Cabeza de Vaca Walks Across Texas

Six years after the conquest of Mexico, Charles I of Spain sent an expedition to colonize all the Gulf Coast from Florida to present Tampico, Mexico. We know the details of this adventure because Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca kept extensive notes, which he used for publication in 1542 of his Relación (Account) and an expanded version in 1555.

Cabeza de Vaca
Texas State Historical Association

de Vaca served as the treasurer and first lieutenant of the 600-man expedition under the leadership of Pánfilo de Narváez. Six ships sailed from Spain in June 1527, and after desertions in Santa Domingo and a terrible hurricane in Cuba, the Spaniards spent the winter re-outfitting the expedition. About 500 Spaniards and five ships struck out again in April. Available maps of the Gulf of Mexico were so inaccurate that when they reached Florida’s west coast, Narváez, believing they were within thirty to forty miles of Mexico—a miscalculation of about 1,500 miles—ignored protests from Cabeza de Vaca and others and put ashore with an exploring party of 300 men and forty horses.

Route of the Cabeza de Vaca Expedition

After slogging along the coast for a month, suffering from Indian attack and food shortage, they realized that they must return to the sea for their travel. The lone carpenter guided the construction of five rafts using deerskin and hollowed-out pieces of wood as bellows. They melted stirrups and bridle bits to cast primitive saws and axes for felling trees and shaping crude planks that they caulked with pine resins and palmetto fibers. They fashioned sails out of their shirts and trousers and wove rigging from horse manes and tails. They tanned the skin from the legs of horses to form bags for carrying fresh water. They fed themselves by killing a horse every third day. On September 22, 1528, they loaded fifty men on each raft and set out along the Gulf, remaining within sight of the shore.

Soon after passing the mouth of the Mississippi River, strong winds separated the rafts, eventually driving all ashore between Galveston Island and Matagorda Peninsula. About ninety Spaniards and at least one African slave named Estevanico landed two rafts on a beach Cabeza de Vaca soon named la Isla de Malhado (the Isle of Misfortune). His description leads scholars to believe they were just below present Galveston on Follets Island.

The exhausted and starving men were terrified to see six-foot giants towering over them. Using sign language, the Indians who occupied the islands along the coast, indicated that they would return the following day with food. Cabeza de Vaca wrote that the next morning, after taking their fill of food and water, the Spaniards tried launching their rafts only to have them capsize and drown three men before tossing the others back onto the shore. When the Indians saw the terrific loss of men and all their possessions, Cabeza de Vaca said the Spaniards were stunned when these “crude and untutored people, who were like brutes,” sat down with the survivors and cried, weeping and wailing for half an hour.

Still believing they were close to their destination, four strong swimmers went ahead with an Indian guide. Over the winter Cabeza de Vaca observed the Indians, noting that when a child died the entire village mourned the loss for a full year. He observed this same sensitivity toward everyone in their society except for the elderly, whom they viewed as useless, occupying space and eating food that the children needed. He also wrote that during the first winter, five Spaniards became stranded on the mainland. As they reached starvation they began eating one another until only one man was left. The natives were revolted by the cannibalism and horrified that the Spaniards were so disrespectful of their dead that the survivors feared the Indians were going to kill them all. By spring 1529, exposure, dysentery, and starvation had decimated the wayfarers. Only Cabeza de Vaca and fourteen others survived.

Cabeza de Vaca set out alone to explore inland and became seriously ill. When he did not return as expected, he was given up for dead, and twelve of the survivors decided to move on down the coast toward Mexico. Two men refused to go because they could not swim and feared crossing the waterways along the coast.

Meantime, Cabeza de Vaca recovered from his illness, and for almost four years he traded with the Indians, carrying seashells and sea snails to interior tribes, which they used to cut mesquite beans, in exchange for bison skins and red ochre, a dye prized for body paint by the coastal Indians. The natives gave him food in exchange for what they believed were his healing powers. He blew his breath on the injured or afflicted parts of the body and incorporated prayers and the Catholic practice of crossing himself, which he reported almost always made those receiving the treatment feel better. Each winter he returned to Malhado to check on the two survivors who steadfastly refused to leave.

In 1532, when one of the men on Malhado died, the survivor Lope de Oviedo, agreed to journey down the coast after Cabeza de Vaca promised to carry him on his back if they had to swim across streams. At Matagorda Bay, a tribe Cabeza de Vaca called Quevenes threatened to kill them, which caused Oviedo to turn back with a group of native women and disappear. Despite their threats, the Indians told Cabeza de Vaca of “three Christians like him” and agreed to take him across the bay. Upon reaching the other side, he traveled to the “River of Nuts,” present Guadalupe and found three of his former companions being held as slaves, the other nine having died as they made their way along the coast.

For the next eighteen months, the four endured slavery under the Coahuiltecans, always planning to escape at their first opportunity. During their captivity, they heard stories of the fate of their expedition. Some had died of exposure and hunger; others succumbed to violence among themselves or from natives, and some of the survivors resorted to eating the flesh of their companions. In late summer 1534, they slipped away separately and headed toward the Rio Grande. Despite the odds, they soon met again and joined friendly Indians southwest of Corpus Christi Bay, where they remained for the next eight months.

They crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico near present Falcon Dam Reservoir, but upon hearing of hostile Indians along the Gulf coast, turned back across northern Mexico to the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean. Four men out of the original 300 reached Mexico City in July 1536, almost eight years after setting foot on the Florida Gulf coast.

Estevanico by Granger
Texas State Historical Association

Two of the men married wealthy widows of Conquistadores and remained in Mexico. Estevanico was sold or loaned to serve as a scout for an advance expedition of Coronado’s entrada. Stories as to his fate. One account says he was killed by Zuni Indians in present western New Mexico. Other accounts claim that he and friends feigned his death and he escaped to freedom.

Cabeza de Vaca had not completed his service to the crown. He was assigned the governorship of present-day Paraguay in Central South America. His experience in Texas, despite mistreatment and slavery, had made him a champion of the native people. When he tried to initiate policies that would help the local tribes—removing Indian slaves from cruel masters and placing them with kinder owners, instituting restrictions against holding Indian women as concubines, and adding modest taxes, settlers determined to exploit the native population removed him from office and sent him back to Spain in chains.

During his six-year trial, conviction, and his subsequent pardon, Cabeza de Vaca wrote Relación (Account), his detailed description of his Texas experiences as a merchant, doctor, ethnologist, historian, and observer of plants and animals. He recorded Native American’s incest taboos, dietary habits—spiders, ant eggs, worms, lizards, and poisonous vipers—when nothing else was available, and methods used for insect repellent. He even recorded his profound distaste for sodomy among the hunting and gathering culture. His description of the buffalo was the first written account of those wild creatures.

Cabeza de Vaca died about 1559, but his extraordinary adventures and his detailed documentation have earned him the title of Texas’ first historian. He performed one other amazing task as he and the other castaways walked barefoot across Texas and Mexico. His description of removing an arrowhead lodged in the chest just above an Indian’s heart earned Cabeza de Vaca fame as the “Patron Saint” of the Texas Surgical Society.

Cabeza de Vaca surgery
Texas State Historical Association

Tough Pioneer Woman

School children often read that Jane Long was the “Mother of Texas.” She was a courageous woman who followed her husband when he led a group of filibusterers intent on freeing Texas from Spanish rule. However, many Native American, Mexican women, and several English-

Jane Long

speaking women came to Texas before Jane Long arrived in 1819.

Born in 1798, the youngest of ten children, Jane Herbert Wilkinson lost both her parents by the time she was thirteen. She lived with her sister on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, where she met the dashing James Long after he returned from the Battle of New Orleans. They married before her sixteenth birthday, and for several years James Long practiced medicine, operated a plantation, and worked as a merchant in Natchez

James Long, filibusterer

James Long and many of the residents in the Natchez area were unhappy over the Adams-Onís Treaty, in which Spain gave Florida to the United States in exchange for setting the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase at the Sabine River. Initially, they expected, and even Thomas Jefferson stated, that the border should be the Rio Grande, which would have made Texas part of the United States.

Citizens of the United States had already made several filibustering attempts to wrest Texas from Spain when James Long in 1819 was named commander of an expedition financed by subscriptions totaling about $500,000. Over 300 young men volunteered, expecting to receive a league of Texas land in exchange for their service.

When James Long left for Texas, Jane was pregnant and remained behind with their eighteen-month-old daughter, Ann. The second girl, Rebecca, was born on June 16. Twelve days later Jane left with both children and Kian, her young slave girl, to join her husband in Texas. By the time they reached Alexandria, Louisiana, Jane was sick. She left both children and Kian with friends and plunged on, finally reaching Nacogdoches in August.

The citizens of Nacogdoches declared the independence of Texas, organized a provisional government, and named James Long its chief. Supplies did not arrive as expected from Natchez, and Long made a fruitless attempt to persuade the pirate Jean Laffite, who occupied Galveston Island, to provide supplies and men for the expedition. Finally, in October Spanish authorities sent more than 500 troops to Nacogdoches and drove the Long Expedition out of Texas.

As they fled to Louisiana, the Longs learned of the death of their baby, Rebecca. Undeterred by his failure, Long organized a new expedition. By March 1820, he took Jane, their daughter Ann, and the slave girl Kian with him to Bolivar Peninsula that extended into Galveston Bay across from the eastern end of Galveston Island. Long organized his forces at Fort Las Casas on Point Bolivar and continued to court the elusive Jean Laffite.

In later years, when Jane recounted her experience on Bolivar Peninsula, she claimed that she dined privately with Laffite to get his support for her husband’s expedition. She also said that she made a flag, which she called “The Lone Star” for Long’s troops to carry with them.

Finally, in September 1821, Long and fifty-two men sailed to La Bahía (present Goliad) with plans to capture the town. In the meantime, Mexico won its independence from Spain and had no intention to allow citizens from the United States to take Texas. Long held La Bahía for only four days before Mexican forces overpowered his troops, marched them to Mexico City and killed Long.

Jane, who was expecting another baby, had promised her husband that she would wait for him with several others families at Fort Las Casas on Bolivar Peninsula. After a month, the food supply ran low, and the Karankawa Indians in the area were increasingly unfriendly. The families began to leave, but Jane insisted on waiting for her husband until she, her daughter Ann and Kian were all who remained at the fort. With the help of Kian, Jane gave birth to daughter Mary James on December 21, 1821, at a time when it was so cold that Galveston Bay froze.

In early 1822, an immigrant family arrived, and Jane reluctantly moved with them up the San Jacinto River. The following summer, she received word that James Long was dead, and she returned to Louisiana. After her baby Mary James died in 1824, Jane Long returned to Texas and received a league of land in Stephen F. Austin’s Colony. Family tradition says that many of Texas’ leaders courted Jane including Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Ben Milam, and Mirabeau B. Lamar. She refused all their proposals, remaining loyal to James Long—the love of her life. After living several years in San Felipe, the headquarters of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, she opened a boarding house in Brazoria.

The Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation, which maintains Jane Long’s memorabilia, states that Jane held a ball at her boarding house in Brazoria when Stephen F. Austin returned in 1835 from prison in Mexico. It was at the ball that Austin made his first speech favoring Texas independence from Mexico. The foundation claims that during the Texas Revolution in 1836 Jane fled Brazoria ahead of the advancing Mexican Army and that she saved the papers of Mirabeau Lamar, which included his original history of Texas.

In 1837, at the age of thirty-nine, Jane Long moved to her league of land, part of which she sold to developers for the town of Richmond. She opened another boarding house and ran a plantation with the help of twelve slaves. At the beginning of the Civil War, Jane owned nineteen slaves and 2,000 acres valued at $13,300. After the war, she worked her land with tenant farmers. When her daughter Ann died in 1870, the value of Jane’s estate had diminished to $2,000. Jane Long died at her grandson’s home on December 30, 1880.

Today, the Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation has dedicated a Jane Long Memorial on Bolivar Peninsula, which consists of a monument, Texas historical markers, and three flags—the United States, the Texas, and the Jane Long flag.

Jane Long Memorial, Bolivar Peninsula

Tales of Fort Leaton

The Chihuahuan Desert hugging the Rio Grande in far West Texas was a killing field for Spanish explorers, Apaches, Comanches, white scalp hunters, and freighters daring to travel between San Antonio and

Fort Leaton

Fort Leaton

Fort Leaton

Fort Leaton

Ciudad Chihuahua. Apache and Comanche raids into Mexico—killing hundreds, stealing thousands of livestock, and capturing women and children—resulted by 1835 in the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora offering bounties for each scalp of $100 for braves; $50 for squaws; and $25 for children under fourteen. Once the scalp dried out, it was difficult to tell whether it had belonged to an Indian, a Mexican, or a white person, which encouraged wholesale slaughter of all stripes of travelers who dared enter the region. The financial panic of 1837 left miners in Northern Mexico and pioneers moving west in need of money. Scalp hunting brought in more than most men could make in a year.

The Indian raids decreased during the Mexican-American War (1846-48) as U.S. soldiers chased Indians when they weren’t busy fighting the Mexicans. However, after the war, the Indian attacks increased and the price per scalp inflated to $200—a quicker profit than heading to the California gold fields.

Fort Leaton

Fort Leaton

In 1848, after the Rio Grande was settled as the international boundary between Texas and Mexico, Ben Leaton, a freighter who had been augmenting his income by working as a scalp hunter, realized that a trading post on the Rio Grande would be a prime location on the Chihuahua Trail. Jefferson Morgenthaler, author of The River Has Never Divided Us, writes that Ben Leaton selected a site for a trading post three miles downriver from Presidio del Norte (present Presidio).  By bribing the alcalde (mayor) and former alcalde of Presidio, he produced forged deeds to the land where Mexican peasants had farmed for generations.

Leaton, at the point of a gun, ran the Mexican farmers off of a tract of farmland that was five miles long and over a mile wide. Their protests to Mexican authorities went unheeded because the land was no longer part of Mexico. Then, he set about building a fortification that would serve as his home, trading post, and corral. Leaton built his L-shaped, forty-room fortress with eighteen-inch thick adobe walls that paralleled the river for 200 feet, forming a stockade at the base of the L. Walls and parapets enclosed the structure. Giant wooden doors, topped by a small cannon, opened to admit teams and wagons to the fortress that became known as Fort Leaton, the only fortification between Eagle Pass and El Paso. While Fort Davis was being built eighty miles to the north, the U.S. Army used Fort Leaton as its headquarters and continued to use the site as an outpost for its military patrols.

Interior, Fort Leaton

Interior, Fort Leaton

Morgenthaler writes that the first group of Texans to reach the new trading post was a 70-man expedition in October 1848, under the leadership of the famed Texas Ranger Jack Hays who was charged with opening a trading route between San Antonio and Chihuahua. Using an inaccurate map and an incompetent guide, the entourage had gotten lost and reached Fort Leaton half-starved. Leaton welcomed them while they rested and regained their strength. Although they returned to San Antonio without completing the expedition, the Chihuahua Trail soon opened to a steady stream of freighters.

No record survives of any Indian attacks on Fort Leaton, which may be explained by accusations that Ben Leaton traded rifles, bullets, swords, tobacco, and whiskey to the Apaches and Comanches in exchange for livestock, church ornaments, housewares, and captives from Mexico. Leaton also served as a welcoming host, for a hefty price, to traders heading to Mexico and forty-niners on their way to the gold fields of California.

Leaton died in 1851 before charges could be brought by the Inspector of the Military Colonies of Chihuahua of “a thousand abuses, and of so hurtful a nature, that he keeps an open treaty with the Apache Indians . . . .” His widow married Edward Hall who continued operating the trading post. Hall borrowed money in 1864 from Leaton’s scalp hunting partner John Burgess. When Hall defaulted on the debt, he was murdered, and Burgess’ family moved into the fort. Then, Leaton’s son murdered Burgess in 1875. The Burgess’ family remained at Fort Leaton until 1926.

A private citizen bought the fort and donated it to Presidio County; however, inadequate funding kept the old structure from being properly maintained. Finally another private citizen bought the structure, donated it to the state and it was restored and designated in 1968 as Fort Leaton State Historic Site.

Candelilla

Candelilla See attached blog above by aneyefortexas

Sitting among the lechuguilla, ocotillo, creosote bush and candelilla of the Chihuahuan Desert, it welcomes visitors seven days a week, except Christmas.

Ocotillo

Ocotillo, See the attached blog above by aneyefortexas

Texas’ First Historian

In 1527, six years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca had not planned to become a historian when he set sail as the second in command of the Pánfilo de Narváez 600-man expedition.

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

After desertions in Santa Domingo and a terrible hurricane in Cuba, the Spaniards spent the winter re-outfitting the expedition. About 500 Spaniards and five ships struck out again in April. Available maps of the Gulf of Mexico were so inaccurate that when they reached Florida’s west coast, Narváez, believing they were near the River of Palms in Panuco Province (present Tampico, Mexico), —a miscalculation of about 1,500 miles—ignored Cabeza de Vaca’s protests and put ashore an exploring party of 300 men and forty horses.

After slogging along the coast for a month, suffering from Indian attack and food shortage, they realized that they must return to the sea for their travel. The Spaniards’ lone carpenter guided the construction of five rafts using deerskin and hollow pieces of wood as bellows. They melted stirrups and bridle bits to cast primitive saws and axes for felling trees and shaping crude planks that they caulked with pine resins and palmetto fibers. They fashioned sails out of their shirts and trousers and wove rigging from the hair of horse manes and tails. They tanned the skin from the legs of horses to form bags for carrying fresh water. They fed themselves by killing a horse every third day. On September 22, 1528, they loaded fifty men on each raft and set out along the Gulf, remaining within sight of the shore.

Soon after passing the mouth of the Mississippi River, strong winds separated the rafts, eventually driving all ashore between Galveston Island and Matagorda Peninsula. About ninety Spaniards and at least one African slave named Estevanico landed two rafts west of Galveston Island on a beach Cabeza de Vaca soon named la Isla de Malhado (the Isle of Misfortune). The exhausted and starving men were terrified to see six-foot giants towering over them. Using sign language the Karankawas, who occupied the islands along the coast, indicated that they would return the following day with food. Cabeza de Vaca wrote that the next morning, after taking their fill of food and water, the Spaniards tried launching their rafts only to have them capsize and drown three men before tossing the others back onto the shore. When the Karankawas saw the terrific loss of men and all their possessions, Cabeza de Vaca said the Spaniards were stunned when these “crude and untutored people, who were like brutes,” sat down with the survivors and cried, weeping and wailing for half an hour.

Still believing they were close to the province of Panuco, four strong swimmers were sent ahead with an Indian guide. Over the winter Cabeza de Vaca observed the Karankawas, noting that when a child died the entire village mourned the loss for a full year. He observed this same sensitivity to everyone in their society except for the elderly, whom they viewed as useless, occupying space and eating food that the children needed. He also wrote that during the first winter, five Spaniards became stranded on the mainland. As they reached starvation they began eating one another until only one man was left. The Karankawas were revolted by the cannibalism and horrified that the Spaniards were so disrespectful of their dead that the survivors feared the Indians were going to kill them all. By spring 1529, exposure, dysentery, and starvation had decimated the wayfarers. Only Cabaza de Vaca and fourteen others had survived.

Cabeza de Vaca set out alone to explore inland, and became seriously ill. When he did not return as expected, he was given up for dead, and twelve of the survivors decided to move on down the coast toward Mexico. Two men refused to go because they could not swim and feared having to cross the waterways along the coast.

Meantime, Cabeza de Vaca recovered from his illness, and for almost four years he traded with the Indians, carrying seashells and sea snails to interior tribes, which they used to cut mesquite beans, in exchange for bison skins and red ochre, a dye prized for body paint by the coastal Indians. The natives gave him food in exchange for what they believed were his healing powers. He blew his breath on the injured or afflicted parts of the body and incorporated prayers and the Catholic practice of crossing himself, which he reported almost always made those receiving the treatment feel better. Each winter he returned to Malhado to check on the two survivors who steadfastly refused to leave.

In 1532, when one of the men on Malhado died, the survivor Lope de Oviedo, agreed to journey down the coast after Cabeza de Vaca promised to carry him on his back if they had to swim across streams. At Matagorda Bay a tribe Cabeza de Vaca called Quevenes threatened to kill them, which caused Oviedo to turn back with a group of native women and disappear. Despite their threats, the Quevenes told Cabeza de Vaca the names of “three Christians like him” and agreed to take him across the bay. Upon reaching the other side, he traveled to the “River of Nuts,” present Guadalupe and found three of his former companions being held as slaves, the other nine having died as they made their way along the coast.

For the next eighteen months the four endured slavery under the Coahuiltecans, always planning to escape at their first opportunity. During their captivity they heard stories of the fate of their expedition. Some had died of exposure and hunger; others succumbed to violence among themselves or from natives, and some of the survivors resorted to eating the flesh of their companions. In late summer 1534, they slipped away separately and headed toward the Rio Grande. Despite the odds, they soon met again and joined friendly Indians southwest of Corpus Christi Bay, where they remained for the next eight months.

They crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico near present Falcon Dam Reservoir, but upon hearing of hostile Indians along the Gulf coast, turned back across northern Mexico to the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean. Four men out of the original 300 reached Mexico City in July 1536, almost eight years after setting foot on the Florida Gulf coast.

Route of the Cabeza de Vaca Expedition

Route of the Cabeza de Vaca Expedition

Cabeza de Vaca had not completed his service to the crown. He was assigned the governorship of present-day Paraguay in Central South America. His experience in Texas, despite mistreatment and slavery, had made him a champion of the native people. When he tried to initiate policies that would help the local tribes—removing Indian slaves from cruel masters and placing them with kinder owners, instituting restrictions against holding Indian women as concubines, and adding modest taxes, settlers determined to exploit the native population removed him from office and sent him back to Spain in chains.

During his six-year trial, conviction, and his subsequent pardon, Cabeza de Vaca wrote Relación (Account), his detailed description of his Texas experiences as merchant, doctor, ethnologist, historian, and observer of plants and animals. He recorded Native American’s incest taboos, dietary habits—spiders, ant eggs, worms, lizards, and poisonous vipers—when nothing else was available, and methods used for insect repellent. He even recorded his profound distaste for sodomy among the hunting and gathering culture. His description of the buffalo was the first written account of those wild creatures.

Cabeza de Vaca died about 1559, but his extraordinary adventures and his detailed documentation have earned him the title of Texas’ first historian. He performed one other amazing task as he and the other castaways walked barefoot across Mexico. His description of removing an arrowhead lodged in the chest just above an Indian’s heart earned Cabeza de Vaca fame as the “Patron Saint” of the Texas Surgical Society.

El Paso Mission Trail

My long-range plans call for finding a book publisher interested in my Texas history blogs. With that goal in mind, I’m expanding my Texas coverage with a series of West Texas and Panhandle stories. This blog post was to be about the founding of the oldest Spanish mission in Texas and the first thanksgiving in the United States, both of which I thought had occurred near El Paso, a city on the far western edge of Texas. Immediately, I uncovered a wide range of stories that I have decided to share.

We often think of Spanish activity in Texas getting underway when the Frenchman René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle landed on the Texas coast in 1685. Concern that the French might have an eye on Texas prompted the government of New Spain to construct six missions in East Texas to Christianize the Indians and to serve as a buffer against encroachment from the French in neighboring Louisiana. In fact Spanish explorers started coming into Texas at present-day El Paso in the early 1580s, a century before the East Texas missions were built.

King Phillip II of Spain made Don Juan de Oñate the governor of New Mexico, before the territory

Don Juan de Onate

Don Juan de Onate

had been conquered. In search of riches, adventure, and political power Oñate personally financed an expedition, or entrada, meant to “pacify” the natives in New Mexico. He assembled 400 soldiers, 130 families and thousands of head of cattle, sheep, and other livestock. In early 1598 Oñate led his entourage on what he thought was a shortcut across the Chihuahuan Desert in Northern Mexico in search of a pass through the mountains into New Mexico. In late April, after four days of walking without food or water, the desperate travelers reached the Rio Grande where Oñate claimed all the surrounding land for King Phillip II of Spain. A few days later, they met native people who called themselves Manos, “peaceful one.” The friendly Indians led the Spanish to the place where the Rio Grande cut through the mountains forming El Paso del Rio del Norte—the pass of the north—the Spanish entryway to the West. The Mansos, who wore very little clothing, provided fresh fish for the Spanish and received clothing in return. Oñate invited the Mansos to be guests at a feast on January 26, 1598, celebrating the travelers’ amazing survival. The huge display of wild game and other food stuffs from the expeditions’ supplies created a feast of thanksgiving, which seems to be the second to be celebrated in the present United States. The first thanksgiving is claimed by St. Augustine, Florida, where on September 8, 1565, the Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez held a feast of thanksgiving with the Timucua.

The entrada moved on into New Mexico, but when scouting parties failed to find gold and silver,

Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo

Oñate’s troops began demanding payments from the Pueblo population. The Acoma pueblo refused to comply and in 1599 the Acoma Wars ended with Oñate’s orders to kill 800 people, enslave another 500, and cut off the left foot of all men older than twenty-five. Numbers of amputees vary from twenty-four to eighty. The young women were sent into slavery. Oñate continued his exploratory travels as far as present Kansas, returned to found the town of Santa Fe, and was finally called back to Mexico City in 1606 to answer for his conduct. Although he was tried and convicted of cruelty to the Spanish colonists and to the natives, he was later cleared of all charges.

His treatment of the native peoples set the pattern of Spanish cruelty that continued until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 when the natives rebelled against their overlords. The Pueblos drove out the soldiers and the Spanish authorities, killed twenty-one Franciscan priests, and sacked mission churches. More than 400 Spanish colonists and 346 native people were killed, which sent hundreds of Indians and Spanish fleeing for their lives to the south. The Tigua (Tiwa) people were among the refugees who reached safety at the Paso del Norte. In order to serve the displaced population, Franciscan friars established the first mission and pueblo in Texas, Corpus Christi de la Isleta, in 1682 on the south bank of the Rio Grande. That same year Nuestra Señora de la

Ysleta Mission

Ysleta Mission

Concepción del Socorro was established for other native people who had fled from the Pueblo Revolt. Over the years, the Rio Grande flooded many times, changing course, and moving the communities that grew up around the missions to both sides of the river, even isolating them for a time on an island between two channels of the Rio Grande.

Socorro Mission

Socorro Mission

Despite the construction of the Spanish missions, the Indians from New Mexico brought their own way of life with them, and continued to control the political and economic activities of the new mission communities. The Franciscan friars were allowed authority only over the Indians’ spiritual life.

Into this mix of missions, native peoples, and Spanish settlers, San Elizario settlement was established, and the Presidio de San Elizario was built in 1789 to protect the area missions and the travelers on the Camino Real (Royal Highway) that ran from Mexico City through Paso del Norte to Santa Fe. While it was never a mission, the presidio boasted a chapel to serve the military personnel.

San Elizario Chapel

San Elizario Chapel

Today’s Ysleta church was completed in 1907 and the Isleta community was annexed into El Paso in 1955. The present Socorro Mission was completed in 1840, replacing the 17th-century structure destroyed by Rio Grande floods. The current church retains many of its original decorative elements, including the original beams, or vigas, which were salvaged from the old flooded church. Both missions and the San Elizario Chapel are on the El Paso Mission Trail.

El Paso Mission Trail

El Paso Mission Trail

Black History Month–Part I

In celebration of Black History Month, I plan to write a series highlighting the often-brief stories of black men and women that made their mark on Texas history. Estevanico (often called Esteban and Esteban the Moor) was captured in 1513 in Morocco when he was about

Estevanico

Estevanico

thirteen years old and sold to a Spanish nobleman.  Estevanico and his master sailed from Spain in 1527 on the ill-fated Pánfilo de Narváez Expedition, contracted by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain) to settle and colonize for Spain all the land between Florida and present Tampico, Mexico.  Included in the 600-man, five-ship expedition was Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca whose account of the adventures, the first written history of Texas published in 1542, tells the story of this expedition.

Upon reaching Tampa Bay on Florida’s western coast in April 1528, Narváez decided, against the advice of his captains, to abandon his ships and take 300 men—half his entire expedition—to explore inland.  He believed it was only thirty to forty miles to their destination, when it was actually closer to 1,500 miles.  By September, after having lost over fifty men to disease and Indian attack Narváez ordered construction of five rafts that traveled through shallow waters edging the coast until a storm separated the group. Two rafts, including the one captained by Cabeza de Vaca and one that bore Estevanico wrecked, probably just west of Galveston Island.  By the spring of 1529 disease and Indian attacks left only fourteen men alive.  Cabeza de Vaca left the island and spent the next four years roaming over the inland reaches of Texas, trading with the Indians, and acting as a medicine man.

Meantime, Estevanico and those remaining on the coast began traveling southwest along the barrier islands edging the Gulf of Mexico.  When they reached present Matagorda Bay in the spring of 1529 their numbers had dwindled to three. They were captured and enslaved by Coahuiltecan Indians who lived southwest of the Guadalupe River.  After more than three years of captivity, Cabeza de Vaca, whom they thought was dead, suddenly appeared and was taken as a prisoner.  It was two more years before all four castaways finally escaped and fled inland to the Rio Grande near present Falcón Lake Reservoir.  Estevanico quickly learned the dialects and sign language of the various Indian tribes they encountered, and by posing as healers all four of the men gained the trust of the tribes they met and were being welcomed as word spread of their skills.  They also heard tales of rich, inland cities that they called the Seven Cities of Cibola.  Continuing to walk barefoot across northern Mexico, they reached the Pacific Coast where they found fellow Spaniards who directed them to Mexico City.  Arriving in July 1536, after a journey of 2,400 miles, the four ragged men out of the 300 that had set foot on the Florida coast in 1528, finally reached the capital of New Spain.Estevanicomap

After recounting their fantastic journey and sharing the stories of riches that lay to the north, Cabeza de Vaca continued his service for Spain, the two other men quickly married wealthy widows and settled down to a comfortable life in Mexico City, and Estevanico experienced the harsh reality of slavery.  He was sold or loaned to the viceroy of New Spain who, excited about the prospects of finding wealthy cities, sent Estevanico on an expedition in 1539 headed by Fray Marcos de Niza to explore the lands through which the castaways had just traveled.  Estevanico, serving as a scout, moved ahead of the expedition.  When he reached the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh in present western New Mexico, he disappeared, reportedly killed as the Zuni fired many arrows into his body. Some accounts say the Zuni believed Estevanico, with his black skin and body covered in feathers, looked like a wizard.  Others claim that he offended the Zuni by demanding women and turquoise. Fray de Niza was sufficiently convinced of Estevanico’s cruel death that he quickly returned to Mexico City. In 2002 Juan Francisco Maura published an article in the Journal Revista de Estudios Hispánicos titled “Nuevas interpretaciones sobre las aventuras de Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban de Dorantes, y Fray Marcos de Niza” (New Interpretations about the Adventures of Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban of Dorantes, and Fray Marcos de Niza) in which he claimed that Estevanico and his friends faked his death so that he could gain his freedom. Let’s hope that is the way his story ends.

Jane Long, Pioneer Texan

School children often read that Jane Long was the “Mother of Texas.”  She was a courageous woman who followed her husband as he

Jane Long

Jane Long

led a group of filibusters intent on freeing Texas from Spanish rule.  However, many Native American, Mexican, and several English-speaking women came to Texas before Jane Long arrived in 1819.  Born in 1798, the youngest of ten children, Jane Herbert Wilkinson lost both her parents by the time she was thirteen.  She lived with her sister on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, where she met the dashing James Long after he returned from the battle of New Orleans. They married before her sixteenth birthday, and for several years James Long practiced medicine, operated a plantation, and worked as a merchant in Natchez

James Long and many of the residents in the Natchez area were unhappy over the Adams-Onís Treaty, in which Spain gave Florida to the United States in exchange for the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase being drawn at the Sabine River.  Originally they expected, and even Thomas Jefferson stated, that the boundary should be the Rio Grande, which would have made Texas part of the United States. Citizens of the United States had already made several filibustering attempts to wrest Texas from Spain, when James Long in 1819 was named commander of an expedition financed by subscriptions totaling about $500,000.  Over 300 young men volunteered, expecting to receive a league of Texas land in exchange for their service.

When James Long left for Texas, Jane was expecting a baby and remained behind with their eighteen-month-old daughter, Ann.  The second girl, Rebecca, was born on June 16 and twelve days later Jane left hurriedly with both children and Kian, her young slave girl. By the time they reached Alexandria, Louisiana, Jane was sick.  She left both children and Kian with friends and plunged on, finally reaching Nacogdoches in August.  The citizens of Nacogdoches had declared the independence of Texas, organized a provisional government, and named James Long its chief.  Supplies did not arrive as expected from Natchez, and Long made a fruitless attempt to persuade the pirate Jean Laffite, who occupied Galveston Island, to provide supplies and men for the expedition.  Finally in October Spanish authorities sent more than 500 troops to Nacogdoches to drive the Long Expedition out of Texas.

As they fled to Louisiana, the Longs learned their baby, Rebecca, had died. Undeterred by his failure, Long organized a new expedition and by March 1820, he took Jane, their daughter Ann, and the slave girl Kian with him to Bolivar Peninsula, a spit of land extending into Galveston Bay across from the eastern end of Galveston Island.  Long organized his forces at Fort Las Casas on Point Bolivar and apparently continued to court the elusive Jean Laffite.  In later years, when Jane recounted her experience on Bolivar Peninsula, she claimed that she dined privately with Laffite in an effort to get his support for her husband’s expedition.  She also said that she made a flag, which she called “the lone star” for Long’s troops to carry with them.

Finally in September 1821, Long and fifty-two men sailed to La Bahía (present Goliad) with plans to capture the town.  In the meantime, Mexico had won its independence from Spain and had no intention of allowing citizens from the United States to capture Texas.  After holding La Bahía for only four days, Mexican forces overpowered Long’s troops and they were taken as prisoners to Mexico City where Long was killed about six months later.

Jane, who was expecting another baby, promised James that she would wait with several others families at Fort Las Casas on Bolivar Peninsula.  After a month of waiting for Long and his men to return, the food supplies began running low, and the Karankawa Indians in the area were becoming increasingly unfriendly.  The families began to leave, but Jane insisted on waiting for her husband until she, her daughter Anne and Kian were all that remained at the fort. With the help of Kian, Jane gave birth to daughter Mary James on December 21, 1821, at a time when it was so cold that Galveston Bay froze.  In early 1822, as their food supply dwindled to almost nothing, an immigrant family arrived, and Jane reluctantly moved with them up the San Jacinto River.  That summer she received word that James Long had been killed.  She returned to Louisiana, but after Mary James died in 1824, Jane Long returned to Texas and received a league of land in Stephen F. Austin’s colony. Family tradition says that Jane was courted by many of Texas’ leaders including Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Ben Milam, and Mirabeau B. Lamar, but she refused all their proposals, apparently remaining loyal to James Long—the love of her life.

After living several years in San Felipe, the headquarters of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, she opened a boarding house in Brazoria.  The Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation, which maintains Jane Long’s memorabilia, states that Jane held a ball at her boarding house in Brazoria when Stephen F. Austin returned in 1835 from prison in Mexico.  It was at the ball that Austin made his first speech favoring Texas independence from Mexico.  The foundation claims that during the Texas Revolution in 1836 Jane fled Brazoria ahead of the advancing Mexican Army and that she saved the papers of Mirabeau Lamar, which included his original history of Texas.

In 1837, at the age of thirty-nine, Jane Long moved to her league of land, part of which she sold to developers for the town of Richmond.  She opened another boarding house and ran a plantation with the help of twelve slaves.  At the beginning of the Civil War, she had nineteen slaves and 2,000 acres valued at $13,300. After the Civil War, she worked her land with tenant farmers.  When her daughter Ann died in 1870, the value of Jane’s estate had diminished to $2,000.  Jane Long died at her grandson’s home on December 30, 1880.

Today, the Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation has dedicated a Jane Long Memorial on Bolivar Peninsula, which consists of a monument, Texas historical markers, and three flags—the United States, the Texas, and the Jane Long flag.

Jane Long Memorial, Bolivar Peninsula

Jane Long Memorial, Bolivar Peninsula