SAN ANTONIO, Texas – No one knows exactly why after 1848, our Spanish Mexican ancestors were unable to maintain their long. well-documented chronicle as the founders of Texas. What is known is that some tried.
However, Tejanos who challenged the anti-Mexican culture bulldozer at that time were brutalized, murdered, and/or hounded out of Texas by Anglo vigilantes. (The list of Tejanos who suffered this last particular indignity includes Colonel Juan Seguín, the hero at the Battle of San Jacinto.) In short, Tejanos looked like the enemy, worshipped as Catholics like the enemy, spoke Spanish like the enemy, and so were treated as the enemy.
By deliberate design then, Anglo historians wiped the slate clean of New Spain history of Texas and the Southwest. In its place, they force-fitted the history of New England. From that point on, they began to write Texas history with a pronounced Anglo Saxon slant. Now, over 150 years later, that ink is beginning to fade, exposing the early Texas history record beneath, written indelibly in Spanish.
The question is why would seemingly intelligent historians choose to tear off the pages of early Texas history to write an artificial Anglophile adaptation? More recently, why does the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) insist on perpetuating that myth by making Texas school children believe that Texas history begins in 1836 with the arrival of Anglo immigrants to Mexico?
It’s only within the last two decades that a diverse group of modern-day historians have tackled those and similar questions. The Tejano Monument in Austin represents a giant step to recover pre-1836 Texas history. However, in the words of Winston Churchill, the Tejano Monument “…is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end; but, it is perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Following are short summaries of early Texas people whose stories are left out of Texas classroom curricula. In truth, Texas school children should know their names, but sadly, they don’t. Aficionados of pre-1836 Texas history will recognize some of them. Others are less well known.
Juan Sabeata. He was a Native American Jumano tribe leader. In the 1680s, he first invited the Spanish to set up missions in Texas. From that very first moment, he proved to be a one-man chamber of commerce, tour guide, and visionary. He was responsible (more than any other indigenous tribal leader) in encouraging Spanish missionary work, exploration, and trade in Texas. He was an enterprising, results-oriented man who led the Spanish to the “Kingdom of the Tejas”. He envisioned a trade network to set up a better environment among Texas indigenous people.
Alonso de León. He is one of Texas’ foremost explorers. Traveling extensively in early Texas in the late 1600s, he is credited with a key role in establishing what later became known as the Camino Real. Starting in Monclova, Coahuila, it stretched through the Texas brush country reaching the tall pines region of East Texas. In East Texas, de León established the first Spanish mission, San Francisco de los Tejas. Earning great respect from the King of Spain he became the first governor of Coahuila. De León was successful in finding the remnants of the illegal, ill-fated LaSalle Colony. De León gets credit for naming most Texas rivers.
Captain Blas Maria Villarreal de la Garza Falcón. He was an early colonizer of South Texas and Tamaulipas and the first settler of Nueces County, Texas. He spent his childhood at Hacienda Pesquería Chica near Monterrey. In 1747 Blas Maria led fifty men to the mouth of the Rio Grande where he set up seven settlements along the river. He was named chief justice of Camargo, the first town. In 1752 Falcón established Rancho Carnestolendas, now Rio Grande City, Texas. In 1766 Falcón established Santa Petronila by the Nueces River (Nueces County, Texas). He and his family started another rancho that served as a camp for the Spanish soldiers from Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto. In 1767 Falcón returned to Camargo, where he died and was buried in his private chapel, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. After his death, his family received land grants extending from the Rio Grande to the Nueces River in South Texas
Rosa Maria Balli. Rosa Maria is part of the influential Balli family in early Texas history. She was a pioneer rancher. At one time, her land holdings covered over one-third of the present-day Lower Rio Grande Valley. She represents a fact that is not well known in history. That is, many pioneer women led the early success of the ranching industry. They either worked side-by-side their husbands or managed large ranchos on their own. (Note: As with many early Tejano families, the Ballis lost their vast land holdings twice. Once, when they were confiscated by the government after the war with Mexico. The second time occurred when after winning them back in dubious land courts, they lost them again to unscrupulous attorneys and land agents. Only recently, the Ballis won their case and awarded some payment for their lost lands.
Captain Antonio Gil Ybarbo (Father of East Texas). He was born in Los Adaes, the Capital of Texas in 1729. He became an East Texas rancher-merchant who enjoyed a fair amount of freedom in trading with Native Americans and the French. As part of a Spanish reorganization program, the East Texas missions closed and its citizens moved to San Antonio. Because they dearly missed their homes, Don Antonio petitioned the viceroy to allow Los Adaes settlers to return home. His request was approved and led to the settlement of Nacogdoches, Texas.
De los Santos and Chávez. In the late 1700s, Cristóbal de los Santos was the co-founder of the first road from San Antonio to Santa Fe. Albeit, mainstream Texas historians credit Pierre Vial, a French-born Spanish subject. Also, New Mexico-born Francisco Xavier Chávez, a Comanche captive since childhood, used his unique skills to provide Vial with key direction-finding help.
Readers, please realize that the above is only a partial list. There are many more courageous stories sure to inspire; especially Mexican-descent students in Texas classrooms. With the rapid re-browning of Texas, SBOE members and other critics should be reminded that learning about Texas’ Spanish Mexican past is not a modern-day development caused by recent immigrants. Long ignored, the lost pages of early Texas history have been there all along. Acting as smoldering smoking chasms in volcanic fissures, all they need is oxygen to re-surface into the light of our Texas classrooms. Ignorance feeds intolerance; knowledge feeds understanding.
Finally, remember this. In 2012, the Tejano Monument erupted like an explosion of molten rock magma, changing the Austin landscape forever. That unstoppable burst of energy is a sign that the Tejano Renaissance has already begun! The beacon is lit; now let’s follow its lead.
José “Joe” Antonio López was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and is a USAF Veteran. He now lives in Universal City, Texas. He is the author of two books: “The Last Knight (Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe, A Texas Hero),” and “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas).” Lopez is also the founder of the Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and www.tejanosunidos.org, a Web site dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are mostly overlooked in mainstream history books.