Spanish Texans - Institute of Texan Cultures

9-Spanish Texans
The Conquerors Arrive
The Spanish discovery of Texas occurred in
1519, when Alonso Alvarez de Pineda sailed
the coastline and drew a map. Nine years later
another Spaniard, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de
Vaca, was shipwrecked on the coast with several companions and survived to write about
the Texas region. The writings of Cabeza de
Vaca led to an expedition from Mexico City
north to the area of New Mexico and Texas
by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado in 1540.
For three centuries the Spaniards claimed
the area, 1519 to 1821, bringing what was
needed to build a country like their own:
horses, cattle, chickens, goats, sheep, grapes
and peaches, armor and firearms, laws and
government, a different language, a new religion, other ways of farming and irrigating,
architecture, and printing.
Early Spanish Catholic Settlers
The first Spanish settlers into the area of Texas
were Spanish soldiers and their families, friars, and settlers who came from the Spanishcontrolled Canary Islands located along
the northwestern coast of Mrica. Many of
these people settled on the land before other
European colonists settled on the east coast of
North America.
In the new colony, the conquerors wanted
to impose Catholicism on their Indian slaves
and to create a way of life like they had back
home. In the New World, Spanish religion
encouraged marriage with various Indians.
Spanish law gave equal rights to all free peo-
Calistra Hernandez ofSpain holds her
grandson Santiago Garcia, but why is he
wearing a dress?
pIe. So the Spaniards married women from
various tribes of Indian people.
During the 1600s several expeditions of
soldiers, priests, and Indian families went
north. Missions and presidios, or forts, were
established at Socorro and Ysleta in West
Texas, San Francisco de los Tejas in East
Texas, Mission San Jose in San Antonio, and
many others, but after a hundred years of
trying to settle the area, there were still fewer
than 3,000 non-Indian people in the Spanish
Jose de Escand6n (1700-1770) began the first
successful settlements along the Rio Grande.
By 1755 he had established 23 settlements
with 8,933 settlers, 3,500 indios, and 146
soldiers. He built no presidios, but 15 Franciscan missions were in the colony of Nuevo
The villages of Laredo and Dolores on the
north side of the Rio Grande were started in
the 1750s with Revilla, Camargo, Mier, and
Reynosa on the south side. Grants were made
to residents of the villages, starting the colonization of South Texas from the Rio Grande
to the San Antonio River.
Spanish Cultural Folkways
The Andalusian pony with Arabian breeding
from Spain arrived in Cuba with Columbus.
Cortes, the explorer, and his men took horses
from Cuba to Mexico in their conquest of
the Aztecs. By 1539 Coronado had taken
another 1,500 horses and mules from New
Spain on the expeditions through Texas. The
horses and cattle of New Spain were the basis
of cattle ranching in Texas.
In the Revolution of 1821, the Mexican people gained their independence from Spain.
When the Mexican Republic was formed,
there were fewer than 5,000 settlers in the
Texas area, but the rules of land law, water
law, and the law of family relationships from
the Spanish legal system remain today.
The flour tortilla is a part of the legacy of
the Sephardic (Spanish) Jews in Mexico who
colonized South Texas and northern Mexico
during the 18th century, when it was illegal to practice their Jewish religion back in
Spain. All settlers had to become Catholics.
Spanish Jews who converted to Catholicism
continued to make the unleavened tortilla.
Tortilla means a small torte, or cake. Even today on the south side of the Rio Grande, the
people primarily make corn tortillas, while
across the river in Texas, the tortilla made
from flour and lard is more popular.
Twentieth century architecture in Texas owes
much to the mission designs of the Spanish.
There are numerous old railroad stations
across Texas, such as the ones in Brownsville
and San Antonio, which have many details of
the old Spanish missions.
Amazing Spanish Texans
Although she never physically came to Texas,
Maria de Jesus de Agreda (1602-1665) at
age 16 convinced her father to change the
family castle into a convent for the Catholic
order of Poor Clares of Saint Francis. Through
the 1620s, it was believed that, while in deep
trances, she visited the Jumanos, an Indian
group in Texas. She wore a blue habit and
spoke to them in their language about the
Gospel. They later wanted 'm ore religious
learning and told the friars who came that a
lady in blue had visited them. Two thousand
Indians came to be baptized and receive additional religious instruction. Maria told her
confessor in Spain that she made 500 bilocations to New Spain and that she was the Lady
in Blue spoken of by the Jumanos.
Antonio Margil de Jesus (1657-1726) was
a Franciscan friar. He served as a missionary
in various provinces of Mexico and in 1707
traveled to Zacatecas, where he began a college for missionaries. In 1717 he supervised
the founding of two missions in East Texas,
and the next year he started Mission San
Jose in San Antonio. During his 43 years as a
Franciscan friar, he was the most revered of all
Franciscans in New Spain and remains under
consideration for sainthood by the Vatican.
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