The French and Spanish War


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The History of Texas: The French and Spanish War

(Previous Section: Spanish Missions in Texas)

ON the return of St. Denis to Mobile in 1716, another expedition was started to Mexico. Three Canadians, Do Lery, Lafreniere, and Beaulieu, had charge of it. They carried a considerable amount of merchandise. Before they reached Natchitoches, St. Denis overtook them. He had left his wife at the mission of St. John, on the Rio Grande, and wished to see her. After providing themselves with mules and horses, they set out on their march. On reaching the confines of the Cenis (A-Simais) Indian Nation, they rested a few days, and laid in a new supply of provisions. Again on their way, St. Denis left his company, and hurried on to rejoin his wife. He took with him a few traveling companions and some goods. On reaching the mission, which had been raised to a presidio, his goods were seized by the Spanish authorities; and he set out for the city of Mexico, to see the viceroy, and have them restored. But the new viceroy, the marquis of Valero, who had entered upon his office on the 10th of August, 1716, was not so favorably disposed toward St. Denis as the kind-hearted Linares had been. St. Denis was cast into prison, where he remained a month; but, at the intercession of his wife's relations, he was released, and ultimately had his goods sold and paid for. The money was paid to an agent, however, who ran off with it. St. Denis, in trying to get it restored, had used some harsh and threatening language; and referred to his influence with the Indian tribes in Texas, and how he would use it against the Spaniards settled there. This coming to the ears of the viceroy, he was again thrown into prison; but, through the assistance furnished by the friends of his wife, he made his escape, traversed the country to the presidio of St. John, took his wife with him, and at last safely reached the capital of Louisiana.

The San Antonio Road

The remainder of his company, on reaching the presidio, and learning what had occurred to St. Denis, and that he had gone to the city of Mexico, were alarmed for their own merchandise. To secure it, they entrusted it to the care of the monks of St. John, and ultimately sold it on credit; but, in the meantime, hearing that St. Denis was imprisoned in Mexico, they did not wait for payment, but fled to Louisiana. Thus ended the second attempt of St. Denis to establish a trade with the Spaniards through Texas. If he was not successful, it was not for want of enterprise on his part, nor was it on account of the great virtue of the Spaniards. He did them one good service; he laid out the great thoroughfare through Texas, known as the San Antonio road, which, first traveled in 1714, has been, for a hundred and forty years, the great highway of travel for pleasure and business, for plunder and war.

Crozat, having failed in his Louisiana speculations, surrendered his charter on the 13th of August, 1717; and, in the month following, the colony of Louisiana was transferred to the Company of the Indies, controlled by the notorious John Law.

France Declares War on Spain

In December, 1718, war was declared by France, under the regent duke of Orleans, against Spain. The news reached the French colony of Louisiana in the spring of the next year, when hostilities to a limited extent were carried on between the French and Spanish settlements in Texas. The French government had anticipated this, by sending out the previous year some recruits for the stations and settlements. One hundred and forty-eight had been apportioned to Natchitoches, which, before then, had but a small guard.

On the receipt of the news of the declaration of war, the French immediately proceeded with such force as they could raise at Natchitoches, under the command of La Harpe and St. Denis; and, driving before them the Spaniards at Adaes, Orquizaco, Aes, and Nacogdoches, pursued them to the post of Bexar. In the meantime, the marquis de Aguayo, governor-general of New Estremadura and the New Philippines, offered his services and purse to the viceroy to repel the French. He collected a mounted force of five hundred men, and set out on his march; but the French had retreated, and, when he arrived at Adaes, they were safely in their quarters at Natchitoches. De Aguayo brought with him the parties composing three of the missions that had retreated before the French, which He reestablished—namely, Orquizaco, Adaes, and Aes —leaving a force at the garrison of Nuestra Senora del Pilar, seven leagues from Natchitoches, for their protection. The marquis then returned to San Antonio, and Captain Don Ramon, his second in command, to the presidio of the Rio Grande. De Aguayo engaged in the improvement of San Antonio, and laid down plans for durable missions.

In the meantime, the viceroy Valero appointed Don Martin d'Alarconne, knight of the order of St. Jago, governor of Texas. He entered upon his duties in 1718. The missionaries complained to him, after the return of De Aguayo, that there were not sufficient troops; and that the government of Texas was in every way badly provided. Alarconne, with a view to mend matters, demanded one hundred and seventy-five additional soldiers, together with money and implements.

It seems that it was during this war, and after the return of the French expedition to Bexar, that La Harpe was relieved by St. Denis from the command of the post of Natchitoches, and sent into the interior of Texas—not so much, perhaps, for the purpose of establishing commercial relations with the Spaniards, as the building up of new settlements, and stirring up the Indians against the Spaniards. La Harpe took post among the Nassonites, and sent a polite message to D'Alarconne. He received a reply from the marquis, stating his willingness to be on good terms with the French of Louisiana, but expressing his surprise that La Harpe should be at the Nassonite village, as that territory depended upon New Mexico. La Harpe rejoined, urging the claims of the French to the territory by reason of previous discovery and possession. Nothing further was done by D'Alarconne in defending the Spanish claim; but his demand for more men, money, and implements, being refused, he resigned his office and retired.

Belisle Abandoned in Texas

The "Company of the Indies," having in charge the colony of Louisiana, sent out, in 1719, a thousand Europeans to people it. Among them was M. de Belisle, a gentleman of distinction. The winds and current carried the vessel on which he had embarked into the bay of Matagorda. A boat was sent ashore for water; and Belisle, with four of his companions, went in it, with the consent of the captain. As the boat had to return to the ship, these five officers went out hunting. The captain becoming impatient, and the hunters not returning, he weighed anchor and left them. Being thus abandoned, and lost in an unknown country, they coasted along westward for several days, living upon herbs and insects. Belisle had brought a young dog from the vessel; this he gave up to his companions, to kill for food; they endeavored to do so, but were so weak, that the dog escaped from them, and disappeared. The four companions of Belisle died of starvation and despair, before his eyes; and for some days he continued to subsist on worms and insects, when at last his dog reappeared, with an opossum which he had killed. Shortly after, his dog was wounded by a wild beast, and he was compelled to kill him. Being thus left alone, he turned from the coast, and directed his course to the interior, in search of men. He found footsteps, and followed them to a river, on the opposite bank of which were some Indians engaged in drying meat. Belisle was so well assured they were cannibals, that he imagined they ate human flesh. They stripped him, and divided his clothes among them; they then took him to their village, and gave him to an old widow, who received him into her service, and treated him so kindly, that he gradually recovered his strength. He learned their language, became a warrior, and had greater privileges accorded him. After some time, a deputation from the Nassonites visited the tribe having him in charge; and, seeing him, observed in his hearing that there were men like him near their country. Without seeming to notice the conversation, Belisle inquired privately of one of the deputies as to these white people. He then made ink of soot, and wrote on his commission, which he had preserved, information of his condition, and procured one of the deputies to take it to the white people at Natchitoches, for which he would be well rewarded. The Indian, having performed his duty, delivered the paper to Captain St. Denis, who gave him many presents, and then began to cry, after the Indian manner, in their presence. They inquired what was the matter. St. Denis answered that he wept for his brother, who was a captive among the Indians. As St. Denis was a great friend to the Indians, and a favorite with them, ten of their number volunteered to go after Belisle, and return in two moons. They were furnished with horses, arms, and a horse and clothing for the prisoner. They reached the village, and discharged their guns, which overawed the other Indians; then delivering to Belleisle a letter of assurance from St. Denis, he mounted his horse, and the whole party galloped away and reached Natchitoches in safety, whence Belisle went to the capital of the colony of Louisiana. He afterward became major of New Orleans, and major-general of the marine in Louisiana.

Missouri Indians Massacre the Spanish Party

The Spanish claim to the north and east was indefinite. Like Louis XIV., in his grant to Crozat, they were not only ignorant of the geography of the country, and of the possessions of others, but also of what they could successfully claim as their own. After the success of the Spaniards in re-establishing their missions and military posts in eastern Texas, they determined on driving the French from their settlements on the upper Mississippi. The expedition fitted out for this purpose, in 1720, consisted of an engineer-captain as commander and conductor, a Dominican friar as chaplain, soldiers, men and women, with horses and cattle necessary to form a settlement. The party lost their route, and fell in among the Missouri Indians (the fast friends of the French), mistaking them for the 0sages. It was from the latter tribe that the Spaniards expected aid in attacking the French post on the Illinois. The Missouri chief soon discovered the Spaniard's mistake, but, concealing the matter, affected great friendship for the Spaniards, treated them with hospitality, and promised to march with them at the end of three days. He required this time, he said, to hold a council with his old men, and to assemble his warriors.

In the meantime, the Spanish commander distributed among the Missouris fifteen hundred muskets, with pistols, sabres, and hatchets. On the morning after, at break of day, the Indians, thus armed, fell upon the Spaniards, and butchered the whole of them, except the priest, whose singular dress did not seem to them to belong to a warrior. They called him a magpie, and amused themselves by making him ride a Spanish horse on public occasions.

Shortly afterward, to the astonishment of the French on the Illinois, the Missouris, with their chief at their head, marched into the fort, arrayed in the ornaments of the chapel and the garments of the slain! The chief wore on his naked skin the chasuble, and had the paten suspended from his neck for a breastplate; his head being crowned with feathers and a pair of horns! Thus ended this first and last attempt of Spain to extend her empire to the north.

The patriotic De Bienville, then governor of Louisiana, was not satisfied with the position of affairs in Texas. The Spaniards had occupied too much of the territory, consistent with the claims of France. The correspondence of La Harpe with D'Alarconne was approved by the French government, and the "Company of the Indies" were ordered to take possession of Matagorda bay.

In pursuance of this order, De Bienville, on the 10th of August, 1721, proceeded to send out a vessel with a suitable force to plant at the bay the arms of the king, and to build a fort. Belisle, having previously been a prisoner there, and acquainted with the Indian language, was appointed to the command of the twenty soldiers dispatched, and La Harpe went out as commandant of the bay of St. Bernard. The order was obeyed, and a settlement formed ; but, such was the hostility of the Indians, that the detachment did not long remain on the bay."

[Next Section of Texas History: Texas Between 1721 and 1744]




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