IN the sixteenth century Spain, as we have seen, had thrust up into the North the two outposts of Florida and New Mexico. In time foreign intrusion made it necessary to occupy the intervening region called Texas, which embraced a goodly slice of what is now Louisiana. While Spain was busy farther south, other nations were encroaching on her northern claims. By 1670 England had planted strong centers of colonization all the way from Jamaica to New England, and had erected trading posts on Hudson Bay. French traders from Canada, meanwhile, had been pushing up the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes and branching north and south through the wilderness. At the same time French and English buccaneers from the West Indies were marauding the Florida settlements and the coast towns of Mexico. English, French, and Spanish territorial claims and frontier settlements clashed. The lines of competition, imperial and commercial, were drawing tighter with every passing year.
On the Atlantic coast the Anglo-Spanish frontiers clashed with resounding echo from the very moment of the founding of Charleston (1670), just across from the Spanish outpost Santa Elena, on Port Royal Sound. If Plymouth Rock and Hudson Bay were too remote to have a direct influence on Spanish claims, nevertheless their indirect influence through the acceleration they gave to French activities was to be potent. France’s opportunity, indeed, seemed golden. And it was in the West. In Europe France was rapidly taking the position of supremacy which had been Spain’s; and New France promised to become not only a valuable source of revenue through the fur trade if the wide beaver lands “beyond” could be secured but also the point of control over the Strait of Anian for which French explorers as well as Spanish sought. The French had heard also of a great river flowing through the continent; they hoped to discover that river and thus control the best trade route to China. When Joliet and Marquette descended the Mississippi to the Arkansas in 1673 and returned to publish their news in Quebec, some of their hearers at least believed that the river had been found.
Chief of these was Robert Cavelier de la Salle, a recent arrival in Canada. La Salle hurried to France and laid before the King a plan to extend the fur trade to the Illinois country and explore the Mississippi, which rose in Asia, to its mouth. Four years later, having erected posts in Illinois, La Salle landed at the mouth of the Mississippi and claimed the territory along its course for France. The discovery that the river emptied into the Mexican Gulf put a new idea into La Salle’s fertile brain. He made another journey to France and proposed to plant a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi, and thus to secure the river highway for France and establish a vantage point for the control of the Gulf and for descent upon the Spanish mines of northern Mexico. In the summer of 1684 he sailed from France with his colony; and toward the end of the year he landed on the Texas coast at Matagorda Bay. It was because of faulty maps, perhaps, that he had missed the mouth of the Mississippi. One of his four ships had been captured by Spaniards en route and another was wrecked on entering the bay. Beaujeu, the naval commander, who had quarreled with La Salle from the first, turned his vessel about and returned to France, carrying away some of the soldiers and a large quantity of much needed supplies. Tonty, La Salle’s lieutenant in the Illinois country, who was to meet him at the mouth of the Mississippi with men and provisions, found no trace of him there and, after vain waiting, returned to the Illinois post.
Indian attacks and an epidemic worked havoc among the settlers, and La Salle moved his colony to a better site on the Garcitas River near the head of Lavaca Bay.’ He set out from this point in search of the Mississippi, which he believed to be near, expecting to meet with Tonty. While he was exploring the eastern waters of Matagorda Bay, the last of his ships was wrecked. La Salle then started overland, northeastward. He reached the Nasoni towns north of the present Nacogdoches in northeastern Texas, some eighty miles from the Red River. Illness, and the desertion of some of his men, forced him to retrace his steps. He found his colony, a mere handful now, facing starvation. Though worn with hardships and fatigue, La Salle resolved on the effort to bring help from the Illinois posts. This would seem a hopeless under-taking; for he had not found the Mississippi, by which he had previously descended from the Illinois country, and he had no idea of the distances he must travel across an unknown wilderness. He set out nevertheless with a few companions, including his brother, the Abbé Jean Cavelier, and his nephew Moranget. He crossed the Colorado near the present Columbus and, keeping on northward, forded the Brazos just above Navasota. Here he was treacherously slain by some of his men, who had already killed Moranget.
The survivors of La Salle’s party continued northeastward. Some deserted in the Indian towns. The others, including La Salle’s brother, crossed the Red River near Texarkana and the intervening country to the mouth of the Arkansas, ascended to Tonty’s post on the Illinois, and returned to Canada. They did not inform Tonty of La Salle’s death, nor of the perilous condition of the little colony on the Gulf. Except for two or three men and some children, who were taken by the Indians nine persons in all the whole colony perished.
When the mishaps attending La Salle’s venture are reviewed including a former attempt to poison him, the capture of one of his ships by the Spaniards, the desertion of Beaujeu, his assassination and the suppression of the news of it from the faithful Tonty who might have succored the colony it is difficult not to suspect that his efforts were beset with subtle treachery from the beginning.
If the news of La Salle’s expedition caused a sensation in Spain, it roused the greatest alarm along the whole northern Spanish frontier in the New World, from Chihuahua to Cuba. The West In-dies were no longer solely Spanish. The progress of the century had brought English, French, and Dutch to the lesser islands neglected by Spain. English settlers now occupied the Bermudas and several other islands. English arms had taken Jamaica and, in the peace concluded in 1670, Spain had recognized England’s right to it and to the others she had colonized. The French West India Company had founded colonies on Guadeloupe, Martinique, and in the Windward Islands. The Dutch had trading stations on St. Eustatius, Tobago, and Curaçao; and English, French, and Dutch held posts in Guiana. Raids from these bases on Spanish ports and treasure fleets were all too frequent and too costly, even if no recent buccaneer had rivaled the exploit of Piet Heyn of the Dutch West India Company who, in 1628, had chased the Vera Cruz fleet into Matanzas River, Cuba, and captured its cargo worth $15,000,000.
That sons of a France growing swiftly in power had pushed south from Canada through the hinter-land and planted themselves on the Gulf where they could cooperate with the lively pirates of the French Indies was news to stir Mexico, Florida, and the Spanish West Indies to a ferment. The Spanish authorities hastily sent out expeditions east and west by sea and land to discover and demolish La Salle’s colony. Mariners from Vera Cruz returned to that harbor to report two wrecked French ships in Matagorda Bay and no sign of a colony. It was concluded that La Salle’s expedition had been destroyed and that the French menace was over, for the time being at least.
The outposts in New Leon and Coahuila, just south of the Rio Grande, had been no less roused than the harbor towns of Havana and Vera Cruz. To the Spanish frontiersmen, dreaming even yet of a rich kingdom “beyond,” the thought of a French colony expanding to bar their way was in-tolerable. Their spirit was embodied in the figure of Alonso de Leon. A frontiersman by birth and training, famed for a score of daring exploits as a border fighter, Alonso de Leon was well fitted for the task to which the needs of the time summoned him. Under orders from Mexico, in 1686, Leon set off from Monterey on the first of his expeditions in search of La Salle’s colony, following the south bank of Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico. Next year he reconnoitered the north bank. But not till his third expedition did he come in direct touch with the French peril. He was now governor of Coahuila, at Monclova. This time he encountered a tribe of Indians north of the Rio Grande who were being ruled with all a chief’s pomp by a Frenchman called by the Spaniards Jarri. It appears that Jarri was not one of La Salle’s settlers, but an independent adventurer who had wandered thus early into southwestern Texas from the Illinois country or from Canada. He was promptly stripped of his feathers, of course, and sent to Mexico to be questioned by the Viceroy.
The officials were now thoroughly frightened. A new expedition was immediately sent out under Leon, who took with him Father Damian Massanet, a Franciscan friar, the Frenchman Jarri, one hundred soldiers, and seven hundred mules and horses. Leon could at least promise the Indians a show of Spanish pomp and power. In March, 1689, Leon crossed the Rio Grande and, bearing: eastward, crossed the Nueces, Frio, San Antonio, and Guadalupe rivers. Late in April he came upon. the site of La Salle’s settlement. There stood five huts about a small wooden fort built of ship planking, with the date “1684” carved over the door.. The ground was scattered with weapons, casks, broken furniture, and corpses. Among some Indians a few leagues away Leon found two of the colonists, one of whom had had a hand in La Salle’s murder. He learned also that Tonty had erected a fort on a river inland, the Arkansas, or perhaps. the Illinois. On the Colorado River Leon and Massanet had a conference with the chief of the Nabedache tribe, who had come from the Neches River to meet them. The chief promised to welcome missionaries at his village.
Leon returned to make a report in which piety and business sense are eloquently combined., “Certainly it is a pity,” he admonished, “that, people so rational, who plant crops and know that, there is a God, should have no one to teach there the Gospel, especially when the province of Texas is so large and fertile and has so fine a climate,”
A large and fertile country already menaced by the French did indeed call for missions. Leon was dispatched a fifth time with one hundred and ten soldiers to escort Massanet and his chosen helpers to the Nabedache towns of the Asinai (Texas) Indians, near the Neches River in eastern Texas. On the way they paused long enough for Father Massanet to set fire to La Salle’s fort. As the Spaniards were approaching their objective from the Southwest, Tonty on a second journey to seek La Salle in Illinois he had heard sinister reports through the Indians reached the Red River and sent an Indian courier to the Nabedache chief to request permission to make a settlement in his town. On being told of Leon’s proximity Tonty retreated. The fleur-de-lis receded before the banner of Castile. The Spanish flag was raised at the Nabedache village in May, 1690, before the eyes of the wondering natives, formal possession was taken and the mission of San Francisco was founded. The expedition now turned homeward, leaving three Franciscan friars and three soldiers to hold Spain’s first outpost in Texas.
Another expedition, after Alonso de Leon’s death in 1691, set out from Monclova under Domingo Terân, a former governor of Sinaloa and Sonora, accompanied by Massanet to found more missions, on the Red River as well as the Neches. Terân returned without having accomplished any-thing, largely because of violent quarrels with Massanet, who opposed the planting of presidios be-side the missions. Massanet remained with two friars and nine soldiers the peppery padre protesting against the presence even of the nine. He soon learned that soldiers were sometimes needed. The Indians, roused by their leaders, turned against the missionaries and ordered them to de-part. There was no force to resist the command. On October 25, 1693, Massanet applied the torch to the first Spanish mission in Texas, even as he had earlier fired La Salle’s French fort, and fled. Four soldiers deserted to the Indians. One of them, José Urrutia, after leading a career as a great Indian chief, returned to civilization, and became commander at San Antonio, where his descendants still live and are prominent. The other five, with the three friars, after three months of weary and hungry marching, during forty days of which they were lost, at last entered Coahuila.
For the time being Texas was now abandoned by both contestants. But the French traders were only looking for a better opportunity and a more advantageous spot to continue the conflict, which, on their side, was directed against England as well as Spain. They had learned that English fur traders from South Carolina had already penetrated to the Creeks and to other tribes east of the Mississippi and they feared that England would seize the mouth of the river. The Spaniards also were disturbed by the English. They had been driven, in 1686, out of Port Royal and north-ern Georgia. Now they were alarmed by English fur-trading expeditions into Alabama and by the ,discovery that the Indians of Mobile Bay had moved north to trade with the English of Carolina. Thus, while France prepared to carry out La Salle’s plan to colonize the Gulf coast, Spain with jealous eye watched the movements of both England and France. It was a three-cornered struggle.
In 1697 the King of France, Louis XIV, commissioned Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, fighting trader, hero of the fur raids on Hudson Bay, and the most dashing military figure in New France, to found, on the Mexican Gulf, a colony to be named Louisiana. To forestall the French an expedition was immediately dispatched from Vera Cruz to Pensacola Bay, where in November, 1698, the post , of San Carlos was erected and garrisoned. The move was none too soon. In January (1699) Iberville’s fleet stood off the harbor and demanded admittance. The commander of San Carlos refused courteously but firmly. Iberville rewarded him for his compliments with others from the same mint, withdrew, sailed westward, and built a fort at Biloxi.
But there were to be no battles, at present, between Spaniards and French for Louisiana. The fate of that territory was settled in Europe. The Spanish King, Charles II, died. He left no son;, and, forced by the danger that a dismembering war for the succession would follow on his death, he bequeathed the crown to his grandnephew, the Duke of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV and French in blood, sympathies, and education. The new King, Philip V, harkened readily enough to his. French grandfather’s suggestion that, in order to protect Spain’s Gulf possessions from England, France must be allowed to colonize Louisiana.. The Spanish War Council objected, and Philip let the matter drop, but the French settlement. was quietly moved from Biloxi to Mobile Bay,. nearer to the Spanish border. When in 1702 the War Council heard of it and protested, they were rebuked by Philip. Thus Spain, dominated by a Bourbon King, was forced to permit the occupation of Louisiana by France.
Iberville’s brother, the Sieur de Bienville, a brilliant and vigorous commander, was appointed in 1701 Governor of Louisiana. Bienville concentrated his energies on alliances with the tribes east and west of the Mississippi to prevent them from trafficking with the English and to divert the southern fur trade to the French posts. Bienville was succeeded in 1713 by Cadillac, founder of Detroit, who served for three years, but Bienville continued to be the life of the colony. By 1716 the Mississippi, Mobile, and Red rivers had been explored by Bienville’s men, sometimes led by himself. And French traders from Canada and the Illinois had explored the Missouri for several hundred miles and had built posts southward from the Illinois to the lower Ohio. In 1718 Bienville founded New Orleans. France’s hold was thus fastened upon Louisiana, and Spain’s colonies round the Gulf were split in two.
During the sixteen years of Bienville’s activity, disturbing rumors had reached the Spanish border. To New Mexico came reports of Frenchmen trading with the Pawnees and of French voyageurs on the rivers to the northeast. Though in various Spanish expeditions from Santa Fé against Comanches and Apaches no French were seen, yet the fear of their approach increased. Similar rumors were heard on the Rio Grande border. One not slow to take advantage of this general alarm was Father Hidalgo, a Franciscan who had been with Massanet at his mission in Texas. The intervening years had been spent by Hidalgo chiefly in founding and conducting missions in Coahuila, a work which had led the way for the secular powers and thus pushed the frontier of mining and ranching to the south bank of the Rio Grande. With heart burning for the welfare of his former ungrateful charges, he had made many earnest appeals to be allowed to return to Texas, but the superiors of his Order would not sanction his plea.’ Hidalgo, with genuine political shrewdness, then resolved to turn the French menace to good account. If he could prove that Spain’s territory of Texas was in imminent danger, he knew that missions would be founded without delay. So he wrote a letter in 1711 priests of Louisiana, begging them to “pacify the tribes hostile to the Asinai nation, who were nearer to their settlements, thereby to give the greatest honor and glory to God.” Just why pacification of the Louisiana tribes bordering on the Texas Indians would honor Heaven more than missionary labors in other parts of Louisiana he did not make clear, but it is plain enough that the first result of the pacification would be the establishment of French posts near or among the Asinai. This might or might not honor Heaven, but it would undoubtedly interest Spain.
Father Hidalgo sent an Indian servant with the letter to the Asinai country, where it was confided to a Louisiana Indian who happened to be there. Getting no reply, a year later he sent out another letter, addressed to the Governor of Louisiana. Neither missive appears to have reached its address; but in May, 1713, the first letter after having been handed about among Indians for two years came into Governor Cadillac’s possession. It interested Cadillac very much, for he had recently been instructed by Antoine Crozat, to whom Louis XIV had granted a monopoly of all the Louisiana commerce, to attempt to open trade with Mexico despite the rigorous Spanish commercial regulations. Cadillac had already tried by way of Vera Cruz and failed. Better luck might follow an attempt to open an overland route to the Rio Grande border, where Spanish smugglers could be trusted to do the rest, for the stupid commercial systems of European governments at the time made habitual smugglers of all frontier dwellers in America. At any rate Hidalgo’s letter inspired the Governor to make the effort, just as Hidalgo had probably surmised it would.
Cadillac chose his cleverest agent. He sent Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, explorer, fur trader, and commander at Biloxi, with instructions to visit Hidalgo, who, so Cadillac inferred from the letter, was among the Asinai, and to build a post on the Red River within easy access of their territory. St. Denis established the post of Natchitoches, put in the winter trading, and by spring was seeking Hidalgo in Texas. There he learned that the friar was on the Coahuila border, so on June 1, 1714, with three French companions and twenty-five Indians he set out on foot for the Rio Grande. Strangely enough, two of his companions were the Talon brothers, survivors of the ill-fated La Salle expedition who had been ransomed from the Indians by Leon and Terân. On the 18th of July St. Denis reached Hidalgo’s mission of San Juan, forty miles below Eagle Pass. Hidalgo had gone to Querétaro, but the other missionaries and Captain Ramon at the post received St. Denis hospitably, and Ramon wrote to Hidalgo that, in view of the French danger, “it looks to me as though God would be pleased that your Reverence would succeed in your desires.” This letter reveals Father Hidalgo’s finesse. While Ramon entertained St. Denis and dispatched messengers to the authorities in Mexico City asking what he should do with him, St. Denis improved his time by winning the heart of Ramon’s granddaughter, Manuela Sanchez, who later went with him to Natchitoches and there reigned for years as the Grand Dame of the post, becoming godmother, as the baptismal records show, of most of the children of the place.
A new French menace had arisen. The Viceroy of Mexico hastily decided to found new missions in Texas and to protect them this time by strong garrisons. St. Denis, having by his marriage and his cleverness ingratiated himself with the Spaniards, was engaged at five hundred dollars to guide the Texas expedition, which was commanded by Captain Domingo Ramon, his wife’s cousin. It looks more like a family affair than an international row. Meanwhile Hidalgo had given the Viceroy a satisfactory explanation of his random missives and had received permission to go to Texas with the expedition. The colony crossed the Rio Grande in April, 1716. It consisted of sixty-five persons, including soldiers, nine friars, and six women, a thousand head of cattle, sheep, and goats, and the equipment for missions, farms, and garrison. At the head of the missionaries went two of Spain’s most distinguished men in America, Father Espinosa, the well-known historian, and Father Margil, whose great services in the American wilds will probably result in his canonization by the Papal Court. The Asinais welcomed the Spaniards and helped them to erect four missions and a garrison near the Neches and Angelina rivers. Shortly afterward a mission was built at Los Adaes (now Robeline) Louisiana, with-in fifteen miles of St. Denis’s post of Natchitoches.
The success of the French traders with the powerful tribes, the coming of John Law’s colonists to Louisiana, and the need of a halfway base, in-spired the Spanish authorities to send out another colony, to occupy a site at the beautiful San Pedro Springs, on the San Antonio River, which lay on the direct route between the Neches River and the settlement at San Juan, near Eagle Pass. Early in 1718 the new colony, numbering some sixty whites, with friars and Indian neophytes, founded San Antonio a few months before New Orleans was born. And Father Olivares began the San Antonio, or Alamo, Mission, which was later to become famous as the shrine of Texas liberty.
Spain had at last occupied eastern Texas, but her hold was not long undisturbed. In the following year France and Spain went to war over European questions, and the conflict was echoed in the American wilderness, all the way from Pensacola to Platte River. Pensacola was captured by the French, recaptured by the Spaniards, and taken again by Bienville. The French at Natchitoches descended upon Texas and the garrison retreated to San Antonio without striking a blow. A plan for conquering Coahuila and New Mexico was drawn up on paper in Louisiana, perhaps by St. Denis. Eight hundred Frenchmen and a large body of Indian allies were to march overland from Natchitoches, while a flotilla sailed along the Texas coast and ascended the Rio Grande. It was La Salle’s old plan in a new guise. St. Denis was made “commander of the River of Canes” (the Colorado), and two expeditions were sent in 1720 and 1721 to take possession of Matagorda Bay. Both of them failed.
In New Mexico the Governor had heard, before the war broke out, that the French were settling on Platte River and, on his recommendation, the Viceroy ordered that alliances be made with the tribes to the northeast, a colony planted at El Cuartelejo in Colorado, and a presidio established on the North Platte that is, at some point in the present Nebraska or Wyoming. In August, 1720, an expedition from New Mexico penetrated to the North Platte but, not finding any signs of a French colony, turned back. On the South Platte, in Colorado, it was almost totally annihilated by Indians armed with French weapons. Apparently tribes from as far north as Wisconsin took part in this fray, a fact which indicates the scope and power of the early French trader’s influence. The end of the war in Europe caused the Viceroy to abandon his plans for colonizing to the north of New Mexico. The treaty of peace restored Pensacola to Spain.
Meanwhile affairs had moved apace on the Texas border. The Marquis of Aguayo, then Governor of Coahuila, undertook the reconquest, mainly at his own expense. Before the end of 1720 he had raised eight companies of cavalry, comprising over five hundred men and five thousand horses. It was the largest military expedition to enter the north-ern interior since the days of De Soto. Leaving Monclova in November, Aguayo strengthened San Antonio, and sent a garrison to occupy Matagorda Bay. Peace had now been declared, and at the Neches River Aguayo was met by St. Denis, who, swimming his horse across the stream for a parley, informed Aguayo that the war was over and agreed to permit an unrestricted occupation of the abandoned posts. Proceeding east, Aguayo reëstablished the six abandoned missions and the presidio of Dolores, and added a presidio at Los Adaes, facing Natchitoches. The expedition had been a success, but the poor horses paid a terrible price for the bloodless victory. The return journey to San Antonio, through a storm of sleet, was so severe that of his five thousand beasts only fifty were left alive when he arrived in January, 1722.
Aguayo had fixed the hold of Spain on Texas. It was he who clinched the nails driven by Leon, Massanet, Hidalgo, and Ramon. There were now in Texas ten missions, four presidios, and four centers of settlement Los Adaes, Nacogdoches, San Antonio, and La Bahia (Matagorda Bay). A governor was appointed and the capital of the province fixed at Los Adaes, now Robeline, Louisiana. Originally the name Texas had applied only to the country east of the Trinity River, but now the western boundary was fixed at the Medina River. It was to be moved half a century later to the Nueces. After much petty quarreling with the French of Louisiana, the little Arroyo Hondo was made the eastern boundary, and thus for a century old Texas included a large strip of the present State of Louisiana.
For twenty years after the Aguayo expedition, the Frenchman St. Denis, or “Big Legs,” as the natives fondly called him, ruled the border tribes with paternal sway from his post at Natchitoches on the Red River. The relations of French and Spaniards on this border were generally amicable. Inter-marriages and a mutual love of gayety made friend-ship a pleasanter and more natural condition for the Latin neighbors than strife. Indeed, when in June, 1744, the long career of the redoubtable St. Denis came to a close, prominent among those assembled at Natchitoches to assist in the funeral honors were Governor Boneo and Father Vallejo, from Los Adaes, across the international boundary line. And yet, when, a few days later, Boneo reported the event to his Viceroy in Mexico, he did so in terms which meant, “St. Denis is dead, thank God; now we can breathe more easily.”
Spain’s hold upon Texas was secure against France, but many a battle was yet to be fought for the territory with the ferocious Apaches and Comanches, and the incursions of French traders into the Spanish settlements continued to be a source of friction. The jealous trade policy of Spain only increased the eagerness of these traders to enter New Mexico, where the Pueblo Indians and the colonists alike were promising customers, if Spanish officers could be bribed or outwitted. For a long time the way from Louisiana was blocked by Apaches and Comanches, who were at war with the Louisiana tribes, and the river highways were unsafe. Canadians, however, conspicuous among them being La Vérendrye and his sons, descended from the north through the Mandan towns on the Missouri, reaching the borders of Colorado, and two brothers named Mallet succeeded in piercing the Indian barrier, entered New Mexico, and returned safely to Louisiana. The town of Gracia Real below Albuquerque where they lodged was given the nickname of “Canada.” Later on French traders in numbers invaded New Mexico, some of whom were seized and sent to Mexico or to Spain and thrown into prison. Spanish troops were sent to guard the approaches to Chihuahua below El Paso; fears were felt for even distant California; and to keep the New Orleans traders from the Texas coast tribes, a presidio and a mission were established on the Louisiana border at the mouth of the Trinity River, near Galveston Bay.
But the scene soon shifted. The Seven Years’ War removed France from the American continent, left Louisiana in the hands of Spain, and brought Spain and England face to face along the Mississippi.