Before Texas Independence Day, March 2, 1836, Texas had (l) been in existence for 145 years, and (2) it had already taken the first steps of independence under the leadership of José Bernardo de Lara Uribe, the first President of Independence Texas (1813).
Incidentally, Texas is no longer independent. Only nine years after 1836, the Anglos traded their independence to join the U.S. as a slave state.
In sharing early Texas (pre-1836) history with others, I frequently reinforce the fact that we descendants of Spanish Mexican pioneer settlers of Texas and the Southwest are not a one-dimensional people.
First, tying us to the land in America, we have a direct (blood) link to our Native American ancestors (the First Americans). Second, our Spanish European family tree contains not only Iberian (Spanish-Portuguese), but Sephardi, Celtic, Basque, Visigoth, and other peninsular traits, as well as a rich diversity of Franco-Austrian-German heritage.
Long before Fredericksburg and New Braunfels were established, Texans of Spanish Mexican-descent owned legitimate connections to the most prominent monarchies in Europe. Following are brief summaries of three Spanish kings with significant influence in Texas and U.S. history.
Spanish King Carlos I (1500-1558) is not only considered the first King of Spain, but he also inherited authority over the most eminent royal European lineages. In fact, the colossal realm of Carlos I was the first to be called “the empire where the sun never sets”.
From his Grandfather, Maximilian I, King of the Germans, he received the crown of the Holy Roman Empire as Carlos V. His vast rule consisted of the Houses of Valois-Burgundy, Hapsburg, Franche Compte, Austria, Trastámara (Castile, Spain), from which he inherited huge holdings in the Mediterranean Sea region and most of all, America. As far as America is concerned, Carlos I was the first Spanish official to approve regulations (New Laws of 1542) guaranteeing human rights of Native Americans.
What about Texas under Carlos I? During his reign, Texas was considered part of a large unexplored expanse (tierra incógnita) north and northwest of the Gulf of Mexico. Nonetheless, three significant historical events were recorded during his term. (1) Spanish Captain Álvarez de Piñeda was the first to map the Texas coastline in 1519, (2) In 1554, over 200 Spanish passengers aboard a flotilla headed to Cuba were swept ashore on the Texas coast after a storm. Sadly, only about 30 managed to sail back to Veracruz on a salvaged lifeboat.
The rest of the shipwreck survivors began a risky coastline march back to Veracruz, but they all perished, with the exception of one survivor who lived to report the incident. (3) In 1558, Spanish explorer Lavazares proclaimed the land for Spain; naming it San Francisco (Matagorda Bay). (By the way, this is the same spot that 127 years later, the disoriented Monsieur de La Salle mistook for Louisiana, furnishing fraudulent French claims to Texas.)
Philip V (Felipe I) (1683-1746) is another notable monarch in early Texas history. Philip was the first Bourbon king to rule Spain. Born in France, he was placed on the Spanish throne by his grandfather, French King Louis XIV. Of impact in Texas history is that while the Spanish and French kingdoms were now united, the two countries still fought vigorously for supremacy in America.
Even though historians typically dismiss Philip V as an ineffective leader in Spain, the authentic Spanish settlement of Texas began during his watch. That is, towns and ranchos increased in Texas-Nuevo Santander (Tamaulipas) and other parts of northern New Spain.
Beginning with the chartering of east Texas missions, it was during the early 1700s that the Spanish built lasting communities deep in the heart of Texas – San Antonio, Nacogdoches, La Bahia (Goliad), and Las Villas del Norte along the lower Rio Grande, then part of Nuevo Santander (Tamaulipas).
Carlos III (1716-1788) completes the trio of Spanish kings with connections to early Texas. Very definitely, the fifth son of Bourbon King Philip V was the most important Spanish monarch in U.S. history. The following details explain how and why that is.
A most intelligent monarch, Carlos III was greatly appreciated by U.S. citizens throughout the formative years of the nation. That’s because he gave direct orders to his Spanish administrators to do everything possible to help the independence movement of the English colonies.
Specifically, Carlos III’s support was delivered to the U.S. in various ways:
(l) Spanish bankers financed the war effort. It should be noted that Spain forgave many loans after the War of Independence so as not to put additional burdens on leaders of the developing country. Interestingly, the Mexican peso was eagerly used by the English colonists, who at the time didn’t have a money system of their own.
(2) U.S. ships carrying passengers and freight were welcomed at Spanish ports to protect them from attacks by British war ships. Similarly, Spanish ships carried commercial goods shipments to and from the colonies. Additionally, in defending the east coast colonies, the Spanish Navy won several open sea battles over the British Navy.
(3) General Bernardo de Gálvez, leading an all-Spanish army (7,000 strong), was victorious against the British forces in key battles throughout the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. Likewise, Spanish Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) in Texas actively supported the U.S. War of Independence by herding over 9,000 head of cattle to feed soldiers stationed along a battlefront from the Texas-Louisiana border to Florida. General Gálvez also led fundraising efforts throughout New Spain (Mexico), in support of the U.S. Truly, fair-minded historians write that U.S. victory would have been impossible without Spain’s help.
Texas and sister internal provinces thrived under Carlos III’s rule. In effect, the king’s decision to approve Count Escandón’s settlement master plan to colonize the lower Rio Grande region paid off in tangible dividends.
Of great interest to Las Villas del Norte descendants is the 1767 Nuevo Santander Governor’s official visita general report highlighting the fact that production and quality of mules at Dolores was such that “no other stockman in New Spain could match”. Recorded statistics in livestock alone within the Texas-Nuevo Santander border (Nueces River) prove that point: over 170,000 horses and mules grazed the open range. Combined cattle herds totaled over 112,000. Sheep and goats numbered over half a million (Armando Alonso, “Texas Legacy”).
Indeed, life was good in Mexico. Consequently, it was the lure of lucrative opportunity that drew Anglos from the U.S. to immigrate to Mexico, not only to Texas, but to the neighboring region encompassing Nuevo Santander, Nuevo León, and Coahuila, as well.
Either they continued their bleak bare-existence living as sharecroppers in the U.S., or moved to Mexico to begin new lives as land owners with plenty of beef to eat. Facing the stark contrast, it was not a hard decision to make for inmigrante (immigrant) Stephen F. Austin and his 300 families.
Still, the Manifest Destiny mindset that dominates mainstream Texas and U.S. history has virtually erased vital Spanish Mexican involvement from history book pages. Though, some progress is being made. For example, the Tejano Monument in Austin demonstrates that Texas history doesn’t begin in 1836.
The bottom line? From the pursuit, conduct, and successful ending of the U.S. War of Independence to the founding and early development of this great place we call Texas, Hapsburg and Bourbon governing policies in the 1600s-early 1800s helped to make it happen.
So, if you are of Spanish Mexican-descent and partake of Octoberfest festivities, make yourselves at home. Most of all, remember to raise your bier stein and toast our Spanish Mexican ancestors for giving us the Franco-Austrian-German family traits many of us carry in our DNA. Prost!
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows King Carlos III of Spain (January 1716 – 14 December 1788).