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Spanish & Mexican Indian Policy

Buffalo hunt by Seth EastmanDuring the period of Spanish rule (1716-1821), Texas was one of four provinces in New Spain, or colonial Mexico. Spain was unable to populate the area north of the Rio Grande; to maintain their claim on the territory, the Spanish relied on a system of Franciscan missions. Over the years, about two dozen missions were built in Texas, with the goal of transforming the Indians into Spanish subjects by teaching them the Roman Catholic religion and other aspects of Spanish culture.

Native Texas Indians such as the Coahuiltecans and the Jumanos had little interest in adopting Spanish culture, and they suffered greatly from the epidemic diseases that the Europeans inadvertently brought into their midst. However, they did look to the Spanish to help provide protection from the Apaches and Comanches, two warlike tribes that had only recently entered Texas. Unfortunately, the Spanish seldom had a strong enough military presence to protect the missions from attack.

One of the most notorious incidents occurred in 1758, when a force of 2000 Comanches and their allies attacked the mission of Santa Cruz de San Sabá, burning it to the ground and killing thirty-five people, including the head friar. In a follow-up attack, the Comanches killed twenty soldiers and stole 700 head of livestock. The next year, the Spanish sent a punitive military expedition from Mexico, but their forces were badly defeated by the Wichitas.

Within another two decades, the Spanish had abandoned their missions in East Texas and pulled all settlers back to San Antonio and a few other outposts. Beset by many problems throughout their empire, the Spanish gave little attention to Texas in the years that followed. By the time of the Mexican War of Independence, the number of Tejano settlers in remote Texas had dwindled to as few as 2500.

Mexican independence came at a time in which the population in Texas was in a period of great change. The Tejano population had declined because of war and increased Indian attacks. The Indian population had risen, bolstered by an influx of tribes pushed west by American expansion, including the Caddos, Cherokees, Alabamas and Coushattas, and many others. The American population in 1821 was tiny. However, one of the last acts of the tottering Spanish regime was to begin a colonization program to attract more settlers from the United States. This decision would have fateful consequences for the future of Texas and its Indians.

By the end of 1821, colonists began arriving in Texas under the leadership of Stephen F. Austin. Over the next several years, Austin and other colonizers, known as empresarios, brought hundreds of American families to settle in Texas. By the time of the Texas Revolution, the white American population had reached 20,000, along with 5000 African Americans, most of them slaves. The Tejano population had also increased to about 6000.

During this time, the Plains Indians such as the Comanches continued their traditional way of life, often raiding white or Tejano settlements, then trading the stolen goods to unscrupulous Americans for weapons. The Mexican government provided no protection from so-called “Indian depredations.” Instead, the colonists organized their own defense. The agricultural tribes such as the Caddos and Cherokees were politically aware and recognized the American hunger for the land they occupied. They spent great energy trying to gain legal title from the Mexican government for their lands, an effort in which they were unsuccessful. Both Plains and agricultural Indians were mentioned in an 1832 petition for reform by American Texans to the Mexican government; the petition included demands for better protection of the frontier and for the establishment of clear land titles for the Indians.

Census of the Mission of San Jose

Census of the Mission of San Jose, 1793

San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission, founded in 1720, was one of six Spanish missions in San Antonio. Many different Indian groups were represented at the mission, many from the Coahuiltecan bands. These Indians farmed the area, worked as cattle and sheep ranchers, and mastered the arts of masonry, fresco painting, wood work, and metal craftsmanship. They also had time for cultural pursuits; in the 1780s, it was noted that "many play the harp, the violin, and the guitar well, sing well, and dance the same dances as the Spaniards." The mission was secularized in 1794 and closed in 1824.

 


Nacogdoches Archives #299. Fray Jose Manuel Pedrajo, Mission of San Jose. December 31, 1793. Census of the Mission of San Jose. Padron de los hijos de esta mision de S.S. Jose de San Miguel de Aguallo [Matricula of Mision de San Jose].

Expeditions Against the Indians, 1791-92

Manuel Muñoz had served in Texas since 1759, first as commander of the Presidio del Norte. Through the 1770s, Muñoz participated in a number of Spanish campaigns against the Apaches. In the 1770s and 1780s, he served along the Rio Grande, where he negotiated with the Mescalero Apaches and conducted campaigns against border renegades. Muñoz was appointed governor of Texas in 1790.


Nacogdoches Archives #503. Governor Manuel Munoz to Conde de Revilla Gigedo Fernando. 1791-1792. Corrrespondence with the Viceroy of New Spain, stating the expeditions made by the troops for the different Presidios against the Indians.

Governor Manuel Muñoz on expeditions against the Indians, 1791-92
Projected incursions by Americans and Indians, 1815

Projected Incursions by the Americans and Indians, 1815

In 1813, José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara and Augustus W. Magee organized a band of filibusters who entered Texas from the United States. The insurgents captured Nacogdoches, La Bahía, and San Antonio and executed a number of Spanish prisoners, including the governor of Texas, before being defeated. The Spanish government executed hundreds of people in revenge for the uprising. Texas remained the object of plotting and unrest until Mexican independence in 1821.

 


Nacogdoches Archives #693. March 13, 1815. Relating projected incursions by the Americans.

Stephen F. Austin on Depredations by the Comanches and Tawakonis, 1826

Stephen F. Austin had complete civil and military authority over his colonists until 1828, subject to nominal supervision by the officials at San Antonio and Monterrey. As lieutenant colonel of militia, he planned and sometimes led campaigns against Indians.


Nacogdoches Archives #223. Stephen F. Austin to Head of Civil Affairs. July 17, 1826. Depredations made by a band of Comanches and Tahuacano Indians in Dewitt's Colony killed one man, wounded another, destroyed all furniture in Mr. Kerr's house, and stole all the horses they could find.

Stephen F. Austin on Indian depredations, 1826

Don Ramon Musquiz on land claims of the Cherokees, 1831

Land Claims of the Cherokees, 1831

From their experience in the United States, the Cherokees had learned the importance of holding legal title to their real estate. Beginning in the 1820s, they carried on negotiations with the Mexican government to try gain clear title to their land in East Texas. Lack of money and legal expertise hampered the Cherokees in their quest; in the meantime, the American population in East Texas continued to grow.


Texas Indian Papers Volume 1, #2. Letter from Don Ramon Musquiz to José Maria Letona, September 25, 1831.


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