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Spanish Texas Map
Spanish Texas Map. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Viceroyalty of Spain Flag and Coat of Arms
Viceroyalty of Spain Flag and Coat of Arms. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

SPANISH TEXAS. Spanish Texas, situated on the border of Spain's North American empire, encompassed only a small portion of what is now the Lone Star State. The Spanish province lay above the Nueces River to the east of the Medina River headwaters and extended into Louisiana. Over time, Texas was a part of four provinces in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Colonial Mexico): the El Paso area was under the jurisdiction of New Mexico, the missions founded near La Junta de los Ríos were under Nueva Vizcaya, the coastal region from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande and thence upstream to Laredo was under Nuevo Santander after 1749, and Texas was initially under joint jurisdiction with the province of Coahuila. Slightly more than three centuries elapsed between the time the Texas shoreline was first viewed by a Spaniard in 1519 and July 21, 1821, when the flag of Castile and León was lowered for the last time at San Antonio. Those 300 years may be divided into three stages: the era of early exploration, in which there was a preliminary evaluation of the land and its resources; the period of cultural absorption, in which the Texas Indians began to acquire Hispanic cultural elements, at first indirectly from Indian intermediaries and then directly from the Spanish themselves; and the time of defensive occupation, in which the Spanish presence in Texas was more dictated by international considerations than caused by the momentum of an expanding empire.

Viceroyalty of New Spain Map 1810
Viceroyalty of New Spain Map 1810. Courtesy of the United State Geological Survey.
Early Spanish Missions in Texas
Early Spanish Missions in Texas. Courtesy of the National Park Service.
San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission in San Antonio
San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission in San Antonio. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

The uninterrupted Spanish occupation of Texas (1716–1821) lasted for just 105 years. However, the legacies of Spanish Texas are lasting and significant. On reflection they seem all out of proportion to the relatively small number of Spaniards and Hispanicized Indians who became the Mexican nation in 1821. Perhaps most obvious, yet superficial in importance, is the use of Spanish names for hundreds of towns, cities, counties, and geographic features in Texas. San Antonio, the first formal municipality in Texas, is one of the ten largest cities in the United States. Forty-two of the 254 counties in Texas bear either Hispanic names, or an Anglicized derivation such as Galveston, or a misspelling such as Uvalde. The names of physiographical features such as Llano Estacado, Guadalupe Mountains, and Padre Island serve as reminders of Spanish explorers and conquistadors who crossed portions of Texas well before the English settled the Atlantic Coast of North America. Spaniards introduced numerous European crops, irrigation at San Antonio and other mission sites, livestock, and livestock-handling techniques. Farming, initially practiced by some Indian groups in Texas, was likewise expanded and improved by Spanish missionaries and settlers. The restored missions at San Antonio and Goliad stand as enduring monuments to the Franciscans who brought the mantle of Christianity to Texas Indians. With the exception of those in California, the finest examples of Spanish mission architecture in the United States are found in Texas. The missions in Texas, however, are much older than their California counterparts. San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission in San Antonio can appropriately be called the "Queen of the Missions." The reconstructed La Bahía Presidio at Goliad is a fitting monument to the military pioneers of Texas. Spanish is a second language for millions of Texans; for some it is the first language. Although much of the linguistic makeup of the state is the result of Mexican influence since 1821, Spanish-not English, German, French, or Dutch-was the first European language spoken in Texas. The lasting impact of Spanish law on the legal system is likewise of vitally important. Rules of judicial procedure, land law, water law, and the law of family relations derive from the Spanish.

Early Spanish Explorers of Texas
Map, Spanish Explorers of Texas (1519-1601). Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Map Drawn by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda of the Coast of the Gulf of Mexico in 1519
Map Drawn by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda of the Coast of the Gulf of Mexico in 1519. Courtesy of the Archivo de Indias in Spain.
Pánfilo de Narváez
Pánfilo de Narváez. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Cabeza de Vaca Performing Surgery on a Native American
Cabeza de Vaca Performing Surgery on a Native American. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Spaniards first approached Texas from the east by sea along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, then overland almost simultaneously from New Mexico and Louisiana. The initial contacts were the result of historical processes generated within the West Indies and the vast kingdom of New Spain. Contemporaneously with the conquest of Mexico, begun by Hernán Cortés of Cuba in 1519, the Spanish governor of Jamaica outfitted Alonso Álvarez de Pineda with four ships and 270 men and ordered him to search for wealth. Pineda sailed the northern Gulf waters from the Florida Keys to Veracruz, constructed the first map of the region, and named the Mississippi River the Río del Espíritu Santo. He and his crew were the first Europeans to view the entire Texas coast. In the ensuing conquest of Mexico, a minor participant, Pánfilo de Narváez, lost an eye and command of his army in a skirmish with Cortés. Narváez returned to Spain in the early 1520s seeking redress from the king, and was finally awarded a royal patent to establish a colony in "Florida"-a term applied to the Gulf Coast between the Florida peninsula and the province of Pánuco, situated to the north of Veracruz. Narváez left Spain in June 1527, wintered in Cuba, and landed near Tampa Bay with some 300 men in the spring of 1528. He and his men were soon separated from their support vessels and stranded on the Florida coast. On September 22 they set out from northwestern Florida for Pánuco in five improvised barges. In the first month at sea, the small flotilla passed the mouth of the Mississippi River and arrived off the Texas coast, where it was caught in a violent storm. Two of the five craft landed near the western extremity of Galveston Island in early November; their occupants were the first non-Indians to set foot on Texas soil. Of the nearly 250 men who left Florida, only four—Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, his African-born slave Estevanico, and Alonso Castillo Maldonado survived. They lived for nearly seven years amid hostile Indians and the harsh environment of the Texas coast and after an incredible odyssey reached Mexico City in the summer of 1536. Their accounts and the later writing of Cabeza de Vaca provided the first descriptions of Texas landforms, Indians, and biota. Cabeza de Vaca in particular was the only Spaniard to record the names of the Indians of South Texas and to locate them relative to each other. His description of the Mariames, Avavares, Yguaces, and associated Texas Indians, according to one writer, supplied cultural information that "quantitatively exceeds that of all his successors combined." The collective experiences of the four men also prompted the viceroy of New Spain to sponsor the overland expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado to New Mexico and Texas.

Map of Coronado Expedition 1540 to 1542
Map of Coronado Expedition 1540 to 1542. Courtesy of the Perry Castaneda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas Libraries.
The Signature Lighthouse Formation in Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The Signature Lighthouse Formation in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Armstrong County. Courtesy of Carol Highsmith Photography and the Library of Congress.
Map of De Soto and Moscoso Expedition
Map of De Soto and Moscoso Expedition. Courtesy of Herb Roe.

Coronado, from a base on the Rio Grande north of the site of present-day Albuquerque, reached the Panhandle of West Texas in the spring of 1541. His army crossed the Llano Estacado, discovered Palo Duro Canyon, and encountered for the first time the Plains Indians of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. On the return trip to Pueblo country, Coronado again crossed the Panhandle at its extreme northwest corner. One of his friars, Juan de Padilla, chose to return to Quivira, as the country along the Arkansas River in Kansas was called. Accompanying him was a Portuguese soldier and two Indian lay brothers. After succeeding among the Wichitas, Padilla died at the hands of unidentified Indians from farther east. His three companions, however, escaped on foot and crossed Texas from north to south en route to Mexico. Padilla's trek was another remarkable example of early pedestrian travel across the Texas landscape. The Coronado expedition is linked to that of Hernando De Soto by a chance occurrence. Both men were in the field during the early 1540s. De Soto's successor, Luis de Moscoso Alvarado, approached Texas from Louisiana as Coronado marched back to Mexico. It would appear that Moscoso entered the future Texas in late August 1542 and penetrated to the Trinity River in what is now Houston County. An unlucky Indian woman who had apparently fled eastward from Coronado's command on the Pecos River fell into the clutches of Moscoso's soldiers. Moscoso made the first documented contact by Spaniards with Indians of the Hasinai Confederacy. His expedition had a greater acquaintance with an area of early importance in Spanish Texas than did Coronado's. By way of the Mississippi River and the Texas Gulf Coast, Moscoso led some 300 Spaniards in improvised boats to safety in Mexico. He finally reached Pánuco in September 1543.

Location of Three Shipwrecks in 1554
Location of Three Shipwrecks in 1554. Courtesy of Texas Beyond History.

The next recorded contact by Europeans with the Texas coast came in 1554 as a result of three Spanish ships wrecked off Padre Island. Perhaps 250 of the survivors were killed by hostile Indians, but a few escaped by boat and one on foot. Knowledge of the wrecks, laden with gold and silver, prompted salvage operations from Veracruz and Tampico in the late summer of that same year (see PADRE ISLAND SPANISH SHIPWRECKS OF 1554).

By a twist of fate, the next remarkable experience in Texas involved Englishmen. In 1568 John Hawkins placed several dozen of his countrymen ashore near Tampico after he suffered a nearly disastrous defeat by the Spanish fleet in Veracruz harbor. One of the men, David Ingram, along with two others, walked from Pánuco along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts to near Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and lived to tell about the trek. Ingram's experiences, like those of Álvarez de Pineda, Cabeza de Vaca, Coronado, and Moscoso did little to encourage immediate settlement in Texas. Legends, however, died hard for Spaniards. Despite the reports of Coronado and Moscoso about the dearth of readily exploitable wealth in the north country, Tierra Nueva (as it was then called) continued to attract the attention of gold-hungry men in New Spain. Within five years after Coronado's return, the presumed wealth of Gran Quivira was again a topic of interest. Future explorers looked for the pearls of the Jumanos and the Great Kingdom of the Tejas. In the second half of the sixteenth century, the discovery of rich silver deposits in northern Mexico drew Spaniards into the area like a magnet attracting nails. The first of the mining boomtowns was Zacatecas, where a mountain of silver ore was discovered in 1546. By the 1570s additional strikes brought about the founding of settlements in southern Chihuahua near the headwaters of the Río Conchos. The town of Santa Bárbara in that locale became the principal staging area for entradas into New Mexico and Texas.

Map of Chichimeca Nations of New Spain in 1550
Map of Chichimeca Nations of New Spain in 1550. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Spanish Priests Converting the Mansos, Sumas, and Janos of El Paso to Christianity
Mural of Spanish Priests Converting the Mansos, Sumas, and Janos of El Paso to Christianity located at Guadalupe Church in Juarez. Courtesy of Margaret Howard Photography.
María de Agreda
Painting, Venerable María Jesús de Ágreda, also known as the Woman in Blue, by Maximiniano Peña. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Development of the mining frontier, however, had spawned the Chichimeca Wars (1550–1590s) and Spain's institutional response to them. The latter comprised missions and presidios, frontier agencies designed to convert Indians and pacify rebellious ones. From their inception, missions and presidios served as interrelated agencies of church and state and validated Spain's claim to frontier regions. The primary function of missions was the propagation of the Catholic faith. But missions also served the state by Hispanicizing the Indian population, thereby making Indians in theory into tractable and tax-paying citizens. Presidios, as the nuclei of military presence on the frontier, were clearly agencies of the state, but they also served as necessary adjuncts to the security of the missions and the discipline of the neophytes within-a lesson painfully learned by the friars in the early days of Spanish Texas. As the frontier of New Spain advanced northward, the northeastern field of missionary work, which encompassed Coahuila, Nuevo León, New Mexico, and Texas, became the primary responsibility of the Franciscan order. In the American Southwest the Friars Minor, the Little Brothers of St. Francis, established their first missions in New Mexico. Forty years after the return of the Coronado expedition, three Franciscans journeyed to Pueblo country with Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado (1581), and within a year all of the friars had suffered martyrdom. A subsequent expedition to New Mexico, led by Antonio de Espejo and Diego Pérez de Luxán (1582), brought the first Europeans into extreme Southwest Texas as they returned to Chihuahua. In the following year, the Spanish crown authorized the pacification of New Mexico by a private individual, but no formal agreement was reached for a dozen years. Finally, Juan de Oñate received a contract (1595) that led to the occupation of New Mexico in 1598 and to the establishment of more than twenty missions by 1680. In the eighty-two years of continuous Spanish presence in New Mexico, Texas along the Rio Grande from modern Presidio to El Paso bordered the path from the mines, missions, and ranches of northern Mexico to the land of the Pueblos. The interior of Texas, however, remained for the most part tierra incognita. It was penetrated by some, however. Between 1629 and 1654 expeditions from New Mexico entered Texas to search for Indians allegedly instructed in Christian doctrine by María de Agreda, the miraculously bilocating "Woman in Blue," and to establish trade with the Jumano Indians. The Jumanos carried aspects of Spanish material culture as far as the eastern Gulf Coast and East Texas.

The Pueblo Revolt
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

When the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 forced prolonged abandonment of New Mexico, El Paso del Norte, where settlement west of the river had occurred as early as 1655, became the focal point of Spanish presence on the extreme northern frontier. Its sparse population was severely tested by the arrival of nearly 2,000 Spanish and Indian refugees from New Mexico. To accommodate the Indian exiles, Spaniards founded the first mission and pueblo within the present boundaries of Texas, Corpus Christi de la Isleta, at the site of modern Ysleta. In the following years, efforts were made to found missions among the Jumano Indians at the junction of the Conchos and Rio Grande near the site of present-day Presidio. However, in the middle 1680s intelligence of French designs in the Gulf of Mexico downgraded the importance of that undertaking.

La Salle's Expedition on the Mississippi River
Painting, La Salle's Expedition on the Mississippi River by George Catlin. Courtesy of the Paul Mellon Collection at the National Gallery of Art.
Spanish Exploration of Alonso de Leon and Domingo Teran
Spanish Exploration of Alonso de Leon and Domingo Teran. Courtesy of Yale University Press.

Concern centered on the extraordinary threat to Spanish realms posed by Frenchmen descending the Mississippi River from Canada. In 1682 René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, explored the great river to its mouth and formally named the region "Louisiana" in honor of Louis XIV. La Salle established that the Mississippi emptied into the Gulf of Mexico between Spanish Florida and Pánuco. If Spain closed that gap and occupied the lower Mississippi valley, Canada would lose its access to the sea and be threatened from the south. On the other hand, a French colony placed on the lower part of the river would be close to the rich mines of New Spain. La Salle returned to France in 1683 to lay his colonization plans before the court at Versailles. After some delays, occasioned by a rival and international considerations, he received generous support for his plan to challenge the Spanish empire. His expedition sailed from France in 1684, but because of misperceptions and the reading of faulty maps it overshot the Mississippi by some 400 miles and landed at Matagorda Bay in early 1685. By the time La Salle discovered that "his river" was not where he had landed, he was stranded on the Texas coast and had become the object of a resolute Spanish manhunt. The Spanish dispatched five sea and six land expeditions in search of La Salle's Texas Settlement. In 1689 Alonso De León finally discovered its ruins on Garcitas Creek. By then La Salle, a victim of assassination, had been dead for two years. His colony had failed, as historian Robert S. Weddle has noted, not because of Spanish vigilance, but rather due to bad luck, hostile environment, fatal diseases, deadly Karankawa arrows, and the enmity of Frenchman toward Frenchman. But because La Salle overshot the Mississippi River and landed on the Texas coast, Spain reacted defensively. In reality, La Salle's expedition focused Spanish attention on East Texas, where success was hard to come by. The Spanish also underestimated the impending French threat to Louisiana.

Officials in Mexico City viewed the disastrous failure of La Salle's colony as evidence of God's "divine aid and favor." They were also impressed by Alonso De León's favorable account of the land and people of eastern Texas. Father Damián Massanet, who had accompanied the expedition of 1689, volunteered his services and those of his brethren of the College of Santa Cruz de Querétaro should missions be authorized among the Tejas. De Leon, however, wisely suggested the placement of presidios to bridge the gap between settlements in Coahuila and the proposed new mission field. If his suggestions had been accepted, the subsequent disasters in East Texas might well have been lessened, if not avoided. Nevertheless, officials in the capital concluded, with Massanet's endorsement, that military presence would impede spreading the Gospel.

Mission San Francisco de los Tejas
Mission San Francisco de los Tejas. Courtesy of Gerald E. Mcleod Photography and the Austin Chronicle.

In May 1690 Father Massanet founded San Francisco de los Tejas, the first mission in East Texas, perhaps near the site of modern Augusta in northeastern Houston County. Instead of leaving fifty soldiers at the mission, as recommended by Alonso De León, the expedition left only three and an equal number of friars when it returned to Coahuila. Before De León departed, Massanet secured a promise from the Indian governor that he would not mistreat the three padres. However, according to the late Franciscan historian Lino Gómez Canedo, San Francisco de los Tejas was abandoned in October 1693 because of floods, epidemics, the relaxation of the French challenge, and the contempt of the Indians. The priests, expecting a rebellion, buried the cannons and bells, ignited the mission, and went back to Coahuila. But the mission effort in East Texas had familiarized Spaniards with the geography and Indians of Texas and convinced both church and government officials that future missions must be sustained by presidios and civilian settlements.

Franciscan missionary Father Francisco Hidalgo
Artist’s depiction of Franciscan missionary Father Francisco Hidalgo writing a letter offering to introduce the French governor of Louisiana to Spanish merchants in exchange for the Spanish supporting his unfinished missionary work in east Texas. This letter would ultimately result in the establishment of Los Adaes. Courtesy of Cornial Cox and Texas Beyond History.
Monument to French Colonial Explorer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis
Monument to French Colonial Explorer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis. Courtesy of Billy Hathorn Photography.

For one of the missionaries, Father Francisco Hidalgo, unfinished work among the Tejas Indians became a consuming passion. At the close of the seventeenth century, because of mining, ranching, and Hidalgo's unswerving commitment to missionary goals in East Texas, Spanish settlement in northern Mexico had advanced to the Rio Grande. Mission San Juan Bautista, which Weddle has appropriately called the "Gateway to Spanish Texas, was founded on January 1, 1700, at the site of present-day Guerrero, Coahuila. By then the French had resurrected La Salle's plan to settle the lower Mississippi valley. Under the leadership of Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, a fort had been constructed at Biloxi Bay in 1699. In early 1700 the arrival of fresh supplies and reinforcements brought from France by Iberville strengthened French presence in Louisiana. Accompanying him was a relative by marriage, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, a Canadian-born adventurer who changed the course of Texas history. Despite Iberville's best efforts, the crown colony of Louisiana suffered neglect due in part to resumption of the costly wars of Louis XIV (1702–13). In an effort to reduce royal expenses, Louisiana was assigned as a proprietary colony to a wealthy Frenchman, Antoine Crozat. Crozat's choice as governor of the colony fell on Antoine de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, who arrived in Louisiana in May 1713. Cadillac's duties were obvious. He had to run the colony in a businesslike manner and find a way to turn a profit. He concluded that the desired avenue of riches lay in establishing trade with New Spain, a commerce he knew to be forbidden by Spanish mercantile restrictions. At that juncture, however, Cadillac received a letter, drafted two years earlier, from Father Hidalgo. Hidalgo had despaired of winning support from the Spanish crown for his plans to reestablish missions among the Hasinais. His letter asked the French governor to assist him in accomplishing that goal. For Cadillac it was an invitation to do God's work and his own. He called on St. Denis, who had become skilled in diplomacy and Indian languages and had already made explorations beyond the Red River, to make overtures to the Spanish. St. Denis set out in late September and traveled to the site of Natchitoches, where he stored some of his merchandise. Twenty-two days after crossing the Sabine River, he reached the first Tejas villages and began trading for livestock, loosely managed by Indians, and buffalo hides. But the French adventurer had more ambitious goals. Justifying his actions on the grounds that he had not found Father Hidalgo living among the Indians, he planned to push on toward Spanish settlements.

Old San Antonio Road Map
Old San Antonio Road Map. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In July 1714, St. Denis arrived at San Juan Bautista, bearing a French passport and news that the Tejas Indians earnestly desired the return of Spanish missionaries. His appearance alerted officials that the French were contacting Indians in East Texas and brought about the permanent Spanish occupation of Texas. The presidio commander, Diego Ramón, placed St. Denis under house arrest while he awaited instructions from Mexico City. The Frenchman's genial incarceration provided an opportunity to court and win a promise of marriage from Ramón's beautiful granddaughter, Manuela Sánchez (see ST. DENIS, MANUELA S. N). St. Denis was subsequently sent under guard to the capital, where he managed to charm the viceroy and obtain his freedom. Indeed, the chief executive of New Spain appointed St. Denis as commissary and guide for the expedition to reestablish Spanish missions in East Texas. St. Denis returned to San Juan Bautista, married his intended, and departed for Texas on April 27, 1716. Capt. Domingo Ramón, a son of the presidio commander, led more than seventy priests, lay brothers, soldiers, and civilians along a path that became the Old San Antonio Road, or camino real.

Mission Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Ais
A Drawing of Mission Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Ais by Riaford Stripling. Courtesy of Texas Beyond History and the University of Texas at Austin Libraries.

Responsibility for founding new missions in Texas was divided equally between the missionary colleges of Querétaro and Zacatecas. The former supplied two of the most famous Franciscans in Texas history, Fathers Isidro Félix de Espinosa and Francisco Hidalgo, and from the College of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Zacatecas came the renowned Father Antonio Margil de Jesús, whose cause for canonization is ongoing. The religious contingent reestablished Mission San Francisco at a different site and renamed it San Francisco de los Neches. It also founded five new missions-Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Nacogdoches, San José de los Nazonis, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Ais, and San Miguel de Linares de los Adaes (near the site of present Robeline, Louisiana). At the western edge of the mission field, Ramón built Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Tejas Presidio for his soldiers. The reestablishment of missions and a presidio in East Texas was very important historically, because it gave Spain a valid claim to land north of the Rio Grande, did much to determine that Texas would be Spanish, not French, and helped advance the eventual boundary between Texas and the United States to the Sabine River. For the enterprising St. Denis, the presence of Spaniards near Louisiana opened the door for the contraband trade that became a way of life on the Texas frontier.

Martin de Alarcón Expedition into Spanish Texas
Martin de Alarcón Expedition into Spanish Texas. Courtesy of the University Texas Press.
Plan for the Alamo
Plan of the Alamo grounds, from the private ledger of José Juan Sánchez Navarro (1836). Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Although the Spanish had received a friendly welcome from the Indians of East Texas, the latter were not willing to congregate in missions. To do so would require them to give up their idols and religious temples, as well as an established way of life. To try to force compliance with the wishes of the missionaries was viewed as foolish, for the strength of the military guard was inadequate. Unless Spanish presence could be augmented and a halfway station established between the Rio Grande and the eastward missions, the occupation of Texas seemed destined to go as it had gone in 1693. Fortunately, the arrival in Mexico City of a new viceroy, the Marqués de Valero, signaled a positive trend for the struggling missions and presidio. The viceroy, at the instigation of Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares, made the suppression of illicit trade from Louisiana a primary objective. He also pledged support for the Franciscan missions in Texas. Father Olivares had earlier visited a site on the San Antonio River in 1709, and from that time forward he was determined to found a mission and civilian settlement there. The viceroy gave formal approval for a halfway mission and presidio in late 1716, and assigned responsibility for their establishment to Martin de Alarcón, the governor of Coahuila and Texas. A series of delays, however, occasioned in part by differences between Alarcón and Olivares, postponed definitive action until 1718. On May 1 on the San Antonio River the governor founded San Antonio de Valero Mission (later famous as the Alamo), and on May 5 established San Antonio de Béxar Presidio. As it turned out, these institutions came none too soon.

In 1719 a brief war in Europe between Spain and France affected Texas. From Natchitoches Philippe Blondel and six soldiers easily captured the poorly defended Adaes mission, but in the confusion a lay brother escaped. He spread fear of an impending French attack throughout the mission outposts all the way to Presidio Dolores. There Captain Ramón viewed the situation as untenable. He ordered immediate abandonment of the six missions and the military garrison, thus bringing an inglorious close to the second effort at establishing the Spanish in East Texas. Fortunately, the retreating Spaniards found refuge at the new settlements on the San Antonio River. Soon after his arrival there, Father Margil began building a second mission, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, named for the governor of Coahuila and Texas who replaced Alarcón in 1719.

Presidio Nuestra Señora del Pilar de los Adaes
Illustration, Presidio Nuestra Señora del Pilar de los Adaes by Sergio Palleroni. Courtesy of the Louisiana Division of Archaeology.
Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía
Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía. Courtesy of Ernest Mettendorf Photography.

The Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo was a veteran soldier and a wealthy man, thanks to his wife, Ignacia Xaviera de Echeverez, who owned vast estates in Coahuila. At his own expense, he accepted the viceroy's request to deal with the troublesome situation in Texas and to undertake the establishment of missions in East Texas for a third time. In the early spring of 1721, Aguayo set out for Texas. He had recruited 500 men and collected 2,800 horses, 4,800 cattle, and 6,400 sheep and goats. Although livestock had accompanied previous entradas, Spanish ranching in Texas began with the arrival of these large herds in 1721. Aguayo reestablished all of the abandoned missions in East Texas; founded a new presidio, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, at Los Adaes; and made a lasting peace with St. Denis, who had become commandant of the French settlement at Natchitoches. By the spring of 1722, Domingo Ramón, under orders of Aguayo, had begun construction of Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga Mission and Nuestra Señora de Loreto Presidio, both commonly called La Bahía, at the site of La Salle's Fort St. Louis. When Aguayo departed from Texas in May 1722, he left a province that was soon separated from Coahuila. It was secured by 268 soldiers at four presidios, two of which-at Los Adaes and La Bahía-were located where foreign aggression was most feared. Across the province were ten missions and hundreds of potential neophytes. Although there was a continuing problem of smuggling between French Louisiana and Spanish Texas, the threat of French dominance in Texas was ended.

Route of Original Canary Island Settlers
Route of Original Canary Island Settlers From Vera Cruz to San Antonio de Bexar. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Church of San Fernando
Church of San Fernando. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Peace in Europe and its implications for America prompted the king of Spain to order reforms within New Spain in the interest of economy. To that end the viceroy sent Gen. Pedro de Rivera y Villalón to make a thorough inspection of frontier posts in Texas. Rivera's recommendations in 1727 led to the reduction of troop strength at Los Adaes and to the abandonment of Presidio Dolores. Without military support, the missions of San Francisco, Concepción, and San José were removed to the Colorado River and subsequently to San Antonio in 1731. Unfortunately for the settlement at San Antonio, the reduction of military strength in Texas left the settlement vulnerable to raids by the Apaches at the very time it was attempting to integrate an influx of very important settlers. Historians have generally marked the beginning of civilian settlement in San Antonio with the arrival of fifty-five Canary Islanders on March 9, 1731, but it is well to remember that Alarcón's expedition of 1718 was not a purely military undertaking. The presidio was to protect the missions in the area and serve as a way station between the Rio Grande and the East Texas missions. San Antonio was also to be the site of a Spanish villa (San Fernando de Béxar), and to this end Alarcón had recruited frontiersmen from Coahuila and Nuevo León. As Jesús F. de la Teja has demonstrated, "From its founding in 1718 to 1731, forty-seven couples married and 107 children were baptized at Mission Valero." Thus, a first generation of native Bexareños was already living in San Antonio by 1731. The arrival of the Canary Island settlers temporarily disrupted the racially harmonious community, but the threat of Indian attacks and frontier isolation soon eroded the Islanders' aloofness. Indian attacks by the Apaches began in the 1720s and worsened in the 1760s with the appearance of the Comanches at San Antonio. In the summer of 1768, Bexareños had to fight off a twenty-two-day siege without outside assistance. Again, as De la Teja has remarked, "Shared roles, kinship ties, and the frontier experience tied much of Bexar's population into a dynamic community." Oakah L. Jones, Jr., has similarly demonstrated that outside of San Antonio there was little by way of class rivalry among the Spanish population in Texas.

Map of Native American Tribes in Texas
Map of Native American Tribes in Texas. Courtesy of the Perry-Cateneda Library Map Collection, University of Texas at Austin.

As San Antonio grew to become the most important and viable community in Spanish Texas, relations with the French remained generally peaceful. Arroyo Hondo, a small stream between Los Adaes and Natchitoches, became the accepted boundary between the two empires until the cession of Louisiana to Spain in 1762. The French, however, were much more adept than the Spanish in establishing trade with Texas Indians. At the Red River, the French won favor with the Kadodachos (a Caddo group) and other Indians of the region. They were likewise successful in establishing trade with the Wichitas and Tawakonis in northern Texas. To the south, French traders crossed the Sabine in the early 1730s and initiated contact with the Orcoquizas and Bidais along the lower San Jacinto and Trinity rivers. In response to that continuing threat, the Spanish in 1756 established San Agustín de Ahumada Presidio and Nuestra Señora de la Luz Mission in the general vicinity of Anahuac. Neither establishment enjoyed much success, and both were abandoned within fifteen years.

José de Escandón
José de Escandón. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
The Province of Nuevo Santander
The Province of Nuevo Santander and other Jurisdictions in Northern Mexico. Courtesy of the State Library and Archives Commission.

More serious external threats stemmed from continued French incursions and the English colony of Georgia in 1733. Spaniards considered Georgia to be a part of Florida and viewed the presence of foreigners there as a threat to unsettled Gulf Coast regions. Concern deepened with the outbreak of war between England and Spain in 1739, a conflict that presaged the larger War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). Spain regarded the Costa del Seno Mexicano, between Tampico and Matagorda Bay, as especially vulnerable to English and French designs. To counter those threats, the viceroy of New Spain approved the appointment of José de Escandón as military commander and governor of the recently established province of Nuevo Santander. In a burst of energy, Escandón and his lieutenants founded twenty-four towns and fifteen missions between 1747 and 1755. Escandón also moved the mission and presidio at La Bahía from their second location on the Guadalupe River to the site of present Goliad. The founding of Laredo completed Escandón's colonization. Less successful was a simultaneous effort to expand the mission system along the San Gabriel River, called San Xavier by the Spanish, to the northeast of San Antonio. In the area of modern Rockdale, Texas, three Franciscan missions and a presidio (collectively known as the San Xavier missions) were founded in the late 1740s and early 1750s. Trouble between the presidio commander and the friars, disease, drought, and hostile Apaches doomed this undertaking to eventual failure.

Attack at San Saba Mission
Painting, The Destruction of Mission San Saba in the Province of Texas and the Martyrdom of the Fathers Alonso de Terreros, Joseph Santiesteban by Jose de Paez. Courtesy of Texas Beyond History.
Mission San Cruz de San Saba Historical Marker
Mission San Cruz de San Saba Historical Marker. Courtesy of Barclay Gibson Photography and Texas Escapes.
Ruins of Presidio de San Saba
Ruins of Presidio de San Saba. Courtesy of Barclay Gibson Photography and Texas Escapes.

In 1757 the entire properties of the San Xavier missions were redirected toward a new effort on the San Saba River, the most disastrous mission-extension project in the history of Spanish Texas. In 1757 near the site of present Menard, Col. Diego Ortiz Parrilla and Franciscan missionaries headed by Father Alonso Giraldo de Terreros set up San Luis de las Amarillas Presidio and Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission. The settlements were established at the request of Lipan Apaches, a group generally hostile to the Spanish. The Lipans, because of increasing pressure from the Comanches and their allies, especially the Wichitas, had been forced to set aside their dislike for the Spanish. But in forging an alliance of convenience, they further infuriated their Indian adversaries. In March 1758 the Comanches and their allies, including Tejas, Tonkawa, and Bidai Indians, attacked the mission in great numbers. They pillaged and burned it and killed eight persons, including Father Terreros. Santa Cruz de San Sabá became the only mission in Texas to be destroyed by outright Indian attack. In the following year, a major assault on the San Sabá livestock herd cost the lives of twenty soldiers and resulted in the loss of more than 700 horses, mules, and cattle. Several months later, Colonel Ortiz Parrilla led a sizable force of presidial soldiers and Apache allies on a punitive expedition to the Red River, only to suffer a humiliating defeat. The San Sabá mission was never rebuilt. Missionary efforts on behalf of the Apaches continued for a time from outposts on the upper Nueces River, but they, too, had to be abandoned within a few years. Presidio San Luis de las Amarillas was strengthened and maintained for another ten years, but it was abandoned in 1770. Thus, Spanish efforts toward expansion in Texas during the years 1731–62 were a failure, except at La Bahía and along the lower Rio Grande. Missions and presidios, although proven frontier institutions, had clearly failed north of San Antonio.

Impact of the French and Indian War
Impact of the French and Indian War. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Marqués de Rubí
Illustration, Presidio Inspector Marqués de Rubí, 1766, by José Cisneros. Courtesy of the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Front Page from the Diary of the Marqués de Rubí
Front Page from the Diary of the Marqués de Rubí. Courtesy of the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Antonio Gil Ibarvo
Antonio Gil Ibarvo. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Elsewhere, events in Europe and the course of the French and Indian War in America (1754–63) had a profound effect on Texas. Before the Treaty of Paris, France had ceded to Spain all French territory west of the Mississippi River. Louisiana had been a total financial disaster for France, and it became no less burdensome for Spain. Lacking resources and manpower, Spain could not defend or develop this vast territory, and it brought assertive English rather than the tolerant French to its borders. Twenty years later the English were supplanted by even more aggressive citizens of the United States. For Spain, adjustments were necessary to meet changing circumstances that confronted its North American empire. In the 1760s Charles III, an exceptionally able king of Spain, ordered a sweeping inspection of New Spain and its frontier provinces to determine what reforms were needed. The visitador general of importance for Texas was the Marqués de Rubí, who arrived in 1767. Rubí visited all major settlements in Texas and concluded that they could not be maintained without consolidation and new resources. His recommendations called for the strengthening of San Antonio by moving the settlers and remaining missions in East Texas to that site. Second, he suggested a new approach aimed at developing friendly relations with the powerful Comanches and Wichitas, coupled with a war of extermination against their enemies, the Apaches. The forced abandonment of East Texas was a bitter blow to its inhabitants. Because they were no longer needed as a barrier against the French, their settlements were removed to shore up the defenses of San Antonio. In the summer of 1773, Baron Juan María de Ripperdá, the governor of Texas, reluctantly ordered the closure of missions in East Texas, removal of the entire Spanish population, and designation of San Antonio as capital in place of Los Adaes. The displaced settlers often complained that native Bexareños denied them arable and irrigable lands. They petitioned to return to their homes, but were denied that right by Hugo Oconór, then inspector general on the frontier. Not dissuaded, the East Texans selected Antonio Gil Ibarvo (also spelled Y'Barbo) as their spokesman and dispatched him to Mexico City for an audience with Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa. Ibarvo was only partially successful. The viceroy did permit the resettlement of East Texas, but would not consent to dwellings within 100 leagues of Natchitoches, Louisiana. Still, the refugees in San Antonio viewed any concession as encouraging. In August 1774 they founded the settlement of Bucareli on the Trinity River at a site in what is now Madison County. The town had attracted 347 inhabitants by 1777, but it was plagued by floods and Comanche raids. Without authorization, the population moved again in 1779 to Nacogdoches. That community, along with La Bahía, San Antonio, and Laredo, became another permanent settlement within the boundaries of the future state of Texas.

Map of the Eastern Internal Provinces Created by Joaquín de Arredondo
Map of the Eastern Internal Provinces Created by Joaquín de Arredondo. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Also during the mid-1770s, as part of Charles III's sweeping administrative reforms, the Provincias Internas (1776) administration was instituted for the northern provinces of New Spain, including Texas. That political arrangement, however, was in a state of flux to the end of the colonial era. The Internal Provinces began as an independent jurisdiction responsible only to the king, then passed under the viceroy of New Spain, and were finally divided into shifting military districts.

One of the major military concerns of the period was the enactment of Rubí's recommendations for an Indian policy that would destroy the Apaches and make peace with the northern tribes. Spaniards wisely called on French agents, who had remained in Louisiana after its transfer to Spain, to help implement that policy. Athanase de Mézières, the former son-in-law of St. Denis, masterminded this arrangement. He was fluent in several Indian languages. He enjoyed some success with the Wichitas-less with the Comanches-but was never able to piece together a general alliance of the northern tribes against the Apaches. Nevertheless, the talented frontiersman became highly respected by Spanish officials, and in 1779 they appointed him governor of Texas. He died, however, at San Antonio before assuming the post. Troubles with the Comanches continued until 1785, when a treaty with them brought peace that lasted, with a few interruptions, for nearly thirty years. Less successful was a final wave of missionary effort among the Karankawas and other coastal tribes. This undertaking was not new. The original Espíritu Santo Mission had been established for Karankawas. In 1754 Nuestra Señora del Rosario de los Cujanes Mission had been founded a short distance west of the site of present Goliad by the Zacatecan Franciscans. Indians in the area, however, were difficult neophytes. After they fled the mission in 1781, it was closed. For a time, the nearby La Bahía Mission served Indians of the region. The Franciscans again directed their attention to Rosario when former mission Indians asked that it be reopened. Their request was granted in December 1789. Four years later, the last of the Texas missions, Nuestra Señora del Refugio, was founded for Indians who had deserted the missions of La Bahía and Rosario. Because of unhealthful conditions, friars moved the mission in 1794 and finally reestablished it in January 1795 at the site of present Refugio. Success among the coastal tribes had proved difficult, and in the end the missions at La Bahía, Rosario, and Refugio, as elsewhere in Texas outside of San Antonio, disappointed their Franciscan founders.

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla
Painting, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla by Antonio Fabres. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Map of Louisiana Purchase
Map of the U.S. Prior to 1850. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

The final crisis for Spanish Texas came from problems associated with the retrocession of Louisiana to France (1800), its subsequent sale to the United States (1803), and the struggle for Mexican independence, begun in 1810 by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Spain's response to the first two situations was a determination to defend its boundaries unimpaired, to keep out American intruders, and to colonize Texas with loyal Spanish subjects. Negotiations over the western boundary of Louisiana were complex and extended, but Spain and the United States, by the Neutral Ground Agreement of 1806, avoided a clash of arms when they temporarily accepted the Sabine River and Arroyo Hondo as borders of their respective lands. The boundary issue was not resolved until the Adam-Onís Treaty (1819–21). Of particular concern to the Spanish was the fear of Anglo-American intruders as agents of political discord and illicit trade. One of the famous filibusters, Philip Nolan, was killed by Spanish forces in 1801 near the site of present Waco. His fate, however, did not frighten away subsequent adventurers, who responded to the lure of wealth and recognized Spain's tenuous hold on the vast, relatively unpopulated land that was Texas.

The most complete census data for Spanish Texas in the early nineteenth century are for 1804, the first year after the sale of Louisiana to the United States. It is quite possible that this systematic count resulted from the need to assess the strength and numbers of the Spanish and Hispanicized population in the face of aggressive Americans to the east. The following population figures were compiled between January and December 1804: Nacogdoches, 789; Presidial Company of San Antonio de Béxar (see SECOND FLYING COMPANY OF SAN CARLOS DE PARRAS), 413; Mission San Juan Capistrano, 74; Mission San Antonio de Valero, 121; Presidio (Settlement) of La Bahía, 399; Presidial Company of La Bahía, 301; Missions La Bahía, Rosario, and Refugio, 224; Mission San Francisco de la Espada, 107; Villa San Fernando de Béxar and Presidio (Settlement) of Béxar, 1,177. Total: 3,605. Although the Spanish-speaking population included merchants and a few artisans such as tailors and blacksmiths, the vast majority of Texans were stock raisers and small farmers. The figures do not include unsettled Indians or black slaves; as Randolph B. Campbell has demonstrated, there were virtually no black slavery in Spanish Texas on the eve of Mexican independence.

José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara
José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Battle of Medina
Battle of Medina. Courtesy of the Thurmond Munson Collection.

The aggregate Hispanic population of Texas in 1810, when Father Hidalgo issued his Grito de Dolores, was probably fewer than 5,000. Events occurring far to the south in Mexico had a brief but important impact on Texas. Juan Bautista de las Casas and a few fellow conspirators led an insurrection in San Antonio that was initially successful, but loyalists regained power after the Casas Revolt by the summer of 1811. A more serious challenge to Spanish rule in Texas came from the activities of José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara and Augustus W. Magee. On the border of Texas and the United States, Gutiérrez and Magee organized a disparate band of filibusters who captured Nacogdoches, La Bahía, and San Antonio. After the fall of the capital, Gutiérrez issued a "Declaration of Independence of the State of Texas" and drafted a Centralist constitution. His Centralist stand and the execution of Spanish prisoners, including the governor of Texas, brought dissension between Gutiérrez and his Anglo-American followers and divided the motley collection of revolutionaries. The insurgents suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of Joaquín de Arredondo at the battle of Medina on August 18, 1813. Subsequently, Arredondo's bloody purges, which substantially depopulated the province, left an indelible mark on Texas and assured that it would remain a Spanish province for another seven years. Those years, however, were frightfully destructive. Although Royalists successfully repelled all military invasions, the defenders of Texas had also become its predators. In the words of Antonio María Martínez, the last governor of Spanish Texas, the king's soldiers had "drained the resources of the country, and laid their hands on everything that could sustain human life."

Vicente Guerrero
Painting, Vicente Guerrero by Anacleto Escutia. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Viceroyalty of New Spain 1819
Viceroyalty of New Spain 1819. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 1821, under the leadership of Agustín de Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero, a successful independence movement in Mexico brought Texas under that new nation. The Mexican War of Independence marked the close of an era in Texas history in which the Franciscan padres had founded and refounded missions at approximately forty different sites. Presidios, numbering ten, had extended from Central Texas eastward to the site of present Robeline, Louisiana, and southward to Chambers Country. Municipalities ranged from Laredo to San Antonio and Nacogdoches. Ranches and farms dotted the landscape. The majority of the population was probably mestizo. After Mexican independence, Hispanics were soon outstripped in numbers by Americans. Modern Texas, however, reflects its Spanish origins in many ways. Given the rich heritage and history of Spanish Texas, it seems preposterous that Jane Long, because she bore an Anglo child at Bolivar Point in December 1821, should continue to be nicknamed the "the Mother of Texas." That honor in large measure belongs to thousands of Indian and Spanish women, the earlier mothers of Texas. See also CATHOLIC CHURCH, DIALECTS, EXPLORATION, INDIANS, PRESIDIOS, RANCHING IN SPANISH TEXAS, SPANISH MAPPING OF TEXAS, and SPANISH MISSIONS.


Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Donald E. Chipman, Spanish Texas, 1519–1821 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992). Rupert N. Richardson, Texas: The Lone Star State (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1943; 4th ed., with Ernest Wallace and Adrian N. Anderson, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1981). Robert S. Weddle, San Juan Bautista: Gateway to Spanish Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968).

Donald E. Chipman


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

Donald E. Chipman, "SPANISH TEXAS," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed November 26, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 25, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.