Spanish Settlement of Texas


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The History of Texas: Spanish Settlement of Texas

(Previous Section: La Salle Colony at Lavaca and Fort St. Louis)

EARLY in 1686, the marquis of Laguna, then viceroy of Mexico,* was informed, through the prize taken by the Spaniards from La Salle in the West Indies, of the French expedition; but its destination was then unknown. It is probable that, in La Salle's first expedition into the interior of Texas, the Comanche Indians obtained a knowledge of his location, and communicated it to the Spaniards. At all events, the count of Monclova, who entered on the duties of the viceroyalty in November, 1686, had immediate information of the fact. A council of war was held, to deliberate upon the matter, and to determine how they could most effectually carry out the royal exterminating order of Philip II. A military post and settlement was established at Monclova; and Captain Alonzo de Leon was appointed to the command, under the title of governor of Coaquila.

Captain De Leon was then dispatched with a military force of one hundred men to scour the country and hunt out the French. The expedition left Monclova early in the spring of 1689, and arrived at Fort St. Louis, on the Lavaca, on the 22d of April. Two days after, he went down to the head of the bay, when he saw the wreck of the Belle. Learning from the Indians that some of the colonists were still wandering about over the country, he visited the Cenis nation.* He was received and treated by this people with the hospitality for which they were distinguished. He found here the notorious L'Archeveque and Grollet, and took them prisoners. They were sent to Mexico, thence to Spain, whence they were sent back to Mexico, and condemned to the mines.

* De Onis calls them Asimais, and denies that De Leon found any of the French there; but the position he had taken in the discussion required, as he thought, this denial.

Having completed the business of his expedition, De Leon returned to his post, and reported the facts to the viceroy; he spoke in high terms of the good disposition of the Indians, and suggested the propriety of the establishment of missions and military posts over the country. This letter, dated on the 22d of May, was laid before the council of the viceroy and after deliberation, it was resolved to establish a mission at Fort St. Louis. Accordingly, in 1690, De Leon was sent again, with one hundred and ten men and some friars, and established at the fort the mission of San Francisco, so named in honor of St. Francis D'Assisi. The king of Spain, having information of these proceedings, issued his orders for the pacification and reduction of Texas, as he considered it of great importance to the security of his dominions in New Mexico.

New Mexico Map

Map Showing the Territory of New Mexico, of Great Interest to Sapin

In 1691, Don Domingo Teran was appointed governor of Coahuila and Texas, with a salary of twenty-five hundred dollars per annum, and proceeded with fifty soldiers and seven lay friars to establish missions and military posts. They took with them cattle, and seeds for planting; and effected settlements on the waters of Red river, on the Neches, and on the Guadalupe. But in a short time these infant colonies, as well as that at Fort St. Louis, began to decline. The Indians were hostile, the crops failed, and the cattle died; so that, in 1693, they were all abandoned. These facts were communicated to the king; he was informed of the great expense incurred, of the difficulty of controlling the Indians, and it was recommended that the settlement of the province be postponed to a time when circumstances should offer more hopes of success.

Concurrently with the mission of San Francisco, was established on the right bank of the Rio Grande, three miles from the river, the mission of San Juan Bautista. This mission became a Spanish post of observation; it was erected into a presidio; and, in aftertimes, when travel became frequent between Mexico and Texas, was on the great thoroughfare known as the "Old San Antonio Road."

Thus Texas was once more without European settlers. Its abandonment was approved by the superior government in March, 1694. The post at El Paso, as being on the route to the silver-mines of Santa Fe, was still occupied; so likewise was the mission at the presidio, probably because of its convenience for trade with the Indians.

The Rio Grande seems to have been discovered at three different points by the Spaniards; and, without knowing it to be the same stream, the discoverers gave it as many different names, which are used to this day. The discoverers of the river at Santa Fe, in the north of Mexico, called it the Rio del Norte; at the presidio, on account of its great width, they named it the Rio Grande; and at Reynoso, where the Indians were fierce and warlike (Indios bravos), it was denominated the Rio Bravo.*

* Testimonio de un Parecer, etc., parapho 9. Professor Shea (History of the Discovery of the Mississippi River, p. 18) says, "The Rio Grande is so called merely because some one mistook it for the great river of De Soto".

Louisiana Granted to Crozat

The Spaniards were, however, aroused from their supineness, by the vigor of the French of Louisiana. Louis XIV had, by a charter, dated September 14, 1712, granted to Anthony Crozot the whole of Louisiana. The boundaries in the grant were indefinite, yet sufficiently well expressed to give Crozat a claim to the territory west as far as the Rio Grande. Crozat was a merchant. He had taken the grant on speculation, and wished to make the most of it. At his instance, Louis had appointed Lamothe Cadillac governor of Louisiana. Crozat had in view two great objects—one, the discovery of mines; the other, a profitable trade with the northeastern provinces of Mexico. He accordingly so instructed the governor, requesting him to find an opening for his goods in Mexico, either with or without the consent of the Spanish authorities.

Accordingly, in 1714, Cadillac sent out Huchereau St. Denis, a young man of noble family and great enterprise, upon an expedition to Mexico. He was to proceed to Natchitoches, there to form an establishment to oppose the Spaniards, if they should be in that vicinity; thence he was to proceed in the direction of New Mexico, and ascertain the practicability of opening commercial relations. He proceeded to Natchitoches, and left there a few men to form a settlement. With twelve men and some friendly Indians he continued his journey, and in August, 1714, reached the mission of St. John the Baptist on the Rio Grande. They were received with hospitality by Villescas, the commandant of the post; and, making known the object of their long journey, were requested to wait till their business was communicated to Don Gaspardo Anaya, the governor of Coahuila, and an answer returned. The governor, for reply, sent a guard, who seized St. Denis and Jallot his friend and surgeon, and conveyed them to the capital of the province. Here they remained in prison till, by the order of the viceroy, they were conducted to Mexico, and there imprisoned. At the end of six months they were released, or, as some say, escaped, and after two years returned to Mobile, the then capital of Louisiana. St. Denis having courted and married the daughter of the commandant of the mission of St. John, it is likely that he made arrangements for smuggling. The influence acquired by St. Denis over the Texan Indians was considerable; and when the Spaniards under Ramon, the uncle-in-law of St. Denis, established themselves at Adaes, the Indians were alike friendly with them. This all goes to sustain the assertion of Du Pratz, that the Spaniards were introduced there by St. Denis for illicit trade.

At all events, the vigorous movements of Crozat alarmed the duke of Linares, then viceroy of Mexico, and steps were taken to occupy the country. Captain Don Domingo Ramon and a few soldiers and friars were sent to Texas to establish posts and missions. They came with St. Denis, who acted as guide. A new mission was established in place of that of St. Francisco, but lower down on the bay of San Bernard; and another among the Adaes, a small tribe of Indians on the Arroyo Honda, and part of the great Caddo nation. This mission, protected by a military post, was fifteen miles west of Natchitoches, the Honda, a small creek, running about midway between them. The mission of Dolores was established nearer the coast, and west of the Sabine, among the Orquisaco Indians. The fort and mission of San Antonio de Valero was located on the right bank of the San Pedro, about three fourths of a mile from the present catholic church at San Antonio; but, as a security against the Indians, and for purposes of irrigation, it was afterward removed to the San Antonio river, a noble stream, which, only three or four miles above, breaks out, full grown, from the foot of the Guadalupe mountains.

Shortly after this period, a small mission was established among the Nacogdoches Indians. Its location, at that time, was below the present site of the handsome town of Nacogdoches, and near the junction of the Banita and Nana. About the same time was located a mission among the Aes Indians, and not far from the present town of San Augustine.

Thus the year 1715 may be considered the year of missions in Texas. From this time may be dated its permanent occupancy by Spain. She had wrested it from France, the rightful discoverer and first possessor; yet, it must be admitted, she had acquired full possession. As the policy of Spain allowed no curious traveler to penetrate her territories, it is probable the French did not for some years know the extent of her trespasses; and, if they did, they had much to do in the wars then prevailing on the continent of Europe, and much in taking care of their other possessions.

Captain Don Ramon seems to have been the active laborer in the building up of these missions. He was a great favorite with the Indians; they adopted him as a son, and assisted him and his followers in their labors. The marquis de Aguago went to Texas, under the order of the viceroy, as governor-general of the New Philippines (the name by which Texas was then known), and of New Estremadura.

While Captain Don Ramon was at the Adaes, he paid a friendly visit to the French at Natchitoches. He with his followers were received with great politeness by the commander, and treated with hospitality during their stay. This, occurring shortly after the return of St. Denis, would seem to confirm the assertion of Du Pratz, that the Spaniards had been introduced there by St. Denis, as previously observed, for purposes of smuggling.

The first efforts at forming settlements were humble enough. The buildings were but temporary shelters, and rude cabins. constructed by vertical pieces planted in the ground, with the spaces filled up with branches interlaced and thatched. Thus were first constructed the temporary chapel, hospital, and the dwellings for the priests and officers. In a climate so mild and congenial, no great necessity existed for further immediate arrangements. A new force had to be prepared and brought into requisition to do the drudgery of more substantial improvements. The soldiers and friars came not to perform mechanical labor, but to put in operation the missionary machine by which were to be wrought out of the wild Indian tribes laborers in abundance.

The Indians, unaccustomed to such scenes, looked on with pleasure and astonishment at these rude structures. Indeed, such was their good nature, and their desire to please the newcomers, that they, at first, voluntarily assisted in the work. Small presents, kind looks, and opening hopes, were to them a sufficient reward.

Thus matters stood for some time, the Spaniards being in the quiet possession of Texas, though it was not then known by that name. The name, in fact, is involved in obscurity. The story, first published by Don Luis de Onis in 1818 — that on the visit of Alonzo de Leon to the A-Simais (Cenis) Indians in 1689, they received him with the greatest kindness, and called him and his followers "Texas," which in their language signifies friends—is, no doubt, fanciful. The country was known for many years after this period as the "New Philippines," and was so described in official papers; and so late as 1744, in a report made to the Spanish government of the condition of this country, the writer says that the territory on the Neches is called Texas. La Harpe, in his letter to D'Alarconne, dated Nasonite (eastern Texas), July 8, 1719, calls it the province of Las Tekas; and this is the first mention of the name in any works made public. It may have been the appellation of some petty tribe of Indians living in eastern Texas; or it may be of Spanish origin, and applied to the light structures of the Indians on the Neches.

 [Next Section of Texas History: Texas Missions and Missionaries]




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