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Populations in Spanish Texas (CEC)

  1804 1810 1814
Nacogdoches 789
Presidial Company, Béxar 413
Mission San Juan Capistrano 74
Mission San Antonio de Valero 121
Settlement of La Bahia 399
Presidial Company of La Bahia 301
Missions around La Bahia 224
Mission San Francisco de la Espada 107
Settlement of Béxar 1,177
TOTAL 3,605 5,000 (estimated) 2,500 (estimated)


By the 1780s, populations in Spanish Texas began to realign and redistribute into three main clusters—Béxar, La Bahia, and Nacogdoches.   As these centers blossomed, Spanish missions declined.  Their shrinking populations of Indians left few hands to perform the agricultural labor required to sustain the enterprises.  Spanish officials ordered them partially secularized with their lands either passing into private hands or to the local parishes.

Surprisingly, raising livestock restricted population growth in Texas. Horses and cattle, in demand in the Rio Grande settlements and among the military posts in northern Mexico, drew the attention of Spanish treasury officials who tried desperately to gain tax revenues from these enterprises with little success.  Some went so far as to blame the decline of the missions in Texas to the explosion of illicit cattle operations.  These officials argued that unbranded mission herds wandered onto the open range where they were rounded up and branded by Tejano ranchers.  Mission Indians, too, often left to work cattle away from the padres.

Eventually the Spanish rules relaxed, but stock raising was not as intensive as crop work and did not require a steady stream of immigrants to sustain it.  In the roundup of 1787, vaqueros gathered up more than 7,000 head of cattle around Béxar and La Bahia.  By the 1790s, this number had exploded to nearly ten times that number along with tens of thousands of horses.  Cattle drives into Mexico and into the Opelousas country of Louisiana depleted these herds but laid the foundation for impressive Tejano ranching empires.

The Mexican War for Independence, however, devastated the population of Texas and largely ruined the early Texas ranching industry. Even so, Texas would clearly be cattle country in the future.