Texas: The Spanish

After Columbus’s discovery of the new continent in 1492, every country in Europe aspired to colonize the New World. Why? Because Europe’s population was increasing and resources were inadequate to support the growing masses. Therefore, the countries wanted and needed new land. 

Spain was in the heyday of its power, with strong armed forces – especially its navy – and there was no match for them. The Spanish leaders wanted the material and mineral wealth from their colonies. But as a devoutly Catholic country – remember that Ferdinand and Isabella were known as the Catholic Monarchs – Spain also felt obligated to spread Christianity to the natives.

At that time, any discoverer of a new territory was the keeper/ruler of that land. Spanish adventurers, led by Hernán Cortés and supported by the Tlaxcalan tribes, conquered the Aztecs, and from that time forward Mexico was a colony of Spain.

But what brought the Spaniards to Texas? Initially, they came by accident. Then they came to explore for gold or silver. Later, they focused on settling East Texas to shore up the northern border of New Spain against French encroachment from what was then the Lousiana colony. Why did they need such a buffer? To protect Spain’s interest in the rich mines in Mexico and New Mexico. 

From East Texas, Franciscan priests and Spanish soldiers established new missions and presidios along the Rio Grande and in West Texas, with the first Spanish-speaking settlers grouped around the San Antonio River in 1718.

In 1762, during the French and Indian War, France ceded French Louisiana west of the Mississippi River to Spain and in 1763 transferred much of its remaining North American holdings to Great Britain. No longer a dominant European power, Spain did little to develop Louisiana during the next three decades. However, after the completion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Spain began to reinforce Texas in order to protect its Mexican colony from its new neighbor – the United States. 

The Mexican War of Independence, which began in 1810 and lasted until 1820, was a lengthy struggle as Mexico fought for its independence from Spain. The revolutionary war weakened Spanish control in Texas, which saw major battles fought between royalists and insurgents. In the process, Texas came to the attention of the Americans, some of whom claimed that Texas had been part of the Louisiana Purchase. On September 27, 1821, the Spanish finally signed a treaty recognizing Mexico’s independence, thereby ending the uninterrupted Spanish occupation of Texas that had lasted for 105 years (1716 to 1821).

Prior to Mexico’s winning its independence, the Spanish government had encouraged Anglo-American settlement of Texas. In 1820, Moses Austin, a bankrupt, fifty-nine-year-old Missourian, asked the Spanish authorities for a large tract of Texas land to sell to Anglo-American pioneers. Spain welcomed the idea because Austin’s Anglos would provide a buffer against the approximately 3,000 illegal settlers from the United States who had settled in east Texas prior to Austin’s land grant. Not long after making his request, Austin died, leaving his son, Stephen F. Austin, to carry out his father’s dream of colonizing Texas. 

The younger Austin persuaded the new government of Mexico that the best way to develop the region was immigration from the north, so Mexico agreed to give land agents 67,000 acres for every two hundred families they brought to Texas. To obtain the land grants, the immigrants had to agree to become Mexican citizens, obey Mexican laws, learn Spanish, and become Catholics. By 1834, over 30,000 Anglos lived in Texas compared to 7,800 Mexicans. But while these immigrants legally became Mexican citizens, they continued to speak English, formed their own schools, and had closer trading ties to the United States than to Mexico.

In 1835, the president of Mexico, Antonio López de Santa Anna, overthrew the constitution and appointed himself dictator. Recognizing that the “American” Texans were likely to use his rise to power as an excuse to secede, Santa Anna ordered the Mexican military to begin disarming the Texans. On October 2, 1835, the growing tensions between Mexico and Texas erupted into violence when Mexican soldiers attempted to disarm the people of Gonzales, sparking the Texan war for independence and the enduring catchphrase—“Come and Take It.” (Read more at https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gonzales-come-and-take-it-cannon)

December 1835, Texians (Anglo-American settlers) and Tejanos (Texans of mixed Mexican and Indian descent) captured the town of San Antonio. Two months later, on February 23, 1836, Mexican troops under General Santa Anna arrived in San Antonio to retake the city. Although Sam Houston ordered Texans to abandon San Antonio, a group of rebels decided to defend the town and make their stand at an abandoned Spanish mission, the Alamo. One hundred and eighty-three defenders were killed, including several Mexicans who had fought for Texas independence, and their oil-soaked bodies were set on fire outside the Alamo. 

It was March 2, 1836, Texas Independence Day, when historians believe the original and five copies of the declaration were made and signed by 59 men at Washington-on-the-Brazos. With the creation of the revolutionary document, settlers broke away from Mexico to create the Republic of Texas. “Here a Nation was born.”

On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston some 800 Texans defeated Santa Anna’s Mexican force of approximately 1,500 men at the Battle of San Jacinto, shouting “Remember the Alamo!” The victory ensured the success of Texan independence and formation of the so-called Lone Star Republic. 

The Republic of Texas was a sovereign state in North America from 1836 to 1846, but the Mexican Congress refused to recognize the Republic since the agreement was signed by Mexican President General Santa Anna under duress while he was  a prisoner of the Texians. And although the United States recognized the Republic of Texas in March 1837, they declined to annex the territory until December 29, 1845, when Texas was admitted to the Union as the 28th state. The transfer of power from the Republic to the new state of Texas formally took place on February 19, 1846.

With the admittance of Texas, the US inherited the southern and western border disputes with Mexico, who had refused to recognize Texas’s independence or to accept the US offers to purchase the territory. Thus, the annexation led to the Mexican-American War.

On May 12, 1846, the United States Senate voted 40 to 2 to go to war with Mexico. President James K. Polk had accused Mexican troops of having attacked Americans on US soil, north of the Rio Grande. But Mexico claimed this land as its own territory and accused the American military of having invaded.

Replica of the building at Washington-on-the-Brazos where the Texas Declaration was signed.

On February 2, 1848, the Mexican-American war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. According to the terms of the treaty, Mexico ceded fifty-five percent of its territory, including all or portions of present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah, to the United States. These events brought within the control of the United States the future states of Texas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Washington, and Oregon, as well as portions of what would later become Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana. The Mexican government was paid $15 million – the same sum paid to France for the Louisiana Territory.



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Texas: Quanah Parker, Comanche Leader

The Comanches were known as the Lords of the Plains and were regarded as perhaps the most dangerous – certainly the most feared – of the American Indian tribes in the advancing frontier. They not only stymied the Army’s effort to contain them, but they were the reason the Spanish Empire stopped expanding northward and the reason the Texan Republic stopped expanding westward.

In 1836, a 9-year-old pioneer girl named Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped during a Comanche raid in North Texas. She was strapped onto the back of a horse and taken north into the Plains where the powerful Comanches lived.

Parker became a ward of the chief and, later, a full member of the Comanche nation. She eventually married the highly respected chief Peta Nocona and gave birth to three children, including Quanah, who was born around 1845. He would grow up to become the last and greatest Comanche leader.

In 1849, in response to settler concerns about the growing number of Indian attacks, the US Army established Fort Worth, Texas, as an outpost along the Trinity River. It was one of eight forts assigned to protect settlers.

In early 1860, after Parker’s father was killed by Texas Rangers, young Quanah moved west, where he joined the Kwahadi (sometimes spelled Quahadi) branch of the Comanche. Parker proved an able leader, fighting with the Kwahadi against the spread of white settlement.

But by the end of the 1860s, the men who had won the Civil War for the Union were now running the country. President Grant, Commander of the US Army William Tecumseh Sherman, and General Philip Sheridan were determined to end the Comanche threat. In 1875, the relentless Red River campaign finally subdued the Comanche with overwhelming force. Parker and the Kwahadi ultimately surrendered and moved to reservation lands in Oklahoma.

In his new life, Parker quickly established himself as a successful rancher and investor. The government officials he had once fought soon recognized him as the leader of the remaining Comanche tribes.

Parker encouraged Indian youth to learn the ways of white culture, yet he never assimilated entirely. He remained a member of the Native American Church and had a total of seven wives.

The respect Parker earned is evident in the Texas Panhandle town of Quanah. There, by the Hardeman County Courthouse, stands a monument to the town’s namesake: Quanah Parker, chief of the Comanche.

For More about Quanah Parker

The Quanah Parker Trail is an online road trip guide to the Texas Plains Trail Region featuring sites with a real or legendary connection to the famous chief.

Star House, Parker’s home in Cache, Oklahoma, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Texas: The German Belt

Texas Bluebonnets, photo credit, Bryan Hughes

As I delved into the history of the Lone Star State, beyond the events already familiar to me, I was surprised to learn that the largest ethnic group that migrated to Texas were the Germans.

From their first immigration in the 1830s, the Germans clustered in fragmented enclaves in a broad band across the south-central part of the state. The band became known as The German Belt. It stretched from Galveston and Houston in the east to Kerrville, Mason, and Hondo in the west, covering fertile, humid coastal plain to semi-arid hill country.

These voluntary migrations generally began with a person of dominant personality, a true pioneer. This natural leader was forceful and ambitious, someone who perceived emigration as a solution to the economic, social, political, and religious problems in their homeland. Such a person was Johann Friedrich Ernst, whose birth name was Friedrich Dirks but who began using the surname Ernst after leaving the area of Germany where he was raised. A professional landscaper, he immigrated to America intending to settle in Missouri, but while in New Orleans, he learned of large land grants available to Europeans in Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas. He then used the strength of his personality to persuade others to follow him to Texas.

In 1831, Ernst applied for and received a grant of more than 4000 acres in the northwest corner of Austin County. His land formed the nucleus of The German Belt. Through his many lengthy letters to friends in Germany, he reached and influenced prospective migrants. As a result of his “American letters,” the interest in emigration spread quickly, and a small, but steady stream of migrants left northwestern Germany for Texas. By the late 1830s, German immigration to the Lone Star State was widely publicized in the Fatherland.

The German settlers who came to Texas were solid, middle-class peasants, the majority of whom were ambitious farmers who believed that their futures in the Fatherland were cramped by the social and economic system. They weren’t poverty-stricken or oppressed. In fact, they could afford the cash investment required to move overseas.

Between 1844 and 1847, more than seven thousand Germans reached the new land, and by early 1850, the Germans numbered more than 5 percent of the total Texas population, a number that remained constant throughout the rest of the nineteenth century.

The 1990 census revealed that 17.5 percent of the total Texas population claimed pure or partial German ancestry. This chain migration continued until the Civil War when the Union blockaded the Confederate ports, halting all immigration.

After the Civil War ended, ships loaded with German immigrants once again disembarked at the Galveston wharves, which was the port of entry before Ellis Island opened in 1892. From 1865 to the early 1890s, it is estimated that the number reached 40,000.

In the 1890s, immigrants who had arrived earlier and had settled in the midwestern states of Illinois, Minnesota, and Iowa relocated to Texas, sponsored by the Flusche brothers and the Catholic Church. These Germans founded a colony at Muenster in North Texas. Also around this time, sizable numbers of Germans appeared in Texas cities, most notably in San Antonio, where one-third of the population was German.

Many German settlements of the time had distinctive architecture. In the Hill Country, settlers built half-timbered and stone houses with miles of rock fences and grand Gothic churches with jagged stone towers that reached skyward. They spoke a distinctive German dialect, ate sausages and sauerkraut, and drank Texas-German beers: Pearl and Shiner. They polkaed in dance halls, watched rifle competitions at Schützenfeste, and enjoyed the ancient Germanic custom of Easter Fires in Fredericksburg.

In the 1890s, German immigration to Texas peaked and began to taper off. Second- and third-generation German-Texans, looking for cheaper land, went westward until the Great Depression halted that movement.

By the early 1900s, the rural German communities received no additional immigrants from Europe, and later in the twentieth century, the older German ethnic sections in cities such as San Antonio broke apart as prosperous third- and fourth-generation Texas Germans flocked to the suburbs. It was also around this time that the San Antonio’s affluent German neighborhood – the King William Historic District – lost most of its German-American residents.

The settlers had survived the difficulties of pioneering, but in the years to follow, acculturation took a heavy toll. Then, two world wars and the associated anti-German prejudice damaged the interest in Germans and their culture, and by the early 1950s, an era had come to an end.

The Texas Germans who settled the Lone Star State were diverse: peasant farmers to intellectuals, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and atheists, farmers and townsfolk, honest people and murderers, abolitionists and slave owners, teetotalers and drinkers. Mostly, they were hardworking, fun-loving people who had come seeking economic opportunities, and they all had a varied impact on the achievements and influence of Texas.

Side note: The Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. But it wasn’t until December 29, 1845, that Texas became the 28th state in the United States.

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