First White Settlement of Texas


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The History of Texas: First White Settlement of Texas

(Previous Section: Free Navigation of the Mississippi River)

Adventures of Philip Nolan and Ellis P. Bean

Ellis P. BeanPHILIP NOLAN had been engaged in trade between San Antonio and Natchez since the year 1785. This trade was not legitimate, but was perhaps winked at by the Spanish authorities. In October, 1800, he started on another expedition into Texas, having with him a company consisting of twenty men. Among them was Ellis P. Bean, then a young man seventeen years of age. Nolan had, in a previous journey, procured from Don Pedro de Nava, commandant-general of the north-eastern internal provinces of Mexico, a passport; yet, as the present expedition was well known at Natchez before he set out, Vidal, the Spanish consul at that place, entered his complaint before Governor Sargent and Judge Bruin, asking that the company be arrested and detained. Nolan was brought before these authorities, and, having exhibited his passport, he was permitted to proceed.  The company crossed the Mississippi at Walnut Hills (Nogales), and took a westerly course for the Washita. In the meantime, Vidal the consul sent an express to the Spanish commandant at Washita to stop them. They had traveled some forty miles from the Mississippi, when they met the Spanish patrol of fifty men. These, seeing NoIan's determined movements, gave way and let the company pass. Nolan, avoiding Fort Washita, continued his journey west, without any road, and without seeing any person. Occasionally they halted to kill provisions and refresh themselves. Before they reached Red river, three of the company (Mordecai Richards, John Adams, and John King) strayed off and got lost, but subsequently returned to Natchez. After hunting for them some days, the company resumed their journey. They passed around the head of Lake Bistineau and crossed Red river, four miles from which they came to a Caddo village, where they met with a kind reception, and obtained some fine, fresh horses. In six days more they crossed the Trinity, and immediately entered upon an immense rolling prairie, through which they advanced till they came to a spring, which they named the Painted spring. This they did because at its head there stood a rock, painted by the Comanches and Pawnees, in commemoration of a treaty of peace once celebrated at the spring by those tribes. In the vast prairie around them they could find no other fuel than dried buffalo-dung. These animals, though once numerous there, had left, and for nine days the company were compelled to subsist on the flesh of mustang horses. By this time they reached the Brazos, where they found plenty of deer and elk, some buffalo, and " wild horses by thousands." Here they built an enclosure, and caught and penned about three hundred head of mustangs. At this place they were visited by two hundred Comanche Indians, and, upon invitation, the company went with them to visit their chief, Necoroco, on the south fork of Red river, where they remained a month. During their stay they were visited by other tribes, and made many friends. They returned at length to their old camp, accompanied by an escort of the natives, who managed to steal eleven head of the domesticated or gentle horses of the company, and, in fact, all they had that could be employed in capturing mustangs.*

* Bean's Memoirs, p. 13, MS. Colonel Bean informs us here of a custom of the Comanches. Once a year, in the new moon in June, they assemble at the residence of their great chief, on the Salt fork of the Colorado, where he causes all their fires to be extinguished, and furnishes each sub-tribe with new fire for the next year. Each one then supplies himself with rock-salt, and the hunting-parties go out in a different direction to hunt on new ground for the following season.

The company at this time consisted of Captain Nolan, five Spaniards, eleven Americans, and one negro. As they could do nothing without their horses, Captain Nolan, E. P. Bean, Robert Ashley, Joseph Reed, David Farro, and Caesar the negro, volunteered to go after them. They went on foot, and, after a march of nine days, found four of the horses, under the care of as many Indian men and some women; the other horses, the Indians said, had been taken on a buffalo-hunt by the balance of their own party, eight in number, and that they would return that evening. They further stated that the one who had stolen the horses was a one-eyed Indian, whom they would know by that mark. In the evening the Indians came in, bringing the horses, and an abundance of meat. The whites tied the one-eyed thief, and guarded him till the morning; they then took from him provisions for their journey, and returned to their camp in four days.

First Hostilities Between Spaniards and Americans in Texas

While they were here, resting themselves preparatory to engaging in the chase of mustangs, a troop of one hundred and fifty Spaniards, sent out by Don Nimesio Salcedo, commandant-general of the northeastern internal provinces, attacked their camp. About one o'clock at night, on the 22d of March, 1801, they came upon the outpost, consisting of one American and five Spaniards, engaged in guarding the horses, and took them prisoners. The enemy immediately surrounded Nolan's camp, but remained quiet till day broke. The tramping of the horses aroused the Americans, then consisting of only twelve persons, who, seeing the danger, prepared for defense. They had built a square enclosure of logs, to keep off the Indians, in which they slept. At break of day the Spaniards commenced their fire, which was returned from the log-pen. In ten minutes Captain Nolan was killed by a ball in the head. Bean then assumed the command, and continued the fight.. By nine o'clock, A. M., two more of the Americans were wounded. The Spaniards had brought with them on a mule a swivel, with which they fired grape. At this time, Bean proposed to his men to charge on this piece of artillery, but the majority opposing, it was not done. It was next proposed to retreat, which was agreed to. Each one filled his powder-horn, and the remaining ammunition was placed in charge of the negro Caesar. They left the enclosure, and soon gained a small creek. While here, engaged in fighting, Caesar and one of the wounded men stopped and surrendered. The Americans continued the retreat half a mile without further loss, though under a constant fire from the enemy on both sides. Here Bean and his party took refuge in a ravine, and for a short time the fight ceased. At length the enemy began to close in upon the ravine, but were soon driven back. About two o'clock in the afternoon, the Spaniards hoisted a white flag. An American, with the Spaniards, was appointed to hold a parley with Bean. They said all they desired was, that the Americans would return to their own country, and cease to come among the Indians in Texas.

The Americans agreed to do this; and a treaty was made, in which it was stipulated that both parties should return to Nacogdoches in company—the Americans not to surrender as prisoners, but to retain their arms. They soon reached the Trinity, which was overflowing its banks. Bean, who was naturally expert in contrivances, soon had constructed of a dry cottonwood-tree a small canoe, and managed to carry over all the Spanish troops, leaving behind their arms and commander.

The American leader now proposed to his men to throw the arms into the river, start the commander over, and again march for the prairies; but, relying on the promise of a speedy return to the United States, they declined doing it. In a few days they all reached Nacogdoches, where they remained a month, waiting for an order from Salcedo, at Chihuahua, to return home.

But, instead of their expected liberty, the Americans were severally put in irons and marched off to San Antonio. Here they were kept in prison three months; they were then sent to San Luis Potosi, where they remained incarcerated for sixteen months. The prisoners, being without clothes, thought of means to procure them. Bean and Charles King gave themselves out as shoemakers, and were permitted to work at their prison-doors, by which means they earned some money. Then they were started off to Chihuahua. Arriving at Saltillo, they were handed over to another officer, who treated them with more humanity; he took off their irons, and permitted them, at places where they would stop, to walk about and look at the buildings.*

*Bean's Memoirs, p. 23, et seg., MS. This, the first conflict between the people of the United States and Mexico, in which twelve men contended with some success for nine hours against one hundred and fifty cavalry, was calculated to make an impression on the people of Mexico not to be forgotten.

As we shall again hear of these prisoners, and especially of Bean (Click Here read what becomes of Colonel Ellis P. Bean)  , we will not at present follow them in their sufferings, but return to other events of more importance.

France Purchases Louisiana from Spain

Notwithstanding the Spaniards at Natchez were required, by the treaty of October, 1795, to surrender that place to the United States within six months after the exchange of ratifications, yet under various pretences they refused to do it. The true reason was, that, from the depredations committed on American commerce by France, they expected a war between these two powers; and as Spain was in alliance with France, she wished to hold these posts above the thirty-first parallel of latitude as a protection to her possessions at New Orleans. Ultimately, however, partly by force and partly by agreement, the Spanish garrison was withdrawn, and the territorial government of Mississippi organized.

The French government had long desired to recover the possession of the colony of Louisiana, and had so informed the king of Spain. In October, 1800, the two governments entered into a secret treaty, by which the French republic engaged on its part to procure for the infant duke of Parma, a grandson of Ferdinand VII, of Spain, an augmentation of territory sufficient to raise the population of his estates to one million of inhabitants, with the title of king; this augmentation to consist of Tuscany, or the three Roman ecclesiastical provinces, or any other Italian provinces that would form a rounded estate. And the Spanish monarch engaged on his part to recede to the French republic, six months after the latter had complied with her engagement, the province of Louisiana, with the same extent that it then had in the hands of Spain, and had while in the previous possession of France, and such as it then ought to be in conformity with the treaties subsequently concluded between Spain and other states.

This treaty was unknown for some time in the United States; and, in fact, when the minister of the latter power applied to Spain to purchase the island of New Orleans, he was informed that Spain had already transferred it to France, and that the United States must negotiate with that republic for such territory in that quarter as they wished to acquire.

The peace of Amiens, contracted on the 25th of March, 1802, between Great Britain, France, Spain, and Holland, was seized upon by the Spanish governor of Louisiana, as a pretext for violating the treaty between Spain and the United States, in closing the port of New Orleans, without appointing any other suitable place on the Mississippi as a deposit for American commerce. The news of this interdict produced considerable excitement among the people on the upper tributaries of this great river. The subject was immediately laid before Congress by President Jefferson. It was believed, however, that this interdict of the Spanish authorities at New Orleans was without the knowledge or approval of the king of Spain ; and so it afterward appeared, as the king disavowed the act, and caused the port of New Orleans to be reopened.

The United States Purchases Louisiana from the French

Louisiana Purchase Map

The object of France in repurchasing Louisiana is not certainly known, though it is believed to have been done with a view to sell it to the United States, and thus raise a fund to carry on her wars. At that time, Spain was completely under the control of France, and was compelled to oblige her in the cession of this noble province. Yet it is believed, as a part of the history of that transaction, that there was a secret understanding between the two powers that France should not transfer Louisiana to the United States. However this may be, the want of money on the part of France, and the fact that on the 14th of March, 1803, hostilities had again commenced between her and Great Britain, hastened a sale. The United States, having learned through Spain that France had the disposal of the province, sent instructions to Messrs. Monroe and Livingston, the American ambassadors at Madrid and Paris, to purchase, not the whole of Louisiana, but only the island of Orleans and Florida. The great men of the United States did not, at that day, see any necessity for acquiring that vast territory on which has since grown up so many noble states, and given homes to so many millions of inhabitants. But fortune did more for the young republic than her own statesmen: Bonaparte would sell it all together. Just as the American minister arrived in Paris, there appeared in a London paper a proposition that the British government should raise fifty thousand men and take New Orleans; also, in reference to the troubles in the United States concerning the navigation of the Mississippi, and the probability that they would endeavor to purchase the country, it was intimated that some two millions of dollars had been distributed among the high officers of France as bribes. Bonaparte, then first consul, saw these articles, and determined, on the one hand, that the province should not fall into the hands of the English; and, on the other, that Marbois, whose integrity was unquestionable, and not Talleyrand, should conduct the negotiation. The treaty was soon made and ratified. Spain had, ever since the secret transfer of the province to France, kept the possession; and, when informed of the sale to the United States, was indignant. She could not deny that France had paid the consideration agreed upon. The duke of Parma had, by treaty, been placed in possession of Tuscany, and declared king of Etruria. Yet the secret understanding was violated; and, what was of the most consequence, the barrier between the United States and her American possessions was removed, and a claim would be presented by the former to all the country east of the Rio Grande. Spain therefore protested; but, overawed by Bonaparte, she withdrew her protest, and gracefully declared that she did so out of good feeling toward the United States.

The ceremony of the delivery and transfer of the territory of Louisiana from Spain to France, and from the latter to the small portion of the territory which we claimed in virtue of the treaty under discussion. This boundary would embrace within the limits of Louisiana some very valuable dominions of Spain, including the rich mines of St. Barbe, and the city of Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico. On the other hand, in virtue of her settlement of the Adaes, Spain might claim the country as far east as the river Mexicana [Sabine], and to the highlands dividing the waters of the Del Norte river from those of the Mississippi. . . . In settling this important barrier, there were ample materials for the acquisition of Florida, still retaining to ourselves all the country watered by the Mississippi."

These indications of public sentiment at that day show that the northern states could not see with patience the power and population of the Union extending westward; that even the friends of the west had no adequate conception of the future growth of that country; and that the strongest friends of the measure only wanted the region west of the Mississippi as a trading-capital with which to purchase Florida of Spain. Mr. Jackson thought " a century" hence would be soon enough to think of settling Louisiana. Within half a century, the settlements reached the Pacific ! In all growing countries, the people are ahead of their statesmen; in countries declining, it is believed to be the reverse.

No sooner, however, had the United States begun to realize the great fact that they were owners of Louisiana—and, as a part of it, Texas—than they began to inquire into the geography and capabilities of their new purchase. Accordingly, early in 1804, the committee on commerce and manufactures, in Congress, were instructed to inquire into the expediency of an exploration of the country. A year previous, Clark and Lewis had been dispatched up the Missouri; but the Arkansas, Red river above Natchitoches—in fact, the great southwest—were unknown to the statesmen of the United States. The above-named committee, in their report, speak of Adaes as the "capital of the province of Texas, and situated on the river Mexicana"—when there was not at that time, perhaps, a single person in the place, and had not been for fourteen years!

Dispute Between Spain and the United States on the Boundary Between Louisiana and Spanish Territory

The republic, however, had no sooner got fairly seated in her southwestern capitol, than questions arose between her and Spain touching the boundaries of Louisiana, both on the east side and on the west. President Jefferson, by his proclamation, had declared the bay and river of Mobile a district for the collection of duties. Spain protested against this, and a collision seemed at hand; but, to avoid it, a special embassy, consisting of Messrs. Monroe and Pinkney, was despatched to Madrid to treat with the Spanish government, not only on the subject of the eastern and western boundaries, but likewise on other differences between the two countries. The instructions to the American ministers proposed that Spain should relinquish the Floridas, in consideration of which all that portion of Texas lying between the Sabine and Colorado rivers should remain neutral ground, not to be settled or granted by either power for years; and the United States to pay to Spain a sum not exceeding two millions of dollars, out of which the amount due from the latter to American citizens should be deducted. Such were the instructions of the 15th of May, 1804. The number of years in which the above-named country should be a neutral ground was not to exceed twenty, at the end of which time the two powers were to adjust the boundary by another treaty. But, on the 8th of July following, the American ministers were instructed to propose the territory between the Colorado and the Rio Grande as the neutral ground. The discussion, which extended over five months, resulted in nothing. The history of the first settlement of Texas by France and Spain, and of the subsequent occupancy of the country by both nations, was as fully discussed as the slender materials before them would permit.

Spain was at that period still under the influence of France. Manuel Godoy, a soldier of fortune, was omnipotent at the court of Madrid, and equally obsequious to Bonaparte. The latter, having an eye upon Spain and her possessions in America, became warmly enlisted in her behalf.

In the meantime, Spanish troops were gathering in Texas, and moving toward the disputed boundary on the west of the Mississippi. The soldiers and inhabitants having been withdrawn from the Adaes, the nearest settlement in Texas to Louisiana was Nacogdoches. When the Spanish authorities in the former province learned of the transfer of the latter to the United States, they assumed a jealous and exclusive conduct, forbidding intercourse, and endeavoring, in anticipation of the adjustment of a boundary-line, to extend their authority as near to the Mississippi as possible.

New Spain

Map of New Spain, Showing the Territory in Dispute

In 1805, Colonel Freeman, a gentleman of science, who had been dispatched by the president to explore Red river, was arrested by the Spanish troops, and sent back. About the same time, three other Americans, named Shaw, Irvine, and Brewster, were taken prisoners within twelve miles of Natchitoches, and conducted under a guard to San Antonio. Again, several slaves, decoyed away by Spaniards, and escaped from Louisiana, had sought and found an asylum at Nacogdoches. Again, at a village of the Caddoes, a short distance above Nachitoches, the American flag was displayed. The Spanish troops directed the Americans to take it down, which the latter refused, whereupon the troops tore it down themselves. And, yet again, Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike, of the United States army, having been ordered to explore the sources of the Mississippi, became lost, and was arrested, taken to Chihuahua, and deprived of his papers. These were some of the results of Spanish non-intercourse—of the royal exterminating order of Philip II. In addition to these specific cases of interruption, there was manifested a general disposition to do mischief, and encroach upon the United States, along the whole frontier, from the seacoast to the extreme settlements and trading-posts up Red river.

Early Settlements on the Red River

These ancient settlements on the Red river, and along the frontier, require some consideration. The first settlement above Natchitoches was made at the mouth of Boggy river, on the east bank of Red river, in 1750, by a trading-company, under the direction of M. Francois Hervey, who had a permit for that purpose from the governor of Louisiana. This point, near the lower boundary of Lamar county, is about five hundred and forty miles above Natchitoches, by the course of the river. The company not prospering, Hervey removed, some two years after, forty miles lower down, to the ancient Caddo village, on the Texan side of the river. Here he engaged in trade, being joined by Sergeant Boson, who went there with some ten or a dozen soldiers under his command. They built a fort, which they named St. Louis de Carloretto, erected a flag-staff, and mounted two small pieces of artillery. Several French families settled there, and cultivated corn, tobacco, and garden-vegetables. This was in Red river county. A creek in that county perpetuates the name of this worthy commandant. He was succeeded in the command by the elder Grappe, and the latter by Sergeant Closo. This detachment and settlement continued there until about the year 1770, when, Louisiana having passed into the hands of Spain, no attention was paid to the settlers, and their little colony ceased to thrive. In the meantime, their children had been growing up without education or the advantages of society. To remedy this, although the country was fertile and pleasant, and capable of becoming rich and populous, they broke up the place, and removed to the vicinity of Natchitoches.

About the time of the erection of Fort St. Louis, a settlement was made at Yattasse Point, on Bayou Pierre, about seventy miles above Natchitoches, under the direction of M. Verge, who carried on an extensive trade with the Carankawaes, Keechies, Yattassees, and other Texan Indians.

At about the period these settlements were formed on Red river, Captain Bourne, the commandant at Natchitoches, established a trading-house on the south side of the Sabine, some fifteen miles distant from the river, and about one hundred and thirty miles northwest of Natchitoches. This place, known as the Dout, seems to have been removed to the east bank of the Sabine, near its head, and located in a prairie, where the remains of the fort could be seen for many years after.

All these settlements made by the French, being followed by the "family compact" of the house of Bourbon, were permitted to take their course. And in this condition they were found by the Americans when Louisiana came into their hands. The United States desired that they should remain in status quo until the two nations could agree upon a boundary. But the policy of Spain was different. She regretted the loss of Louisiana; and her high functionaries—for instance, the baron de Bastrop and the marquis de Casa Calvo—reported, wherever they went, that the disputed territory would soon be in possession of the Spaniards. This, among the uninformed, produced considerable effect.

Spain was at this time really hostile to the United States. Her ships-of-war had ravaged their commerce to an alarming extent in both the Mediterranean and West India seas. She had levied a tax of twelve per cent upon the commerce of Mobile river; and was engaged in a constant pilfering warfare along the boundary-line at Fort Adams. To sustain herself against the forces she expected would be opposed to her, to repel these assaults upon the Union, she was strengthening her posts by reinforcements. Four hundred Spanish troops were ordered from Havana to Pensacola, three hundred more to Baton Rouge, and eight hundred to Texas. The United States, not wishing to commence an aggressive war, were nevertheless determined that the Spanish forces should not cross the Sabine river. Accordingly, orders were given by the secretary of war, on the 20th of November, 1805, to Major Porter, commanding the American troops at Natchitoches, to prevent such aggression.

The new governor of Texas, Don Antonio Cordero, arrived at Nacogdoches in the first days of October, 1805, having with him two companies of one hundred and ten men each. Five other companies had reached San Antonio, and were to advance east. Two other detachments, of about fifty men each, were stationed, one at Matagorda and another above the mouth of the Trinity, near the present town of Liberty, where they fortified themselves with pickets. One of the companies that came with Governor Cordero to Nacogdoches was dispatched to reinforce the station above the mouth of the Trinity. A small detachment, under the command of Ensign Gonzalez, was sent forward to the old post at Adaes, where he took his position. Another detachment was sent down in the vicinity of Opelousas, to patrol that country. Fortifications were raised at Nacogdoches, and the place provisioned and put in a state of defense. Three companies were stationed at Spanish Bluff (a few miles below Robbins's ferry, on the east bank of the Trinity. But the object of Spain was, not only to obtain military possession of the country in dispute, but to settle it. Several hundred families came into Texas by way of San Antonio; and a large number, that shipped from Spain for Matagorda, put in at the Canary islands.

In addition to these arrangements, the old San Antonio road was put in order; and guards were stationed at each of the crossings of the Trinity, Brazos, and Colorado. Previous to this period, the travel upon the above road was small. The Spaniards, to avoid the Indians, went by La Bahia; thence on the La Bahia road to the old road at Robbins's ferry. Besides, most of the travel was for contraband purposes: hence, new roads, called contraband traces, were best known and most used.

The station at Spanish Bluff was made a general storehouse for the army of operations. A large number of beeves and horses, and a considerable magazine of flour were collected there. Several of the new settlers had established ranches on the east bank of the river, and had the benefit of a priest to watch over their spiritual affairs.

With these troops and immigrants, came over to Texas, on a pastoral visit, Don Primo Feliciana Marin, bishop of New Leon, to whose diocese the province of Texas appertained. He placed the affairs of the church in order, and made a circumstantial report of its spiritual condition.

At the very commencement of the difficulties between Spain and the United States, the viceroy of Mexico, Itturgaray, and Salcedo, the commandant-general of the northeastern internal provinces, held a consultation, and determined, and so ordered that, if the Americans crossed the Arroyo Honda, their forces should attack them. With this view, Simon D. Herrera, governor of New Leon, was appointed to take command of the troops in the field; and Antonio Cordero, governor of Texas, the second in command. Herrera was a native of the Canary islands, and had served in the infantry in France, Spain, and Flanders. He had traveled in the United States during the presidency of General Washington, and entertained a high veneration for his character. He possessed a thorough knowledge of men, was engaging in his manners and conversation, spoke the French language with fluency, and likewise a little English. Altogether, he was a polite gentleman, of affable demeanor, and an ardent lover of liberty. He had married an English lady at Cadiz, by whom he had several children.

Governor Cordero, whose residence was at Bexar, was a gentleman of considerable learning, and spoke the Latin and French languages fluently. He was an old soldier, and one of the officers sent out from Spain, in 1772, to discipline the Mexican troops, and carry out those reforms recommended by Don Jose Galvez. He was popular as a governor, and, though he had never married, knew as well how to please as the governor of New Leon.

[Next Section of Texas History: War With Spain Avoided]




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