Ever since my retirement from a very rewarding 38-year career in the U.S.A.F. (1962-2000) in both military and civilian status, I’ve tried to educate others about early Texas history.
For example, the phrase “Going to Texas” is popularly attributed to early 1800s U.S. people (e.g., David Crockett, as well as Stephen F. Austin, the Old 300, et al) who were unhappy in the U.S. and immigrated (legally or illegally) to Mexico. (This is a topic I’ve written about in previous articles.)
By the way, Moses Austin, Stephen’s father, had previously immigrated to Spanish Missouri in the 1790s for the same reason. He became a Spanish citizen and was the original recipient of the Spanish land grants in Texas that Stephen inherited.
However, they weren’t the first European-descent people to journey to Texas. That distinction belongs to Spanish pioneer men and women from Presidio San Juan Bautista del Rio Grande (The Gateway to Texas), located a few miles south of today’s Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras bi-national community.
Regrettably, almost the entire slate of people that the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) includes in their mandated Texas history curriculum is generally of Anglo Saxon and Northern European descent. The problem? Dozens of inspirational intrepid Spanish Mexican founding pioneer figures are unknown to Texas school children simply because the SBOE-approved program presumes Texas history begins in 1836.
Typically treated in a dismissive manner (or not mentioned at all) are notable figures:
- Alonso Álvarez de Piñeda, Alonso de León, Manuela Sánchez, Domingo Ramón, Juan Bautista Chapa, Marqués de Aguayo, Martín de Alarcón, Antonio Ybarbo, José de Escandón, Blas Maria de la Garza Falcón, Rosa Maria Hinojosa de Balli, Martín and Patricia de León, et al.
- Catholic fathers Francisco Hidalgo, Antonio Margil, Miguel Núñez Haro, Isidro Félix Espinosa, Alonso Terreros, José Santiesteban, and so many others.
- Clearly, they are all Spanish-surnamed, Spanish-speaking historical personalities. Nevertheless, they form the founding base of the seamless history of this great place we call Texas.
To illustrate, this article focuses on Alonso de León. In their book, “Explorers and Settlers of Spanish Texas,” historians Don Chipman and Harriett D. Joseph call de León a Texas pathfinder.
It’s an appropriate title, since de León is a true trailblazer who led the initial comprehensive exploration of the province.
Alonso de León was born in Cadereyta (Montemorelos), Nuevo León in 1639. His parents were General Alonso de León and Josefa González. His father was an accomplished, successful man. So, to distinguish between the two, his son is known as “El Mozo” (the younger).
Demonstrating a high degree of personal growth potential, his parents sent him to Spain to be educated when he was only ten years old. Once he received his basic education, he joined the Spanish Navy. He participated in sea combat duty against the English, but by 1660 he was back in Nuevo León. He quickly proved himself as a leader, businessman, and explorer, leading a number of explorations throughout northeast New Spain.
Those superb qualities were soon noted by senior Spanish authorities who were concerned by reports of a French incursion into Texas. Thus, the viceroy commissioned de León to stop French trespassing on Spanish land. In his first three ventures, one of which crossed the lower Rio Grande near present-day Roma, de León and his party were unsuccessful in finding French intruders. Returning to Cadereyta, he continued to operate his business affairs and awaited further instructions from the viceroy.
By this time promoted to general, de León embarked on another expedition in 1689. Crossing the Rio Grande near Presidio San Juan Bautista, the group travelled east across Texas for days until they reached Matagorda Bay on the gulf coast. Finally, success.
This time, General de León located the reported French settlement on Spanish territory, albeit, the rustic rudimentary camp was abandoned. By interviewing French survivors living among natives, he learned that the leader, Sieur de La Salle, had been murdered by his own men. Equally tragic, indigenous inhabitants had attacked the small camp, killing or capturing the rest of the distressed French group.
Thus, while the aspect of French intrusion was proven correct, it wasn’t a planned military threat or invasion as once thought. Rather, it was due to La Salle’s navigational errors. He thought he had landed in Louisiana, but it turned out to be in Spain’s Matagorda Bay. The blunder cost him his life. (Incidentally, that’s why in my view, France’s claim to Texas is totally without merit.)
All in all, de León proved to be magnificently multi-talented. He (l) successfully fulfilled his mission to find the French trespassers; (2) in 1690 helped establish the first Spanish mission in Texas (San Francisco de los Tejas in east Texas); (3) found five orphan French siblings living among natives and undertook their care as if they were his own; (4) named most of the rivers in Texas; and (5) established the first road system in Texas (El Camino Real).
Soon after his last expedition, General Alonso de León died in 1691 in Monclova, Coahuila at age 52. For readers who are interested in learning more, the Chipman/Joseph book mentioned above is a good place to start.
In summary, this is only a brief report of General Alonso de León’s accomplishments. There are many others like it. Hopefully, this article achieved two purposes:
- To prove that pre-1836 accounts such as Alonso de León’s story stand shoulder-to-shoulder to post-1836 Texas Anglo Saxon-descent personalities taught in Texas classrooms; and
- The need for inclusion is most urgent today, when mainstream society questions the legitimacy of Spanish Mexican Texans. If you agree that students of all backgrounds must learn these historical details, contact your children’s teachers as well as your Texas SBOE district representative and let them know.
Sadly, no one knows why our pioneer ancestors weren’t successful in convincing the predominantly Anglo Saxon-descent U.S. immigrants who took over Texas that pre-1836 Spanish Mexican roots were important and a key part of Texas history.
The bottom line? Spanish Mexican-descent citizens who are eager to learn more of the true founding of Texas and the Southwest are discouraged because most of what is written in U.S. and Texas history is heavily slanted toward a post-1836 Anglo-Saxon viewpoint. (That includes mainstream books, encyclopedic information, curricula, internet web sites, museum displays, entertainment (movies), etc.)
Bluntly, it’s shocking that mainstream historians and the Texas SBOE have been able to deceive the public for so long.
Thus, we must not only stand our ground, but advance our objective by taking inspiration from the Tejano Monument in Austin. Long believed by skeptics that it couldn’t be done, the memorial was indeed built, thanks to so many dedicated individuals who made it happen. It’s now one of the most popular historical sites in the capital. If you haven’t visited it yet, please do.
In that regard, the words of William Faulkner should sustain us we continue on our justice-seeking goal: “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion toward injustice ….”
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