March 2nd is remembered yearly as Texas Independence Day. It marks the day in 1836 when Anglo immigrants declared independence from Mexico.
Yet, while many Texans still celebrate the occasion, the Texas Declaration of Independence is at best a debatable document. Why?
Short on originality, the Texas Declaration was (a) drafted in the U.S. not in Texas; crudely crafted as a cut-and-paste version of the U.S. Declaration of Independence; (b) 57 of the 60 signers were U.S. expatriates without legal authority to secede from the Republic of Mexico; only three Mexican-born citizens were lured into signing; and (c) Texas is no longer independent, since a short nine years after 1836, the Anglos traded their independence to join the U.S. as a slave state.
Predictably, people who impulsively observe Texas Independence Day seem not to be aware of the above details. Nor do they know that contrary to what we were taught in grade school about the 1836 Texas revolt led by Tennessee-born Sam Houston, the movement toward Texas independence was an ongoing process.
Thus, if there’s a Cradle of Texas Independence, then Dolores, Guanajuato has earned the honor. That’s because it was there in 1810 that Padre Miguel Hidalgo issued his “Grito” proclamation. Living in New Spain’s easternmost province, Texas Tejanos also heard the call (See below.)
Sadly, Texas state officials have maintained a literary stonewall to hide the true origins of Texas. Following is only a sample of some interesting pre-1836 Texas and U.S. history facts long-ignored in classroom instruction:
For starters at the national level, representing the earliest English settlements in the eastern U.S., both Roanoke and Jamestown already had Spanish footprints. The same point must be made for the story of New Mexico’s Spanish land grant heirs, mestizo rancheros, and our brethren Native Americans that negate the Anglos’ “How the west was won” mentality in writing mainstream U.S. history books.
Likewise in Texas, Tejanas and Tejanos had already done the heavy lifting, sacrificing, and dying for Texas independence before Sam Houston arrived. For example, on April 6, 1813, Texas’ first President, José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, proclaimed the first Texas Declaration of Independence to jubilant Bexareños outside the Spanish Governors Palace. He signed the first Texas Constitution a week later.
Unfairly, the roles of Spanish people, places, and events in U.S. history are typically discarded or distorted. As a result, students are mostly taught unfavorable details about Spanish Mexican pioneers.
Thus, students are likely to learn three things about the Spanish; (l) brutality toward Native Americans, (2) lust for gold, and (3) searching for imaginary places. Intentionally omitted from the narrative are positive attributes, such as, Spanish laws forbidding the mistreatment of indigenous societies, a multitude of ethnography chronicles, naming of towns, rivers, regions, geographic features, and initial European settlement of Texas and Southwest. Ironically, it was Alonso de León’s Old San Antonio Road (El Camino Real) that the first Anglos from the U.S. travelled on to immigrate to Mexico.
The fascinating story of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado is another lesson that deserves to be taught not as “foreign” but as part of U.S. history. Regrettably, mainstream historians mock him; recording his trail-blazing exploration as a zany quest in search of the mythical city of Quivira.
By the way, Francisco used the last name of Vásquez, or Vásquez de Coronado; never Coronado by itself. He developed the first detailed exploration reports and first glimpse of people, vegetation, and terrain of the Southwest (New Mexico), Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas. Attesting to their accuracy, his travel logs were used for years as authoritative documents for later explorers and settlers.
As with other explorers of his day, Francisco was influenced by a prevailing myth in Europe of a mysterious island called Antilia far into the Atlantic Ocean. Ancient maps even included the location. As such, when Columbus reached Española in 1492, European authorities believed he had reached the Island of Antilia, and so named the group of islands, The Antilles. The name remains to this day!
Curiously, when sailing for the King of England, Explorer John Cabot named the upper eastern shore of America, as “Seven Cities”; believing he had found Antilia!
Vásquez de Coronado’s expedition is the first massive movement of Europeans into New Mexico. At times, contact with natives was violent, with heavy loss of life. In spite of the dangers involved, however, exploration continued. For example, Captain Garcia López de Cárdenas leading one of Vásquez de Coronado’s sub-groups, were the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon.
In 1541, the Spanish travelled through a grassy area they compared to a sea (Llano Estacado) in northern New Mexico and Texas panhandle. Of special note to Texans is the fact that on May 29, 1541, Father Juan Padilla, a priest in the expedition offered the first Thanksgiving Day religious ceremony in the Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. For the record, a historical plaque identifies the site.
Interestingly enough, both Vásquez de Coronado and fellow explorer Hernando de Soto, visited the same region at the same time in Kansas and Arkansas. Though, they missed each other by about 300 miles. As a side note, they and Juan de Oñate were the first three European explorers to travel in today’s middle U.S.A.
Regrettably, Francisco was thrown from his horse in 1542, suffering serious injuries. He returned to Mexico City where he died in 1554 at the young age of 44.
So, the next time you wonder why most explorers in America seem to have Spanish rather than English names, understand that the authentic story of the U.S. rests on logs and cartography prepared by Vásquez de Coronado, Alonso Alvarez de Piñeda, Estéban Gómez, Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón, Pedro de Salazar, Fortún Jiménez, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, Bartolomé Ferrer, and so many others. All of them deserve their fair share of respect and equal treatment with Anglo Saxon characters in U.S. history books.
In summary, it’s time to render U.S. and Texas history in a seamless manner by including vital Spanish contributions to our nation’s founding. Pre-1836 Spanish Mexican people, places, and events must no longer be arbitrarily edited out of Texas history just because they’re in Spanish or because they don’t fit the Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston models.
The question is how can we enfold early Texas into mainstream Texas history that is taught in the classroom? Frankly, it’s super easy, with only two steps involved:
First, mainstream historians must stop teaching Texas history as if Stephen F. Austin, his Old 300 families, and subsequent U.S. immigrants landed in Texas aboard the Mayflower. Quite bluntly, there’s no Plymouth Rock off the Texas Coast. This is New Spain; not New England.
Second, in view of the fact that San Antonio celebrates its 300th Birthday in 2018, maybe this March 2d, post-1836 Texas history supporters will allow themselves a chance to learn about pre-1836 Tejanas and Tejanos. After all, they were the ones who extended a warm “mi casa es su casa” invitation and a friendly hand to Anglo and Northern European-descent immigrants moving from the U.S. to this great place we call Texas.