San Antonio Life in the Early 1800's

 

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The History of Texas: San Antonio Life

(Previous Section: Zebulon Pike Expedition)

In early 1800, San Antonio was in a flourishing state. True, the buildings were mostly mud-houses, yet the place was extensive. The troops were stationed on the east side of the river, near the Alamo, in the new parish of Valero, then under the care of Father Clemente Delgado. The old town had a separate curate. The missions below the town, having been secularized, were all unoccupied, except that of San Jose. These old missions, the work of other days, had long been the seat of hospitality, of refuge, and of prayer; but they had survived the brains that conceived and the hands that reared them, and stood, in 1806, as they still stand, in silent majesty, surveying the changes around them. Let no Vandal innovator disturb their solid proportions; but let them go down to the future, as monuments of the faith of the Franciscan fathers, and the works of their neophytes!

The population of Texas was, at this time, about seven thousand, of which some two thousand lived in San Antonio. This population was made up of Spaniards, creoles, and a few French, Americans, civilized Indians, and half-breeds. Their habits were wandering, the most of them being engaged in hunting buffaloes and wild horses. The former furnished them meat; with the latter they carried on a contraband trade with Louisiana. To check in some degree this rambling life, Governor Cordero restricted the hunting of buffaloes to a particular season of the year, and obliged every family to cultivate a certain quantity of land.

Society had been greatly improved in San Antonio by the officers of the army as well as the new settlers. Among the leaders of fashion and polite manners were, next to the governor, Father McGuire, Doctor Zerbin, Captain Ugarte and his lady, and Colonel Delgado. These attended to the hospitalities of the town, and introduced among the inhabitants a suavity of manners and a fondness for social intercourse which served much to make San Antonio by far the most pleasant place in Texas. Too much time, however, was spent at cards. Yet at the governor's levee in the evening, or on the public square after supper, where the people, from the chief magistrate down, joined in the Mexican dance, there was great cheerfulness, elegant manners, and much interesting conversation.

The Indians, overawed by such a display of military force, had been quiet for some time. Along the San Antonio road none were to be found, except the Tonkawas, who numbered some six hundred warriors. They had lodges on the right bank of the Guadalupe and on the Brazos. They were miserably poor, and badly treated. Upon the evacuation of Louisiana by the Spaniards, many of the Indian tribes, still wishing to be under their jurisdiction, followed them over to Texas. Among these may be named the Alibamons (Alabamas), once a powerful nation residing on the banks of the river that bears their name, who have retreated and wasted away before the white race, until a small remnant of less than a hundred, including a kindred tribe, the Cushattas, are now surrounded on the banks of the Trinity, where they must shortly expire.

The principal commerce of Texas in 1806 was with Mexico, by way of Monterey and Monclova, and with New Orleans, by way of Natchitoches—the last being contraband. Their neighbors on the south had made some progress. The new province of Santander (now Tamaulipas) had been organized; and the capital of the same name (now San Fernando) was located forty miles from the gulf, and ninety miles south of the Rio Grande, on the Conchos river. The country between that river and the Rio Grande being excellent for pasturage, some flocks and herds of horses, cattle, and sheep, were found scattered over it.

The population of Coahuila had in the meantime increased to seventy thousand, of which Monclova had thirty-five hundred; but Parras and Santa Rosa were each more populous. The presidio numbered about twenty-five hundred, mostly Indians, civilized at the four handsome missions erected there. The government kept here a powder-magazine for the supply of Texas.

The town of Paso del Norte was in a flourishing condition. It had numerous vineyards, which, producing fine wines, sup-plied New Mexico, Chihuahua, and even Coahuila. It also produced excellent wheat and other small grains. About two miles above the town, the authorities had constructed a bridge across the Rio Grande, which formed the great passway from New Mexico. From this bridge a canal was cut to the town, which irrigated all the farms below. In addition to this, immense flocks of sheep were raised here, and annually driven to the markets. Don Francisco Garcia, a wealthy merchant and planter; Don Pedro Roderique Rey, the lieutenant-governor; Father Jose Prado, the curate; and Captain Allencaster, the brother of the governor of New Mexico, were among the leaders of taste and good society in this place of luxurious living.

When we speak of society in Texas, at the beginning of the 1800's, allusion is made to the Spaniards, many of whom had come from the polite cities of the mother-country, or from the viceregal palace in Mexico. The priests generally were men of good classical reading, as were many of the officers in the regular service. These set a good example of taste and elegance, which, of course, produced its imitative effect on the creoles and civilized Indians. Thus was the fierce temper of a frontier life guided and moderated; and the people, having no care of politics, passed their leisure time in playing at games, in dancing, and in conversing, mostly upon one of the subjects of money, women, or horses.

On occasions of religious festivals, so frequent in every Roman catholic country, all ranks of the people participated with a hearty good will, though not always to their own edification, or to the credit of the church.

[Next Section of Texas History: Mexican Independence Movement]

 

 

 

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