one of the Nanatsoho Caddo divisions during the late precontact and early contact periods. The Nanatsohos were among the most westerly of the Red River Caddos. When the French officer Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe raised the French flag over these villages in 1719, he considered locating his post on the bluff before deciding on a location downriver, within the Kadohadacho-Nasonnite nucleus of villages. Viana's selection of the bluff as a defensive position was based upon military considerations and upon the premise that it marked the Caddo perimeter and therefore the French one. Spanish Bluff became a landmark of importance to the settlers of Northeast Texas. The name was used in boundary descriptions for Clay Township, Hempstead County, Arkansas, in 1819. In 1827 Edmund Pendleton Gaines suggested it as the northern point of a temporary eastern boundary of Texas. It became a place for the rendezvous of parties in search of renegade Indians, and Peter Ellis Bean reported Shawnees living near the bluff in 1830. Spanish Bluff was proposed as a postal station on the route from Washington, Texas, to Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1835. The bluff became incorporated in the headright land of Texas patriot Richard Ellis in 1838. Today it is associated with Ellis but rarely remembered for the role it played in the early imperial struggle for Texas.

Dan L. Flores, ed., Jefferson and Southwestern Exploration: The Freeman and Custis Accounts of the Red River Expedition of 1806 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984). Ralph A. Smith, trans., "Account of the Journey of Bénard de La Harpe," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 62 (July, October 1958, January, April 1959).

Time Periods:

  • Spanish Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Dan L. Flores, “Spanish Bluff,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 05, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: