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The Spanish Put Texas on the Map (CEC)

Spanish Searchers

When world reached New Spain that the French had landed on the coast of what would become Texas, the crown searched for seasoned officers who could locate the trespassers and push them out of the region. In the fall of 1685, Spanish naval officer Juan Enríquez Barroto received orders to coast along the western Gulf of Mexico and find the French. In 1686 he sailed from Havana to the mouth of the Mississippi and mapped Pensacola and Mobile bays. In 1686 he guided a flotilla that not only discovered the wreckage of the French vessels Aimable and La Belle but also charted and named what would become Galveston Bay, Sabine Pass, Calcasieu Pass, Atchafalaya Bay, and the other Mississippi passes.

Which the search by sea yielded clues, the Spanish needed the French gone and this would take troops on the ground.  The most logical choice for the overland search was forty-six-year-old frontiersmen Alonso De Léon, a merchant, entrepreneur, and pioneer in Nuevo León. Starting in 1686, he led four expeditions looking for La Salle. In 1689, with the help of a deranged, fifty-year-old deserter from the French colony, he recovered two survivors, Jean L’Archevêque and Jaques Grolet, as well as locating the burned remains of the French outpost, Fort Saint Louis.

The following year, De León pushed north and east into the lands of the Hasinai accompanied by Gregorio de Salinas Varona, a veteran soldier, and four Franciscan missionaries. This expedition named the Nueces, Medina, Guadalupe, and San Marcos rivers along the way. Near the Neches River in the vicinity of the present-day town of Alto, De León helped found missions San Francisco de los Tejas and Santísimo Nombre de María aided by French survivors Pierre Meunier and Pierre Talon whom they recovered from the Indians. The aging De León returned to Mexico, his two Frenchmen now joined by four French children (three of them Talons) taken from the Karankawas. De León died in 1691 shortly after getting home, having led the way for the Spanish to return north of the Rio Grande.

Domingo Terán de los Rios replaced De León on the northern frontera. He had served Spain in Peru for two decades prior to his move, and arrived on the Rio Grande ready to expel any French remnants in the area. In May 1691 his expedition marched across the vast domain, naming the San Antonio River en route and visiting missions San Francisco de los Tejas and Santísimo Nombre de María, both suffering from disease epidemics that had turned the Caddos sour to their efforts. Heading back to Mexico by way of the ruins of Fort Saint Louis.  Salinas, now in command of an infantry company, met him there after being landed on the nearby coast by a second naval expedition under Enríquez’s command.   These officers delivered orders for Terán to reverse his course and to keep exploring, which he reluctantly obeyed. Salinas and Terán reached the Red River in December during brutal winter weather before turning back toward Matagorda Bay.  Once there, the expedition boarded Enríquez’s ships and explored the coast as far as the Mississippi River before returning to Mexico.

All of these undertakings failed to uncover a remaining French threat but did expand the Spanish knowledge of the various Caddo peoples as well as the geography of the region. Ultimately, though, Terán described the lands dubbed Nuevo Reyno de la Montaña de Santander y Santillana (modern-day Texas) as being of dubious value to the Spanish Empire. Even so, these men–De Léon, Terán, Enríquez, and Salinas–literally put Texas (Tejas) on the map.