EDINBURG, RGV – Following the landing in 1528 on what is now Texas soil of Alvar Cabeza de Vaca and his Spanish soldiers, other explorers followed.
One such explorer, conqueror and historian was an Italian named Juan Bautista Chapa, whose original surname was Chiapapría. He later changed it to “Chapa,” perhaps so people in the Monterrey area could pronounce it better.
He was born the son of Bartolomé Chiapapría and Bastestina Badi in “la Villa de Arbisola” on the banks of Genoa, Italy. He had two brothers, Nicolás and Franco. Nicolás became a religious brother in Spain, and Franco passed away early in life, leaving Juan Bautista the sole heir to his parents’ land which he donated to an uncle named Juan Chiapapría. Thereafter, Juan Bautista Chapa migrated to New Spain arriving in Monterrey during the last few weeks in the year 1650. Many other Italians had also arrived in the “Nuevo Reino de León” during those early times of conquest and colonization, and we have evidence of such surnames as: “Cavassos o Cavassoni > Cavazos; “Juseppe Cantú” > “Cantú”; “Tremiño” > “Treviño” and other Italians who became prominent in the affairs of Nuevo León during the 17th century.
After Juan Bautista Chapa arrived in the Kingdom of Nuevo León, he served as Secretary to the “Cabildo” (city) of Cadereyta, Nuevo León. He also served as secretary to Captain Alonso de León who later became known as the explorer of Texas. He also served under de León in various skirmishes against the Indians of the area, and in de León’s attempt to oust the French from Texas in 1686. Upon his arrival in Nuevo León, he was granted land to build his home and raise cattle. In the year 1653 he married Doña Beatriz Treviño de Olivares, a member of a prominent and wealthy family of Nuevo León. She was the daughter of Juan de Olivares, an eminent soldier, miner, and prominent owner of properties who resided in what is now known as the “Villa de Marín.”
Juan Bautista Chapa traveled within high places in the political scene of Nuevo León, and served various governors, and other distinguished administrators. He was secretary to Governor Don Martín de Zavala, and to the Lt. Governor Don Roque V. de Buitrago, and to Governor Don León de Alza, giving him access and participating in many areas of government businesses. He was also administrator of the estate of Governor Don Nicolás de Azcárraga with whom he enjoyed an excellent friendship.
In the year 1686, Viceroy Marqués de la Laguna organized one of several expeditions into Texas in which Juan Bautista Chapa served as secretary to Captain Alonso de León, with whom he had developed a strong friendship throughout the years in Cadereyta. Later Captain de León was named governor and Captain of Coahuila, and we know that Juan Bautista Chapa followed him as his personal secretary. Juan Bautista Chapa also participated in the second and third expeditions into Texas, and in one of his chronicles he admits to having reached the river they called “Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.” He also chronicled that he participated in the discovery of the “Bahía del Espíritu Santo.”
Juan Bautista Chapa was a highly cultured individual and is considered to be the author, along with Alonso de León and Fernando Sánchez de Zamora, of the “Historia de Nuevo Leon: con noticias sobre Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Texas y Nuevo Mexico” – 1690 (The History of Nuevo León ( Northern México): With Information on Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Texas and New México) – 1690. The vast literature of that time includes valuable information describing the journeys, the incidents, and the description of the area now known as Texas. It is a valuable piece of history indicating and supporting the great adventure that these explorers and historians accomplished during the 17th Century. In it, he informs the reader how he and Captain Alonso de León would deposit, along any lake or river, male and female animals that were left behind to wander and eventual reproduce, creating by these acts a large number of wild horses, sheep and other species later found and identified by later explorers and settlers of Texas.
Juan Bautista Chapa and his wife Doña Beatriz Treviño de Olivares had four sons: Nicolás, Juan Bautista, Gaspar, and José María, and two daughters, Doña María and Doña Juana. Cuervo de Valdés, the then Governor of Nuevo León, bestowed on Juan Bautista Chapa a great amount of land connecting to well known municipalities such as General Treviño, founded by his son José María Chapa, and other later on municipalities such as Parás, and Agualeguas. This fact reveals the prominence and great service that Juan Bautista Chapa gave to the Spanish Crown throughout his long years in Nuevo León. In 1688 he served as Attorney General for the City of Monterrey, and throughout his years of service to Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Texas he was never considered a foreigner in his adopted land.
By the year 1691, Juan Bautista Chapa had reached the age of 60 years, and was still hoping to rejoin other proposed expeditions into Texas. However, there is no record that he participated in these later excursions. A widower by now, he lived his last years in Cerralvo and in Monterrey, where his off-springs resided and were involved in certain commercial enterprises.
In 1694 his son Gaspar died at the age of 20, and this event plus Chapa’s ailments weakened him, and brought about his demise on April 20, 1695 at the age of 64. He passed into history as one of the earliest explorers, conquerors, and historians, but not without first leaving a great heritage throughout Northern México and South Texas.
Juan Bautista Chapa is truly the genealogical patriarch of all the Chapa families of South Texas and Northern México. Decades later, his great-great granddaughter María Clara Chapa Báez Benavides married Captain Juan Diego Longoria Valdés de Zaldívar, a direct descendant of Diego de Montemayor, founder of Monterrey, Nuevo León in 1596 and whose sons Don José Matías, Pedro and Vicente Longoria Chapa received huge land grants (Porciones 93, 94, and 95) in Texas from King Carlos III of Spain in 1767, thus joining together by matrimony three of the most prominent families in Northern México and South Texas: Longoria, Chapa, and Montemayor. They were explorers, historians, conquistadors, Spanish grantee families, and cattle/land barons.
Later on in history Don José Matías Longoria’s sons, Marcelino and Ramón Longoria and his nephew Santiago Longoria de la Garza formed part of the original 13 families from Camargo and Reynosa who purchased over two million acres of land from the heirs of Don José de Escandón, the colonizer of Northern México and South Texas (1749), and these families then established 113 ranching sites and called the area “San Juan de los Esteros Hermosos” in 1774. Some of these ranching sites still in existence are called “Rancho Longoreño, La Canasta, Barranquillas, Tahuachal, Capote, Soliceño, Palma, Santo Domingo Animas, Falconeño. Caja Pinta, Chapeño. There were others that comprised this vast land and cattle territory. They were so vast their land holdings at one time extended all the way to present day San Antonio, Texas. These vast ranching sites later on formed the present day city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Two of the requirements that individuals needed to present in petitioning the Spanish Crown for land grants in what is now Texas was first that they must be pure Spaniards, and second that they showed allegiance to Spain.
One must remember that these early Tejanos and their ancestors came to Texas in 1767 not as immigrants, rather as citizens of Spain, given that this territory was called “La Nueva España” (New Spain), and in essence they were merely coming to another part of what at that time comprised part of their country. These early Texas haciendas were what much later on became known as the King Ranch, Armstrong, and Chapman ranches, but these early Tejanos cattle/land barons first threaded this land we call Texas almost two centuries before, and set the stage for the unique lifestyle now enjoyed by all Texans. Everything Texas brags about is owed to these early Tejano settlers. Were it not so, Texas would be like Ohio.
Dr. Lino García, Jr., and his descendants, vía his mother Doña Felipa López Longoria Chapa, is a direct and proud descendant of an illustrious family of Northern México and South Texas. García is a Brownsville native and professor emeritus of Spanish Literature at UTPA. He can be reached at (956)665-3441 and at [email protected]