EXPLORATION. Human exploration of the future Texas began during the Pleistocene, when lower sea levels exposed a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska and Homo sapiens sapiens migrated into what is now North America. The first explorers and perhaps colonizers possibly reached the continent during a convenient interglacial period, perhaps some 24,000 or more years ago. Other theories of Pre-Columbian exploration suggest that mariners from China, Africa, and the Mediterranean may have reached the New World by following favorable ocean currents. Numerous legends support the idea of transoceanic contacts, but the material evidence remains inconclusive. The first known explorers of Texas were the Clovis people of the Paleo-Indian Stage. An unmistakable presence of bone and stone evidence points to human exploratory and colonizing activity in Texas after 11,500 B.P. Clovis stone projectile points have been found in playas and ancient springs in the far north (Blackwater Draw, the Lake Theo Site,qqv Lubbock Lake, and Miami), and in rockshelters and stratigraphic layers in South and Central Texas (Aquarena Springs and the Levi Siteqqv). These points tell us of remarkable hunters and gatherers-men, women, and children whose daily existence was often tied to challenging exploration and later adaptation to a changing climate. For the Clovis and their probable Folsom and Plainview descendants, Pleistocene Texas was an extraordinary environment: full of dangerous species, paleosavannas noisy with game animals, high-quality lithic resources, plentiful rockshelters, and tremendous springlands. Though never numerous, perhaps a thousand or so on the great Llano mesa, the Clovis people explored Texas vigorously from a network of base camps, overlooks, kill sites, quarries, and hunting camps. Although the Paleo-Indians were likely more sedentary and vegetarian than the mammoth hunters of popular imagination, they ranged through and beyond the present state, widely exploited favored environmental niches at the end of the last Ice Age, and diffused flint from distant sources like the renowned Alibates Flint Quarries, the "Paleolithic Pittsburgh" along the Canadian River outcroppings.
From the Clovis people forward the confederacy of peoples and ecosystems now called Texas has experienced most of the possible American discovery process. For 11,000 years or so each arriving human culture-Clovis, Pandale, Pedernales, Perdiz, Tonkawa, Coahuiltecan, Comanche, Spanish, French, English, Scots, Irish, African, and many others-has engaged in a spatial-environmental learning process of continual exploration and reexploration in Texas. The process was certainly vital to Archaic and Pre-Contact hunting and gathering peoples. Hunting, trading, climatic shifts, limited agriculture, transhumance, and sheer curiosity led to Archaic Stage exploration of the region that merged so conveniently the coast and mountain, plain and swamp. But even modern Texans must learn to explore and master a complicated world of satellite-city urbanization, internodal transportation, and ranching and agricultural enterprises. An important change in exploration over the past eleven millennia has been the means and ends of the ancient search. The Clovis Texans walked, hunted game trails, and used ordinary eyesight to open the secrets of a new continent; Texans at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston or the University of Texas McDonald Observatoryqv travel by other means and use advanced technology to open the secrets of the universe.
European discovery and early exploration. Because of its size and strategic location, Europeans encountered Texas early in their exploration of the New World. After the historical conquest, subjugation, and depopulation of the Greater Antilles, the Spanish turned their attention westward, where a new continent awaited. The discoveries of Florida and Mexico left a large gap between these two realms. Perhaps, they thought, this terra incognita also held the fabled Strait of Anian, the reputed open waterway in the New World that led straight to Asia. One of Cortés's rivals, the overextended governor of Jamaica, Francisco de Garay, authorized an expedition in 1519 to explore the unknown country between the Río Pánuco of Mexico and the "island" of Florida. Lt. Alonso Álvarez de Pineda set out with four ships and 270 men to explore the coast of the Gulf of Mexico on behalf of Garay. He sailed to Florida, explored the western coast, and cast serious doubt on the theory that Florida was an island. The ships then turned and navigated along the mainland Gulf Coast from east to west, sailing into the sunset for weeks. Álvarez noted the mighty Mississippi River on June 2, and thereafter reached the low coast and barrier islands of Texas in late June and July of 1519, a land he called Amichel. His journals and other records are lost, but a pilot's chart from the expedition, now in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain, provided a remarkable outline of the Gulf Coast, including the Texas portion. Indeed, Álvarez de Pineda's expedition discovered that the Gulf Coast was simply part of a vast contiguous mainland. Although there is no evidence that expedition members went ashore in Texas, it is possible that needs for water, fuel, and fresh food may have taken small parties ashore. Another and equally luckless rival of Cortés brought Spanish explorers back to the Texas coast in the fall of 1528. Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition came to grief in the humid Gulf Coast of Florida, with the men reduced to eating their horses and employing their ingenuity in building a small flotilla of barges. These primitive vessels carried them westward along Álvarez de Pineda's newly discovered mainland coast back to the Spanish settlement at Pánuco.
Posterity is fortunate that the disintegration of the Narváez expedition along the Texas coast was recorded in considerable detail by the incomparable Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the greatest of the early discoverers. Cabeza de Vaca was not an explorer in the traditional or scientific sense. He had no specific royal charge, scientific mission, pilots, captains, instruments, writing utensils, or maps available to him in Texas. He was a lucky survivor, a castaway whose storm-tossed barge washed up on San Luis Island, off the west end of Galveston Island, on November 6, 1528. Cabeza de Vaca survived first as an abused captive and then as a small trader, living off the land and among the tribal peoples of the Texas coast. This experience was excellent preparation for exploration of the highest order, precisely because it involved the mental as well as the physical. Hitherto the Spanish had hugged the Texas coast, sending the occasional shore party to land perhaps, but ignoring the interior and its mysterious inhabitants. Now, without any choice in the matter, some eighty Spanish survivors were thrown into Texas from the coast to make their way home. Only "Four Ragged Castaways" managed to do so. For the four-Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Alonso Castillo Maldonado, Dorantes's African slave Estevanico,qqv and Cabeza de Vaca-daily life and survival involved not only an understanding of the physical and ecological realities of the Texas Gulf Coast, but a good deal of intuitive understanding of the Indians they encountered. Their sudden and miraculous appearance in 1536 near Culiacán on the Pacific coast greatly excited the geographic imagination in New Spain. Such leaders as Melchor Díaz, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, and the viceroy Antonio de Mendoza personally heard the survivors relate their adventures in the "northern mysteries." There were curiosities, including a buffalo robe, but it was the carefully considered hearsay reports of settlements, cultivated lands, and possible riches to be found deeper in the north that inspired Viceroy Mendoza to dispatch a reconnaissance under Fray Marcos de Niza and Estevanico. Marcos's subsequent glowing report of the Seven Cities of Cíbola launched an ambitious economic and military penetration of the Southwest from 1540 to 1542 under Mendoza's captain-general, Vázquez de Coronado. One of Coronado's conquistadors, Capt. Hernando de Alvarado, was first to penetrate the buffalo plains to the east. While on the plains in or near Texas, a captive known as El Turco related to Alvarado grand stories of a rich realm called Quivira. The Coronado expedition penetrated Texas from the west in 1541, while the survivors of Hernando De Soto's expedition, under the command of Luis de Moscoso after De Soto's death, penetrated Texas from the east in 1542.
Missionary exploration of New Spain. The missionary exploration of Texas, which began in the west and then broadly swept the state, involved important personages for longer than a century and a half. The beginnings were humble enough. From the raw mining town of Santa Bárbara on the frontier of northern New Spain, a small party of friar-priests and soldiers entered Texas in the summer of 1581. Organized by Fray Agustín Rodríguez with soldiers under Francisco Sánchez (better known as Chamuscado), the party of three Franciscans, nine soldiers, and sixteen Indian servants followed the Conchos River of Chihuahua to its junction with the Rio Grande. From the rancherías at La Junta de los Ríos the Rodríguez-Sánchez expedition advanced up the Rio Grande through the Jumano country of Texas to reach the pueblos of New Mexico, where the friars elected to stay and proselytize. In November 1582 Antonio de Espejo led a relief expedition down the Conchos River. Diego Pérez de Luxán accompanied the party as chronicler, and Fray Bernardino Beltrán volunteered to search for the Franciscan order's remote brethren. At the junction of the rivers the Espejo-Beltrán expedition lingered for 2½ weeks before it too ascended the Rio Grande, passed the Jumano rancherías, and reached the Puebloan settlements. There the searchers learned of the martyrdom of the priests left behind. Espejo explored deeply to the west and then turned eastward to reconnoiter the buffalo plains. Once on the Pecos River, the expedition followed it downstream toward the Rio Grande. This course brought them into West Texas and the Trans-Pecos. Near the site of modern Pecos, Indians advised them of an overland shortcut to the Rio Grande, which they took, thereby passing through the scenic country where Toyah Creek, Balmorhea, Fort Davis, and Marfa are now located, before reaching the Rio Grande just above La Junta de los Ríos.
Two more unauthorized expeditions in the early 1590s completed the probe initiated by the Franciscans. Gaspar Castaño de Sosa led 170 people and their carts and stock across Coahuila in 1590. They started from Monclovaqv, crossed the Rio Grande at an unknown location, advanced upstream, then turned up the Pecos River at its junction with the Rio Grande in what is now Val Verde County. Castaño de Sosa's carts thus rumbled through a long stretch of West Texas on their way to Pecos Pueblo. Eventually royal agents chased Castaño down, arrested him, and dispersed his party. The second unauthorized expedition, under Francisco Leyva de Bonilla and Antonio Gutiérrez de Humaña,qqv not only reached the Puebloans, but penetrated deep into the buffalo plains of Texas last seen by the martyred Fray Padilla and Coronado's men. Legends of a rich Quivira lured Leyva and Gutiérrez to the plains, where they were likely the first Spanish in half a century to explore the Canadian River valley of the Panhandle. The expedition disintegrated farther north on the Great Plains; Leyva was murdered in a quarrel, and the rest were killed or enslaved by hostile Indians.
Successful or not, the unauthorized explorers awakened official interest in the Pueblo country of New Mexico. In one giant leap that moved the frontier far to the north, the enterprising Juan de Oñate led a large and duly authorized entrada through the landmark El Paso del Norte to establish a new colony. From a far-flung outpost soon relocated to Santa Fe, Oñate dispatched his nephew, Vicente de Zaldívar, in the fall of 1599 to explore the buffalo plains to the east. One key to the success of the Spanish explorers was their ability to find Indian guides and utilize members of prior expeditions. Zaldívar made use of a Christianized Indian named Jusephe, who had survived the Leyva-Gutiérrez expedition eastward into the Texas Panhandle. Jusephe guided the group down the Canadian River valley until they encountered nomadic Plains tribes and large bison herds in the western Panhandle. Oñate himself had heard the Coronadoan legends of Quivira, and thither he launched an impressive expedition in 1601. With Jusephe guiding once more, Oñate, two Franciscans, seventy men, eight carts, and hundreds of draft animals entered the Canadian River valley of Texas in the summer of 1601. As the High Plains encompassed them, they observed the rocky outliers, "which the mountains of this land give off," and noted with favor the temperate climate, abundant plums, vast herds of buffalo, and the "springs of good water and groves of trees" found in the valley. A 1602 map of their route, prepared by a Portuguese mariner named Juan Rodríguez, prominently displays the "Río de Magdalena," or Canadian River. This map is said to be the earliest extant map of the American Trans-Mississippi West prepared by an actual observer.
With the gradual Spanish settlement and colonization in New Mexico, a second wave of missionary scouts soon continued the exploration of West Texas. In particular the Jumanos of the South Plains evinced great energy in attracting missionary attention to their rancherías. By this time horses, weapons, disease, and demographic and cultural upheavals were pressuring many tribes; perhaps the Jumanos sought Spanish religious and trade connections partly as a means to find new allies in the desperate wars and migrations. Catholic scholars still debate the claim of a mystical Franciscan nun, María de Jesús de Agreda, to bilocate miraculously while in a religious trance from her cell in Agreda, Spain, and appear before the Jumanos and other tribes of Texas; but accounts of appearances of the "Lady in Blue," a beautiful woman in a blue cloak who walked into remote rancherías and encampments to preach and exhort Texas Indians to seek conversion, circulated in church circles for a century. In any event the Jumanos sought missionaries, and Fray Alonso de Benavides of New Mexico dispatched two friars, Juan de Salas and Diego León, into the southern High Plains of Texas in 1629. Led by Jumano guides, the priests struck out across the flat immensity of the plains to reach Jumano rancherías along the Middle Concho River of the Colorado River country. They were pleased by their reception, wrote favorably of the local pecans, and discovered that the mussels scooped from the river sometimes contained large freshwater pearls. Fray Ascencio de Zárate and Fray Juan de Ortega returned to the same area in 1632 to proselytize and explore.
The Franciscan reports of pearls brought at least two commercial forays from New Mexico: the Martín-Castillo expedition (1650) and the expedition of Diego de Guadalajara (1654). These were large, well-financed operations that penetrated as far as the future Tom Green County. Indian allies were set to work harvesting pearls for many months, while Spanish scouting parties explored the surrounding country and looking for a reputed "Kingdom of the Teyas." In 1656 Fray Juan Pérez and Fray Juan Cabal started a small church near El Paso del Norte. From new bases in Coahuila and Nuevo León other small parties of Franciscans also penetrated beyond the Rio Grande into Texas. Fray Francisco Peñasco de Lozano and Fray Manuel de la Cruz ventured beyond the Rio Grande in 1674 on conversion missions in what later became Val Verde and Kinney counties. As Spanish pressure intensified toward the Rio Grande, several tribes attacked them, thus eliciting punitive expeditions from the Saltillo and Monterrey regions. In 1663 troops under Juan de la Garza attacked Cacaxtle Indians near the vicinity of modern Eagle Pass. It is possible that Juan de la Garza crossed the rio Grande and traveled as far as sixty-five miles north of the site of present-day Eagle pass. In 1665 Fernando de Azcué definitely crossed the Rio Grande near the same site. At the head of a large company of soldiers and Indian allies, he eventually routed the Cacaxtles at a battle some sixty-five miles into Texas, possibly near the Nueces River. In 1675 a larger expedition under Fernando del Bosque and the devout Franciscan Fray Juan Larios may have crossed the lower Rio Grande at Paso de Francia (see SAN ANTONIO CROSSING). The Bosque-Larios expedition penetrated West Texas for many leagues, returned to the Rio Grande via the Pecos River, and made strong recommendations to establish more missions in the region. This sentiment was echoed by Juan Domínguez de Mendoza and Fray Nicolás Lópezqqv after their journey into the Edwards Plateau in 1683. Domínguez's prior experience with the Guadalajara pearling foray proved useful when he left El Paso del Norte in December of 1683. He descended the Rio Grande to La Junta, where Father López and another friar joined the expedition. The Mendoza-López party turned northeast, traversed a long stretch of what is now West Texas to reach the Pecos River, followed the river to the vicinity of Horsehead Crossing, then struck out east-northeast across the flat, featureless plains that intergrade the Edwards Plateau with the Southern High Plains. After returning to the Pecos River crossing by a new southern route, Mendoza and López retraced their prior route through the future Pecos, Brewster, and Presidio counties to reach La Junta.
By the latter seventeenth century, other distractions, problems, and opportunities diminished the Franciscan exploration impulse for West Texas. Nevertheless, the missionary pathfinders had blazed the essential trails across West Texas and into South Texas, trails that others now used for exploratory, commercial, punitive, and eventual colonization efforts to the north and east. Franciscan place names often endured. And after the various Spanish disasters along the inhospitable Gulf Coast, the plains and riverine corridors of the Rio Grande, the Pecos, the Canadian, the Concho, and the upper Colorado were now known and considered pleasant enough. With the Great Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico (1680), the exploration of Texas from the west or New Mexican side subsided. Many of the beleaguered Spanish survivors established themselves at El Paso del Norte (present-day Ciudad Juárez). But even as they lost the province of New Mexico, the northern frontier of New Spain had advanced to the Río Bravo or Rio Grande. Other far-flung outposts now superseded the mining district around Santa Bárbara as a staging area for exploration to the north and east. The new outposts of El Paso del Norte, La Junta de los Ríos, and the trail to Paso de Francia on the lower Rio Grande all laid the foundation for future endeavors.
French and Spanish exploration. Shortly after the Pueblo Revolt, a feared European rival turned all Spanish attention to the Gulf Coast and coastal interior. The dramatic appearance of René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, at Matagorda Bay in 1685 spurred the Spanish into new rounds of military, economic, and religious exploration of coastal and East Texas in the latter 1600s. French rivalry with the Spanish proved a boon to exploration, however, as both sides fought for-and sometimes shared-information, trade, and control of the inhospitable intervening territory, the infamous costa brava of Texas, which most mariners feared as a relentlessly hostile environment. The French exploration of Texas was long-lasting and adaptive, but largely commercial. The Spanish reacted vigorously to the alarming disclosures of French presence accumulating from captured deserters, pirates, and Indian reports. From 1685 to 1689 they launched five maritime expeditions and a half dozen overland efforts to search for Fort St. Louis. Further, newly arriving Franciscans such as Fray Damián Massanet and Fray Francisco Hidalgoqqv now found their attention and missionary interest drawn eastward to the Tejas or Hasinai Confederacy of East Texas. Even a French expedition under Henri de Tonti entered Texas to search for survivors of La Salle's coastal colony. The most important of the Spanish maritime expeditions in search of La Salle's fort was the Rivas-Iriarte expedition. Two specially commissioned, shallow-draft ships, the Rosario and Esperanza, were placed under the command of captains Martín de Rivas and Pedro de Iriarteqqv respectively. These so-called "Two Ladies" carried the explorers along the entire length of the Texas coast in the spring of 1687; indeed, Rivas and Iriarte circumnavigated the Gulf of Mexico. Using the accurate celestial navigation skills of Juan Enríquez Barroto, the group prepared outstanding reports, maps, and records of coordinates for the entire Gulf coastline. Their voyage along the Texas coast was the most thorough and advanced to that date. Among other achievements, they accomplished a reasonably precise latitudinal fix of 25°55' west latitude for the mouth of the Río Bravo (Rio Grande), a long sail past Padre Island with Indians running along the dunes to observe them, a sounding of Aransas Pass, a detour into Cedar Bayou, a reckoning of Cavallo Pass into Matagorda Bay, the discovery of the wrecked French ship Belle, a reconnaissance of Palacios Point and Lavaca Bay, a fix on Caney Creek, an important exploration-perhaps the first with any scientific basis-of Galveston Bay on April 25, 1687, and finally a detailed study inside Sabine Pass, to which they were led by the abundant discharge of freshwater into the sea. Even before the return of Rivas and Iriarte, nervous officials dispatched a further maritime expedition up the Texas coast. Two frigates under Francisco López de Gamarra and Andrés de Pezqqv sailed in the summer of 1687 along the Texas coastline and sighted Corpus Christi Bay and Galveston Bay. Tales, rumors, a deserter's hoax, and the failure to determine accurately the fate of Fort St. Louis led to the second dispatch of the Rosario and Esperanza to Texas waters in August of 1688 under captains Rivas and Pez. After anchoring their ships in the mouth of Rio Grande, they sent a number of canoes bearing armed Europeans up the river from September 3 to 7. After penetrating the riverine interior as far as Starr County, the canoes returned, and the "Two Ladies" sailed for Matagorda Bay. Once more they failed to find the fort on Garcitas Creek.
Although the Spanish maritime expeditions had charted the coast as never before, of necessity officials turned to a remarkable and experienced overland explorer to solve the French mystery. Alonso De León, who bore the same name as his soldier-explorer father, had already explored the lower Rio Grande in the summer of 1686. The Marqués de Aguayo dispatched him again in the spring of 1687 for a deeper reconnaissance. De León was named governor of Coahuila shortly after his return. After hearing ominous reports of a strange white war chief, very likely a Frenchman, living among the tribes to the north, he was off to Texas for the third time in March 1689. A small party under his leadership found the amazing deserter Jean Jarry "tattooed like a Chichimeco" and living as a tribal chief in what is now Kinney County. Jarry willingly served as a guide. The expedition crossed into Texas at the Paso de Francia, by then a well-known ford, and subsequently followed the broad, grassy parallel of the outer Coastal Plain to avoid the wetlands near the coast. On April 22, 1689, De León found the abandoned Fort St. Louis and the deserted rough dwellings of the colonists, with smashed, torn, and broken belongings strewn everywhere. There were three skeletons, including that of a murdered woman, still unburied. After gathering in two more Frenchmen hiding among the Indians, he returned at last with accurate news on the destruction of the French intruders. The result was De León's expedition of 1690. On April 2, 1690, De León, Massanet, and a large contingent of presidio soldiers crossed the Paso de Francia into Texas. They revisited the Fort St. Louis site; Massanet set fire to the depressing buildings, then De León blazed a trail northeast across the Colorado, Brazos, and Trinity rivers to reach the distant Neches River. There, among the agricultural Hasinai villages, the Spanish ransomed five French survivors who became adventurers themselves; among them was Pierre Talon, one of the Talon children. The Spanish expedition organized the first East Texas barrier to French intrusion, San Francisco de los Tejas Mission. After its affairs seemed in order, De León and Massanet left the new mission with three priests and three soldiers.
At De León's death in March 1691, the process of exploration and expansion into Texas entered a new phase. The further travels and records of Domingo Terán de los Ríos and Father Massanet in establishing additional missions extended Spanish presence and led to the exploration of the Caddoan villages of the Red River country in 1691. Preoccupied with internal affairs and frontier troubles, the Spanish launched fewer large expeditions into Texas from 1684 to 1714. Instead, both Spanish and French explorers concentrated on consolidating the approaches. Importantly, Diego Ramón relocated the mission outpost of San Juan Bautista to a more favorable site near the Paso de Francia in 1700. At this gateway on the south bank of the Rio Bravo, now thirty-five miles below the site of Eagle Pass, Texas, the mission settlement San Juan Bautista became the new staging area on the "Camino de Francia y de los Tejas." San Juan Bautista del Río Grande eventually grew to three missions and a presidio. Its occupants carried the seeds of destruction for many Coahuiltecans recruited for new missions, for a devastating outbreak of smallpox raged among the crowded camps and settlement in 1706 and spread north into Texas. From the missions and presidio a new generation of explorers also set out for Texas in the early 1700s. Though some of these were veterans of the De León or Terán expeditions, others were officers, adventurers, and the anonymous Indian explorers routinely used as spies on the French to the east. In 1709 the Espinosa-Olivares-Aguirre expedition advanced inland from San Juan Bautista to the fabulous tributary springlands along the San Antonio River. Before pushing on to the Colorado River, Fray Espinosa and Fray Olivares explored San Pedro Springs and Los Olmos Springs, finding the fountains and fertile lands sufficient for an entire city.
Spanish lethargy was shaken again in July 1714 with the unexpected arrival at San Juan Bautista of a brilliant Frenchman, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, a cousin of the French explorer Sieur d'Iberville. St. Denis had been charged by Governor Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac with opening trade connections to the east. After boldly crossing Texas, he was amiably arrested by Commandant Diego Ramón at San Juan Bautista, where he nevertheless charmed the Spanish entirely, married into the Ramón family, and eventually reemerged from Mexico City with a Spanish commission to help reestablish Spanish settlement in East Texas. Spanish exploration thus entered another reactive phase, a burst of activity leading directly this time to the settlement of interior Texas. From 1716 to 1790, more than a score of major expeditions, other reconnaissances and inspections, and an ambitious network of settlements and trails all gave the Spanish undeniable claims to the region. Inspired by St. Denis, supported by the missionary colleges of Zacatecas and Querétaro, and funded by the crown, Domingo Ramón's entrada left San Juan Bautista and reached the Tejas tribes of East Texas in late June 1716. Fray Francisco Hidalgo and Fray Antonio Margil de Jesús supervised the establishment of four new missions, expanded a few months later with two more missions and a presidio. A new viceroy, the Marqués de Valero, authorized a second strategic way station in Texas with the entrada of Martín de Alarcón. A feuding Alarcón and Fray Olivares crossed separately into Texas in April of 1718 and rendezvoused on the San Antonio River. On May 1, 1718, Alarcón gave possession of the projected San Antonio de Valero Mission (the Alamo) to Olivares, who had just arrived. A small nearby fort, San Antonio de Béxar Presidio, provided a tenuous sense of security for the ten families or so making up the villa of San Fernando de Béxar. Fear of a widespread French invasion, after a small French expedition under Philippe Blondel seized the new settlement at Los Adaes in what became known as the "Chicken War," caused the Spanish to abandon East Texas to the French. The Spaniards withdrew to San Antonio under Fray Margil while awaiting further action.
The subsequent expeditions of the wealthy Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo in 1721 and 1722 displayed the increasing elaboration of Spanish exploration into settlement. The Spanish visionary and colonizer Col. José de Escandón settled thousands of colonists from 1749 to 1755 in some twenty new towns, many on the Rio Grande frontier. Under his auspices the enduring Mexican borderland communities of Reynosa (1749), Camargo (1749), Revilla (Guerrero) (1750), and Mier (1753), as well as Roma (1751) and Laredo (1755), Texas, came into being. Escandón, the greatest of the eighteenth-century empresarios, laid the foundation for almost half the Texas borderland and much of South Texas.
By the 1740s three further areas of expansionary interest were the San Gabriel River, the lower Trinity basin, and the San Saba River country. Under Fray Mariano Francisco de los Dolores y Viana, the short-lived San Xavier missions were established in the San Gabriel River valley, which had been known to the Spanish since Ramón's visit in 1716. The missions were moved to the San Marcos River in 1755. Capt. Joaquín de Orobio y Basterraqv of La Bahía explored the lower Trinity basin in 1746. Small parties reconnoitered the San Saba River valley in the Hill Country shortly after the founding of San Antonio de Béxar in 1718.
The contemporary French explorers of Texas were on the whole equally capable and intelligent, with an aptitude for scientific cartography and a ready supply of experienced traders and frontiersmen as pathfinders. Indeed French commercial forays into Texas were routine by the 1740s. Two remarkable French brothers and adventurers discovered a natural trade route between New Orleans and Santa Fe in 1739–40. After boldly crossing the Great Plains from the Missouri River, Pierre and Paul Mallet'sqqv party of traders arrived in Santa Fe to the delight of settlers and the consternation of officials. The sheer bravado of the Mallets' feat inspired initial respect from the Spanish authorities, even if the desired commercial connection was denied owing to the usual mercantilist fears; indeed, the Spanish arrested the Mallets in 1751, when they had the audacity to show up again in Santa Fe. Some of the finest eighteenth-century explorers of Texas were undoubtedly the obscure contrabandistas, traders of mostly French extraction that roamed East Texas, the Red River country, the lower Trinity and Brazos River basins, and rarely the Canadian River valley in the far north. Culturally adept with local Indians, skilled at survival, and commercially prominent in the vital weapons, powder, and lead shot trade, contrabandistas often settled among the Texas tribes to trade, repair guns, hunt, and explore new lands.
With the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Spain dramatically acquired French Louisiana and its vast territory, as well as the unwelcome advances of more determined eastern rivals-the English initially, but steadily after 1776 an insurgent and growing nation known as the United States of America. After delay and confusion, Spanish officials reversed themselves and displayed a new interest in connecting New Orleans and Natchitoches, Louisiana, with Santa Fe and San Antonio. To aid in this task Spanish officials tolerated the services of an important generation of talented French explorers-Athanase de Mézières, Pedro Vial,qqv and Gaignard-for the east and north of Texas, while using its own explorers and inspectors for the critical west, central, and south regions of Texas. West and Central Texas suffered alarmingly from Apache and Comanche raids. The Marqués de Rubí finished a long inspection tour in 1767 by recommending that the appalling frontier presidios of Texas be closed. His recommendations, largely implemented in 1772, led once more to a forced retreat from East Texas. The journeys of Mézières in the 1770s and Vial in the 1780s epitomized the adaptive Spanish use of French explorer-diplomats and traders in the reorganization of the northern frontier during the 1780s. Mézières, a talented administrator, diplomat, and linguist, was born in Paris but began service with the Spanish in an expedition to the Red River (1770). He worked relentlessly to win the allegiance of the disturbed northern tribes-the Tawakonis, Tonkawas, and Taovayas-in 1778, while traveling between Natchitoches, the Taovaya villages on the Red River, Quiscat's villages of the Tawakonis, and San Antonio. Perhaps the most colorful and unorthodox French explorer to serve the Spanish was the former French contrabandista Pierre (Pedro) Vial. Where a large force might have encountered difficulty in Comanche country, small parties under Vial and José Mares proved to be extraordinary trailblazers. After departing from San Antonio in 1786, Vial traveled up the Colorado River, turned to Quiscat's villages of the Waco Indians, and advanced to the Taovaya villages on the upper Red River. He made friends with the Comanches, including the great chief Ecuerocapa, then crossed the High Plains to the Canadian River, and rode thence to Santa Fe. In the search for an even shorter route authorities dispatched Mares, a retired corporal, who in 1787–88 blazed an admirable trail between San Antonio and Santa Fe across the High Plains, the Caprock canyonlands, the Rolling Plains, and Central Texas. Shortly after Mares's return, the New Mexican governor sent Vial and the diarists Fragoso and Fernández on a further journey, this time to find a direct route to Natchitoches, Louisiana. On his return voyage Vial traveled across the Llano Estacado, noted the playas, descended Palo Duro Canyon on July 4, 1788, and shortened the time and distance back to San Antonio. Vial and his companions returned to Santa Fe in 1789, exploring Blanco Canyon and crossing "el llano"-the vast flatland of the Southern High Plains. This area, the Llano Estacado, was increasingly the focus of eastward exploration by ciboleros and Comancherosqqv from New Mexico. The trails of Vial and Mares revealed the secrets of the Red River sources to the Spanish and promised to link New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana together. The trade caravans never materialized, however, and new rivals appeared.
American exploration. The American exploration of Texas begins with small streams of castaways, runaways, traders, and adventurers, then suddenly swells into a mighty current of colonizers and United States emigrants, officers and troops, diarists and scientists, hunters and farmers, all cascading across an insurgent province that won its independence as a republic in 1836. One of the first legendary travelers was John Rozée Peyton, who was captured in the Gulf of Mexico and marched with his Jamaican servant up the Rio Grande to Santa Fe. With the apparent help of the jailer's daughter, Peyton and two companions escaped Santa Fe in the winter of 1774 and made their way eastward across Texas and on to St. Louis. Spanish officials tolerated Americans like Moses Austin, who pioneered settlements in Missouri, as the price of peopling the land. But they widely feared expansionist Americans looking to build contraband trade with Spanish Texas. The most worrisome of the new Americans was Philip Nolan. This protégé of Gen. James Wilkinson first traveled to Texas in 1791 at the age of twenty. After being relieved of his goods by Spanish officials, the youth wandered extensively among the Comanches and Taovayas, who proved as friendly to American contrabandistas as to French ones. Within a decade, Nolan's trading and mustanging activities had taken him to San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and Central Texas, and to many more remote camps of Comanches and Taovayas. He was one of the best informed Americans about Texas, and a decided expert on the strategic Red River country. His explorations provided key insights for the expansionist Americans. He has often been credited as the first American to map Texas, but no map of his has been found. His observations, however, were used to draw up a map of the Texas-Louisiana frontier around 1804. Operating from Natchez, Mississippi, Nolan was also a dedicated spy. His journey into Texas in late 1800 was a fatal mistake, for Spanish soldiers killed him somewhere in Central Texas in 1801.
For the United States the key to westward expansion toward Texas lay with European wars. Emperor Napoleon I reacquired Louisiana in 1800 for the French, plotted a projected colonial empire, and then broke all understandings with Spain by selling the territory in 1803 to the United States. With the stroke of a pen, the fortunate young nation acquired a new boundary, a new realm in which to exercise the Enlightenment passion for exploration, and a new course of empire. Under Thomas Jefferson's direction American explorers begin probing the new southwestern frontier. In 1804, at the urging of Jefferson, the scientists William Dunbar and George Hunter attempted an expedition up the mysterious Red River. They explored the Ouachita River area and the region near the site of present-day Hot Springs, Arkansas, but never explored the Red River region. Jefferson was more successful with the 1806 Red River expedition. The surveyor Thomas Freeman and the youthful naturalist Peter Custis assembled a flotilla of flatboats and canoes and ascended the Red River in the spring of 1806, bypassing the Great Raft. At Spanish Bluff a superior Spanish force under Francisco Viana confronted and turned back the party, but Freeman and Custis had already studied and mapped more than 600 miles of the Red River.
Barely six weeks after Freeman and Custis were turned back, six American traders under John. S. Lewis and William C. Alexander slipped past Spanish patrols and followed the Red River to the plains. They delivered an American flag to the Taovaya villages and went mustanging with the Comanches. Indeed, despite Spanish protestations and patrols, American traders thoroughly penetrated the lower and upper Red River. "Captain" Anthony Glass entered Texas in 1808 at an Alabama-Coushatta village, followed the "Pani-Conchetta Trace" along the Sulphur River, hunted buffalo on the Blackland Prairie near the site of modern Paris, Texas, and reached the Taovaya villages on the upper Red River. Glass and several companions traveled deeper into the Rolling Plains, coveted a sacred meteorite near the site of modern Albany in Shackelford County, saw the Callahan Divide, and descended the Colorado River before returning home. George Schamp, Ezra McCall, and other traders returned in 1809 to the middle Brazos River country to take the fantastic meteorite, which they supposed to be a valuable mass of platinum. American frontiersmen and squatters soon crossed to the south side of the Red River near the Great Bend. Worried authorities in the Provincias Internas correspondingly dispatched more Spanish military patrols and even an occasional large expedition. In 1808 Capt. Francisco Amangual led a 200-man force to reconnoiter the distant plains between San Antonio and Santa Fe. He and his men traveled north from San Antonio and the old San Luis de las Amarillas Presidio, parleyed with the Comanches, ascended the Llano Estacado at Blanco Canyon, and crossed the hot, dusty plains to reach the Canadian River and thence Santa Fe. Amangual laid out the shortest route from San Antonio to Santa Fe, then returned to San Antonio via El Paso.
A decade later Mexico won her independence, and a veritable tide of American settlers and squatters soon took advantage of the new nation's generosity with land grants. Geographic interest in the Red River boundary had accelerated after the conclusion of the Adams-Onís Treaty in 1819. The United States dispatched Maj. Stephen Harriman Long to the sources of the Red River in 1820, but Long bungled his assignment by following the Canadian River all the way through the Texas Panhandle. In noticeable contrast to the Spanish explorers' simple diarios y derroteros, secreted soon after the expeditions in the archives, Stephen Long's expedition narrative and scientific measurements were soon published for an eager eastern readership. The narrative was printed by a London publisher. American exploration thus opened a distinctive romantic horizon, where the explorer-hero narrated thrilling incidents in the West. Long employed a journalist-naturalist, Edwin James, and an artist, Samuel Seymour, to document the new visions. Long's vision of the High Plains led to the unfortunate label "Great American Desert," but for the day and time his expedition was a model of the new approach to exploration then spreading under Alexander von Humboldt's influence from Europe to Texas. In 1827 the Mexican government launched an expedition under the command of Manuel de Mier y Terán. The group, which included mineralogist Rafael Chovell and naturalist Jean L. Berlandier, was prevented from fulfilling one of its goals-a survey of the northeastern boundary of Texas-but succeeded in gathering significant collections of natural history material and taking various scientific measurements.
With the de facto independence of an American-dominated Texas in 1836, the exploration goals and process changed significantly between 1836 and 1845. The northern Indians were still friendly to such well-armed Americans with trade goods as Josiah Gregg, who explored a Canadian River trail to Santa Fe. Gregg's Commerce of the Prairies (1844) contained valuable botanical and geographical information about Texas, as did his map of the southern plains (1845). The pushy, slave-holding Texans to the south, however, were considered dangerous foes to the Indians. After Indian raids, counter-raids by Texas Rangersqv increased exploration and the acquisition of new land beyond the outermost farms, plantations, and towns. The Cross Timbers, the Canebrakes, the Hill Country, the Rolling Plains, the Big Thicket, the Rio Grande, and ultimately Comanchería itself became centers of contact and reexploration for hundreds of new Texans. What was largely old ground for Spanish and Mexican explorers was often a new world for American arrivals such as Albert Pike and William A. (Bigfoot) Wallace.qqv The country awaited their names, discoveries, trails, and towns. Many a Texan frontiersman, trailblazer, or peripatetic pioneer often saw himself as the "first white man" to discover a feature or place-an ethnocentric perception applied to the existing Indian and Spanish worlds. Two important Republic of Texas expeditions furthered the enmity between Mexico and Texans. The privateering Snively expedition set out across the interior plains in 1843 to waylay supposedly rich caravans, while the Texan Santa Fe expedition of 1841 disastrously sought to force Texan trade and control over Santa Fe. The great failure of the latter expedition underscored the problems of large groups with inadequate maps trying to make their way among hostile Indians across the unknown plains of Texas.
The annexation of Texas in 1845 and the subsequent Mexican War launched a fresh wave of less amateur exploration into the new state. Engineers under Zachary Taylor surveyed the Gulf Coast and mapped a victorious army's progress from Texas into Mexico. More importantly, a new generation of government-sponsored western explorers, often officers from the Corps of Topographical Engineers and civilian professionals, took to the field after the war. In a dozen years, a remarkable series of well-trained and experienced officer-explorers carried a transnational culture of science into Texas as they traversed, measured, plotted, observed, classified, and described much of the annexed state. Their expeditions provided vivid accounts, scientific data, information on natural history, important maps, and ethnographic studies of great worth. Moreover, advances in lithographic illustration added a strong visual component to the mid-nineteenth century exploration of Texas. Important new directions in Texas exploration involved surveying the Mexican boundary (William H. Emory and John R. Bartlettqqv), blazing westward trails (John S. Ford, Nathaniel Michler, William H. C. Whiting, Randolph Marcy,qqv and James H. Simpson), locating Indian reservations (Robert S. Neighborsqv), establishing frontier defense posts and patrols (Marcy), surveying potential routes for the projected transcontinental railroad (Amiel W. Whipple, John Pope, Andrew B. Grayqqv), and opening the remaining terrae incognitae (James W. Abert, George B. McClellan, and Marcy). The federal exploration of Texas began in earnest with the 1845 expedition of Lt. James William Abert, an offshoot of John C. Frémont's third expedition. Abert left Bent's Fort in August of 1845 to reconnoiter the Canadian River country. He encountered and sketched numerous Comanches in the Texas Panhandle. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, attention shifted to the sensitive Texas borderland and the strategic far West. Emory, Michler, and others overcame chaos and supply problems for years to survey the difficult Rio Grande. Emory rose to become chief astronomer of the Boundary Commission, then replaced the troubled Bartlett as commissioner. Some idea of the obstacles is gleaned from the adventures of W. M. T. Chandler's party, which surveyed the treacherous canyons of the Big Bend and passed the Comanche War Trail. One member of this hungry, ragged surveying crew, Charles Abbott, shot the rapids of Santa Elena Canyon in a rubber boat in order to draw a crude map of the area. The published and illustrated reports of the surveyors, particularly Emory's three-volume work Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, made Under the Direction of the Secretary of the Interior (1857–59) and John R. Bartlett's Personal Narrative (1854), stirred the Victorian interest in southwestern landscapes.
The discovery of gold in California brought an immediate military-commercial need for wagon roads and trails across Texas. Capt. Randolph Marcy and Lt. James H. Simpson of the Topographical Engineers opened the Fort Smith-Santa Fe Road in 1849, when they escorted a large wagontrain of gold seekers across the unsettled Panhandle. Marcy explored even farther on his return trek over the Trans-Pecos, across the Monahans Sandhills and lower Llano Estacado, through the Rolling Plains and Cross Timbers (where he noted new sites for frontier defense), and then back to Fort Smith. Marcy's travels proved invaluable in finding sites for new army forts. Such outposts as Fort Belknap, Fort Phantom Hill, and Fort Chadbourne not only provided a closing ring of staging areas for exploration and conquest, but also served as convenient way stations for the 1858 Butterfield Overland Mail route. Early civilian efforts to link San Antonio to El Paso began in 1848 when Texas Ranger John Coffee Hays and Capt. Samuel Highsmithqqv focused on opening a trail across West Texas. In 1850–52 Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston commanded a party of topographical engineers that surveyed and explored potential wagon roads and future railroad lines across Texas. Texas Ranger "Rip" Ford and Robert S. Neighbors blazed a northern route across the Edwards Plateau to the Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River, a route resurveyed by Lt. Francis T. Bryan of the Topographical Engineers. A southern route to El Paso was first surveyed by topographical engineers under Lt. W. H. C. Whiting. The Topographical Engineers thus explored and surveyed the most important trails in West Texas, Central Texas, and the Trans-Pecos. In general the military exploration of Texas satisfied the complex political, economic, and scientific demands now made by an evolving national interest. The growing professionalism of exploration is evidenced in the "Great Reconnaissance" of the 1850s, when government teams of engineers, surveyors, soldiers, and scientists explored two of the four parallels for a projected transcontinental railroad within Texas. Captain Amiel Whipple conducted a masterly sweep across the thirty-fifth parallel. In the winter of 1853–54 surveying parties under John G. Parke and John Pope found excellent prospects for a railroad on the southern crossing of the thirty-second parallel. Andrew Belcher Gray led a private expedition financed by the Texas Western Railroad into the field to tout the southern route as well. Sectional rivalry postponed any construction, but the voluminous reports of the Pacific Railroad stand as monuments to the national exploration impulse in Texas and elsewhere.
Two of the finest explorers of this period were Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors and Capt. Randolph Marcy. Authorized to find sites for Indian reservations, Neighbors and Marcy explored together the upper Brazos and Wichita River and much of Northwest Texas in 1854. As typical explorers of the age, they examined the geography, mapped the topography, collected specimens, parlayed with Penatekas and other Indians, inventoried resources, found routes for roads, reconnoitered new sites for forts and towns, and recorded climatic and ethnographic data. As stories of expeditions gained popularity, William B. Parker's Through Unexplored Texas (1856) narrated the Marcy expedition to a reading public. Marcy, already an author, earned national attention with his classic Exploration of the Red River of Louisiana in the Year 1852 (1853). Americans were still uncertain of the sources of the Red River in 1851, although it was no secret to the Comanches, Wichitas, or comancheros. To penetrate this terra incognita, Marcy assembled in 1852 a model expedition of military and civilian professionals, including Capt. George B. McClellan, engineer and later presidential candidate against Abraham Lincoln, Black Beaver, a trusted and skilled Delaware guide, and Dr. George G. Shumard, a pioneer Texas geologist. In exploring the upper reaches of the Red River-Palo Duro Canyon, Tule Canyon, and the Prairie Dog Town and North forks-Marcy's men settled the mystery of the Red River while compiling a Wichita vocabulary, recording meteorological data, and collecting hundreds of plant, animal, and mineral specimens for examination by eastern scientists.
Many other naturalists and collectors were also busy exploring the Texas landscape. At a time when the scientific frontier coincided with the geographic frontier, Texas enjoyed a superabundance of naturalist-explorers. John James Audubon, Alexander Dallas Bache, Francis C. Baker, Viktor Friedrich Bracht,qqv Edwin James, Jules Marcou, and George Shumard labored to uncover the nature of the state. A long line of botanists, including Jean L. Berlandier, Thomas Drummond, Charles Wright, Julien Reverchon,qqv Frederick Adolphus Wislizenus, and John M. Bigelow, collected and classified many of the state's 5,000 wildflower species. German naturalists such as Ferdinand Lindheimer, Louis C. Ervendberg, and the distinguished explorer Ferdinand von Roemer roamed the Hill Country, identifying endemic species and collecting fossils. The frontiersman and doctor Gideon Lincecum traveled widely, collected voluminously, and became an outstanding naturalist who corresponded with Charles Darwin, among others.
By the time of the Civil War, Texas exploration was a multifaceted, often federally funded, military-commercial enterprise, a thrilling learning process that fielded teams of trained specialists to scan a romanticized landscape. Officers, scientists, engineers, artists, and Indian guides reexplored the entire state as new demands required. A national audience not only admired these heros, but also explored Texas vicariously through the well-illustrated reports and books. Though the Civil War retarded exploration, the return of federal soldiers after 1865 and their successful campaigns to defeat the hostile Texas tribes provided a new round of exploration activity. United States Army troops under Christopher (Kit) Carson had already penetrated the Panhandle in 1874. In fighting that year along the Canadian River the explorer-scout William (Billy) Dixon earned the Medal of Honor. Two army leaders who epitomized the exploration-conquest of North and West Texas were William R. (Pecos Bill) Shafter and Ranald S. Mackenzie,qqv who drove the last Comanches and Wichitas onto Oklahoma reservations in 1875, while vigorously traveling and exploring the landscapes, trails, and resources of the foe. Shafter's men conducted a systematic survey of the southern Llano Estacado and Big Bend region as Mackenzie's men did farther north. Their activities, trails, scouts, and geographic knowledge prepared the way for settlers. Follow-up expeditions like the Ruffner survey in Palo Duro Canyon also provided a wealth of natural-history data prior to pioneer settlement and railroad colonization.
In truth the Texas frontier was gone by 1890. The old, broad exploration impulse never died, however, but shifted into dozens of specialties in science and commerce over the following decades. The instrumentation grew more sophisticated and the terminology became more arcane, but the learning process itself continued with passion and precision. Texans began to explore the nether regions of the state after 1900, turning the age-old human search downward toward underground water, ancient fossils, Paleo-Indian artifacts, geological formations, and enough oil and gas reservoirs to fuel giant new industries. The modern spelunkers of karsts, the scuba divers in the coral gardens, and the petroleum engineers all continue exploration in the state. The search also led twentieth-century Texans to the heavens. A nation watched breathlessly in the 1960s and 1970s as NASA's Mission Control in Houston coordinated the exploration of outer space and the moon. Astronauts, astronomers, programmers, scientists, teachers, businessmen, technicians, and many other Texans are increasingly part of a vast global web of exploration activity at the beginning of the Third Millennium.
Image Use Disclaimer
All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, John Miller Morris, "Exploration," accessed October 23, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/uzeuj.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.