As many of us learned in elementary school, March 2, 1836 is designated as Texas Independence Day.
Oddly, Texas is no longer independent since in 1845 (only a short nine years later), Anglo immigrant insurgents who illegally declared Texas independence in Mexico’s Texas traded their independence to join the U.S. as a slave state.
Incredibly, contrary to what we were taught in grade school about the 1836 Texas revolt, the Texas independence journey began in 1810. As such, the birth of Texas independence undeniably comes with a Spanish Mexican pedigree. Yet, the liberty struggle’s formula leaves out this basic ingredient and is typically ignored in mainstream Texas history.
Sadly, there’s much more to U.S. (and Texas) history that is left out of the textbooks. For example, at the national level, both Roanoke and Jamestown, representing the earliest English settlements in what is now the U.S., already had Spanish footprints.
Likewise, in Texas, most people don’t realize that Sam Houston’s Texas independence endeavors took over a work in progress. Tejanas and Tejanos had already done the heavy lifting, sacrificing, and dying for Texas independence. 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. As such, the significance of March 2d “Texas Independence” is at best only an episode in a much older chain of events.
The fact is that in rendering overall U.S. history, the roles of Spanish people, places, and events, when mentioned at all, are typically distorted, discarded, or dismissed. So, it is with Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (1510-54), a strong courageous leader who figures prominently in the early history of both Texas and the U.S. Still, he is often mocked in U.S. history books for what mainstream historians perceive as an outlandish quest searching for the mythical city of Quivira.
Likewise, students in U.S. classrooms learn about the Spaniards’ lust for gold, searching for imaginary places, and Spanish brutality toward Native Americans. Rarely are they tutored about intimate elements regarding Spanish explorers’ positive impact in U.S. history.
Thus, based on slanted lesson plans, students are most likely to recall unflattering details, and not positive attributes. In fact, the English, Dutch, French, and U.S. colonists own a significant share of brutal treatment toward Native Americans
Besides, the fact that Spanish royal and religious leaders forbade ill treatment of indigenous people is well documented. They labored endlessly in attempts to avoid it, but were generally hampered by the great distance involved. Justly, many of the more ignoble violators of human rights were arrested, charged with crimes, and fairly punished in Spanish courts.
It’s for the above that a summary of the life of Vásquez de Coronado is in order. To start, here’s a little-known aspect of his story. Throughout his life, Francisco never used the last name of Coronado by itself. He used one of two last names, Vásquez, or Vásquez de Coronado.
Vásquez de Coronado developed the first detailed exploration reports and the first glimpse of the 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 fascinated by a prevailing myth of a mysterious island called Antilia far into the Atlantic Ocean. Ancient maps even included the site. Supposedly, the Muslim invasion of Spain had caused seven Portuguese bishops to load all they owned in boats. They sailed off and resettled faraway in the sea. As such, when Columbus reached Española in 1492, European experts believed he had reached the Island of Antilia, and so named the group of islands. That name (The Antilles) remains to this day!
In truth, most if not all 15th century Europeans believed in the Antilia legend and the Straight of Anián, plus other legends. Curiously, when famous explorer John Cabot first landed on the upper eastern shore of America, sailing for the King of England, he named the land “Seven Cities”; believing he had found Antilia!
In initiating his 1539-40 journey, Vásquez de Coronado, governor of Nueva Galicia, was also hoping to equal the good fortunes of Cortés and Pizarro by finding another Aztec Empire in the north. After dispatching forward parties, the explorer was encouraged by promising reports. He split-up his large expedition, totaling nearly 400 military men, families, over 2,000 Native American allies, plus large herds of horses, cattle, and sheep.
This is verified as the first massive movement of Europeans into New Mexico. At times, contact with hostile natives was vicious. Albeit, 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 equated with a never-ending 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 Vásquez de Coronado expedition offered the first American Thanksgiving Day religious ceremony in the Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. For the record, a historical plaque identifies the site.
Although both Vásquez de Coronado and Hernando de Soto, visited the same region at the same time in Kansas and Arkansas, they missed each other by about 300 miles. As a side note, three intrepid Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to travel in today’s middle U.S.A. Included are Vásquez de Coronado, de Soto, and Juan de Oñate. Regrettably, thrown from his horse in 1542, resultant injuries greatly limited his abilities. He returned to Mexico City where his health worsened. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado 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 they have earned their place in history. The strong foundation blocks of the authentic story of the U.S. rest on logs and cartography prepared by Spaniards Alonso Alvarez de Piñeda, Estéban Gómez, Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón, Pedro de Salazar, Fortún Jiménez, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, Bartolomé Ferrer, and so many others. They merit (but rarely receive) their fair share of recognition, 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. Mainstream U.S. historians must learn to enfold vital Spanish contributions to our nation’s founding. In Texas, pre-1836 Spanish Mexican people, places, and events must no longer be arbitrarily edited out of Texas history just because they don’t fit the Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston models. Likewise, the Texas State Board of Education must stop using 1836 as the Texas history baseline.
Finally, if you want to learn more of the Spanish Mexican pioneers who founded this great place we call Texas, please plan to attend the 38th Texas State Hispanic Genealogical and Historical Conference, September 28-30, 2017, sponsored by the Tejano Genealogy Society of Austin (TGSA), at the Crown Plaza Hotel, Austin, Texas.