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2010-07-11 / Editorial

Texas in 1776: Tejanos where we came from

Guest Commentary
By Ben Figueroa

The American Declaration of Independence established the incorporation of the United States of America as we know it today. It was a time of strife, risk, determination, commitment, and the creation of the doctrine that all men are created equal.

While we know much about the circumstances revolving around the American Revolution for independence, little has been written about the state of affairs in 1776 Texas and how the “Tejanos,” people of mixed Spanish and Indian blood, contributed to the American revolution and what the developments in Texas were at that time.

By the evidence, the northern frontier of Texas that the Spaniards called “Tejas” was occupied with expeditions, presidios, missions, and ranches as early as 1689. The following is a historical account of events in Texas between 1689 and 1776.

Comparatively, significant colonization was occurring in Texas as it was in the thirteen colonies during the 1700s.

The colonization of the New World was set with Columbus in 1492 when he landed in Santo Domingo. Later the conquest of the Aztecs by Cortez brought the Spaniards to the mainland of Mexico. Soon after the Spaniards began moving north and south of Mexico exploring and colonizing territories for the King of Spain.

Cabeza de Vaca traveled through Texas in 1528 after the fatal wreck of the Narvaez expedition and after constructing make shift boats to return to Florida; they landed at or near Galveston. Cabeza de Vaca and three Spaniards survived the ordeal and made it back to Mexico City. By 1686, Governor Alonso de Leon was exploring Texas in search of the French explorer La Salle. It was on one of de Leon’s expeditions into Texas that he landed on the south side of Baffin Bay here in Kleberg County. In 1687 De Léon became governor of Coahuila.

Three years later he and Father Massanet, a Franciscan, cooperated in founding the first Spanish mission in East Texas, San Francisco de los Tejas, at a site in the area of present Augusta, Texas. De León, an explorer of early Spanish Texas, entered Texas on five expeditions that laid the ground work for future colonization. He is credited with being an early advocate for the establishment of missions along the frontier, and he blazed much of the Old San Antonio Trail on his expeditions.

By 1718 the presidio at San Antonio had been established and within thirteen years rancherias and Missions were established around San Antonio. The Spaniards by virtue of controlling the land known as “Tejas,” adopted from the Tejas Indians, wanted to protect the northern frontier from the French and English. Consequently, during this time they undertook the development of presidios across the Southwest that actually extended from California to East Texas. In 1767 there were 24 presidios in the northern frontier of Spain. (Bolton)

One event that had a long lasting impact on the colonization of Texas was the Marques de Rubi’s inspection of the Texas frontier. In 1765 the King of Spain issued orders for a general inspection of the entire frontier from California to Texas to be carried out by the Marques de Rubi, Field Marshall in His Majesty’s Army.

His order was to report on the status of each presidio, locations, condition of the garrison, price of commodities sold to soldiers, fairness in light of changed conditions, and to make appropriate recommendations to the King.

Rubi was given particular detailed instructions regarding the presidios in Texas that included condition of the each garrison and defense of each fort. He was to examine the following presidios: San Jose del Paso de Rio Norte, Royal Presidio of San Saba, Los Adaes and Natchitoches in East Texas, Presidio Nuestra Senora de Loreto at La Bahia, and make recommendations to move them to new locations or close them. Rubi set out on his expedition to Texas on March 18, 1766 from Mexico City. (Castaneda)

On July 7, Rubi passed through the Missions of Santa Anna and San Geronimo of the Concho and Taraumare Indians and on July 9 passed through the Mission San Francisco de los Conchos. He traveled through the pueblos of San Lorenzo, Real de San Antonio de Senecu, San Antonio del La Isleta, Purisima Concepcion Del Socorro, and Hacienda de los Tiburcios all in New Mexico. He then headed towards El Paso to begin the inspection of the Tejas frontier. He began at Presidio de Santa Rosa and from there to San Saba.

Near Santa Rosa the expedition crossed the Rio de Sabinas at a point called Zenzontle (mocking bird) in Coahuila. On July 14, the crossed the Rio Grande near the present day site of Del Rio and traveled to Las Moras Creek. On the next day they passed close to present day Brackettville in Texas. On July 18, the crossed the Cibolo Creek and on to the Mission of Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria near where the upper Nueces flows.

Then the traveled to the Mission San Lorenzo de la Cruz located east of the Nueces. They left thirty men at the Mission for future protection. Next he passed present day Barksdale to the headwaters of the Nueces near present day Rockspring. They continued and reached the Chanas River now called the Llano near Junction and then to the Presidio San Saba. From San Saba they trekked to San Antonio and from San Antonio to Los Adaes or Presidio of Nuestra Senora del Pilar de los Adaes.

On this route Rubi’s expedition crossed the Guadalupe River, somewhere below present day Gonzalez, crossed Cleto Creek, Cuervo Creek, Rosal Creek, Los Ramitos and San Esteban Creeks very near present day Yoakum. They traveled through Washington-on-the- Brazos where the Xarname Indians lived. They crossed the Trinity River and on to Castanas, Santa Coleta, and San Pedro Creeks where the Tejas Indians were located. They reached Los Ais Mission on September 7 where the Ais Indians lived. Then they traveled to the Presidio de San Agustin de Ahumada where the Orcoquisacs Indians lived and where the Mission Nuestra Senora de la Luz was located.

From here Rubi traveled back to La Bahia in Goliad, not stopping in San Antonio, where the Presidio Nuestra Senora de Loreto de la Bahia is located. Two Missions were located at La Bahia, Nuestra Senora del Rossario and Espiritu Santo. There were forty six families living around the area and the garrison consisted of fifty soldiers. Mission Espiritu Santo had 23 families or 93 persons living there and Mission Rosario had 71 baptized Indians living there.

Three Zacatecan missionaries were in charge of the two missions. From La Bahia Rubi traveled to San Juan Bautista passing through present day Sandia and San Diego in Duval County where the Captain of Laredo had a ranch with cattle. He arrived in Laredo where he observed about sixty “jacales” huts and an equal number of families under the administration of a captain subject to the Governor of Nuevo Santander. Nuevo Santander extended to the Nueces River and down to the Rio Grande. The year was 1767. (Castaneda)

Rubi had traveled about seven thousand miles on this inspection and visited twenty four presidios and various Missions on the northern frontier of New Spain from the Gulf of California to Los Adaes in present day Louisiana close to Natchitoches. They crisscrossed the frontier from the west coast to Santé Fe, back to Chihuahua and Sonora, then to El Paso, back to San Juan Bautista to San Saba, then to San Antonio. Then to Los Adaes, to Orcoquisac, Espiritu Santo in Goliad, to Laredo and eventually back to Mexico City with his report.

Basically Rubi found the Presidios in deplorable conditions and recommended changes and consolidations in order to better colonize and protect the northern frontier. (Castaneda) It is clear that this expedition began the reorganization of frontier Texas that eventually resulted in the full colonization of San Antonio, Nacogdoches, Goliad, Laredo, and El Paso. Rubi’s expedition describes the twenty four presidios and various missions in frontier Texas as early as 1767 that showed an extensive occupation of the Texas frontier. (Castaneda)

Comparatively, during this time in the American colonies, the colonials were dealing with a mother country that needed revenue to support their government operations in the colonies. It was a time of strife and unrest for the colonials of America. Between 1764 and 1767, the British were busy imposing several tariffs on the American Colonists that included the Sugar Act, Currency Act, Stamp Act, Quartering Act, Declaratory Act, and the Townshend Revenue Act that were the prelude to the American Colonists becoming dissatisfied with an England that imposed taxation without representation.

On April 19, 1775 the Minutemen and Redcoats clashed at Lexington and Concord where the shot heard around the world marked the beginning of the American Revolutionary War.

The Spanish Missions in Texas along with the presidios during this time made up a series of religious outposts established by Spanish Catholic Dominicans, Jesuits, and Franciscans to spread the Christian doctrine among the local Native Americans, but with the added benefit of giving Spain a strong hold on the Texas frontier . The missions introduced European livestock, fruits, vegetables, and industry into the Texas region. In addition to the presidio (fort) and pueblo (town), the mission was one of the three major agencies employed by the Spanish crown to extend its borders and consolidate its colonial territories. In all, twenty-six missions were maintained for different lengths of time within the future boundaries of the state.

Since 1493, Spain had maintained a number of missions throughout New Spain (Mexico and portions of what today are the Southwestern United States) in order to facilitate colonization of these lands. (Ashford) (Chipman)

Another significant colonization effort prior to Rubi’s expedition was Jose de Escandon’s colonization of the Rio Grande that resulted in land grants called “Las Porciones.” José de Escandón, South Texas colonizer is known as the colonizer and first governor of the colony of Nuevo Santander, which covered most of South Texas and parts of northern Mexico.

He was instrumental in founding the colonies of Camargo, Reynosa, Mier, and Revilla, Laredo and Nuestra Señora de los Dolores Hacienda on the Rio Grande. In 1746 Escandón was commissioned to inspect and survey the area between Tampico and the San Antonio River. In January 1747 he sent seven divisions into the area, and in October he presented a colonization plan. Escandón was made governor and captain general of Nuevo Santander on June 1, 1748.

In 1749 he was made Count of Sierra Gorda and Knight of the Order of Santiago by Fernando VI. The first two colonies established by Escandon were Camargo (founded on March 5, 1749) and Reynosa (March 14, 1749). On August 22, 1750, Escandón granted José Vázquez Borrego fifty sitios for the founding of Dolores, and on October 10 he sent Vicente Guerra to set up Revilla, twenty leagues northwest of Camargo. On March 6, 1753, Escandón founded the town of Mier, and in 1755 he granted permission to Tomás Sánchez de la Barrera y Garza to found Laredo, the largest and most successful permanent Spanish settlement in Southwest Texas. After the appointment of a royal commission in 1767, the settlers of Nuevo Santander were assigned the land grants called “Porciones” all located on the north side of Rio Grande that is now part of South Texas and the coastal bend.

These land grants were made to residents of the colonies of the Rio Grande that began the colonization of South Texas from the Rio Grande to the San Antonio River. (Scott)

In addition to the many presidios and missions established in Texas cattle ranching was brought into Texas by the Spaniards and played an important economic development role for the early Spanish colonists of Texas.

In the late 1690s the Spaniards brought stock to Texas with their extensive expeditions. Cattle and horses often left an expedition and over time caused large herds to form in South Texas. Ranching first began with the Missionaries coming to Texas and organizing livestock during the early 1700s. As the Spanish missions were established, ranching was taken up by locals, including Tomás Sánchez de la Barrera y Garza, Antonio Gil Ibarvo, and Martín De Léon. A major point of trade for cattle raisers was the market in New Orleans.

The Spanish government also encouraged the cattle industry in the Coastal Bend, where liberal land grants often developed into feudal estates. Huge tracts were awarded to those who, like Tomás Sánchez at Laredo, owned horses, cattle, and sheep and had the employees to handle the trade. Many ranches in South Texas predate the American Revolution.

At first, Spain severely restricted commerce, but during the brief Spanish rule of Louisiana (1763– 1803), barriers to trade were relaxed, and Texas cattlemen found a wider outlet for their animals to the east. However, Indian raids in South Texas increased in scope and intensity, forcing many rancheros to leave their herds behind and flee to nearby settlements for protection. By 1776 cattle ranches were well established particularly around the San Antonio and Goliad areas that was a breakthrough for Americans fighting their revolution for independence from the British. (Ashford) (Chipman)

It was in 1769 that Bernardo de Gálvez was commissioned to go to the northern frontier of New Spain, where he soon became commandant of military forces in Nueva Vizcaya and Sonora. He led several major expeditions against Apaches, whose depredations seriously crippled the economy of the region.

During campaigns along the Pecos and Gila rivers in 1770–71, he was wounded twice but gained military experience that proved invaluable a few years later. The name Paso de Gálvez was given to a crossing on the Pecos River where Gálvez led his troops to victory in a fight with the Apaches. In 1776 he was transferred to the far away province of Louisiana and promoted to colonel of the Louisiana Regiment. On January 1, 1777, he succeeded Luis de Unzaga as governor of Louisiana. (Thonhoff)

Before Spain entered the American Revolutionary War, Gálvez was instrumental in providing needed aid to the American colonists. He communicated with Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and personally received their emissaries, Oliver Pollock and Capt. George Gibson, and responded to their requests by securing the port of New Orleans so that only American, Spanish, and French ships could move up and down the Mississippi River an important strategic move.

Through the Mississippi great amounts of arms, ammunition, military supplies, and money were delivered to the American colonists under George Washington. Spain formally declared war against Great Britain on June 21, 1779, and King Carlos III commissioned Gálvez to raise a force and proceed against the British along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. In order to feed his troops, Gálvez sent an emissary, Francisco García, with a letter to Texas governor Domingo Cabello y Robles requesting the delivery of Texas cattle to Spanish forces in Louisiana. Between 1779 and 1782, over 10,000 cattle were rounded up on ranches belonging to citizens and missions of Bexar and La Bahía.

Providing escorts for these herds were soldiers from Presidio San Antonio de Béxar, Presidio La Bahía, and El Fuerte del Cíbolo, and several hundred horses were also sent along for artillery and cavalry purposes. Gálvez, with 1,400 men, in the fall of 1779 defeated the British in the battles at Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez. On March 14, 1780, Gálvez, with over 2,000 men, captured the British stronghold of Fort Charlotte at Mobile. The climax of the Gulf Coast campaign occurred the following year when Gálvez directed a joint land-sea attack on Pensacola, the British capital of West Florida. He led more than 7,000 men in the siege of Fort George in Pensacola before its capture on May 10, 1781. On May 8, 1782, Gálvez and his Spanish forces captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas. After the fighting, Gálvez helped draft the terms of the treaty that ended the war, and he was cited by the American Congress for his aid during the conflict.

After the peace accords in April 1783, General Gálvez, accompanied by his wife, the former Marie Felice de Saint-Maxent Estrehan of New Orleans, and two infant children, returned to Spain. (Thonhoff)

Texas in 1776 was made up of a reorganized system of presidios, missions, pueblos, and ranches that contributed to the victory of the American Colonist’s independence from England. It was the beginning of the effective colonization of Texas and the “Tejanos” of the time set the pace for a dynamic Texas that began with cattle ranching and agriculture as its major industries. Many of the families from the Escandon colonies Dolores, Revilla, Camargo, Laredo, and Mier migrated from their “Porciones” and moved north to work on some of the larger ranches established after 1845.

“Tejanos” are unique in that we can truly celebrate July 4 as part of the American fight for Independence from England. Descendants of those who fought alongside Galvez in the American Revolution are still living in Texas today and so are the descendants of many families who helped send beef and commodities to help the American Colonists gain their independence from England.

The year 1776 was an important year for Tejanos as they joined the ranks of the American colonists to fight the British that were holding Americans hostage without representation. In 1776 my ancestors were living on “Porcion 66” near present day Rio Grande City and some had already migrated to the San Antonio area and beyond.

Join us for the next meeting of Descendants of Spanish Colonial America to be announced where we will discuss Tejanos: where we came from.


1.Castaneda, Carlos E., Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, 1519-1936, 6 Vols, Arno Press, NY, 1976.

2. Thonhoff, Robert H., The Texas Connection with the American Revolution (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1981).

3.Bolton, Herbert E, Athanase de Mezieres and the Louisiana- Texas Frontier, 1768-1780, Cleveland, 1914, Vols. I&II.

4. Ashford, John, Spanish Texas, Pemberton Press, NY, 1971.

5.Scott, Florence J., Historical Heritage of the Lower RNioa yGlroarn Cdoe,. , S1a9n3 7A. ntonio, The

6. Seabury Collection, Francis William, Sid Richardson Library, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, 78713.

7. Chipman, Donald E., Spanish Texas, 1519-1821. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1992.

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