On the one hand, our state’s Spanish Mexican roots are unmistakable. Starting with the ancient Camino Real connecting its oldest towns deep in the heart of Texas (San Antonio, Nacogdoches, Goliad, and Las Villas del Norte); land/water rights, law, ranching/vaquero (cowboy) way of life, and so many more traditions.
In the words of Dr. Andrés Tijerina, History Professor, Austin Community College, “Most everything that Texas is famous for was put there by Tejanos.”
On the other hand, being held hostage for generations by a rigid post-1836 perspective has taken its toll. That’s because Texas students are still being taught to treat pre-1836 people, places, and events as irrelevant. Instead, they are wrongly instructed that it was the westward movement of U.S. immigrant settlers that founded Texas.
Why is it important to accept early Texas history?
Quite simply, our Spanish Mexican ancestors gave the first Anglo arrivals in Mexico (Texas) their land grants; symbolizing immigration “papers” that U.S. Anglos then used to legally cross the Sabine River into Mexico.
The question is, was the Sabine River the first border that U.S. immigrants crossed into Spanish or Mexican land? Answer: No. In truth, advancing across North America, the U.S. largely subsumed Spain’s land. Because the details are generally ignored in U.S. history books, the following summary describes a hard-to-believe true story.
For the record, early 1500s European maps referred to the east coast as Tierra de Ayllón and “Tierra de Gómez,” honoring two of Spain’s earliest explorers. Remarkably, Estéban Gómez recorded his travels on the upper coast all the way to Maine.
To set the stage, U.S. borders at the time of its founding were confined to a narrow strip of land enclosed by the Atlantic Coast to the east and Spanish territory on the west. Specifically, the Ohio River and the Appalachian Mountains marked Spain’s jurisdiction.
Thus, it may be said that the Ohio River was the first river border that U.S. immigrants crossed (legally and otherwise) onto Spanish territory. Incidentally, the name “Appalachia” was coined by Spanish explorers (Narvaez, de Soto, et al) from the native word “Apalachee,” used to describe its indigenous inhabitants.
For background purposes, France ceded this largely undeveloped area to Spain in 1762.What did that encompass? All the land from the Gulf of Mexico, north to Missouri, Illinois, and northwest to the Dakotas and Minnesota near the Canadian border; continuing west past the Yellowstone River.
As such, all of Louisiana’s historical significance affecting the U.S. occurred when it was under Spain’s control, not France. That is, Spain is the one that established a trading post network throughout the region and set up alliances with local Native American tribes prior to the 1804 Lewis & Clark Expedition. Further, Spain’s invitation to settle on its land attracted thousands of U.S. families, such as notables Moses Austin and Daniel Boone. Accepting and embracing Spain’s neighborly goodwill, both gentlemen became Spanish citizens. Mr. Boone even filled a Spanish civil service position.
The second time that the U.S. and/or its citizens blatantly crossed a border with Spain occurred in Las Floridas. At the time, Florida’s northern land included the states of Georgia and South Carolina. (Santa Elena, South Carolina, (est. 1566) served as Spanish Florida’s first capital.)
After ceding Florida to Britain in 1763, Spain regained it in 1783. Although the U.S. agreed with the transfer, it was no secret that the U.S. had long craved lucrative Florida. Illicit selling of and settling on Spanish land by U.S. citizens was already a big problem.
Under the pretense that it was following Seminole tribes attacking English-speaking settlers, the U.S. cavalry regularly entered Spanish territory. More unacceptable to the U.S., however, was that runaway U.S. slaves used Florida as a freedom haven. Exploiting that excuse, the U.S. tacitly dispatched its military force under General Andrew Jackson who not only occupied Florida, but also arrested the Spanish Governor. After tense negotiations, the U.S. issued a hollow apology, blaming Spain for the incursions. Alarmed by these worrying incidents, Spain believed that the U.S. would one day take Florida by force.
The third major U.S. border breach occurred on the Mississippi River, previously named Rio Espíritu Santo (Piñeda, 1519) and El Rio Grande de la Florida (de Soto, 1541). At the time of the 1794 treaty, Spain had allowed U.S. commerce navigation rights without extra tariffs, but it remained within the domain of Spain.
(Note: The 1803 Louisiana Purchase represents yet another devious U.S. border advance against Spain, its former wartime ally and benefactor. Few folks know that Spain had just ceded the land to France in 1801 with one condition – France was to return it to Spain if France ever decided not to keep it. Indeed, France lacked clear title to Louisiana, the transfer process was incomplete, and government positions in Louisiana were still filled by Spanish officials. Even though Spain complained about the questionable transaction, the U.S. ignored their objection, paid France the money, and physically took possession of the territory.)
By 1819, the U.S. bullied Spain into a new treaty. Thereby, the U.S. finally absorbed all the lands east of the big river. However, significantly under this agreement, the U.S. abandoned its claim on Texas and set New Spain’s Texas border on the Sabine River.
Far from stable, the boundary system again proved to be transitory and represents the fourth time the U.S. crossed over an agreed-to border. In 1845, the U.S. deliberately violated the 1819 treaty by admitting Mexico’s Texas. That led to the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-48. To end that war, still another treaty was drawn, resulting in substantial land losses for Mexico. Included was Texas, South Texas (south of the Nueces River), New Mexico, California, and terrain considered as Mexican land since 1493 stretching to the Oregon region, bordering on today’s British Columbia. That’s why it may be said that today’s U.S.-Mexico border is located in the middle of “Old Mexico!”
In summary, the solid U.S.-Spain bond fused together in the furnace of the U.S. War of Independence left a durable, long-lasting footprint. Yet, through the years, mainstream U.S. historians have deliberately tried to erase it from the record.
Truly, the U.S. westward movement was systematic and done at Spain’s expense beginning with U.S. immigrants crossing of the Ohio River. As to the many treaties the U.S. signed with Native Americans and Spain, it’s evident that the U.S. had no intention to follow them and only intended to buy time. Said another way, Spain offered accommodation and benevolence, while the U.S. responded with aggression and betrayal.
Finally, in this day of anti-Mexico wall-building bravado, it’s important that the next time you hear the familiar line “from sea to shining sea” (America the Beautiful), you remember well that the story of the U.S. is also a tale of crossing Spanish and Mexican borders.