Spanish Texas —Part IV

(Continued from Last Week)

In 1806, the only towns in Texas were San Antonio (about 2,000 inhabitants), Goliad (1,400 people), and Nacogdoches (nearly 500 residents).  Despite the dangers that constantly threatened them, several American families with good reputations settled near Nacogdoches.  These, along with the officers of the Mexican army stationed there, formed the higher circles of society.  Elaborate dinner-parties were abundant, at which the conversation was bright and sparkling, and the toasts and speeches were witty and eloquent.  Toasts were always offered to the King of Spain and the President of the United States.

Spanish Army 1800

Spanish Army officers

Living in San Antonio were the descendants of aristocratic Spanish families.  As they often came from the Vice-regal Court in Mexico City, Spanish army officers were generally men with polished manners and the priests were men of learning and refinement.  The governor hosted frequent receptions and each night on the public square, the people met to promenade, dance, and converse.  After visiting San Antonio in 1806-07, American explorer Zebulon Pike reported it as being one of the most delightful places in the Spanish colonies.

Spanish officials inside Mexico did not reciprocate this “good feeling.” For many, the notion of a graceless and aggressive white race helping themselves to the continent was disturbing. There was, of course, historic antagonism between Spain and the English, rooted in the collapse of the Middle Ages. The feeling among American frontiersman was that Spain represented tyranny of the worst sort, which also included popery.  Among the Spaniards, these American explorers were despicable piratas.  The Anglo-Saxon mob (in Spanish, Anglosajón) were at best ill-mannered sloths, and at worst, rapists and thieves.

When France’s dream of a vast North American empire crumbled, Spain inherited all French settlements along the Mississippi River.  The Spanish standard flew over New Orleans; Spanish cannon protected the river from interlopers.  About twenty-thousand Europeans lived within this Empire — all of them within the Louisiana Territory.  Most of those people were French-Canadian.  Ten-thousand Spanish speaking people did not guarantee Spanish power, however.  Spain did not have the military footprint to display Imperial power, and Spanish leadership (for the most part) was either inattentive or incompetent —although both could be true.  Spanish title to Louisiana was a legal fact, but history doesn’t depend on who owns title to such lands.  What matters is the people who populate it because ultimately it is the population that controls the land.

Francisco Domingo Joseph Bouligny y Paret

Francisco Domingo Joseph Bouligny y Paret

One exception to the above generalization was Francisco Domingo Joseph Bouligny y Paret.  He served as a high-ranking officer in Spanish Louisiana, as lieutenant governor under Bernardo de Gálvez in the late 1700s, and it was he that first proposed the settlement of Spanish and other Catholic immigrants throughout Louisiana as a means of bolstering Spain’s claim to these territories.  His idea included Anglo-Americans willing to switch their allegiance to Spain.  It was a dangerous proposal, of course, but how else could Spain increase its population and control in such a large area?  Bouligny wasn’t pulling feathers out of the air; he’d observed the settlement of Kentucky and reasoned that if English-speaking settlers dominated Upper Louisiana, then the Americans would eventually take over the entire territory.

Bouligny was a wise man; if he had ever seen an early map of the thirteen American states, he would note that the largest of these existed in the southern half of the United States, and that they began on the Atlantic coast and extended linearly across the entire North American landmass.  Thinking outside the box, Bouligny wanted to bring Anglo-settlements west of the Mississippi under the flag of Spain.  He was certain that if he could induce the Americans through liberal grants of land, the only real cost to these settlers would be their loyalty to Spain.  Besides, the homogeneity of the Spanish Empire had already been affected by the incorporation of thousands of French-Canadians.

Bouligny proposed that Spain offer English-speaking Roman Catholics [1] land grants.  When you think about it, the proposal made perfect sense from the Spanish point of view.  There was only one problem: there were no Roman Catholic settlers in the Mississippi River Valley.  Not only that, but of the total of Catholics living in the United States (numbering about 30,000) none were much interested in becoming frontiersmen. When this reality finally registered, Bouligny went even further.  He proposed that immigration should be opened to “any individual, whatever his nation, especially if he comes with his family and his negroes.”  He ignored the religious test entirely.  Governor Gálvez could not make the laws, but he could ignore them —which is what he did— and smart man that he was, he never put anything in writing.  Governor Gálvez wasn’t a trouble-maker; he was a free thinker.  This could cause Gálvez problems, of course, so he always walked softly when dealing with the Viceroyalty of New Spain.  Gálvez wasn’t the only free thinker.  Some of these high-ranking Spaniards were also Freemasons.

When war broke out between Great Britain and its American colonies, people who wanted to get out of the way began streaming across the Mississippi River.  Most of these people were Tories.  The Spanish military left them alone.  In 1779, Governor Gálvez paid the Anglo settlers an official visit.  When it became readily apparent that Great Britain had lost its war with the colonies, most of these people took the oath of allegiance to the King of Spain.  In 1783, Gálvez obtained a Royal edict that granted these Tories the right to remain within the Spanish Empire.  Many of these Tories did stay, and men such as Gálvez created pluralistic societies in places where one would least expect to find them: Spanish settlements.

Esteban Rodríguez Miró y Sabater

Esteban Rodríguez Miró y Sabater

Gálvez’s successor was Esteban Rodríguez Miró y Sabater and by 1787, Miro was pursuing two courses of action. The Spanish minister in Philadelphia had the authority to recruit Anglo-Americans for the Missouri [2] country.  United States Army Major General James Wilkinson was on the Spanish payroll to help separate the western settlements from the United States of America. Wilkinson, having secretly offered his oath of allegiance to Spain, attempted to foment a war between Virginia and Kentucky.  Of these two strategies, Spanish recruitment for Missouri was the most successful.

Colonel William Morgan of New Jersey, an Empresario, contracted with Spain to settle several American families at the mouth of the Ohio, at a town called New Madrid.  The Spanish offered lucrative deals, including enormous acreages of land, to responsible men who could recruit settlers and were willing to establish a colony at their own expense.  Spain also rewarded the families that accompanied them with leagues of land —and under far better terms than they could ever receive in the United States.  There were other advantages to Missouri, too.  There were no hostile Indians —long dead by virtue of warfare, smallpox, and venereal disease.  Thousands of Americans moved to Missouri.  All these people agreed to become Roman Catholic, but it was mostly an empty promise.  No official ever questioned them about their religion.  Religion aside, they all became citizens of Spain.

In 1789, Governor Miró faced a dilemma.  The Inquisition had sent a priest named Sadella to investigate a rumor that Governor Miró had offered citizenship to protestants.  After Sadella’s arrival in New Orleans, Miró had him arrested and deported, pretending that he did not know who Sadella was, or what he represented. To head off the Inquisition’s further inquiry, Miró wrote to the King, saying “His Majesty ordered me to foster an increase in the population, admitting inhabitants from the Ohio country. These people were invited with the promise they would never be molested —the mere mention of the name of the Inquisition would stop all immigration and cause those already here to depart.”

Contrasting with Hispanic settlements in Mexico, Anglo-American settlements in the Missouri country were prosperous. Trade was brisk between New Madrid and Pittsburgh and other trading posts on the Ohio River.  Aside from an occasional clash of culture, there was no real trouble between Anglos and Hispanics.  The issue of religion was carefully avoided.  Spanish Customs officers had even come to terms with the Anglo trader: they either took their cut (in Spanish, Mordida), or they turned their backs.

Thus, a handful of enlightened officials were able to create a free society, comparable to that of the United States, within the tyrannical Spanish Empire at a place called Missouri.  There is no question about the success of these efforts: Missouri was filling up with Spanish subjects who spoke English.  Colonel Morgan (and others like him) were Spanish officials who exercised vast powers over their colonies.  Spanish authorities expected the empresarios to govern as hidalgos.  Morgan wisely let the town of New Madrid run itself, but this concerned Governor Miró, who had no faith in the proposition that mere peasants could govern their own affairs.

Despite its successes, the Spanish-Mississippi Empire was not to be —and for two reasons.  First, the United States was able to hold on to its western settlements in Kentucky, and through the device of statehood fostered a remarkably robust economy.  Spain could close the Mississippi River, of course, but in doing that, Spain would risk a war with the United States.  Second, in 1800, Napoleon, First Consul of the French Republic, his ambitions blocked in Egypt, re-imagined a grand French-American Empire.  Napoleon forced the King of Spain to cede Louisiana in exchange for some obscure Italian real estate —and at the ceremony where the transfer was made legal and binding, Napoleon promised that the French would never alienate Louisiana or let it fall into the hands of an English-speaking power.  Napoleon many talents, of course.  As a politician, he was able to look someone in the eye and tell him convincing lies.  In 1803, Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States.

Thus, Spain’s experiment with pluralism ended quite abruptly.  It wasn’t a failure of pluralism —only a matter of circumstances and royal prerogatives.  The policies of Gálvez, Bouligny, and Miró were great successes —everyone thought so.  These ideas would later influence Spain in another province: Texas.  Clear-thinking men of the Spanish aristocracy had set an important precedent.

One of the Spanish Missourians was a Connecticut Yankee by the name of Moses Austin.  He and his son, Stephen would become empresarios in Texas.  They would bring the first Anglo-Saxon settlers to Spanish Texas, but for now, at the beginning of the 19th century, westward moving settlers achieved opportunities as never before.  Anglo settlers pushed hostile Indians out of Illinois and into northwest Ohio.  Kentucky had transformed itself from a backwater into a prosperous state. Georgia acquired title to all former Indian lands, and the only Indians in Tennessee were friendly toward whites. These circumstances encouragd the westward migration of thousands of settlers.

Was this all part of America’s Manifest Destiny?  The answer will vary according to whom you ask.  In 1803, most Americans weren’t conquering much of anything beyond the next day.  If they were pursuing American Imperialism, it was no more than folk-imperialism. The move west was by and large an individual endeavor; governments only provided the environment through which citizens could make their own way.  Pioneers couldn’t have purchased the Louisiana Territory; President Jefferson could. Once he did, then it was up to the frontier men and women to make a success of it.  Individualism was the essence of the American spirit.

American Frontiersman

The American Frontiersman

A few years later, another Spanish territory was placed on the menu: Florida —also secured through diplomacy.  The Americans had tasted territorial expansion and liked the flavor of it.  Did they think of themselves a superior to everyone else on the continent?  Of this, there can be no doubt.  Fighting didn’t matter —winning the fight did.  People lacking self-confidence do not willingly go in harm’s way.  Were the frontiersmen belligerent?  Without a doubt —these were men capable of taking adequate measure of themselves, men who refused to take “no” for an answer, and —when combined with an absolute hatred of the old world— belligerence was the result of an abundance of self-confidence.

The year was 1800 and the Spanish were well-acquainted with acts of piracy —and abhorred them.  They viewed trouble-makers from the United States as pirates.  One of these was a man named Philip Nolan, who was not an American.  Nolan was born in 1771 in Ireland.  While still a young man, he found his way to Spanish Louisiana and into the employ of James Wilkinson.  Between 1788 – 1791, Nolan served as General Wilkinson’s secretary and bookkeeper.  In Natchez, he became acquainted with Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, governor of the Natchez district. Using Wilkinson’s influence, Nolan obtained a trade passport from Governor Miró and set out to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with native Americans west of the Mississippi.  We are told that Nolan lived with the Indians for about two years.  What may have alienated him toward Spanish Mexico was that his authorization to trade among the Indians was void in Texas, prompting authorities there to confiscate all his goods.  When Nolan finally returned to Louisiana, he took with him fifty horses that he’d captured on the Texas plain.  Nolan quickly realized that there was good money in selling horseflesh, so “mustanging” became his new area of concentration.

Philip Nolan 001

Purported to be Philip Nolan

In 1796, the 25-year-old Nolan began working for Andrew Ellicott, a US Boundary Commissioner who was mapping the Missouri River.  When the survey party arrived in Natchez, Gayoso was not pleased to learn that Nolan had aligned himself with the Americans.  In his youth, Nolan may not have realized the degree to which the Spanish distrusted America’s interest in Spanish territory. When confronted by the irate Gayoso Nolan explained himself sufficiently to earn a third trade passport. Subsequently, Gayoso changed his mind and wrote to the Viceroy of New Spain warning him about the presence of foreigners, such as Nolan, who (Gayoso believed) were stirring up the Indians against Spanish settlements.

Nolan departed from Natchez with a wagon train of trade goods, which he successfully transported to Béxar in 1797.  While in San Antonio, Nolan ingratiated himself into Spanish society. Not everyone was impressed. Commandante-General Pedro de Nava received instructions from the Viceroy to “deal with” Nolan.  Provincial governor Muñoz protected Nolan by issuing him “safe conduct” out of Texas.  When Nolan returned to Natchez, he took with him more than 1,200 horses from Texas [3].

By this time, Nolan realized that he’d worn out his welcome in Spanish Texas, but he also knew that trade (legal or otherwise) was profitable.  He organized an expedition of thirty frontiersmen to accompany him back to Texas, ostensibly to obtain more horses.  There are conflicting accounts of this expedition. Some historians claim that Nolan induced the frontiersmen to follow him by promising enough land to make them kings. What makes this doubtful is that the men who became frontiersmen hated kings with a passion and would never have wanted to emulate one.  My own guess is that Nolan simply told these men that Texas would make them rich.  In any case, the Nolan expedition crossed into Texas in October 1800, intending to  capture horses in the area north of Nacogdoches. When the Spanish authorities became aware of the expedition, de Nava ordered their arrest.

On 21 March 1801, a Spanish force of around 120-men departed Nacogdoches to find and arrest Nolan.  They located him in the Texas hill country.  Several of Nolan’s men surrendered to the Spanish without incident.  Nolan, who was not willing to surrender, died from gunshot wounds.  This prompted the rest of his men to yield to Spanish authority.  What we know of this event comes from the journal of Ellis P. Bean, who served as the expedition’s second in command.  We today believe that Nolan was the first of the American filibusters —sort of [4].

The United States’ purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 no doubt stunned the Spanish, but I imagine they high-fived each other when they learned that the new military commander of the Department of Louisiana was none other than Major General James Wilkinson.  After all, Wilkinson had been on the Spanish payroll for many years. While Wilkinson advised American politicians to support the separation of Texas from New Spain, he provided Spain with useful (insider) information about what was going on inside the US capital.

Louisiana PurchaseNevertheless, the Louisiana Purchase presented a delicate situation.  Initially, the Spanish refused to evacuate their holdings. When they finally did agree to evacuate, they were once more shocked to learn that the United States had not only purchased Louisiana, but everything north and east of the Rio Grande, as well. Those clever French, having reasserted their old claim to Texas, sold Texas to the United States —and conveniently forgot to mention this to the Spanish crown.

Spain, long wary of US intentions toward Texas, was now convinced that no American was trustworthy.  The feeling created extreme tension on the US-Spanish border.  This too was awkward because there was never a survey of the border area between Texas and Louisiana.  In fact, the border area was actually a gentlemen’s agreement between France and Spain —and the Spaniards knew full well that there would be no such agreement with the Americans.  Spain responded by dispatching armed troops to the Spanish side of the Sabine River.

Still unaware that General Wilkinson was a Spanish secret agent, the United States authorized him to negotiate with the Spanish over the Louisiana-Texas border.  While talks were underway, Wilkinson sent Zebulon Pike to survey New Mexico. General Wilkinson was too clever by far. He alerted the British about a possible US invasion of New Spain and when the British seemed interested, he informed the Spanish that the British were plotting against them.  Spain was overjoyed to have such a man as Wilkinson in their employ.  They increased his payments.  This was about the time that Wilkinson brought in the Vice President of the United States to help him with his Texas land scheme —and, as it turned out, Aaron Burr was the ideal candidate for Wilkinson’s conspiracy because he had the kind of personality (and reputation) that suited Wilkinson’s schemes.  Burr was full of himself, greedy, and one of the least popular politicians in Washington.

MajGen James Wilkinson

James Wilkinson

Modern historians believe that all General Wilkinson’s intrigues had but one purpose: to frighten Spain into paying him more money.  Whether true, Wilkinson became a very wealthy man.  By informing Madrid what Burr was up to, and how he had personally worked to defeat Burr’s plot [5], an ever-grateful Spanish Crown paid Wilkinson his weight in gold.  In 1806, before leaving his post in Louisiana to testify against Burr, Wilkinson met with General Herrera, Commanding Spanish forces in East Texas.  Wilkinson suggested that two gentlemen should be able to cordially settle the border issue and agreed to accept a neutral zone between the Sabine River and Arroyo Hondo —a small tributary of the Red River. The effect of this agreement moved the US border seven miles further east … a clear win for the Spanish, which means that it was a clear win for Wilkinson, and besides that, Wilkinson knew full well that President Jefferson did not want a war with Spain.  The President commended Wilkinson for his foresight and initiative.

(Continued next week)

Sources:

  1. Burkholder, M. A.Spanish Empire, Encyclopedia of Latin-American History and Culture, 1996
  2. Thomas, H. Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, Columbus to Magellan, New York: Random House, 2003
  3. Maltby, W. The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire, London: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2009
  4. Valencia-Himmerich, R. and Joseph P. Sanchez. The Encomiendas of New Spain, 1521-1555: Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991
  5. McKendrick, M. Spain: A History, New York: Horizon Books, Electronic Edition
  6. Phillips, Jr., W. D., and Carla R. Phillips. A Concise History of Spain (Second Edition): Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 2016
  7. Fehrenbach, T. R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans from Prehistory to the Present: Austin, Da Pao Press, 1968, 2000
  8. Liss, P. K.Mexico Under Spain: Society and the Origins of Nationality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975

Endnotes:

[1] Spanish law required all of its subjects to be Roman Catholic and recognized no other religion.

[2] One of these was a man by the name of Moses Austin.

[3] Nolan’s information about Texas was helpful to Wilkinson in his development a map of the Texas-Louisiana frontier in 1804.

[4] The Spanish word Piratas evolves from “freebooter,” also “filibuster.”  It refers to an irregular military adventurer, particularly one who engages in unauthorized military expeditions into a foreign country to foment or support a revolution.  In French, the English word filibuster translates to Buccaneer.  In Spanish, the French word Buccaneer translates to pirate.  There have been several American filibusters who went to Spanish Mexico to cause trouble, and while Nolan may have been the first, I see little evidence that he went to Spanish Texas to foment rebellion.

[5] The so-called Burr conspiracy involved a treasonous cabal of wealthy land speculators who intended to seize land, create an independent country and appoint Aaron Burr to lead it.  In fact, the individual who roped Burr into this crazy episode was James Wilkinson and Burr was his patsy.  It was Wilkinson who led Jefferson to accuse Burr of treason.

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Spanish Texas —Part III

(Continued from last week)

In sixty years, the population of San Antonio de Béxar grew to around 1,700 people; only 400 of these were Spanish (loosely interpreted) with the rest being mestizos, Indians, and mulattos [1] (in Spanish, Culebras).  Mulattos outnumbered mestizos.  Over time, the word mestizo came to mean a Hispanicized Indian regardless of social origin, although the main distinction was in the language spoken and the way they dressed.

San Antonio 1820

San Antonio c. 1820

By the late 1700s, San Antonio de Béxar was an area of wretched shanties with only a few good buildings. Officially, the people of Spain’s northern-most frontier received little sympathy.  The Commandant General of the Interior reported that the settlers of Villa de San Fernando lived miserable lives because they were lazy, uneducated, and lacked professional skills.  There were no doctors or lawyers.

Spanish officials soon visited San Antonio de Béxar … which had become the capital of Spanish Texas.  Few of these inspectors had much good to say about it.  The average citizen lived a meager existence.  The people ate, but not well … which was the result of their apathy toward work and their sense of entitlement.  Modern historians claim fascination by the internal decay of Hispanic society, but for the life of me, I don’t understand why.  The situation as it existed in San Antonio in 1750 continues to exist in most Hispanic societies today, including parts of Mexicanized Texas, Mexico, and every Spanish-speaking country south of Mexico.  It also exists in modern-day Spain.  All these societies share clerically influenced societies, rigid caste systems, economic ineptitude, a determination by the elite to maintain their status at the expense of everyone else, and incompetent centrally-managed governments.

Texas in 1700 was not a contiguous province of New Spain and perhaps would never have been were it not for the threat of French encroachments that drove Spain into creating settlements on its northern frontier —settlements that were separated from Spain’s nearest civilized centers by several hundred miles through treacherous desert.  San Antonio was, indeed, an oasis … but even after Texas’ independence from Mexico, San Antonio de Béxar remained relatively unpopulated —even through the beginning of the 20th century.  In 1750, Spain’s northern colonies were significantly isolated from each other.  Culturally, the Spanish were ill-equipped to establish viable economies at these widely dispersed locations [2].

But there was a more important reason for Spain’s failure to hold Texas: the Spanish Empire committed suicide —a process that began when the Spanish introduced the horse into Apache culture (the Apachería) and through them, to the Comanche.  In so doing, Spain created the most fearsome light cavalry the world has ever known (See also: The Comanche).

The Spaniards never solved their Indian problem in Texas.  If anything, the difficulty grew worse over many years. Eventually, every Spanish settler from New Mexico to East Texas lived in stark fear for their lives from both the Apache and Comanche.  The Indians effectively stunted Spanish settlement as literally hundreds of colonists were killed in the north and thousands more along the fringes of Old Mexico. Indian war parties sortied as far south as Jalisco by the mid-18th century.  The number of horses and cattle stolen numbered in the hundreds of thousands —true even though by 1720 the Spanish had more armed men stationed in Texas than they had employed in the conquest of Mexico and Peru, which until Spain’s arrival, were empires containing tens of millions of natives.

Could the Spanish Crown admit that twenty or thirty thousand horsed Indians could shred the power of his Empire?  Of course not.  But it was not a matter of Spain being unaware of the likely effect of its policies. Far-seeing Spanish intellectuals provided the King with a clear warning: the frontier was not advancing, and in fact, it had already begun to recede.

In 1766, the Marqués de Rubí implored the Crown to accept the distinction between its mythical frontier and the stark reality.  As we have seen, the Presidio-Mission concept failed. The system could only be employed among subservient Indians —there were none of those in Texas — and rather than forging native people into a strong Hispanic base as full partners, they enslaved, tortured, and killed those who were best able to defend the land. Spain’s success in Mexico and Peru came as the result of its ability to conquer the dominant people, tribes of natives that had already subjugated all others.  After providing the Apache and Comanche with horses, there was no way that Spain could then suppress these dominant tribes.  In fact, the opposite was true: it gave them the greatest defeat ever suffered at the hands of Indians in the New World.

The Comanche made their presence known in San Antonio de Béxar soon after it was founded, but the first real trouble with hostiles came from the Apache, who were being systematically pushed off the plains by the more aggressive Comanche into the area of present-day Southern New Mexico, Arizona, and central and west Texas.  The Apache began hounding the Coahuiltecan tribes, which may have been their motivation for accepting life in Spanish missions.  In 1730, a large band of Lipan Apache attacked the settlement at San Antonio killing two soldiers, wounding thirteen others, and stealing sixty head of cattle.  The raid prompted Spain to organize a punitive expedition, which was their standard reaction to Indian raids.

Commandante Bustillo y Cevallos surprised an Indian camp west of San Antonio, likely along the San Sabá River (a branch of the Colorado).  The attack resulted in the death of many warriors, women and children.  Cevallos claimed that he killed two-hundred Indians, but Spanish officials regarded this as an exaggeration.  The expedition had no effect on the hostile Apache, however. A party of Lipan Apache subsequently appeared in San Antonio demanding to speak with the brown-robes (friars); they would have nothing to do with the soldiers.  What they wanted was a mission in their own country, in the area of the San Sabá River.  They claimed to want peaceful relations with the Spaniards.

Diego Ortiz de Parrilla 001

Colonel Diego Ortiz de Parrilla

The padres rejoiced and gave thanks to God; the soldiers rolled their eyes and advised caution. However, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of these priests and, in a few years, Spanish authorities granted permission for the construction of a new Presidio and Mission in Apache country. It would be named San Luís de las Amarillas.  In April 1757, Colonel Diego Ortiz de Parrilla led his men and five priests from San Antonio and began construction of the new edifice in the heart of Apache country, known as the Apachería.  The mission was constructed of logs; it was surrounded by a palisade.  The Presidio was constructed a few miles away.  The Parrilla expedition had three tasks: (1) convert the Lipan Apache, thereby removing them as a threat to the safety of Spanish citizens; (2) extend Spanish power and influence into the region west of San Antonio, and (3) investigate claims of vast silver resources along the San Sabá River. Coronado was not the last man to believe in mythical treasures.

While the Apache had appeared meek enough in San Antonio, in their own country they were dismissive of Spanish soldiers and priests.  There was no time for conversion; it was the hunting season.  After hunting season, there were other excuses —and yet the padres persisted. But something was amiss: The Apache seemed fidgety, and the Spanish couldn’t figure out why.

In fact, the Apache did have something up their sleeve.  Having been mauled by the Cevallos expedition and shredded by the terrible force of Comanche in the north, the Apache intended to set both enemies upon each other.  They had not only lured the Spanish into the Apachería, but also beyond the border of Comanche country, the Comanchería.  The Apache eagerly awaited the Comanche reaction to the presence of these foreigners.

The Presidio-Mission had only been finished for a few months when a friendly Indian brought word to the padres of a terrible calamity in the offing. Anxious, the Spanish sent word to the entire frontier, warning everyone of impending Indian attacks —but nothing happened.  Summer and fall passed without incident; everyone relaxed.  It must have been a false rumor.  These things happened on the great plain.  Winter passed, and with the approach of spring, the grass turned green and lush.  It was a perfect environment to forage thousands of horses on the great plain.  It was early March 1758.  The night brought a full moon and no one in the garrison had ever seen such nocturnal beauty.  This was a period known as the Comanche Moon —a time when large parties of mounted Comanche could ride at night, unseen by anyone for a thousand miles.

Then, quite suddenly, every Lipan Apache in the area disappeared.  No one saw an Indian for days, until one morning a rush of horsemen swooped down upon the Presidio.  Sixty head of horse were abruptly gone from the Spanish pasture.  Parrilla put all his men on the walls; he dispatched a messenger asking that the padres join him at once.  They refused.  After a few days, when nothing else happened, Parrilla went to the mission and argued with the priests.  They must, for their own safety, move to the Presidio.  The senior priest, Father Terreros finally agreed to join Parrilla the next day even though it was unlikely that “invisible Indians” would wish to do the padres any harm.   Colonel Parrilla detailed seventeen soldiers to remain with the priests and provide them with protective escort the next day.

The Comanche attacked the next morning during mass.  Soldiers ran to the parapet to take up firing positions; Father Terreros and Father Molina followed them.  What they observed was around 2,000 Comanche horsemen surrounding the mission.  Molina was terribly frightened and said as much, but Terreros insisted that these men must be friendly as no Spaniard had done them any harm.  The soldiers awaited the priest’s order to fire, but Terreros would not or could not command it.

Comanche Warrior 001

The Comanche attacked the next morning during mass.

The Comanche warriors were wearing war paint of black and red; they wore headgear of buffalo horn, deer antlers, and eagle’s plumes. All were armed with lances and bows; five score carried French made muskets.  One Comanche dismounted and walked to the mission’s main entrance. He pushed against the doorway and found it open.  Terreros hesitated, but the Indian did not.  He shoved the door open and quite suddenly, the mission was filled with Comanche Indians.  In sign language, the Comanche ordered the priest to send a message to Colonel Parrilla telling him to open his Presidio to the Comanche.  A large party of Indians took the hand-written message and rode off.  Meanwhile, another Indian, someone other than a Comanche, had fled to the Presidio to inform Parrilla of these events.  The colonel immediately ordered a detachment of troops to reinforce the mission. These men mounted and rode off —directly into the war party coming from the mission with Toreros’ message.  The Spanish cavalry never had a chance.  In mere seconds, every soldier was killed, save one, who, though badly wounded was able to crawl away.  The hostiles scalped every dead Spaniard.

At the mission, the Indians had no interest in the offer of gifts; they would take what they wanted.  As the looting started, Spanish priests gathered in the center of the enclosure —but not for long.  Spanish troops inside the mission were the first to die.  One priest was lanced and then decapitated.  Several Comanche grabbed Terreros and carried him off with the intent of torturing him, but a Comanche arrow pierced his skull and he died instantly. Molina was able to break away and together with a few others, hide inside one of the sleeping rooms.  They remained there for several hours.  When the looting and killing was done, the Comanche set fire to the mission and departed as quickly as they had arrived. Molina was saved by the fact that the mission was constructed of green wood; it would not burn.  After dark, the wounded Molina led a handful of survivors to the Presidio.

Three days later, after Colonel Parrilla’s scouts reported that the Comanche horde had left the area, Parrilla and Molina returned to San Sabá where they gave Terreros and others a Christian burial.  Afterwards, Parrilla gathered his force and withdrew to San Luís and asked for reinforcements.

The destruction of San Sabá caused consternation and rage at San Antonio de Béxar.  Spanish and ecclesiastical authorities strongly believed that the desecration of the mission and murder of priests should not go unpunished, but nothing was done. After the San Sabá presidio was raided again in 1758, Spanish officials called a conference at San Antonio.  This time, they were serious: they planned an expedition.  All call went out to all other presidios in Texas for soldier reinforcements.  A large number of friendly Indians were raised to augment the military.  The Viceroy eventually approved the plan.

In August 1759, Colonel Parrilla led six-hundred men with orders to sweep the Indian country north of Béxar.  About a third of his force were Lipan Apache.  He carried two field artillery guns and a supply train to sustain his force for an extended period.  It was the greatest Spanish military expedition ever mounted in Texas. Colonel Parrilla commanded more men than Coronado and Pizarro combined, but he would not march his men into the heart of Comanche country.  To do so would have placed his force at the mercy of a superior mounted force.  He instead skirted the Comanchería.  He never met any of the Comanche, but he did locate a Tonkawa village.  At this point, one of two things must become apparent: either the Spanish were intent upon revenge for the death of Father Terreros, or Parrilla didn’t know one Indian from another.  Parrilla attacked the Tonkawa village, killed 55 Indian men and seized more than 150 women and children.  These he ordered marched to San Antonio.

In October 1759, Parrilla approached the Red River, the northernmost boundary of Texas.  Here he found more hostiles: Comanche, Wichita, and several others.  At the moment he ordered his attack, the Lipan Apache deserted and ran for their lives.  Colonel Parrilla fought his way out of an encirclement, and while his losses were comparatively small (discounting the Indians who ran away), he lost both of his field cannon and the supply train.  It was the worst defeat by the Spanish military in the New World [3].

Within a few weeks, Colonel Parrilla reappeared at Béxar.  Spanish casualties aside, Spanish power was dealt an enormous psychological blow.  In Mexico City, Colonel Parrilla faced a court-martial [4].  Twenty years later, a French agent working on behalf of the Spanish Viceroy recovered Parrilla’s cannon.  Never again did the Spanish authorize a church mission for hostile tribes in the Texas interior.  Never again did Spain mount a serious campaign against the Comanche.

Colonel Parrilla’s campaign marked an important shift in the balance of power in Texas.  From 1759 onward, the Spanish adopted a defensive strategy when it came to hostile Indians.  Lipan Apache continued to terrorize frontier communities, the Comanche began to raid and plunder deep inside Mexico, and the Spanish presidios became targets of opportunity and sources of great entertainment for the plains Indian. Spanish soldiers wisely refused to pursue attacking war parties.

The Spanish had established several missions and settlements in East Texas near the Louisiana border, a few crumbling missions and forts along the south Texas crescent, and, of course, inside the Texas capital at San Antonio de Béxar.  Outside of these efforts, the Spanish expressed no further interest in settling Texas until 1820, when they opened the land to Anglo-American settlement.

What the Texas Indians learned from the Spanish was how easy it was to defeat them; from the Texians (Anglo settlers), the hostiles learned about death and pain.  After the Anglo-Americans arrived in Texas, hostile Indians no longer enjoyed the privilege of sanctuary.  It was true that the Indians could ride far and fast; true that they were lethal instruments of terror on the plains, but it is equally true that they met their match in the men and women who became Texans.

Mission San Antonio de Valero (at San Antonio de Béxar) was secularized in 1793.  After 75-years of effort, there were but 43-settled converts to Christianity —and none in any of the remaining missions.  In 1800, the total population of Spanish Texas was less than 3,000 souls (including Indians and garrison troops).  After three-quarters of a century, after the death and suffering of thousands of men and women on the Spanish-Mexican frontier, after losses of tens of thousands of cattle and horses during unrelenting warfare, the small number of people remaining in San Antonio cursed the Church and Crown with equal vigor.

(Continued next week)

Sources:

  1. Burkholder, M. A.Spanish Empire, Encyclopedia of Latin-American History and Culture, 1996
  2. Thomas, H. Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, Columbus to Magellan, New York: Random House, 2003
  3. Maltby, W. The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire, London: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2009
  4. Valencia-Himmerich, R. and Joseph P. Sanchez. The Encomiendas of New Spain, 1521-1555: Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991
  5. McKendrick, M. Spain: A History, New York: Horizon Books, Electronic Edition
  6. Phillips, Jr., W. D., and Carla R. Phillips. A Concise History of Spain (Second Edition): Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 2016
  7. Fehrenbach, T. R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans from Prehistory to the Present: Austin, Da Pao Press, 1968, 2000
  8. Liss, P. K.Mexico Under Spain: Society and the Origins of Nationality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975

Endnotes:

[1] The definition of a mulatto is someone with one white and one black parent.  Since there were no Negroes on the Texas frontier, the term Culebra more than likely describes someone with a white parent and one who is non-white classification.  This is an illustration of the complexity of the Spanish system of social classification.

[2] Modern historians point to the fact that only a forest-farm oriented race could have nurtured the thickets and hills of Texas.  The Spanish were a Mediterranean race who thought in terms of colonial centers constructed in the Roman pattern —none of which were ever economically viable.

[3] Colonel Parrilla reported that he fought 6,000 warriors who presented themselves under a French flag; he opined that French military officers likely commanded them. Historians discount Parrilla’s claim; there may have been French agents among the Indians, but there was no evidence produced by Parrilla of a French military operation, nor has there ever been any evidence of a direct participation in the Indian alliance by the French.  Historians claim that it is more likely that Parrilla exaggerated the numbers of Indians to place his defeat in a better light.  Defeat at the hands of other European armies was one thing; defeat by savages quite another.

[4] Colonel Parrilla’s court-martial didn’t terminate his career.  A few years later Parrilla achieved the rank of Brigadier with a post of some distinction in his native Spain.

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Spanish Texas —Part II

In 1718, the Spaniards situated their new mission midway between the East Texas presidios and the “way-station” mission at San Antonio de Valero near the San Antonio River —150 miles northeast of Coahuila. This was Tonkawa territory [1].  At first, the San Antonio mission was unimportant —serving as no more than a backup to the main effort further east.  The Spaniards sited two additional missions near the coastal end at Rosario and Refugio.

In planning these missions, the Spanish considered the native populations surrounding them. Only one of these missions survived, however, and none achieved their primary directive: to reduce Indian culture and increase Spanish power.  The Tonkawa refused to accept Christianity much less Spanish serfdom —and why should they? Meanwhile, the French were busy displaying their skills in providing insight to the Indians as to what the Spanish had in store for them —and one thing more: the Tonkawa had the power to resist.  The French sold the Indians firearms.

The fact of French traders circulating among native populations infuriated the Spanish, whose policy it was to deny firearms to Indians.  Still, the Spanish were powerless to do anything about the French, and St. Denis continued to exercise his considerable influence over the Hasinai, which kept them from adopting Spanish ways.  So effective were St. Denis’ policies that even years after his demise, French traders continued to maintain them.  Meanwhile, measles, smallpox, and other European diseases took a heavy toll on the natives.  By the middle of the eighteenth-century, the Caddo Hasinai were in rapid decline; in another 50 years, they had almost completely disappeared —unwittingly killed by those who came to save their souls.

Tonkawa 001

The Tonkawa consumed their enemies.

Mission San Antonio de Valero never attracted any Indians at all.  The Tonkawa adopted a policy of ignoring the Spanish.  In order to utilize Indians for labor, Spanish friars had to import them from Coahuila, but these were a lazy lot and their spirit already broken. They would stay and work for as long as there were gifts —and when fed— but even when they had received their food and gifts, they often melted away —or died.  In the southeast, the Karankawa also concluded that the Spanish were bad medicine.  They too fled back into the coastal marshes.  They sent clear messages to the Spaniards by killing them at every opportunity. They too avoided European settlements.

It is true that Spanish settlements took hold near Nacogdoches, but these were based on a small number of Spanish/Mexican settlers who constructed small, struggling communities. Without Hispanicized Indians, Spanish missions could not flourish and more to the point, Spain’s refusal to establish legitimate trade with their French neighbors stunted economic growth and forced the missions to depend on New Spain for resupply.  What the Spanish wanted, of course, was the best of all possible worlds; a purely Hispanic province in Texas, from which all profit accrued to their own interests, never once realizing that a robust trade with French settlements would foster an interest in colonial adventurism and increase their profits.

Mission San Antonio de Valero 1785In the same year that the Spanish founded Mission San Antonio de Valero, the French established the settlement of New Orleans.  San Antonio had a distinct advantage over the other missions: its location.  San Antonio was closest to New Spain and situated near a flowing river. Approaching the settlement from the south, San Antonia was an oasis appearing out of a bleak desert.  The area offered abundant irrigation water, rich pasture land, plentiful building stone, and access to useable timber.  San Antonio, situated just below the Balcones Escarpment, had a mild, dry, healthful climate, with pleasant winters and bearable summers —and because San Antonio was not unlike the climate of Spain, its location was attractive to Spain’s priests and soldiers.  Moreover, San Antonio did not have to (regularly) contend with hostile Indians.

Spain’s decision to construct San Antonio de Valero was no accident.  St. Denis stopped there with his Spanish cohorts, noting in his journal that it was an ideal place for a settlement.  Initially, the Spanish intended the mission as a way-station between New Spain and the East Texas missions that St. Denis also inspired. The friars who established Mission Valero were Franciscans who had served at several locations in northern Mexico before the Marqués dispatched them across the Rio Bravo del Norte [2] into Texas.  When the Franciscans arrived, they brought with them a considerable number of Coahuiltecan, giving them the advantage of having a pool of incorporated Indians to perform labor and who were able to communicate to others the benefits of the Spanish-Indian life style.

Juchereau St. Denis 001

Juchereau St. Denis

In the aftermath of St. Denis’ arrest and escape from Mexico in 1721, Marqués Valero strengthened San Antonio by incorporating it into the province of Coahuila.  He sent 54 soldiers to construct a strong presidio, named San Antonio de Béxar (also Béjar) after the Duke of Béjar, a brother of the Marqués de Valero (killed while fighting against the Turks).  Even though the construction of the fort was incomplete, energetic friars finished a series of stone missions along the river.

Initially, the Spanish contingent consisted of friars, soldiers, and four (4) settlers.  By 1726, the settlement had a non-population of two hundred men, women, and children.  As for the Indians from Mexico, they demonstrated no great interest in performing labor.  But what occurred in San Antonio after 1718 is vital to understanding the history of Spanish/Mexican Texas.  It illustrates all the virtues and inherent faults of Spain’s colonial efforts in North America.

Spanish religious orders had hundreds of years of experiences working alongside the Spanish military.  Consequently, when the Franciscans of San Antonio de Valero requested a Spanish garrison, they made it very clear they wanted a qualified contingent.  The friars wanted men of pure Spanish race, possessing high moral character, and married.  To avoid more “mixed blood” on the frontier, they wanted the families of these men to accompany them.  The settlers, too, must be of high character for otherwise they might have a bad effect on efforts to Christianize local populations.

I can only imagine the look on the face of the Marqués de Valero when he received these demands. How would it be possible to create a garrison of men wholly comprised of saints?  Even if that were possible, all Mexican soldiery was mercenary —men who became soldiers in order to escape a worse fate.  As with the Romans 1,500 years earlier, the Spaniards learned that employing mercenaries resulted in the loss of martial devotion found among gentleman warriors.  Over time, “gutter Spanish” and “so-called Spaniards” replaced the noble fighters. As a result, military discipline in the Spanish army was considerably worse than within other European armies.  The conquistadores had always been an undisciplined lot, but they made up for this through their military fanaticism.  By this time, however, disciplinarians like Coronado were long dead.

Franciscan FriarsThe Franciscans of San Antonio de Valero were not at all pleased by the quality of the garrison they finally received from Mexico City. Half of the soldiers arrived unmarried. Most of those who were married left their families in Mexico and none of the soldiers were “pure blood” Spaniards. Worse, the soldiers fell into one of three categories: half-breeds, outlaws, or no-accounts.  The friars responded to this affront by keeping their Indians away from soldiers, even to the point of refusing to allow mission Indians to serve the soldiers.  This was the reason construction of the presidio was unfinished.  The relationship between military and mission deteriorated further when the friars isolated Indian women away from the soldiery.

Neither was there any harmony between the church and its flock: the Coahuiltecan, while not resistant to conversion, was an unwilling worker.  These Indians required an inordinate amount of supervision from the friars, who had other things to do.  Indians didn’t understand the point of disciplined work.  In Indian culture, life was simple: in fat years, everyone eats; in lean years, everyone starves.  In any case, the Indians exhibited no ambition, no “joy in their work,” and this frustrated the high-energy friars.

But there was something more going on among the Indians.  They too began dying from European diseases.  Their birthrates decreased.  Completely overwhelmed by Spanish civilization, the Coahuiltecan became a broken people.  With their old ways destroyed, they became completely apathetic to life in the Spanish mission system.  Their choices were these: work to death, become a fugitive, or die at the hands of hostile Apache.  Death was the only escape these Indians had.

By 1750, the Spanish had constructed five missions in the San Antonio area.  And, while each of these employed around two hundred Indians, there was never a second generation of mission Indians.  Each of the friar’s successive ten-year plans failed.  At no time did any Church official re-think what they were doing.  Some of the best minds of the Spanish Empire investigated the situation in Texas and concluded that the missionary effort was failing.  Despite this, the Church’s influence prevailed.  The one consistency of the Church throughout this period was its steadfast refusal to accept reality.  Rather than facing up to the effects of incorporation, they instead blamed the Indians.  This trend became an important symptom of the decline of Hispanic society.

The Spanish settlers requested by the Franciscans finally arrived in 1731.  It was a group of ten families, among them five newly-weds. They arrived from the Canary Islands —fifty-six Spaniards in all, subsidized by the Crown.  Historians believe they were people exiled to the Canary Islands from Spain because they were political radicals.  It was life in those barren islands that may have induced them to volunteer for the Texas frontier —at a time when almost every Spanish civilian in Mexico declined to go to Texas.

In addition to generous financial subsidies, the King was pleased to honor them with the status of hidalgo [3] (Fijo d’Algo), translated from old Spanish meaning the son of someone important. The designation was a genuine title of breeding, held by him and his descendants in perpetuity.  It was a measure of how desperate the Crown was to settle the frontier.  It was also a huge mistake.

Among Spaniards, birthright is a serious issue and probably taken far more seriously than anywhere else in Europe.  The Canary Islanders took their new titles completely to heart.  Being a hidalgo in Spain, or even New Spain, offered social advantages.  Importantly, this designation separated its recipients from the working class, but on the Texas frontier it ended up being a ridiculous situation.  Men of dignity did not perform common labor, but that is precisely why the Viceroy sent them to Texas to begin with.

The islanders arrived in the San Antonio region expecting to find a town, and a deferential population over which they might serve as part of the elite.  Instead they found no town; it was up to them to build one, plant crops, provide food to the missions, and accomplish all these things without the benefit of Indian labor.  They arrived as a privileged class totally without funds only to find that there was no one to support them.  In effect, the islanders became indentured servants and none of them liked it.  One of these men signed his name as follows:

Juan Leal Goraz, Spaniard and Noble Settler by order of His Majesty (Whom God Guard) in this Royal Presidio of San Antonio de Béjar and the Villa of San Fernando, Province of Texas, and present Senior Regidor of the said villa, also a farmer.

Unfortunately for the colony, Goraz and the others viewed their function in the same way. They performed no labor.  Instead of carving a flourishing community out of the wilderness, the hidalgos went native.  They became hunters, fishers, loafers, and in some cases, smugglers and thieves.  It was possible to raise a few beans without much effort, and Spanish cattle were omnipresent in the fields around Béxar.  The Spanish hidalgos could eat without great difficulty while enjoying the splendid climate amid beautiful scenery.

The two-sided conflict between missionaries and soldiers now became a three-sided war. The islanders wrote bitter letters to the Viceroy protesting the fact that the missionaries monopolized the best land, isolated Indians from performing labor, and allowed their cattle to roam untended.  The friars wrote letters, too.  They described the hidalgos as indolent and given to vice, unworthy of the blessings of the new land.  Neither were the Franciscans happy that the King had wasted 80,000 pesos to move the hidalgo to San Antonio; he ought to have given that money to the Church.

The battle continued as the settlers became spies for the viceroy in Mexico City: they reported that the friars weren’t getting anywhere with the Indians.  They wondered if someone might investigate what was going on within the missions.  The situation was bad enough that the hidalgos even demanded their own parish church and their own priest.

The concerns of the settlers were well-founded.  A few Indians became sufficiently Hispanicized to take up a life like that of the elite.  Over time, the friars forced more than a few soldiers to wed Indian women who were with child —and the mestizo community began growing.

The fact that the hidalgos married within their own circle soon resulted in cleavages in society. It was all part of the intricate class and caste of Spanish society.  Spaniards born in the old country outranked everyone else, even though they too ranked according to birth and station.  Next came criollos (also, creoles) of pure race who had the misfortune of birth within the colonies.  Below the Spanish elite was a complex range of mixed blood people, some classified as Spanish, but not treated as such.  Indians placed at the bottom of this complicated hierarchy.  Such designations may hardly have mattered in Mexico City, but systemic discrimination became a large issue in the small settlement of San Antonio de Béxar.  It was an isolated community in New Spain, a socially divided settlement prohibited from trading with French Louisiana by royal decree, an enterprise denied access to a labor pool needed to expand agricultural production.

The gem of Spanish Texas floundered.

(Continued next week)

Sources:

  1. Burkholder, M. A. Spanish Empire, Encyclopedia of Latin-American History and Culture, 1996
  2. Thomas, H. Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, Columbus to Magellan, New York: Random House, 2003
  3. Maltby, W. The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire, London: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2009
  4. Valencia-Himmerich, R. and Joseph P. Sanchez. The Encomiendas of New Spain, 1521-1555: Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991
  5. McKendrick, M. Spain: A History, New York: Horizon Books, Electronic Edition
  6. Phillips, Jr., W. D., and Carla R. Phillips. A Concise History of Spain (Second Edition): Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 2016
  7. Fehrenbach, T. R.Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans from Prehistory to the Present: Austin, Da Pao Press, 1968, 2000
  8. Liss, P. K. Mexico Under Spain: Society and the Origins of Nationality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975

Endnotes:

[1] Owing to their practice of cannibalism, the Tonkawa Indians were repugnant to both early settlers and other Indian tribes.

[2] In the United States, Rio Grande.

[3] The term may offer an interesting perspective to Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the priest who became known as the “father of Mexican Independence.”

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Spanish America

History is only valuable when presented in its unblemished condition. If presented in any other way, which is to say, watered down to placate the sensitivities of one group or another, then important lessons of history go unheeded, resulting in repeated mistakes. Besides this, actual history is far more interesting than its revised version. Raw history is neither unkind nor judgmental; it is simply what happened; its relevance becomes obvious when we connect it to subsequent events.

I have provided some background to Spanish Texas and the American Southwest in earlier posts, but nothing substantial.  The history of Spanish America is the story of empire, subjugation, rebellion, and independence.  History involves real people —some bad, some good— who made decisions with far-reaching concerns to subsequent generations.

A frustrated Spanish official by the name of Tadeo Ortiz wrote to the Viceroy of New Spain.  In his letter, he said:

Most excellent Senor:

The time has come when the Supreme Powers simply must understand that the Comanches, Lipan Apaches, Wichitas, and other small bands of savages have not only hindered the settlement of Texas, but for two centuries have laid waste to the villages and committed thousands of murders and other crimes… These depredations have dressed whole families in black and filled their eyes with tears.  The Government must realize that, with utterly baseless hope and with paralyzing fears, the cowardly governors and ecclesiastical councils have presided over enormous crimes, under the deliberate and infantile notion that someday these barbarians will be converted to the faith and reduced to their dominion. To this perverse view and policy, countless victims have been and are still being sacrificed.

Spain’s presence in the Americas was the effort of a multi-national conglomerate in the same context as the Roman Empire.  The Spanish arrived in the Americas for one purpose: to conquer the indigenous people.  For the most part, they accomplished that mission.  They displaced native populations and immersed them in Hispanic culture and society.  They created new towns, cities, and provinces and incorporated them into the Spanish Empire. Once subjugating natives, the Spanish installed themselves as the social elite, at the head of encomiendas [1]. Overall, it worked out quite well for the Spaniards, as demonstrated by brilliant 17th century societies in Lima, Peru and Mexico City.

The Spanish Empire nearly completed all that it set out to do; it conquered massive territories, vanquished millions of people and reshaped them in Spain’s own image.  The societies they created remain with us today. The Empire of Spain lasted for more than three hundred years.  Its longevity enabled the Spaniards to pass along to all subsequent generations their language, culture, religion, and social structure.

The downside to this story is that in achieving everything previously described, Spain also bequeathed to its successor states lasting problems that originated with Hispanic society itself: it’s social structure, its theory of government, how it distributes wealth, and its relationship to the Church.  Modern Hispanic society maintains many features from the Middle Ages.  Then, as now, Spanish culture was true to its history —able to transmit to others its own unique set of values.

Spain carefully controlled migration from Europe to the World.  It was not the Empire’s intent to colonize the Americas or work the land for its resources.  The Spaniards did intend to subjugate and incorporate others to perform work that they themselves did not want to do.  Seeking to reward Hernan Cortés for his many contributions to the Empire, Spanish authorities offered him vast lands in Cuba.  The generous offer offended Cortes because he had not come to the New World to work the soil as a common peasant.  His reaction is useful because it reveals Hispanic culture and the philosophy governing Spanish conquest.  Most Spaniards expected to live from the labors of their native populations.

The effect of Spanish exploration and conquest was that every place and every person became subjects of the His Most Catholic Majesty, The King of Spain. The system they used to incorporate native populations was the encomienda, a process that inflicted unbelievable cruelty upon indigenous people.  Of course, the Catholic Church never sanctioned Spanish brutality of these inferior people. In fact, the Church worked tirelessly to prevent the wholesale extermination of natives —and yet the Church never protested the mercilessness of Spanish conquest; it would have been alien to the value system of Spanish Catholicism.

Hispanic civilization was (and is) rigidly structured and centralized, but it would be a mistake to say ethnocentrism began with the Spanish Empire.  Besides, Spanish clergy could never have communicated any values that were foreign to Spanish culture.

Encomienda-Hacienda

The Spanish Encomienda

In Mexico [2], the encomienda (later called hacienda) worked brilliantly on the wet and fertile plateaus of older Indian civilizations. By 1575, there were more than 500 encomiendas, each producing massive amounts of annual revenue.  Additionally, Spain operated 320 estates, each yielding to the crown over 50,000 pesos annually.  But as the Spanish conquests worked their way northward, beyond the limits of the Aztecan sphere of influence, haciendas became far less successful.  The problem with these northern efforts, even after they were geographically adapted to include cattle ranches (called Estancia de Ganado), was that Spanish overlords were running short of submissive Indians.  The Spanish officially abolished the encomiendas in 1720, but the massive estates that they created remained —and these became the genesis of social problems prevalent in Mexico today.  Spanish estates fostered but two social classes: at the top, the elite, and below that, everyone else.

Early Spanish colonies in the Americas were part of the “sword and cross” methodology … the embodiment of clerical totalitarianism —albeit without slave masters.  In the success of Hispanicization and incorporation of Indian society, no slave masters were necessary.  What made this scheme impossible on the northern frontier was simply because there were no pliable Indians in Texas.  Noncompliant Indians forced the Church and State to devise new ways of solving their problem.  What evolved from this was the Presidio-Mission system.

Under the Presidio-Mission system, Catholic missions fell within the purview of the religious order, whose responsibilities involved several tasks: incorporate the Indians into the mission structure, Christianize them, teach them how to farm, and teach them obedience.  The presidio fell under the province of the military order whose job it was to defend the religious order and its converts, and to keep the Indians in line. In Spanish, reducidos, or transforming Indian populations into useful subjects of the crown.  The Spanish intended that in time, these Indians would perform the functions of a middle class.  Having been “incorporated,” the natives would build the towns, the towns would become cities, and the cities would evolve into economically viable provinces.  Spanish planners anticipated that such an undertaking might take around ten years —but the first challenge was to find savages who would not object to Spanish brutality. In this regard, Spanish missions were less religious organizations as they were agents of the Crown.

Presidio-Mission 001

Spanish Presidio

Spanish religious councils in Mexico City were proud of their presidio-mission system —and hopeful, because in devising it expressly for its northern territories, the Spanish placed all their eggs into this one basket.  In evaluating the system, we must admit that, from a humanitarian point of view, it was an improvement over Spain’s previous method in dealing with Indians.  While religious councils were excited about its prospects, the Spanish military was not. Soldiers who had faced hostile savages such as the Apache or Comanche could not imagine that such a man would one day become a peasant-farmer.  The ecclesiastics persisted, however, arguing that soldiers always took a cynical view of barbarians.  The clergy believed it was possible to save these Indians and convert them to the work of the Lord (and the Crown).  Experienced soldiers who knew better shook their heads and rolled their eyes.

Still, in one area, the Spanish colonial system of the 18th century was admirable because it was the only system in the Americas that ever envisioned a place for the indigenous populations within western culture —even if that place was at the bottom of the social hierarchy.  Moreover, the presidio-mission system was carefully (although not faultlessly) planned and implemented.  The Spanish put more attention, money, and effort into it than either England or France.  Even so, at is very inception, the Spanish colonial system was a triumph of ideology over reality, predicated on false assumptions and utopian ideals.  No war plan ever survives the first battle.  The problem with Spain’s presidio-mission system was that the Spanish had never encountered Texas Indians.  In time, the Plains of Texas would destroy all of Spain’s hope for the total conquest of the Texas Indians.

Also problematic was the fact that Spain placed too much responsibility on the shoulders of priests and friars.  Yes —they were men of God, but also persuaders, teachers, social stewards, law-givers, land managers, builders of missions, and makers and maintainers of roads.  In its move toward the northern frontier, Spain clearly regarded its priests as the last best hope for these far-off territories.  It was too much to ask.

La Salle 001

Sieur de La Salle

In any case, the first missionary effort in Texas only materialized as a reaction to the encroachment of French explorers, occasioned by the landing at Matagorda Bay of the noted explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle [3].  La Salle’s effort, while abortive, did prompt the Spanish into taking a greater proprietary interest in its northern frontier.  Alonso de León [4] responded with a large body of soldiers and priests to establish a permanent colony and halt any further French explorations.

De León constructed a log mission and named it San Francisco de los Tejas (Tejas being the name the Spanish mistakenly gave to the confederacy Indian group called Caddo Hasinai [5]).  They constructed the mission in only three days.  It was situated on the Trinity River, about fifty miles south of present-day Nacogdoches, deep in the pine forests.

Although the Hasinai seldom ventured out onto the western plains, they were by far the most numerous of tribes in Texas.  Comanche and Kiowa occasionally raided the Hasinai, but their large population assured their continued existence.  Conversely, the plains horsemen did not care to place themselves at risk by plunging into dense, dank forests.  Hasinai and Plains Indians lived in completely distinctive worlds.

Hasinai 001

Hasinai Village

The Hasinai were a peaceful people and generously welcomed the Spaniards into their country.  Hundreds lined up to observe Spanish priests dedicate their new mission; many were impressed by Catholic pageantry.  They listened politely to the priests, they offered corn and other foods to the Spanish soldiers, and they promised to give careful thought to the friar’s offer of becoming mission Indians.  Only a handful of Hasinai accepted the invitation.  What may have amused the Indians was the padre’s promise to teach them how to grow their own food.  The Hasinai were already prolific farmers.  In the matter of giving up their warrior culture, these Indians were never hostile except in their own defense.

Hasinai goodwill didn’t last long, though —particularly after Spanish soldiers began fooling around with their young ladies.  Far worse than this were the diseases that quickly spread from the Spanish visitors into local villages.  European sickness had a lethal effect on all American Indians.  Within a short time, scores of Hasinai became ill and died.  Those who were lucky enough to survive began avoiding the mission; the few who had entered mission service soon melted away into the forests.  The friars ordered soldiers to bring the Indians back, of course, but Spanish soldiers (never known for their discipline) had become lazy and ill-disposed toward chasing Indians through the deep forests.  De León’s soldiers were arrogant and insubordinate in their behavior toward their superiors and priests.

Spanish Soldat 001

Spanish Soldat

As the priests and soldiers bickered among themselves, local Indians grew fretful. Spanish pageantry no longer awed them, and they lost all respect for Spanish authority. The Indians began stealing horses and cattle from the Spanish garrison.  The friars believed it was bad enough to have to endure insolence from soldiers; they were determined not to accept it from the Indians.  These circumstances were not a good start for the Spanish Presidio-Mission system.  Without Indians, there was no one to supply food.  It was an untenable situation —and since the French threat had already evaporated, the Spaniards closed Mission San Francisco de los Tejas and marched back to Mexico in 1692. They wouldn’t return to Texas for another twenty years.

It was only French encroachment that caused the Spaniards to return, this time in the person of a French-Canadian soldier/explorer named Louis Juchereau de St. Denis [6].  Inspired less by a desire to explore Spanish lands than by profits from smuggling, this new intrusion stirred Baltasar de Zúñiga y Guzmán [7], 1st Duke of Arión, 2nd Marquess of Valero, Viceroy of New Spain, to reenter Texas.  Once more, the Crown raised soldiers, funded and authorized another mission settlement.  This time, Guzmán was determined that the Crown’s settlement would become permanent.

(Continued next week)

Sources:

  1. Burkholder, M. A. Spanish Empire, Encyclopedia of Latin-American History and Culture, 1996
  2. Thomas, H. Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, Columbus to Magellan, New York: Random House, 2003
  3. Maltby, W. The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire, London: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2009
  4. Valencia-Himmerich, R. and Joseph P. Sanchez. The Encomiendas of New Spain, 1521-1555: Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991
  5. McKendrick, M. Spain: A History, New York: Horizon Books, Electronic Edition
  6. Phillips, Jr., W. D., and Carla R. Phillips. A Concise History of Spain (Second Edition): Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 2016
  7. Fehrenbach, T. R.Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans from Prehistory to the Present: Austin, Da Pao Press, 1968, 2000
  8. Liss, P. K. Mexico Under Spain: Society and the Origins of Nationality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975

Endnotes:

[1] The system instituted in 1503 granted a tract of land or village (with all its inhabitants) to a Spanish soldier or colonist.

[2] The capital of New Spain was Mexico City.

[3] La Salle was a prolific explorer and trader in North America.  Sieur de La Salle is a French title which means Lord of the Manor.  The French purchased their titles rather than earning them.  In time, his title became synonymous with his person, as if it was his name.

[4] Between 1660-1690, De León led a series of expeditions that traversed the northern coast of New Spain and the banks of the Rio de San Juan.  He was a seasoned outdoorsman and a successful entrepreneur. De León was a logical choice to lead overland efforts to discover foreign interlopers and destroy their colonies.   He led four expeditions between 1686 and 1689.  His initial reconnaissance followed the Río de San Juan to its confluence with the Rio Grande.  After striking the larger river, Don Alonso marched along the right bank to the coast and then turned southward toward the Río de las Palmas (also, the Río Soto la Marina).  This effort yielded no conclusive evidence that Frenchmen had visited the region. His second expedition set out in February 1687.  This entrada forded the Rio Grande, probably near the site of present-day Roma-Los Saenz, and followed the left bank to the coast.  De León then marched up the Texas coast to the environs of Baffin Bay but again found no evidence of Frenchmen.  The third expedition, launched in May 1688, was in response to news that a white man dwelled among Indians in a ranchería (temporary settlement) to the north of the Rio Grande. That effort resulted in the capture of a man called Jean Jarry, a naked, aged, and confused Frenchman.  The fourth expedition left Coahuila on March 27, 1689, with a force of 114 men, including the chaplain Damián Massenet, soldiers, servants, muleteers, and his French prisoner, Jarry.  On 22 April, De León and his party discovered the ruins of a French settlement named Fort St. Louis by La Salle, on the banks of Garcitas Creek. In 1687 De Léon became governor of Coahuila.  Three years later he and Massenet cooperated in founding the first Spanish mission in East Texas, San Francisco de los Tejas, at present-day Augusta, Texas.  De León was an honest soldier and an early pathfinder in Spanish Texas.  He left the region for the last time in July 1690. He was an early advocate for the establishment of missions along the frontier, way marking much of what would become the Old San Antonio Road. He returned to Coahuila and died there on March 20, 1691.  His descendants still reside in the Mexican state of Nuevo León.

[5] The Caddo Hasinai belong to the Caddoan linguistic group, a large family that includes the Arikara, Pawnee, Wichita, Kitsai, and Caddo Indians.  They occupied a compact area in the middle Neches and upper Angelina valleys.  Socially, they were the most advanced and historically important group in the region. The names Texas and Hasinai were interchangeable.  The term Texas or Tejas, was the Indian form of greeting.  It meant “friend.”  The Hasinai had many villages in the vicinity, where they lived in relative comfort, planting corn and vegetables in spring, hunting and fishing in the rich region in other seasons.  The Hasinai lived a secure, almost lazy lifestyle.

[6] We remember St. Denis for his exploration and development of Louisiana (New France) and regions of Spanish Texas.  He commanded the garrison as Fort de la Boulayeon the lower Mississippi River (1700) and founded Fort St. Jean Baptiste de Natchitoches in the area then known as La Louisiana.  St. Denis, who married a Spanish woman, became a thorn in the side of Spanish Texas. There was little doubt in the minds of the Spaniards that St. Denis was an agent of France.  Despite their misgivings about St. Denis, he nevertheless contributed to the geographical knowledge of Imperial Spain.

[7] Served as Viceroy of New Spain from 1716 to 1722 and later served as president of the Council of the Indies.

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The First Americans

Apache 001According to a study conducted by sixty investigators in over 15 countries [1], touted as the most comprehensive survey of genetic diversity of Native Americans, most populations descend from one migration period (although two additional migration periods were also significant).

Referred to as “First Americans” by academics, the earliest migrations began from Asia over a land bridge called Beringia around 13,000 years BC.  Subsequent migrants probably arrived in boats because the land bridge disappeared after the end of the ice age period.  Hence, academics conclude that rather than emerging from a single migration, the ancestors of American Indians emerged from several waves of migration over an extended period of time.  Once here, migratory trends continued as human groups dispersed within the Americas.  This study, by the way, confirmed the hypothesis of a linguist by the name of Joseph Greenberg in 1986.  The study’s conclusion resulted from more than 300,000 specific DNA markers from 52 Native American and 17 Siberian groups: Asian lineage of the First Americans was the oldest, and that Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene populations in Canada were more closely aligned to present-day East Asian populations.  Among the Eskimo-Aleut group, fifty percent of the DNA markers can be attributed to the First Americans, while ninety percent the Na Dene Chipewyan group DNA also descends from the First Americans.

We know that the First Americans gradually expanded southward.  We believe it is likely that in their southern migration, they established small tribal bands along the West Coast.  When these bands increased beyond forty or so people, groups split off from one another.  We also believe that after these groups split, there was very little subsequent contact among them.  Again, with time, their languages changed, even if only slightly.  Despite their initial dispersal, there is some evidence of a re-mix in two patterns: north-to-south and west-to-east.  In the former, there were some movements from South America northward (reflected in the DNA of Central Americans).  In the latter instance, some Eskimo-Aleut humans migrated back to Asia.  Despite the fact that this process took thousands of years, languages (with some differences) remained similar.  The development of their own unique cultural morés and folkways was likely dictated by their physical environments.

Apache Buffalo Hunt 001America’s Plains Indians (also, Interior Plains Indians and Indigenous people of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies) were nomadic hunter-gatherers.  They followed (migrated with) their source of food, the American Bison.  They used these animals to fashion their survival tools.  Indian groups included Anishinaabe, Apache, Arapaho, Arikara, Atsina, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Cree, Crow, Escanjaques, Hidatsa, Iowa, Kaw, Kiowa, Mandan, Metis, Missouri, Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, Ponca, Quapaw, Sioux (including Dakota, Lakota, Nakoda, and Nakota), Teyas, Tonkawa, Tsuu T’ina, and Wichita.

The first European to describe these Indians was Francisco Vásquez de Coronadoaround 1541.  It was Coronado who first came across the Querechosin the present-day panhandle of Texas.  He called these people Apachubecause this was the word used to describe Querechos by the Zuni (Puebla) Indians.  In the Zuni language, Apachu meant “enemy.”  By 1620, the Spanish regularly referred to Apache Indians as Apachu de Nabajo(Enemy of the Navajo)—perhaps not realizing (or caring) that there were several Apache bands: Lipan, Kiowa-Apache, Chiricahua, Jicarilla, and Mescalero.  Apache simply referred to themselves as “the people.”

 Historically, the Apache belong to the southern branch of the Athabascan group whose languages constitute a large family with speakers from Alaska, western Canada, and the American Southwest.  Divided into several branches, Apache tribes occupied an area that extended from the Arkansas River to Northern Mexico and from Central Texas to Central Arizona.  Academics generally classify Apache as either Eastern or Western Apaches; the Rio Grande generally served as the dividing line, east or west.  Of the several bands, two lived either partially or entirely within the confines of present-day Texas: The Lipan and Mescalero [2].

The Apache first arrived in the area of the American southwest between 1000 A.D., and 1400 A.D., a migratory process that led them south along the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains.  Eventually, they found their way into present-day Texas, New Mexico and Arizona —a consequence of pressure from stronger Indian groups.  See also: The Comanche.

Apache Attack 001Lipan and Mescalero organized themselves through extended-family groupings.  Several families remained together and consented to the leadership of their most prominent member.  This individual acted as “chief” advisor and director of the band’s activities.  For the most part, the extended family lived in close proximity to each other, which enabled them to unite in times of danger and regularly participate in traditional rites and ceremonies.  Among the Lipan, there was no larger organization than the “band.”  It was a loose organization and one that would lead to problems with the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Texans, and the Americans. One Apache band may have made peace with their enemy; another Apache band would remain hostile.  To the Spanish, Mexican, and Texans —an Apache was an Apache.  If one group made peace and another made war, well … European groups simply concluded that the Apache were untrustworthy.  Over time, the Europeans decided that the only solution to the “Apache problem” was to wipe them out.

Apache bands were patriarchies, but females held a central place within the tribe.  After a ceremonial marriage, the groom moved in with his wife’s family where he served as a hunter and shared in the duties of his father-in-law.  Should the wife die, her husband was required to stay with her family, who would supply him with another wife —likely the sister or a cousin of his first wife. The Apache wife had little obligation to her husband’s family.  Should the husband die, his family might provide the husband’s brother or a cousin as a new husband.  Polygamous marriages did exist among the Apache, but they were rare and mostly confined to prominent members of the village.  Apache men who wanted more than one wife usually married the sisters or cousins of their wives.

As with other Plains Indians, the Apache lived almost completely from the American Bison (Buffalo). They dressed themselves in Buffalo robes, lived in tents made of tanned and greased hides.  When the band moved its location, the tents were carefully folded and loaded onto dogs.  Apaches were among the first to learn to ride horses.  They learned these skills from runaway or captured Pueblo Indians. Indian use of horse was upsetting to the Spanish, who in time forbade the Pueblo from trading with any Apache. Subsequently, no longer allowed to continue traditional trade relationships, the Apache began to raid Pueblo camps and took what they wanted.

Pueblo Revolt 001

The Pueblo Revolt

From 1656 to 1675, the Spanish settlers and Pueblo Indians of New Mexico suffered heavily from almost continuous Apache hostilities.  When added to drought, famine, harsh Spanish rule, and the activities of Spanish missions, it proved too much for the Pueblo Indians and they revolted, driving the Spaniards out of New Mexico in 1680.  By the time the Spanish reconquered New Mexico in 1692, the Apache were a powerful nation of ruthless mounted warriors.  Their power was short-lived, however.

Apache aggressiveness did little more than turn their neighbors into enemies and made them targets of an even greater powerhouse: The Comanche, who along with the Wichita and Tejas Indians, pushed the Apache deeper into the Southwest region of the present-day United States and Northern Mexico.  But the fact remains that the Apache were never able to adapt completely to Plains culture.  They tended to establish rancherias, where they constructed huts and tended fields of maize, beans, and pumpkins.  Tied to their fields during planting and harvesting seasons, their rancherias set them up as easy targets for the Comanche, who were expert at conducting swift and deadly raids, during daylight and at night.  With each assault, the Comanche grew stronger; the Apache grew weaker.

Many Apache groups fled westward into New Mexico and Arizona.  The Lipan and Mescalero tended to flee into the region of present-day Central Texas and Northern Mexico where they collided with the Spanish, who were at the time, moving northward.  Soon after the establishment of San Antonio de Béxar in 1718, the Comanche made their presence known to the Spaniards, but the source of Indian trouble came from the Apache, who found San Antonio a convenient target for raids against their European enemy.  In their naivete, the Spanish pressed for peaceful relations with the Apache and when that didn’t work, they instituted a carrot and stick approach to dealing with them. It must be observed that the Spanish were somewhat slow in their learning curve in dealings with the Indians, but in fairness, the Spaniard’s success with the Jicarilla Apache in New Mexico led them to a false supposition that all Apache were alike, that they were similarly motivated, and at their core, all Apache wanted to achieve peaceful coexistence.

In 1725, the Viceroy of New Spain ordered that a concerted effort be made to establish a peaceful arrangement with the Texas Apache.  In the next few years, there were only sporadic hostilities between the Spanish and Apache, and this led the Viceroy to direct a survey of the Spanish frontier.  Were so many soldiers really needed in these far distant colonies?  Pedro de Rivera y Villalónwas sent to inspect the frontier with a view toward answering this question.  Ultimately, he recommended a reduction in the size of the military frontier garrisons, including at San Antonio de Béxar.  The priests and settlers protested these cutbacks, but to no avail.  In 1729, the Viceroy forbade governors and military commanders from waging war on peaceful or indifferent Indians.

In 1730, a large band of Lipan Apache attacked the settlement at San Antonio killing two soldiers, wounding thirteen others, and stealing sixty head of cattle.  The raid prompted the governor to organize a punitive expedition —a more or less usual Spanish reaction to Indian raids.  The leader of this campaign was Commandante Bustillo y Cevallos, who surprised an Indian encampment west of San Antonio, likely along the San Sabá River (a branch of the Colorado).  The attack resulted in the death of a large number of warriors, women and children. Cevallos claimed that he killed two-hundred Indians, but this was more than likely a gross exaggeration. Moreover, as we shall see, the expedition had no effect on the hostile Apache.

Mission San Lorenzo

Mission San Lorenzo

In 1732, a party of Lipan Apache appeared in San Antonio demanding to speak with the brown-robes (friars); they would have nothing to do with the soldiers.  What they wanted was a mission in their own country, in the area of the San Sabá River.  They claimed to want peaceful relations with the Spaniards.  The padres were overjoyed; the soldiers grumbled, rolled their eyes, and advised caution.  However, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of these priests and they struggled to develop a plan for Apache missions.  There were several proposals, all carefully considered, and within four years, the first Apache mission was established in Mexico, named Mission San Lorenzo.  It was located 54 miles due-west of the Presidio San Juan Bautista.

Initially, the mission proved successful under the leadership of Father Alonso Giraldo de Terreros, but when he was eventually assigned to other projects a year later, the mission began to fall apart.  Mission neophytes rebelled against the authority of the mission priests, burned the mission, and returned to their homeland.  Naturally, the missionaries blamed the Apache for the failure of the mission, which is partly true.  It is also likely that the Apache rejected the usually harsh treatment of the priests and friars.  The Apache reluctance to move away from their homeland supported additional efforts toward the construction of a new mission closer to Apache territory —called the Apachería.  Convenient, too, it seems, given the Spaniard’s renewed interest in mining in the region of San Saba.

In 1743, Fray Benito Fernández de Santa Anaurged approval for creating missions for the Apache on their own lands.  In his view, this was the best solution to the Spaniard’s most serious Indian problem in Texas.  In 1749, four Apache chiefs traveled to San Antonio with an offer of peace between the Apache and Spanish.  The Apaches, their populations decimated by Comanche raids, finally appeared willing to accept Christian conversion in exchange for their protection by the Spanish military.  Within a few years, Spanish authorities granted permission for the construction of a new Presidio and Mission in Apache country. It would be named San Luís de las Amarillas.  Toward this end, Father Terreros’ cousin, the mining magnate and philanthropist Pedro Romero de Torrerosmade generous contributions to the Franciscan Order in New Spain, including the construction of the new mission.  The initial plan for a mission was expanded to include a frontier (mining) colony and a nearby presidio.

Father Torreros arrived at San Saba in April 1757.  He was under the protection of Colonel Diego Ortiz de Parrilla, who would command the presidio.  The new mission was constructed of logs; it was surrounded by a palisade.  The separate Presidio was constructed a few miles away.  The Parrilla expedition had three tasks: (1) convert the Lipan Apache, thereby removing them as a threat to the safety of Spanish citizens; (2) extend Spanish power and influence into the region west of San Antonio, and (3) investigate claims of vast silver resources along the San Sabá River.  Coronado was not the last man to believe in mythical treasures.

While the Apache had appeared meek enough in San Antonio, in their own country they were dismissive of the Spanish soldiers and priests.  There was never any time for conversion; it was the hunting season. After hunting season, there were other excuses —and yet the padres persisted.  But something was amiss: The Apache were fidgety, and the Spanish couldn’t figure out why.

In fact, the Apache did have something up their sleeve.  Having been mauled by the Cevallos Expedition and shredded by the terrible force of Comanche in the north, the Apache intended to set both of these enemies upon each other.  They had not only lured the Spanish into the Apachería, but also beyond the border of Comanche country, the Comanchería.  The Apache eagerly awaited the Comanche reaction to the presence of these foreigners.

The Presidio-Mission had only been finished for a few months when a friendly Indian brought word to the padres of a terrible calamity in the offing.  Worried, the Spanish sent word to the entire frontier, warning everyone of impending Indian attacks —but nothing happened.  Summer and fall passed without incident; everyone relaxed.  It must have been a false rumor.  These things happened on the great plain.  Winter passed, and with the approach of spring, the grass turned green and lush.  These were the perfect circumstances needed to forage hundreds of horses on the great plain.  In early March 1758, the moon was full and no one in the garrison had ever seen such beauty in the night.  But it was the period known as the Comanche Moon —a time when mounted Comanche could ride at night, unseen by anyone for a thousand miles.

Quite suddenly, every Lipan Apache in the area disappeared.  No one saw an Indian for days, until one morning a rush of horsemen swooped down upon the Presidio.  Sixty head of horse were abruptly gone from the Spanish pasture.  Parrilla put all his men on the walls; he dispatched a messenger asking that the padres join him at once.  They refused.  After a few days, when nothing else happened, Parrilla went to the mission and argued with the priests.  They must, for their own safety, move to the Presidio.  The senior priest, Father Terrerosfinally agreed to join Parrilla the next day even though it was unlikely that “unseen Indians” would wish to do the padres any harm.   Colonel Parrilla detailed seventeen soldiers to remain with the priests and provide them with escort the next day.

Diego Ortiz de Parrilla 001

Diego Ortiz de Parrilla

The Comanche attacked the next morning during mass.  Soldiers ran to the parapet to take up firing positions; Father Terreros and Father Molina followed them.  What they observed was around 2,000 Comanche horsemen surrounding the mission.  Molina was terribly frightened and said as much, but Terreros insisted that these men must be friendly as no Spaniard had done them any harm.  The soldiers awaited the priest’s order to fire, but Terreros would not or could not command it.

 The Comanche warriors were wearing war paint of black and red; they wore headgear of buffalo horn, deer antlers, and eagle’s plumes.  All were armed with lances and bows; five score carried French made muskets. One Comanche dismounted and walked to the mission’s main entrance.  He pushed against the doorway and found it open.  Terreros hesitated, but the Indian did not.  He shoved the door open and quite suddenly, the mission was filled with Comanche Indians.  In sign language, the Comanche ordered the priest to send a message to Colonel Parrilla telling him to open his Presidio to the Comanche.  A large party of Indians took Father Terreros’ hand-written message and rode off.  Meanwhile, another Indian, someone other than a Comanche, had fled to the Presidio to inform Parrilla of these events.  The colonel immediately ordered a detachment of troops to reinforce the mission. These men mounted and rode off —directly into the war party coming from the mission with Toreros’ message.  The Spanish cavalry never had a chance.  In mere seconds, every soldier was killed, save one, who, though badly wounded was able to crawl away.  The Indians scalped every dead Spaniard.

Back at the mission, the Indians were no longer interested in gifts; they would take what they wanted.  As the looting began, frightened priests gathered in the center of the enclosure —but not for long.  Spanish troops inside the mission were the first to die.  One priest was lanced and then decapitated.  Terreros was grabbed and carried off, but before he could be tortured, another Comanche shot him in the head.  Molina was able to break away and, with a few others, hide inside one of the sleeping rooms.  They remained there for several hours.  When the looting and killing was done, the Comanche set fire to the mission and departed as quickly as they had arrived.  Molina was saved by the fact that the mission was constructed of green wood; it would not burn.  After dark, the wounded Molina led a handful of survivors to the Presidio.

Three days later, after scouts reported that the Comanche had left the area, Parrilla and Molina returned to San Sabá.  The remains of Terreros and others were given a Christian burial.  Afterwards, Parrilla gathered his force and withdrew to San Luís and asked for reinforcements.

The destruction of San Sabá caused consternation and rage at San Antonio de Béxar.  Spanish and ecclesiastical authorities strongly believed that the desecration of the mission and murder of priests should not go unpunished, but nothing was done.  After the San Sabá presidio was raided again in 1758, Spanish officials called a conference at San Antonio.  This time, they were serious: they planned another expedition.  All call went out to all other presidios in Texas for soldier reinforcements.  Friendly Indians were recruited to augment the military.  The Viceroy eventually approved the plan.

In August 1759, Colonel Parrilla led six-hundred men with orders to sweep the Indian country north of Béxar.  About a third of his force were Lipan Apache.  He carried two field artillery guns and a supply train to sustain his force for an extended period.  It was the largest Spanish military expedition ever mounted in Texas.  Colonel Parrilla commanded more men than Coronado and Pizarro combined, but he had the good sense not to march his men into the heart of Comanche country.  He instead skirted the Comanchería.  He never met any of the Comanche, but he did locate a Tonkawa village.  At this point, one of two things must become apparent: either the Spanish were intent upon revenge for the death of Father Terreros, or Parrilla didn’t know one Indian from another.  Parrilla attacked the Tonkawa village, killed 55 Indian men and seized more than 150 women and children, who he ordered taken to San Antonio.

In October, Parrilla approached the Red River, the northernmost boundary of Texas.  Here he found more hostiles: Comanche, Kiowa, and Wichita among them.  At the moment Parrilla ordered his assault, the Lipan Apache deserted and ran for their lives. Colonel Parrilla fought his way out of an encirclement, and while his losses were comparatively small (discounting the Indians who ran away), he lost both of his field cannon and his supply train. It was the worst defeat by the Spanish military in the New World [3].

Within a few weeks, Colonel Parrilla reappeared at Béxar.  Casualties aside, Spanish power was dealt an enormous psychological blow. Colonel Parrilla was later court-martialed in Mexico [4].  A French agent working on behalf of the Spanish Viceroy recovered Parrilla’s cannon twenty years later.  Never again did the Spanish authorize a church mission for the hostile tribes of the Texas interior.  Never again did Spain mount a serious campaign against the Comanche.

The Parrilla campaign marked an important shift in the balance of power in Texas.  From 1759 onward, the Spanish adopted a defensive strategy when it came to hostile Indians.  Lipan Apache continued to terrorize frontier communities, the Comanche began to raid and plunder deep inside Mexico, and the Spanish presidios became targets of opportunity and sources of great entertainment for the plains Indian.  Wisely, Spanish soldiers refused to pursue attacking war parties.

Despite the disaster at San Saba and the generally untrustworthy Apache, Spaniards continued their efforts to keep the peace.  The Apache did barely enough to keep the Spanish interested.  Lipan Apache continued to ask for a mission but refused to settle near San Saba.  They wanted a location as far from the Comanche as possible.  A new Apache mission, San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz, was established near the Nueces River, halfway between San Saba and the Rio Grande. Several bands of Apache visited the new mission, but only about 300 ever settled there.  Within a month, an Apache chief asked for a second mission several miles downstream.  Mission Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria lasted only two years before a smallpox epidemic obliterated the Apache population. Beyond this, the priests themselves were too poor to feed the Indians on a regular basis and demanded too much labor from a physically emaciated people.  The Apache abandoned the mission.  By 1767, there were no Apaches at either of these missions.

Cayetano Pignatelli 001

Cayetano Pignatelli, 3rd Marquis de Rubi, 9th Baron de Llinars

About this same time, Cayetano Pignatelli [5], 3rd Marquis de Rubi, 9th Baron de Llinars, had completed his inspection of the Spanish frontier.  In his opinion, the only reason the Comanche were attacking Spanish settlements is because of their hatred of the Apache.  Since the Spanish had begun catering to the Apache, the Comanche classified Spanish settlements as friends of their enemy.  De Rubi was quite sure that the Spanish could cultivate friendship with the Comanche and enlist their aid in exterminating the Apache. Sr. Pignatelli apparently didn’t know the Comanche.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the Apache had become relatively quiet, with only occasional raids on Spanish settlements.  After the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence in 1811, however, the Apache became bolder in their attacks —attacks that continued until the end of Spanish rule in Mexico and Texas in 1821.  The Mexicans quickly signed treaties with the Apache, promising to provide annual gifts of gunpowder and corn in exchange for peace.  The thought process that went into this arrangement reveals to us the nature of Hispanic culture—but even this wasn’t enough to curb the Apache’s appetite for plunder.  By 1835, frequent hostilities resulted in Mexico offering a bounty for Apache scalps.  Within two years, Apache war parties began attacking Mexican settlements with some regularity, even to the extent of joining up with Comanche war parties.

As Anglo-Americans began moving into Central Texas, the Apache were quick to nurture a friendly relationship and beneficial arrangements for their mutual defense against Comanche raids.  In terms of trade, the Apache found the Texians a dependable market for stolen Mexican horses and other goods [6].  Cordial relations continued after Texas Independence.  A formal treaty after 1838 lasted for several years, but finally broke down around 1845.  At this time, over half of the Lipan Apache band in Central Texas broke off and relocated to Mexico, where they joined with Mescalero in cross-border raids.  Mexico’s government refused to act because their border towns profited from the Apache raids.

When the United States went to war with Mexico in 1846, Apaches provided aid and comfort to the Americans.  By 1856, Apache and Comanche raids into Durango, Mexico had claimed 6,000 Mexican lives, the abduction of nearly 1,000 people, and the abandonment of 358 settlements.

R S Mackenzie 001

Col. R. S. Mackenzie, US Army

Between 1865-1867, Apache depredations resulted in the deaths of 18 Texans and the loss of livestock exceeding $30,000.  Raids continued until 1873 when Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie led an expedition into Mexico and destroyed the Lipan Apache villages.  Mackenzie either killed or captured virtually every Lipan Apache.  Those who escaped death were deported to the Mescalero  Reservation in New Mexico where many of their descendants remain to this day.

Ultimately, the US-Apache relationship was little improved over that with Mexico.  The influx of gold and silver miners in the Santa Rita Mountains led to an increase in hostilities, often referred to as the Apache Wars.  Previously, the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 marked the beginning of US federal government policy of forcibly removing Indian populations away from white settlements.  Today, many under-educated Americans see these steps as examples of cruelty toward the Indians, but this is a very narrow view.  It is also possible that US officials earnestly wanted to protect the Indians from annihilation at the hands of vengeful whites.  There are numerous examples of Indian depredations between 1800—1870  where literally thousands of whites died, were grievously wounded, raped, and kidnapped by hostiles.  The fact is that Anglo/Indian cultures were so incongruent that there could never have been a peaceful solution to the problem.  The Indians were not willing to give up their land without a fight, and whites, having embarked upon westward migration, were never going to return to the east.  People died on both sides of this issue.

A careful reading of history reveals that white officials gave careful consideration to the Indian problem as evidenced by the Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 and President Grant’s Indian Peace Policy of 1868.  In the former, the US government created Indian Reservations [7]; in the second, Grant sought to avoid violence between Indians and whites.  Grant also reorganized the Indian Service, replacing government officials with religious men who were nominated by their churches, to oversee Indian agencies, to teach Indians the basic tenets of Christianity, and to assimilate them into mainstream American society [8].

Unhappily, President Grant’s policy toward the Indians was a disaster on many levels, not to mention controversial from its beginning.  Reservations were established by Executive Order rather than by acts of Congress.  It wasn’t long before Congress learned of widespread corruption among federal Indian agents; the standard of living within Indian settlements was (and in many cases, continues to be) appalling.

Many tribal leaders correctly observed that Indian relocation and assimilation had but one purpose: to suppress Indian culture.  These leaders either resisted forced removal or, after “surrendering” to federal authority, later escaped the reservation and returned to their old ways.  In both cases the result was more bloodshed.  Two of the more famous of these conflicts was the Sioux War and Nez Perce War, which took place between 1876—1881.  In 1882, President Hayes put an end to the Grant Peace Policy.  We can say with certainty that Grant’s Indian policy was a failure, but we cannot fault the man for trying to find solutions to the volatile relationship that existed between whites and Indians.

As previously demonstrated, the Apache War in the United States was an outgrowth of the much older Apache-Mexican conflict which had been ongoing since around the 1620s. In 1873, the Mexican Army initiated another eradication campaign against the Apache and after months of fighting, both sides agreed to a peace treaty at Casas Grandes in Chihuahua, Mexico.  Having concluded the treaty, the Mexican provided mescal to the Apache and when they became intoxicated killed a few dozen of these men and took the others into captivity.

One of the Apaches who escaped this massacre was named Geronimo [9].  The fact that the Apache were always outnumbered by both the Mexican and US military did little to prevent Geronimo from conducting raids through 1886 and his ability to evade capture made him into a legend.  One particularly odious incident made him “the worst Indian who ever lived.” According to James Haley, a white family had been massacred near Silver City and one young girl was taken alive and then hanged from a meat hook jammed under the base of her skull.  It was alleged that Geronimo’s band of some 38 warriors was responsible for this crime.

In 1875, the US Army forcibly removed an estimated 1,500 Yavapai and Dilzhe’e (Tonto) Apache from the Rio Verde Indian Reservation (consisting of several thousand acres promised to them by the US government) to the San Carlos Indian agency, some 180 miles distant.  It was winter, the rivers were flooded, and among the very young and old, several hundred Indians died.  The Apache who managed to survive the journey were held at San Carlos for 25 years while whites took over their “promised” lands.  Beginning in 1879, an Apache uprising (led by Chief Vittorio [10]) battled the US 9th Cavalry Regiment through 1886.  It took more than 5,000 US soldiers to defeat him.

Geronimo 001During Geronimo’s final period of conflict (1876-1886), he surrendered to the American army on three occasions and accepted life on the Apache reservations in Arizona.  But the Apache were a nomadic people who found life on the reservation confining and lacking in dignity.  American whites might have understood this had they given it much thought.

With the Apache Wars over, the Chiricahua tribe was evacuated from the West and held as prisoners of war in Florida, Alabama, and at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for 27 years.  In 1913, surviving members of the tribe were given the choice of accepting parcels of land in Oklahoma or living on the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico.  Two-thirds of the remaining tribe opted for living in New Mexico.  Today, the descendants of the Apache number around 100,000.

Sources:

  1. Bannon, J. F. The Spanish Borderlands Frontier, 1513-1821.  New York: Hold, Rinehart, Winston, 1970.
  2. Hyde, G. E. Indians of the High Plains: From the Prehistoric Period to the Coming of Europeans. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959.
  3. Mails, T. E. The People Called Apache.  New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1974.
  4. Newcomb, W. W. The Indians of Texas.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961.
  5. Terrell, J. U. The Plains Apache.  New York: Crowell, 1975.

[1] Coordinated by Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares of the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London and David Reich, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School.

[2] Naming conventions were the product of a nomadic lifestyle.  They were identified as different names by people who observed or interacted with them at different times.

[3] Colonel Parrilla reported that he fought 6,000 warriors under the French flag; he opined that French military officers likely commanded them.  Historians discount Parrilla’s claim; there may have been French agents among the Indians, but there was no evidence produced by Parrilla of a French military operation, nor has there ever been any evidence of a direct participation in the Indian alliance by the French.  It is more likely that Parrilla exaggerated the numbers of Indians and that his claim was made to place his defeat in a better light.  It was one thing to be defeated by other Europeans, another matter to have been routed by savages.

[4] The court-martial didn’t hurt Parrilla’s career; he was later promoted to Brigadier and offered a post with some distinction in his native Spain.

[5] B. 1730. Rubí, who had achieved the high rank of field marshal and knight commander in the Order of Alcántara, arrived at Veracruz on 1 November 1764, as part of the expedition of Juan de Villabla, who had been sent to New Spain to organize regular army and colonial militia units. On August 7 of the following year, King Charles III appointed Rubí inspector of frontier presidios and commissioned him to remedy economic abuses and other urgent matters.

[6] The Mexican government generally overlooked these incursions because the Apache were useful to them against the Comanche.

[7] Indian reservations were generally established on lands unsuitable for farming, and barely adequate for ranching.  When white settlers complained about the size of tracts allocated to Indian settlements, the reservations were arbitrarily reduced in size.

[8] Indian children were forced to live away from their families, forced to wear western clothing, prohibited from speaking in their native language or participating in traditional rites or ceremonies.  Apparently, these “religious men” failed to realize that Spain’s efforts to Christianize Indians over 300 years was an utter failure.

[9] A Mescalero-Chiricahua Apache who lived from 1829-1909.  Geronimo means “The one who yawns.”  He was not an Apache chief, but a leader and medicine man who carried out raids upon Mexicans and Americans between 1850-1886.

[10] Vittorio (1825-1880) was a warrior and chief of the Warm Springs band of the Membreños central Apache (present day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua).  Victorio was killed by the Mexican Army at Tres Castillos.

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Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves

Dep US MarshalIn the 1968 film titled Hang ‘Em High, Clint Eastwood plays the part of fictional Jed Cooper.  Cooper was an innocent man who survives a lynching in the Oklahoma Territory.  The year is 1889 and Jed is driving a small herd of cattle across a river when a posse of nine men surround him and demand that he prove that he’s come by the cattle legally.  Jed shows them his receipt and transfer of ownership.  Only the man who sold him the cattle had stolen them from someone else and then killed him and as far as this posse is concerned, Jed Cooper is a murdering cattle rustler.  They hang him—only he doesn’t die.  It’s an entertaining film, for sure.  In any case, Jed Cooper goes on to become a Deputy US Marshal in Oklahoma and, as it turns out, he’s one bad-ass cop.  It was just entertaining fiction, of course.  But there really was a bad-ass Deputy US Marshal [1] in the Oklahoma Territory who made Clint Eastwood’s character seem like a pussy cat —and he wasn’t white.

Bass Reeves was born into slavery in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. His owner was a man by the name of William Steele Reeves.  When Bass was around 8-years old, William Reeves moved to Grayson County, Texas near present day Sherman, Texas (part of the old Peter’s Colony).  Bass may have served Colonel George Reeves, William’s son. George served in the Texas legislature, and at the time of his death from rabies in 1882, served as the Speaker of the Texas House.  In any event, during the Civil War, it appears as if George and Bass had an unhappy encounter resulting in Bass kicking George’s ass.

Bass fled north into the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and lived among the Indians until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Now a free man, Bass Reeves moved to Arkansas where he acquired a plot of land and farmed/ranched near the town of Van Buren.  It was there that he married Nellie Jennie from Texas, with whom he had ten children: five boys and five girls.

Isaac Parker 002

Judge Isaac C. Parker

Meanwhile, in 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Isaac C. Parker as a federal judge in the Western District of Arkansas, which included the Indian territory (present-day Oklahoma).  Parker in turn appointed James F. Fagan to serve as United States Marshal and ordered him to hire 200 deputies.  Fagan had heard about Bass Reeves over in Van Buren.  Bass was reputed to be a man who knew the Indian territory and could speak several tribal languages.  Fagan recruited Bass as one of his deputies and that’s how Bass Reeves became the first black federal deputy west of the Mississippi River. Judge Parker was tasked with cleaning up rampant lawlessness in the Indian territories.  His order to Fagan: Bring these outlaws in, dead or alive.

Initially, Bass Reeves was assigned as a Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas, which also had responsibility for the Indian Territory.  He served in that capacity until 1893 when he transferred to the Eastern District of Texas near Paris.

As a Deputy US Marshal, Reeves worked alongside other legendary lawmen: Heck Thomas, Bud Ledbetter, Chris Madsen, and Bill Tilghman.  Their responsibility was to cover 75,000 miles; at the time, Judge Parker’s court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, was the largest jurisdiction in the United States.  A Deputy Marshal would set off in search of one or more outlaws with a wagon, a cook, and an assistant —more often than not, an Indian.  Reeves was illiterate so, he would ask someone to read him the warrants and he would memorize them. Whenever was asked to produce his warrant, Reeves never failed to select the correct one.

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Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves

Bass Reeves was an imposing, clean-cut figure.  He stood over 6’ tall, dressed in a suit, wore a white shirt and a tie, sported a wide brimmed hat, and he kept his boots polished and clean.  Reeves carried two Colt pistols, butt-forward to facilitate a fast draw.  To top off his appearance, he always rode a white stallion.  The disarming part of this lawman was that he was always soft-spoken, polite, and courteous.

On one occasion, Reeves rode out to serve a warrant on a notorious trio of brothers whose habit included shooting lawmen, robbing stagecoaches, and intimidating their neighbors.  Not long after arriving in town, Reeves calmly approached the Brunter Brothers, handed one of them the arrest warrant, and then in a soft-spoken voice suggested that it would be to everyone’s advantage to come along quietly.  Unhappily for the Brunter family, all three went for their guns.  Reeves was quicker; two of the boys were shot at point blank range. He disarmed the third boy and beat him unconscious with the boy’s own weapon.  Reeves delivered the remaining brother to the Parker courthouse.

Reeves was clever and courageous in his pursuit of outlaws.  He once pursued two such men in the Red River Valley near the Texas border.  Gathering a posse, Reeves established a camp site some 28 miles from where the two desperados were thought to be hiding. After reconnoitering the local area, Reeves disguised himself as a tramp (hiding his weapons and badge under his clothing) and set off on foot.  When he arrived at the hideout, the home of one of the outlaw’s mother, Reeves was wearing old, worn out shoes, dirty clothes, and carrying a walking cane. His old floppy hat sported three bullet holes.

Arriving at the home, Reeves asked the woman who lived there if he could rest his aching feet.  He was being pursued by a posse, he said, mean men who put three bullet holes in his hat.  He asked her for a bite to eat and some water to drink.  Sitting at the table eating his meal, the woman began to tell him of her two outlaw sons.  She suggested that the three men could form a gang.  Reeves said he’d like to think on it, but needed a rest.  She allowed that he could stay and rest a bit longer. Toward sunset, a whistle sounded from outside.  The woman went out of the house and responded with another whistle.  Before long, two riders came into the yard and after a few long moments, she brought the two riders inside the house.  She introduced her two sons to Reeves.  After discussing their various crimes, Reeves and the two outlaws agreed to team up.

Later, bunking in the same room, Reeves kept a close eye on the outlaws.  As soon as they were asleep, he handcuffed them and, as early morning approached, kicked the boys awake and marched them out the door.  Their mother followed along for three miles cursing Reeves every step of the way.  He walked the two hombres 28 miles back to his camp and within days, Reeves turned them over to the Parker court.  His reward was $5,000.00.

Despite his preference for dressing in nice clothes, Reeves often dressed in disguises, appearing as a cowboy, a farmer, tramp, shootist or outlaw.  He usually departed Fort Smith with a pocket full of warrants, always returning with a wagon load of miscreants, people who stood accused of a wide range of crimes.  After receiving his pay in fees and rewards, Reeves spent time with his family before making another run on Oklahoma outlaws.

Reeves worked for thirty-two years as a Federal peace officer in the Indian Territory and became one of Judge Parker’s most valued deputies.  Reeves brought in some of the most dangerous criminals of the time and although having a few close calls, was never wounded.  In his time, Reeves made 3,000 arrests —fourteen of whom he killed when they made the tragic mistake of resisting arrest.

REEVES 001Among his contemporaries, Bass was one of the toughest.  He was also an honest man and remained true to the law.  He once arrested his own son on a charge of murder.  They boy was convicted, served time in jail, and when released went on to live a law-abiding life.

In 1897, Reeves was placed under the Muskogee Federal Court.  When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, then 68-year-old Bass Reeves became an officer in the Muskogee, Oklahoma police department.  He served for two years as a policeman before succumbing to serious illness.  Bass Reeves passed away in 1910.  We remember him today as one of the great Old West lawmen.

Sources:

  1. Burton, A. T.  Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

Endnotes:

[1] The office of United States Marshal and Deputy Marshal were created by Judiciary Act of 1789. Marshals were given extensive authority to support federal courts within their judicial districts to carry out the lawful orders of judges, the Congress, or the President of the United States. As part of our systems of checks and balances, owing to their broad authority, US Marshals and Deputies were limited to four-year (renewable) terms, always serving at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

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Bigfoot Wallace

cropped-texas-star.jpgBy the time William Alexander Anderson-Wallace arrived in Texas (c. 1836), he was barely 19-years old.  This may seem a bit young for someone seeking his fortune and adventure in a wild and dangerous place, but it wasn’t young back then.  Frontier youngsters grew up fast in those days, which meant that they developed the skills necessary for their survival early in life.  It was either that, or they didn’t survive.

Wallace was born in 1817 in Lexington, Virginia.  Located in the Shenandoah Valley, a place where native Americans claim is so beautiful that each star in the sky focuses its shining energy toward it.  This may have been the genesis of the valley’s name, for Shenandoah means simply “Clear-eyed daughter of the stars.”  The Virginia colony’s lieutenant governor, Alexander Spotswood, who was a skilled explorer and surveyor, discovered the Shenandoah Valley in 1716.  Within fifteen or so years, the Scots-Irish and German settlers from Pennsylvania began moving into the Valley, establishing themselves along a well-worn Indian path that was called the Great Wagon Road [1].

Wallace 001

Young William Wallace

William was the son of Alexander Wallace and Jane Blair who operated a fruit orchard (or several) outside present-day Lexington.  Wallace was a descendant of famed Scottish nobleman William Wallace; as a Scot, we may presume that the clan instinct was strong within the family.  It may have been that by the time William was coming of age, the Valley was filling up with people or that all the good land had already been taken —but if this was true at all, then it would have been a motivating factor for William’s brother, who left for Texas in 1834-35.  What prompted William to go to Texas was vengeance: William’s brother and a cousin were among the men slaughtered at Goliad.

Wallace was, by the standards applied to his time, a giant of a man. He was around 6’ 2” tall and weighed 240 or so pounds without a lot of body fat.  By the time he arrived in Texas, the Revolution was already concluded. Initially settling in La Grange. While living in La Grange, Wallace was once mistaken as a local Indian thief whom everyone called “big foot.” Neighbors accused Wallace of breaking into and ransacking someone else’s  home, but after finding Wallace’s footprint considerably smaller than the 14-inch imprint of the Indian’s, the case against him was dismissed.  It was after this that everyone began calling him Bigfoot and the nickname stuck.  While in La Grange, Wallace tried his hand at farming, but farming is hard work and it takes skill and patience to become a successful farmer.

Wallace had neither patience nor skill, so in the Spring of 1840 he removed himself to the new town called Austin, although calling it a town may be an exaggeration: A small settlement seems more appropriate.  In 1840, it was common to see buffalo meandering down the main avenue.  But Austin was growing, and people were streaming in to this (then) frontier town. People was the one thing that Wallace was happy to do without.  The continual influx of people prompted him to move further south to San Antonio de Béxar, which in those days was a dangerous place [2].

Of William A. Wallace, it has been said that few people witnessed as many stirring incidents or survived more hardships and perils than the frontiersman everyone called Bigfoot.  At a time when Texas was known for colorful, tough, and often ruthless characters, Bigfoot Wallace fit right in.  History records that Wallace participated in more than his fair-share of early Texas conflicts. In 1840, the Battle of Plum Creek; In 1842, the invasion of Mexican General Adrian Woll, the Somervell Raid, and the Mier Expedition.

On 5 March 1842, General Rafael Vásquez led seven-hundred Mexican soldiers into San Antonio.  Their sudden arrival threw the residents of this frontier town into a panic.  Vásquez’ soon withdrew, however, but in his short time in San Antonio, Vásquez managed to stir the hornets nest.  In the minds of the Texians, it was an insult that must not be tolerated.  Sam Houston, only recently reelected to the presidency, realized that Texas could not afford another war.  But then, a larger force under General Adrian Woll repeated Vásquez’ feat on 11 September. Houston could see no alternative but to authorize retaliatory action.

Brigadier General Somervell was authorized to organize a raid into Mexico. In order to do that, he would have to rely on men who were —a bit rowdy.  Beyond this, Somervell’s force was denied adequate supply for action of any kind, much less a raid into enemy territory.  To solve the supply problem, the rowdies sacked the nearby town of Laredo. Somervell was appalled, arrested those responsible, and ordered all the misbegotten materials returned to their rightful owners.  Most of Somervell’s men understood this decision, but around 200 did not.  They voted to quit the army and return to Texas.

Nevertheless, General Somervell continued his operations but with the passage of time, he too grew dubious about his chances for success. The supply situation had not improved. It was impossible for Somervell to take food from border Mexicans when they too were starving.  Finally, Somervell ordered a retreat back into Texas —a decision that outraged his Texian army, among them Bigfoot Wallace.

Five of Somervell’s eight captains took votes among their men to determine whether to quit the expedition.  Three-hundred men voted to continue south and Somervell be damned. It is likely that the bulk of these men were bent more on plunder than they were achieving satisfaction over General Woll’s insult.  The men elected Colonel William S. Fisher [3] as their new leader.  His men may not have understood that Fisher had visions of creating his own country out of the swath of northern Mexico —delusions of grandeur, perhaps.

Fisher led his men deep into Mexico.  On 24 December, Fisher seized the town of Mier and, taking the Alcalde as a hostage, ordered the townspeople to bring him sufficient stores for 1,200 men. He actually had less than a third of that number, but it didn’t matter.  Rather than bringing him stores, they sent word to the Mexican authorities that Mier was under attack by hombres del Norte.  General Pedro de Ampudiaresponded.  The battle that followed was far costlier for the Mexicans than it was the Texians, but the fact was that Fisher had led his men too far into Mexico and there was no way to extract his men.  He ultimately surrendered his Texians to Ampudia.

Pedro Ampudia was a no-nonsense commander.  Had he known that Fisher was leading an unauthorized army, he no doubt would have had them shot on the spot.  As it was, he thought Fisher was part of an organized, lawful army, and he treated them according to the articles of war.  Unhappily for Fisher and his men, authorities in Mexico City realized that the Mier Expedition was not authorized and ordered these men marched to the capital city for trial.  They were no longer considered prisoners of war; they were pirates and bandits.  They would be treated as such.

On 10 February two-hundred-nine Texians arrived under guard at Hacienda del Salado.  Texians began planning their escape almost immediately, but the Mexicans learned of this planning and separated Fisher and his senior staff from the rest of the prisoners and sent them on toward Mexico City.  The next morning, the Texians effected a surprise break, overwhelming their guards and immediately headed back toward the Rio Grande.  The heat of the desert defeated these men, many of them approaching madness.  What saved them from wasting away in the desert was a well-mounted Mexican army. The Texians were chained and marched to Saltillo and placed under the command of General Francisco Mejia. Antonio López de Santa Anna ordered these men executed, but General Mejia refused to participate in a mass murder.

In Mexico City, British and American diplomats protested Santa Anna’s order and he was eventually persuaded to execute one man in ten, their fate to be decided by the so-called Black Bean lottery.  Back in Salado, Colonel Domingo Huerta prepared a jar filled with 159 white beans, and 17 black beans.  Huerta ordered the officers of choose first; he had placed all the black beans at the top of the jar.  Whoever selected a black bean would be shot the next morning.  Captain William Eastland, fourth in line, was the first to choose a black bean.

Bigfoot Wallace, standing close to the scene of the drawing, decided that the black beans were larger than the white beans.  When it was his turn to draw a bean, he fingered the tokens carefully and chose a white bean.  As a survivor, he and the others would be sentenced to imprisonment at Perote, east of Mexico City.  Many of these men died in captivity from wounds, disease, or starvation.  The last of these men were released on 16 September 1844.  Wallace’s experiences while in prison did nothing to improve his low opinion of Mexicans.  Generally speaking, Texans are pretty good at forgiving those who trespass against them; they are much less adept at forgetting.

After his release from prison, Wallace joined with other Texans in the Mexican-American War (1846-48), serving as a Texas Ranger under Captain John Coffee “Jack” Hays.  It did not work out well for any Mexican, whether soldier or civilian, who encountered Bigfoot Wallace during this turbulent period.

In the 1850s, Wallace earned a reputation as a fierce Indian fighter while commanding a company of Texas Rangers.  Everyone knows that the Texas Rangers were expert horsemen, expert shots, and not to be trifled with.  These were men who lived out of the saddle and survived on their skill and wits. They were known to dispense timely and often brutal justice.  In the minds of Texas Rangers, it made no sense having to face a mean son-of-a-bitch twice.  If that was true of white outlaws, it went double for Indians.  Two of the Texas Rangers’ toughest bastards were Creed Taylor and Bigfoot Wallace.

Bigfoot Wallace was a quiet, almost shy fellow in polite company, although he never married.  He didn’t talk much until he had something to say; he kept his own counsel.  In spite of his shy demeanor, years of fighting in desperate situations led him to barbarism when in combat or when riled.  As for his savagery, he no doubt learned this from the Comanche, who taught the Texas Rangers well.

El MuertosOf his savagery, it was Bigfoot Wallace who created the Texas legend of El Muertos —the headless horseman of South Texas.  It is a legend that continues even to this day as parents warn their children to behave if they do not wish to meet the headless horseman.

In 1850, a Mexican bandit known simply as Vidal began rustling cattle all over South Texas.  It wasn’t long before he had a high price on his head —Dead or Alive.  During that summer, Vidal took advantage of a Comanche raid that pulled most of the Rangers northwest to confront them.  In the meantime, sparse settlements were left unprotected.  Vidal, along with three of his men, wasted no time taking advantage of the situation and gathered up a considerable number of horses on the San Antonio River, heading southwest toward Mexico.

Taylor 001

Creed Taylor in later life

What Vidal didn’t know was that, among the stolen herd, were several prized mustangs belonging to Creed Taylor.  Taylor, one of the first to defend settlements against Indian attack had not, on this occasion, gone to confront the Comanche.  Taylor’s ranch lay directly west of San Antonio in the thickest bandit territory, not far from the headwaters of the Nueces River.  The location of Taylor’s ranch made it a prime target for rustlers.  When he discovered that his prized horses were missing, Taylor decided he’d had enough. He quickly called on his long-time friend Bigfoot Wallace and a nearby rancher by the name of Flores and the three resolved to track down Vidal and deal with him permanently.

Both Wallace and Taylor were expert trackers, so it didn’t take them long to discover where Vidal and his men were located.  They waited until the early hours when the bandits were sleeping. Catching them unaware, Taylor and Wallace made quick work of the thieves.  Taylor reckoned that just killing them wasn’t enough on account there were other bandits. Maybe it was time to set an example that would help deter future bandits.  Remember, in those days stealing a horse was a crime equal to murder. No matter how brutal the Texas Rangers were in tracking down and dealing with these bandits, nothing seemed to forestall their thieving behavior.

In a dramatic (if not grizzly) example of frontier justice, Wallace beheaded Vidal and then lashed him firmly into a saddle on the back of a wild mustang.  Tying the bandit’s hands to the pommel and securing the torso to hold him upright, Bigfoot then attached Vidal’s head and sombrero to the saddle with a long strip of rawhide.  The then turned the bucking horse loose to wander the Texas prairie with its ghastly burden on its back.  It wasn’t long before stories began to circulate about the headless horseman seen in remote bandit country.  The apparition seemed to spook almost everyone.  Even today there are people who swear they’ve seen the headless horseman galloping through the mesquite west of San Antonio.

Because of Wallace’s expertise as a tracker, he was frequently called upon to help capture runaway slaves trying to find their way to Mexico.  There was no animus attached to this activity; he was simply paid for returning another man’s property.

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An older Bigfoot Wallace

For several years, Wallace drove a mail hack from San Antonio to El Paso. He was pitted against hostile bands on more than a few occasions.  In one of these, having lost his mules to Indian attack, Wallace walked the rest of the way to El Paso.

During the American Civil War, Wallace helped to guard the frontier against Comanche raiders.  Afterwards, he was content to settle down on a small ranch along the Medina River near Castroville, granted to him by the State of Texas for his many years of service. In his later years, Wallace lived in Frio County in South Texas at a place subsequently named after him and today known as Bigfoot, Texas.  Wallace’s biographer was John Duval, a man who helped to cement Wallace’s reputation as a Texas folk legend.

Mr. Wallace died on 7 January 1899.  He is buried at the State Cemetery in Austin.

Sources:

  1. Duval, John. The adventures of Bigfoot Wallace: Texas Ranger and Hunter, 1871
  2. Texas Historical Society, The Handbook of Texas

Endnotes:

[1] Today, the Great Wagon Road is called the Lee Highway (US 11).

[2] The crime rate in San Antonio today is 7.41 per 1,000 residents.  It has a resident population of 1.5 million people.  This year, there have been 124 murders, 1,279 rapes, 2,303 robberies, 7,083 assaults, 11,632 burglaries, and 6,176 auto thefts. All-in-all, Bigfoot Wallace probably lived in a relatively safe place back then.

[3] Fisher was tall, well-built, and intelligent.  After serving as Secretary of War for one year, he was appointed a lieutenant colonel of frontier cavalry.  Fisher was fearless (and perhaps also foolhardy).  He was present at the Council House Fight that prompted a war with Buffalo Hump.

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The Brite Ranch Raid

CowboyLucas Brite was born in Caldwell County, Texas in 1860. His father passed away when Luke was only 3-years old.  Life was hard in Texas under normal circumstances, harder still when the mainstay of the family died.  As a lad, Luke developed the skills needed to ride the Texas range.  By his 25thyear, he had begun trailing his own stock along with those of his friends.  The cow men led their stock from Caldwell County to a wintering camp on the North Fork of the Concho.  The following spring, they continued on to Presidio County.  As the land around Marfa was already taken, Luke herded his cattle southwest finally settling in the Capote Mountain area of Presidio County in October 1885.

The Capote Mountain area was harsh and unrelenting. It would test the mettle of even the toughest of men.  Owing to drought, Luke ended up losing a quarter of his herd in the first year.  It was a hard year, but there’s not that can be done about it —it was called ranching in Texas.  Luke recounted, “Before me was a new and untried county —an experiment.  I wondered what the future held in store for me, but I fully realized that whether successful or not that I would have to endure my hardships.”

Brite registered his cattle brand in 1904: Cross-Bar. In that year his purebred Hereford operation began when he purchased 300 registered heifers from the Wyoming Hereford Ranch in Cheyenne.  He bought an additional 135 head from William Powell at Channing, Texas.  Sires of outstanding breeds were purchased from the Gudgell Ranch in Kansas and he selected quality bulls from other sources.  To guard against the possibility of in-breeding, he never bought bulls from the same ranch two years in a row.  Cross-Bar cattle were in high demand because of their quality, adaptability, and natural ability to rustle for themselves.  In 1910, Brite began an annual sale of 1,000 bulls —which he maintained for 14 years.

Luke purchased his last bulls from W. H. Curtis in Kentucky and Gudgell & Simpson in Kansas.  He closed his herd in 1914, choosing from that point on to raise his own sires and avoid the pitfalls of inbreeding by carefully selecting bulls and heifers for line-breeding.  He recalled, “As I remember, it was in 1915 that foot and mouth disease broke out in Missouri and Kansas and I was afraid to go there for bulls, as had been my custom. The disease spread so rapidly that I considered it unsafe to ship bulls from any source.  I saved bull calves of my breeding that I kept in a pasture separated from my other cattle.  The result was so gratifying that I continue using bulls from my own herd.”

Brite was a typically tough Texan.  Typical of the West Texas ranches, —Brite’s Ranch was as much a small town as a cattle operation.  It was located in the Big Bend region, between Marfa and the Rio Grande, some fifteen miles east of the river.

Mexican BanditsIt was Christmas morning, 1917.  Except for the ranch foreman, Mr. T. T. Van Neill and his family, and one or two Tejano families, and two or three ranch hands, most of the local people were away. The raid from Mexico began just after dawn.  Foreman Van Neill’s father, Sam, was the only one awake.  He sat at the kitchen table drinking his morning coffee when 45 armed Mexicans galloped into the ranch complex.  Sam immediately realized what was happening.  He ran to awaken his son and quickly equipped himself with a rifle. He took aim at the Mexican he though was in charge and fired.  The man was killed, and the others began returning fire.  By this time, Van was dressed and joined in the fight.  Mrs. Van Neill attempted to alert local authorities, but the raiders had cut the telephone lines.

The skirmish lasted for quite some time before the bandits realized that there was little chance of them getting into the Neill home without significant losses to themselves.  During the fire fight, the raiders captured a pair of ranch hands, one of whom, Jose Sanchez, was sent to the house with a message: if the Van Neill’s continued to resist, everyone at the ranch would die.  Van was initially enraged, promising to fight to the death before surrendering.  Sam shared his son’s view, but Van’s wife convinced her husband that it would be better to give the Mexicans the keys to Luke Brite’s general store to avoid further confrontation [1].  Van finally agreed.

Thus, instead of trying to storm the house, the Mexicans spent their time robbing the general store of clothes, food and money.  While this was going on, others of their number began to gather up all the best horses at the ranch.  Suddenly, an unsuspecting postman by the name of Mickey Welch arrived by wagon at the general store.  He had two Tejano passengers.  The Mexicans shot the two passengers [2] and lynched Welch inside the store.

The stand-off continued.  When Rev. H. M. Bandy and his family arrived at the ranch for Christmas dinner, the bandits still occupied the ranch headquarters building.  They permitted the Bandy’s to reach the Neill home; after a brief prayer, Rev. Bandy took up a rifle to help defend the family home.

Brite Ranch neighbor James L. Cobb heard the shooting and went to investigate.  Realizing the ranch was under attack, he drove 12 miles to telephone Luke Brite in Marfa.  Brite contacted the County Sheriff, who in turn asked for the assistance of Colonel George Langhorne, Commanding the 8th Cavalry.

Candelaria RimMeanwhile, after gathering up reinforcements from among neighboring spreads, Cobb returned to the Brite Ranch.  By the time the posse arrived in automobiles, however, the bandits had fled west through the rough Rimrock country with their stolen horses and newly acquired goods, disappearing over the Candelaria Rim.

Back in Marfa, Colonel Langhorne borrowed horses from nearby ranches and joined the gathering at Brite Ranch.  There were no horses left at the Brite Ranch and no trails were suitable for automobiles.  Initially, the pursuers left the Brite Ranch on foot, hoping to get close enough to the Mexicans to make use of their high-powered rifles but there was no sign of the bandits.

Colonel Langhorne initiated a punitive expedition into Mexico the next day; he intended to capture or kill the raiders and return stolen property to their rightful owners.  Langhorne’s force consisted of two troops of the 8th Cavalry (approximately 200 soldiers) and several men from the Cobb posse.  They crossed the Rio Grande into Chihuahua near the Los Fresno creek.  Colonel Langhorne caught up with 29 raiders in San Bernardino Canyon near Pilares. During the running battle that followed, troopers killed ten Mexicans and recovered some of the stolen property, including a number of horses.  One trooper was wounded.  Some of the recaptured horses had to be put down on account that they had been ridden so hard they were going to die anyway.

Meanwhile, Texans in the Big Bend region were enraged about the raid and the murders of Mickey Welch and his two passengers on Christmas Day.  A vigilante committee was formed to disarm and keep watch on local Tejanos, but Texas Rangers went even further.

At around midnight on 27 January 1918, Captain J. Monroe Fox led his Company B and a troop from the 8thCavalry to Porvenir, Texas.  They silently surrounded the village, which was located on the Rio Grande just across the border, adjacent to a small Mexican village on the other side.  Captain Fox may have suspected that Porvenir and the small Mexican village served as a portal for banditry in this region of the West Texas landscape.

Fox ordered a search of the town for evidence of connections to Mexican bandits.  This is where the account becomes murky.  Supposedly, while soldiers made a house to house search, Texas Rangers commenced rounding up “suspected bandits.”  The rangers led these men to a nearby hill and promptly executed them [3].

Between 1910-1919, life along the US-Mexican border was chaotic and dangerous.  The Mexican Revolution was raging, large numbers of Mexicans were flooding into Texas to escape the carnage there, Texas ranches were frequently targets of bandit raids from Mexico, and Tejanos mounted campaigns of sedition and treason throughout South Texas.  Wanton murder and other depredations were carried out by Anglos, Mexicans, and Tejanos in equal measure.

With the United States Army fully engaged in Europe during World War I, people living along the border were left unprotected —except for local lawmen, Texas Rangers, and limited border-area Army units. After the Zimmerman Telegram in 1917, President Wilson realized that his southern border could be in great jeopardy. He therefore ordered 200,000 national guardsmen into South Texas.  By the time of the Brite Ranch raid, tensions were already high, and Texas tempers were short.

One-hundred years later, we still do not know what happened at Porvenir, but historians and archeologists are trying to put the pieces together.  The region today is as rugged and mountainous as it ever was, especially on the Mexican side; it is the location of many arroyos and stifling dry heat.  In 1919, our understanding was that the Army had withdrawn from Porvenir when they heard gunshots from the village.  When the soldiers heard the Texas Rangers leaving the village, they returned to Porvenir, finding 15 bodies slumped on the side of an arroyo.  This has remained the official story—but is it true?

The survivors of Porvenir abandoned the village, most fleeing in to Mexico.  Since the 1980s, Glenn Justice has been trying to assemble the facts of the incident. Historian Lonn Taylor said, “As time went along, it was clear that the massacre had certainly taken place.  What was not clear was who had precisely done the killing.  He [Justice] was drawn back to the site of executions over and over again; something didn’t quite jibe.”

Justice interviewed a survivor in 2001.  Juan Floreswas a boy when his father was killed there.  Justice has collected 47 artifacts of the massacre, mostly bullets and shell casings.  “And the curious part of it is that they’re all US Army.”

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has been to Porvenir, as well.  He’s making a documentary about the incident.  What interests him isn’t only the history of Porvenir, but the political present as well.  “… the parallels are phenomenal between then and now.  We talk about having a national security issue now, the fear that terrorists may come across the border.  Well, we had a national security issue 100 years ago.  Back then we had gun smuggling into Mexico, today we have gun smuggling into Mexico.”

Glenn Justice reminds us that there were a lot of dirty hands back then and suggests that there are some today who don’t want the Porvenir story told.

Perhaps.

The facts are that South and West Texas was once in the center of New Spain.  The people who settled Tejaswere Mexicans; a stroke of the pen in 1848 proclaimed them Americans —but most of these people have never come to grips with the fact that they are no longer Mexicans.  They took sides during the Mexican Revolution and helped bring the conflict into the United States.  Tejanos supported Mexicans rather than siding with Texans during the so-called Bandit Wars.  When the United States entered into World War I, there was a mass southern migration into Mexico to avoid American military service.  Today, Tejanos continue to fly the flag of Mexico outside of their businesses and homes.  Many would argue that this is not how patriotic Americans behave.  Some might observe that with few exception, today’s Tejano is as distant from his Texan neighbor as he has ever been.

Fort at Brite RanchThe story of the Brite Ranch raid wasn’t concocted.  In 1918, Luke Brite constructed a small fort at his ranch, equipping it with a telegraph key, searchlight, machine guns, and long-range rifles.  A Texas Ranger was permanently stationed at the ranch.  His duty was to man an observation post overlooking the old Knight Trail.  Luke Brite was not a paranoid man.  He had worked hard over many years to build up his ranch; the fear he had for the safety of his family and property was real.  The problem in border area Texas with the so-called good neighbor policy, or so it would seem, is that there has been a paucity of good neighbors —true even today.

Sources:

  1. Texas State Historical Association, The Handbook of Texas
  2. Keith, N. L.The Brite’s of Capote.  Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1950
  3. Madison, V.The Big Bend Country of Texas.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1955
  4. Investigation of Mexican Affairs: Hearing before a subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 66thCongress of the United States, first session pursuant to SR 106, United States Government Printing Office,1920

Endnotes:

[1] The Mexican Revolution was a time of scant means of honest livelihood in the rough mountainous country south of the border.  Hard times made thieving, raiding, banditry, and murder an attractive pathway to easy money.  Although Francisco “Pancho” Villa was not among these bandits, they were believed to either be part of Villa’s band or among his supporters.  It was a time when Villa was in dire need of funds and supplies to carry out his revolution in Mexico.  Some later claimed that Villa’s brother-in-law was the leader of the Brite Ranch raid.

[2] One of the passengers remains buried a short distance from the ranch’s current headquarters.

[3] On 4 June 1918, Governor William P. Hobby disbanded Company B and dismissed five rangers for their participation.  The massacre was investigated in 1919, but no one was ever charged for the crime.

 

 

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Stagecoach Mary Fields

Mary Fields 001

Mary Fields, public domain

Mary Fields (1832-1914) stood six-feet tall in her stocking feet, weighed 200 pounds, smoked cigars, cursed like a sailor, and would knock out any cowboy that gave her excess amounts of back talk.  She was also the first black woman employed as a mail carrier in the United States, and the second woman to work for the US Postal Service.

Mary was born into slavery in Hickman County, Tennessee.  She was freed when Republican President Abraham Lincoln issued his emancipation proclamation. She worked in the home of Judge Edmund Dunne and when the judge’s wife died in 1883 in San Antonio, Florida, Fields escorted the family’s five children to live with their aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus, Mother Superior of an Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio.

The next year, Mother Amadeus was sent to Montana territory to establish a school for Native American girls at St. Peter’s Mission, west of Cascade.  Upon learning that Mother Amadeus was ill, Mary Fields hastened to her side and helped nurse her back to health.  After that, Mary Fields remained at St. Peter’s Mission hauling freight, doing laundry, growing vegetables, tending chickens, repairing buildings, and eventually becoming a forewoman.

Mother Mary Amadeus Dunne 1884

Mother Mary Amadeus Dunne, 1884

St. Peter’s Mission was not altogether peaceful with Mary Fields about.  Her gruff style and penchant for colorful language raised eyebrows.  Not long after her arrival, someone asked about her journey. She answered that she was ready for a good cigar and a glass of strong whiskey.  Her nature was, for the most part, difficult and she didn’t mind tussling with the nuns over her wages, either.  This was a peculiar behavior in those days because no one expected a Negro to be so sassy.

In 1894, someone made an official complaint about Mary Fields.  Apparently, there was an incident involving a former male employee and Mary’s guns.  The complaint came at an inopportune time because it had a cumulative effect on the Bishop.  He was already out of sorts with Mary about her drinking, smoking, cursing, shooting guns, and wearing men’s clothing, so when she was accused of pointing guns at the former male janitor during an argument, the Bishop made her leave the convent.  Mother Amadeus helped her to establish a restaurant in nearby Cascade.  The problem was that Mary Fields would feed anyone, irrespective of whether they could pay. The restaurant went broke in ten months.

Native Americans referred to Fields as White Crow. She acted in a manner somewhat similar to white women but was black as a crow.  Local whites hardly knew what to think of Mary Fields.  One local Democrat wrote, “She drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a Republican and this makes her a low, foul creature.”  It is amazing how little Democrats have changed since the 1880s.

StagecoachIn 1895, Stagecoach Mary was hovering around sixty years of age.  This is when Fields was hired as a mail carrier; she could hitch a team of six horses quicker than anyone.  She became a “star route” carrier, an independent contractor who carried mail using a stagecoach donated by Mother Amadeus.  The position suited Mary Fields to a tee because as a star carrier, her job was to protect the mail from thieves and bandits.

Some said that she actually prayed for someone to try and rob her stage, which she drove with horses and a mule she named Moses.  Stagecoach Mary (sometimes Black Mary) never missed a day, and it was her reliability, and her kindness toward children, that earned her the respect and admiration of locals.  And Mary was tough: If the snowfall was too deep for the horses, Mary Fields strapped on snowshoes, hoisted the bags of mail on her shoulders, and delivered the mail.  She did this sort of thing for eight years, until finally, age caught up with her.

Mary Fields 002When Mary retired from the mail route, the community rallied to support her —even in spite of the occasional dust-ups she had with her neighbors.  Local restaurant owners gave her free meals, and she regularly chatted with saloon customers (so long as they bought her a drink of whiskey).

Mary Fields died of liver failure in 1914.  Her funeral was one of the largest turnouts in Cascade’s history.  Mary was one tough lady, and she didn’t mind having an outsized reputation, either.  Actor Gary Cooper, a native of Montana, remarked of Mary Fields, “Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath —or a .38.”

Sources:

  1. G. Garceau-Hagan, Ed. Portraits of Women in the American West.  New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2005
  2. Shirley, G. C. More than Petticoats: Remarkable Montana Women.  Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 2011
  3. Franks, J. A. Mary Fields (Black Mary).  California: Wild Goose Press, 2000
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The Frontier Ladies

Most people think of western migration as something that men did.  While true, we mustn’t forget that women endured the same hardships as the men. We should not ignore the vital roles these migrating women played in the development of early America.  Most women who made the arduous journey to the western territories did so out of necessity.  Most women, although certainly not all, traveled with their husbands or families.

Frontier Wagon 001

Frontier Transportation

Some of the married ladies traveled by themselves at a later time, joining husbands who were already established, and a few of these arrived at their new location only to find that they had been widowed.  Single women made the journey as well, just not in very large numbers, and some of these as “mail order” brides.

Who were these frontier women?  They were wives, mothers, widows of civil war veterans, school teachers, and in a few cases, educated women who were looking to practice their professions as doctors or lawyers —these were vocations that had been denied to them in the reputedly civilized east.  While some women traveled west by ship or train, most walked every step of the way, sharing every hardship with their men —frequently with several children in tow.  These would be the women who survived, which is to say, the women we know about. There are hundreds of others who did not survive, of whom we have little knowledge.  We still find their sun-bleached remains in the high deserts of western America.  Whether they survived this arduous journey, all of these women endured the heat, the freezing cold, torrential storms, choked on dust, suffered shortages of food and water, and lived their every day in fear of hostile Indians.  Tragic accidents, and deadly diseases claimed more than a few.

Westward migration was a grueling journey.  Women-folk often drove the wagons and helped clear the roads of fallen debris.  When their wagons became mired in mud and filth, the ladies pitched in to push these heavy wagons out of the ruts and helped their men repair or replace broken wagon wheels.  When the day’s journey came to an end, it was the women who prepared the meals, washed and mended clothing, and bathed and tucked the youngsters in for the night.  They often led religious services, played musical instruments, or sang religious songs.

The plains wagons were pulled by either oxen or horses; the heavier the load, the more animals were needed–animals that required adequate forage to complete their task.  No matter what or how many animals were used, it was a long, slow, exasperating trip.  The wagons were heavy, the rutted roadways always a challenge, and the animals could only do so much.  For this reason, women and children quite often walked alongside their wagons [1].  Mature ladies, young ladies, children … everyone who was able walked the pathway to the promised land.

Frontier Cabin 001

A frontier homestead

Frontier woman may have initially arrived at her destination thanking God for her safe delivery, but her relief was short lived; her hardships were only just beginning. The frontier held nothing that was familiar to the lives these ladies left behind.  The first lesson, and one that was probably learned very early on, was how to “make do.”  Their first home was very likely the prairie wagon.  Later constructions were often crude, including makeshift tents, log shacks, sodded shanties —all of these with dirt floors.  They lived with the insects, mites, and critters that scamper along the ground: spiders, scorpions, snakes, field rats.  Clothing didn’t last forever, so it fell to the ladies to make new or repair the old.  Back home, there may have been a neighbor close by to offer help or advice.  There were no helpers in the frontier.  The women were on their own.

Between dawn and dusk, women were often found plowing fields, milking cows, raising chickens, or helping a cow give birth.  The frontier woman may have assisted her mate panning for gold or other precious stones.  When the work was done, it was once again time to prepare the meal, clean the home as best as it was possible, launder, and care for the smallest children. Then, and only then, could the frontier women get any rest.

On occasion, and perhaps more often than we imagine, the man of the house would saddle up his horse and ride off to the county seat to take care of business.  He may be gone for a few hours, or a few days.  It always depended on how far he had to travel.  The frontier woman couldn’t take care of this business, of course, because someone had to milk the cows, feed the chickens, or take care of the children —and besides, these women weren’t allowed to conduct business with the government: They weren’t recognized as full citizens.

Now, of course, this situation changed over time … perhaps, too long of a time. There were occasions when the man never came home.  Some of these men were murdered along a desolate road.  Others incurred hostile Indians.  Some fell off their horse and broke their necks.  Others simply rode away and never looked back, leaving his woman to fend for herself.  It was at these times that the frontier woman entered a new phase in her life.  It was not a very kind life.  The further removed from civilized society a woman was, the more difficult her life, and the longer it took for civilization to catch up with her.

Homestead guardIf the children were educated, it was the ladies who educated them.  Homeschooling existed long before public schools.  Eventually, civilization did catch up.  A nearby town, access to formal churches, women’s groups … an opportunity to talk with their own kind.  Women, talking to other women, who in most cases understood the difficulties of the frontier life.

It stands to reason, then, that frontier women were far more independent than the ladies who remained back east.  These western women developed a sense of self, and what they could achieve.  It may even be true that no one —male or female— had more self-confidence than the frontier woman, and this may explain why western states granted suffrage to women far sooner than states back east.  Western women had proved their mettle, and I suppose we could argue that there could not have been a civilized west without the participation, influence, and the firm guiding hand of America’s unshakable women.

Naturally, there were a few of these ladies who eclipsed female behavioral norms in the opposite direction.  There were the prostitutes, dance hall girls, barmaids, and outlaws.  Outlaws? Of course —and two examples of possible interest were nicknamed Cattle Annie and Little Britches.  Only a few have ever heard of them.

Yet, in their own time, in the 1890s, they were two of the west’s most famous female outlaws.  They were not only accomplished cattle thieves but were also associated with the so-called Wild Bunch [2], also known as the Dalton-Doolin Gang —outlaws who operated out of the Indian Territories (Oklahoma).  They robbed banks and stores, held up trains, and shot lawmen.  Some folks called these people the Oklahoma Long Riders because of the long dusters [3] they wore, others referred to them as the Oklahombres.  Cattle Annie and Little Britches were also wanted for selling liquor to Indians and stealing horses.  Both ladies were excellent shots with pistol and rifle.

As an aside, the Wild Bunch came to a violent end: all eleven of these men would die in gun fights with lawmen.  They were men named William (Bill) Dalton, Bill Doolin, William “Tulsa Jack” Blake, Dan “Dynamite Dick” Clifton, Roy Daugherty (a.k.a. Arkansas Tom Jones), George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb (a.k.a. Slaughter Kid), Charley Pierce, William F. (“Little Bill) Raidler, George Waightman, Richard (“Little Dick”) West, and Oliver Yantis.

Cattle Annie 001

Cattle Annie & Little Britches

Cattle Annie and Little Britches weren’t members of the gang in a formal sense —they were simply associating with killers. The efforts of lawmen to capture these desperados were frequently spoiled by females, like Cattle Annie and Little Britches, who warned them in advance that dangerous lawmen were near.

Cattle Annie was born Anna McDoulet to James and Rebekah McDoulet of Lawrence County, Kansas in 1879. Anna was the youngest of three, with a brother named Calvin and a sister, Martha.  Several more children were born to the McDoulet’s after Annie moved away from home.  When Anna was four-years old, the family moved to Coyville, Wilson County, Kansas. As a young teenager, Anna worked as a hotel dishwasher.  Eventually, the family moved to the Otoe Reservation near Skiatook (north of Tulsa), Oklahoma.  The young lady was taken-in by the tales of dime novelists, who often published exaggerated stories of outlaws and gunfighters.

Little Britches was actually a young woman by the name of Jennie Stevens, born in 1879 to Daniel and Lucy Stevenson of Barton County, Missouri.  Daniel was an honest and respectable farmer.  Around 1887, the family moved to the western side of the state, near Seneca, and then again into the Creek Nation in Pawnee County.  At fifteen, Jennie was impressionable, and she too was somewhat taken by the tales of the Doolin-Dalton Gang.  Jennie began dressing in men’s clothing and one night, she ran away to join the gang.  During the night, she lost her horse, and as it turned out, members of the gang found her and returned her to a farm near that of her father’s.  It has been said that her father, not at all pleased with the young lady’s behavior, gave her a thrashing.  Then, humiliated by her friends in school, she ran away again —this time, associating with a horse dealer named Benjamin Midkiff, who she ended up marrying.  It wasn’t long before her new husband realized that she was entertaining men in his absence and he promptly returned her to her home.  At age sixteen, Jennie married again, this time to a fellow by the name of Robert Stephens.  She left him after six months and it was not long after this that she acquired the nickname “Little Britches.”

The two women met at a country dance and formed a friendship and it was at one such dance that Annie’s boyfriend at the time introduced her to George “Red Buck” Waightman.  As soon as Annie discovered that Waightman was a member of the Doolin-Dalton gang, she fell in love with him and both women took up with the gang. The gang told them exciting tales from their previous exploits and within a few months, Cattle Annie and Little Britches began operating on their own.  According to a news account of the time, “… not only did they dare to wear men’s pants in the sanctimonious but scarlet nineties, but rode horses as men rode them, astride, and with heavy forty-fives swinging at their hips.”

It was an adventure living on the wrong side of the law. In 1895, several headlines heralded their exploits from Guthrie (central north) to Coffeyville (on the Kansas border), Oklahoma.  They often confused the law by working during the day and breaking the law a night. One posse met up with Cattle Annie on the trail and asked her if she had seen any strange-looking men in the area. Annie immediately notified the Doolin gang that lawmen were about, and the gang-members disappeared for a few months.

Jennie was arrested in August 1895 by Sheriff Frank Lake, who took her under guard to a restaurant in Pawnee for her supper meal. When she had finished eating, Jennie suddenly jumped up from the table and ran out the back of the restaurant, leaped on a horse, and vanished into the night.  Apparently, she had stolen the horse of deputy marshal Frank Canton. The following night, Cattle Annie and Little Britches were tracked down to a house near Pawnee by famed lawman Bill Tilghman.  The ladies gave flight and there was an exchange of gunfire as the two made their way to a back window to escape.  Cattle Annie was captured by deputy marshal Steve Burke, but Jennie made it to freedom for a little while longer.  Tilghman gave chase and Little Britches fired several shots.  Tilghman returned fire, shooting her horse, and the chase was ended. Jennie fought like a wildcat, but she was finally subdued, and both “ladies” were put in jail.

Authorities charged Annie and Jennie with stealing horses and selling whiskey to the Indians.  Annie received a one-year sentence in the Framingham reformatory for women in Massachusetts, but was paroled a few months later, due to poor health.  She remained in Framingham until she found work as a domestic in Sherborn, Massachusetts, a small town south of Framingham.  A few months later, she went to New York —but until several years later, this is where her trail ends.  Some stories claim that she died from tuberculosis in New York, while other accounts include her marriage to a man named Earl Frost in 1901 (divorced in 1909), and to Whitmore R. Roach in 1910 (until his death in 1947).  Annie Emmaline McDoulet Frost-Roach (Cattle Annie) died at the age of 95 in Oklahoma City and is buried at Rose Hill Park in that city.

As for Jennie, she was held for two months in the Guthrie jail as a material witness to a murder.  She had witnessed a shooting while working as a housekeeper.  Her two-year sentence began in Framingham reformatory in Massachusetts on 11 November 1895, but she was released from confinement on 7 October 1896 for good behavior and returned to her parents in Pawnee County, Oklahoma.  No one knows whatever became of Little Britches.

Sources:

  1. Holmes, Kenneth. ed. “Diaries of Women”. In Covered Wagon Women, vol. 2, Glendale: Author H. Clark Co., 1983.
  2. Hodgson, Mary A. The Life of a Pioneer Family: A True Account by Mary A. Hodgson. California State Library, Sacramento.
  3. National Park Service. The Overland Migrations: Settlers to Oregon, California, and Utah. Handbook 105. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 1984.
  4. Texan Cultures Museum and Archive. Personal letters, Government documents, and Land title records. San Antonio Texas, September 8-10, 2009.
  5. Ward, Robert. Cattle Annie and Little Britches, Simon & Schuster e-book

Endnotes:

[1] Trails leading west began at several locations, including San Antonio and Galveston, Texas, Fort Smith, Arkansas, Independence and St. Joseph, Missouri, and Council Bluffs, Iowa.  They were divided into three categories: Southern, Central, and Northern tracks. Within these were several separate trails.  Some examples include, the Northern Trails: Applegate, Bozeman, California, Cherokee-Evans Northern Cherokee, Mormon or North Bank, and Oregon.  In the south, Cook’s Wagon Road, El Camino del Diablo, Fort Smith-Santa Fe, Gila, Lower Road, Old Spanish, and the Santa Fe Trail.

[2] There were two distinct gangs that called themselves “The Wild Bunch.”  The first of these was the Doolin-Dalton gang that operated in Oklahoma in the early to late 1890s.  It was an eleven-member gang with individuals identified in the foregoing paragraphs.  The second gang with that name was comprised of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as the two most-famous members.

[3] A duster was a long, loose-fitting long coat intended to keep the dust from clothing worn underneath.

 

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