Felipe de la Garza, the general who captured Iturbide

The execution of Agustín de Iturbide at Padilla, after his arrest by Felipe de la Garza

The execution of Agustín de Iturbide at Padilla, after his arrest by Felipe de la Garza

Felipe de la Garza was the most important military figure in Nuevo Santander (present-day Tamaulipas) during the 1820s. He spent the early part of his military career in Texas. Though De la Garza remained on the royalist side during Mexico’s war for independence, he soon embraced revolutionary politics in the new nation. He became notorious for leading a failed revolt against Mexican Emperor Agustín de Iturbide. He later led Iturbide to his execution.

Commander in Texas

Felipe de la Garza was born in Soto la Marina in the province of Nuevo Santander in northeastern Mexico. His parents were Evaristo de la Garza and Tomasa Cisneros. The De la Garzas were descended from a Spanish captain who immigrated to New Spain in the 16th century. As wealthy hacienda owners, they were one of the most prominent families in the area.

Although several websites give Felipe de la Garza’s year of birth as 1798, he was undoubtedly born earlier. In 1810, he was given military command of the post of Santísma Trinidad de Salcedo in Texas – hardly a job for a 12-year-old. A look at the index of De la Garza’s correspondence with Texas Governor Manuel María de Salcedo reveals the range of problems he had to deal with. For example, in May 1812 De la Garza wrote regarding:

a horse and mare found by party sent out in search of a man escaping into Louisiana; on transmittal of military reports; on the attack by Indians on mail carriers; on the construction of a fort to protect the settlers in case of Indian attack; on the arrest of Arscencio Arreoloa, Indian interpreter, for stirring discontent among the Indians; and on arrangements to escort mail carriers because of Indian hostilities. (1)

A week later he wrote about the

remittance of documents concerning an Anglo-American, a Negro and a Negro woman; on the return of horses to the Navidacho Indians; on the lack of troops, ammunition and arms, and request to send back Trinidad soldiers detached in other posts; on request for replacement for Blás José Perales who was sent to hospital in Béxar; on damages caused by a storm on military quarters and guardhouse; on the insubordination of José Ignacio Góngora; and on keeping one of the three axes sent with Góngora, for the construction of a defensive wall. (2)

As a royalist officer, De la Garza also had to contend with insurgents fighting for Mexico’s independence from Spain. He may have fought in the Battle of Medina in August 1813. A month later he was preparing for an attack on rebels at Refugio. In 1817, De la Garza was given the responsibility of defending Soto la Marina from an invasion of rebels led by Spanish adventurer Francisco Javier Mina.

A failed rebellion

By the time Mexico gained its independence in 1821, Felipe de la Garza was one of the most important men in Nuevo Santander. Thanks to his military service, his social standing and his last minute endorsement of the independence cause, he was appointed governor of the province.

In July 1822, General Agustín de Iturbide was crowned Emperor of Mexico. He faced considerable opposition, particularly from the Mexican Congress. On August 26, Iturbide responded to rumours of an anti-government conspiracy by arresting 66 people, including 19 congressional deputies. The prisoners named Felipe De la Garza as one of their co-conspirators. Iturbide sent a small detachment to Nuevo Santander to replace De la Garza and send him to Mexico City for interrogation. De la Garza made it known that he would oppose this mission by force.

On September 26, 1822, Felipe de la Garza issued a pronunciamiento. He demanded that the imprisoned deputies be released, that the congress be moved to a safe location, and that Iturbide honour his promises to respect the constitution, among other things. De la Garza did not declare himself a republican. Instead he claimed his revolt was designed to defend constitutional monarchy. Finding no support outside his own province, De la Garza soon negotiated his surrender. This disappointed his officers and soldiers, who had been prepared to defend their position with force. De la Garza was marched to Mexico City, where Iturbide pardoned him and restored him to his post in Nuevo Santander.

In March 1823, Iturbide was forced to abdicate and was exiled from Mexico. On April 5, 1823, Brigadier Felipe de la Garza was appointed Commander General of the Eastern Interior Provinces (Nuevo Santander, Nuevo León, Coahuila and Texas). Thus he is the Mexican military commander who has to deal with Napoleon’s arrival in Texas in Napoleon in America.

De la Garza’s reputation had been severely damaged by his revolt. He could no longer count on the support of Nuevo Santander’s militias. Rival political families took advantage of his damaged credibility. When Nuevo Santander (renamed Tamaulipas) unilaterally declared itself a state in June 1823, De la Garza was sidelined. He resigned as commander general of the eastern provinces in December. He kept his position as commander general of Tamaulipas.

Iturbide’s return

On July 14, 1824, Iturbide – who had moved to England – returned to Mexico with his wife and two of their children. Shortly after landing at Soto la Marina, the ex-Emperor was arrested by De la Garza. The latter informed Iturbide of a decree passed by Congress a few months earlier that declared him “outside the law” and thus liable to be killed if he set foot in Mexico. Iturbide was horrified and asked to have his chaplain sent from his ship.

“Considering the defenceless and submissive manner in which [Iturbide] presented himself to me,” De la Garza was reluctant to apply the decree himself. (3) He instead decided to march his prisoner to Padilla to consult the state legislature. In so doing, De la Garza delegated command of the military escort to the former Emperor. Thus Iturbide approached Padilla on the morning of July 19 at the head of a considerable number of soldiers. Explaining that there was no way Iturbide could have known about his proscription before leaving England, De la Garza pleaded with the panicked legislators to spare the prisoner’s life and instead allow him to leave Mexico with his family. The legislature, however, sentenced Iturbide to death. He was executed by a firing squad at 6 p.m. that day.

De la Garza later explained that he had handed over command of his soldiers because he wanted to make Iturbide feel comfortable enough to share information about his intentions. He was reportedly convinced that Iturbide had returned to help prevent Mexico from being reconquered by Spain. Colonel Charles de Beneski, who accompanied Iturbide from England, claimed that De la Garza was enthusiastic about Iturbide’s return.

[Felipe de la Garza] indignantly launched forth, in censuring the errors of government; bitterly condemned the faults and immorality of the General Congress; and portrayed in strong and angry terms the universal disgust and discord that reigned among the States…. [H]e dwelt upon the respect and friendship he entertained for Iturbide; and how anxiously he longed once more to behold him at the head of a people who sighed for his recall; adding, that such was the universal wish, even of those who had been adverse to his administration. He assured me, also, that he himself would have written to Iturbide had not the great risk of discovery deterred him; and he had deferred so doing till the present moment, solely, on that account. All this was spoken with an air and tone of the utmost sincerity and candour. He ended by observing: ‘when Iturbide established the independence of his country I was one of his most devoted friends; but from the hour that he accepted the crown, and caused several of the provincial deputies to be arrested, I abhorred him…. I was one of the first to take up arms against him: but from that moment when he granted me my life, having it in his power to have sacrificed me, I vowed him eternal gratitude.…

[M]ost assuredly, he may depend upon me…. [T]he high reputation I enjoy in this province, would in the space of fifteen days place me at the head of two thousand cavalry, and ten pieces of ordinance, all amply provided with munitions of war, and every reliance might be reposed in the troops.’ (4)

De la Garza was removed from military command of Tamaulipas. In 1827-28, he served as the federal deputy for the state. In 1829 he was again temporarily given the post of Commander General of the Eastern Interior Provinces. He helped defend Tampico against a Spanish invasion. In 1830 he was elected as a Mexican senator.

Felipe de la Garza died on March 29, 1832 of tuberculosis. He left an estimated 150,000 pesos in land, livestock and letters of credit to his widow, María Antonia de la Serna. Antonia, known as “la Generala,” was De la Garza’s second wife, married in 1824. His first was María Inés Arispe. Antonia remarried and lived to the age of 90.

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José Antonio Díaz de León, the last Franciscan missionary in Texas

  1. The Bexar Archives Calendar, Rolls 44-53, General Manuscript Series, January 1810-June 1814, May 2, 1812, Frame 0172.
  2. Ibid., May 10, 1812, Frame 0218.
  3. Niles’ Weekly Register, September 4, 1824, p. 16.
  4. Charles de Beneski, A Narrative of the Last Moments of the Life of Don Augustin de Iturbide, Ex-Emperor of Mexico (New York, 1825), pp. 5-7.

José Antonio Díaz de León, the last Franciscan missionary in Texas

Aranama Indians near La Bahía (Goliad), Texas, by Lino Sánchez y Tapia, 1829. Mission Espíritu Santo, which Father José Antonio Diaz de Leon sought to save for the Aranamas, is in the background.

Aranama Indians near La Bahía (Goliad), Texas, by Lino Sánchez y Tapia, 1829. Mission Espíritu Santo, which Father José Antonio Diaz de Leon sought to save for the Aranamas, is in the background.

Father José Antonio Díaz de León, the last Franciscan missionary in Texas, was an ardent defender of the Spanish mission system. In the 1820s, he waged a long campaign against secularization of the Texas missions. Brave and pious, Father Díaz de León came to a bloody end. Was he murdered or did he kill himself?

A Texas missionary

José Antonio Díaz de León was born in Mexico in late 1786 or early 1787. In 1811, he joined the Franciscan religious order. The following year, he began his theological studies at the College of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Zacatecas. Among other things, the College administered the Spanish missions in Texas, which was then part of Mexico.

Ordained as a priest in 1815, Father Díaz de León became a missionary in the province of Nuevo Santander (present-day Tamaulipas). In 1817, he was put in charge of the mission of Nuestra Señora del Refugio, located in what is now Refugio, Texas.

The Spanish missions in Texas were intended to “civilize” Indians by gathering the tribes into settlements, converting them to Christianity, and teaching them crafts and farming. In addition to a church, a mission included housing, mills, shops and storage buildings, all within strong walls. Outside the walls lay mission-owned land, where crops were grown and the mission’s cattle, sheep and horses were pastured.

Missions were typically located near a Spanish presidio (fort) for protection from hostile Indians and other potential attackers. Towns, known as pueblos, grew up around successful missions and presidios. A census conducted by Father Díaz de León in 1818 found 164 people living at the Refugio pueblo.

In 1820, Father Díaz de León moved to Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo near San Antonio de Béxar (present-day San Antonio). Appointed administrator of all the Texas missions, he assumed spiritual care of the Indian and Spanish settlers at the four missions in the San Antonio area. Thus we find him protecting the residents of Mission Espada in Napoleon in America.

Secularization

Since the missions were a drain on the Spanish purse, the government’s aim was to secularize them once the Indians were civilized. The church was to be turned over to the local bishop and administered by “secular” clergy (priests not belonging to a religious order). The land was to be turned over to the Christianized Indians. Díaz de León and other local friars opposed secularization, arguing that the Indians were not sufficiently educated and would be taken advantage of. Thus the Texas missions were only partly secularized by 1821, when Mexico achieved its independence.

In 1823, the cash-strapped Mexican government ordered the “full and complete secularization” of the remaining missions. Father José Antonio Díaz de León surrendered the San Antonio missions to the Diocese of Monterrey in Nuevo León. However, he petitioned for the continuance of Mission Refugio, which had been abandoned due to attacks by Comanche Indians. He hoped that all of the Karankawa Indians, and those Aranama and Acoma Indians still needing instruction, might congregate at Mission Refugio until they could be civilized.

Díaz de León also petitioned for the distribution of the lands of Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga at La Bahía (present-day Goliad) to the 12 Aranama families still living there. This was opposed by the local council, which included Anglo-American colonists who had come under attack from the Indians displaced from Refugio. They wanted to distribute the valuable mission lands among themselves.

It is the unanimous opinion of the ayuntamiento that we shall soon see both general and particular damage as a result of these lands being in the hands of men who are shiftless and lazy and who give no hope of becoming useful to the nation unless they are subjected rigorously to law and punishment. (1)

While waiting for a decision, Díaz de León moved to Mission Espíritu Santo. He joined the Aranamas working in the fields and breaking wild horses. Though he was able to slow the process of secularization until 1829, Díaz de León failed to get the government to agree to either of his requests. He expressed his disappointment.

If the missions under our charge be given to the ordinary clergy, that of Refugio will be destroyed forever; and if God does not decree otherwise, all of our plans of missionary activity will fall to pieces. (2)

He made one last appeal for the exemption of Refugio. He argued that transferring it to the secular clergy would result in the Indians reverting to a state of savagery. That, too, failed. In February 1830, Father Díaz de León surrendered the last remaining missions. To his regret, the mission lands were made available to colonists, rather than to the Indians.

Murder or suicide?

Father José Antonio Díaz de León was assigned to a parish post at Nacogdoches. He accepted the job despite an anonymous warning to the College in Zacatecas about the danger of sending Catholic missionaries to Anglo settlements beyond the Colorado River. Upon arrival in Nacogdoches, Díaz de León found that the church was being used as military barracks. He rented a small house as a temporary chapel and started raising funds to build a new church and a school. Díaz de León made pastoral visits to Indians, Hispanics and Anglos alike. He spoke poor English, however, and had little success with the Anglo colonists. Although immigrants were required to become Roman Catholics (Father Díaz de León baptized Sam Houston in 1833), many retained their Protestant faith.

In 1834, Mexico passed a law of religious tolerance. This left the Protestant colonists free to practice their religion. The Protestant settlers in Nacogdoches began to campaign against their Franciscan priest. Father Díaz de León received several death threats. In October 1834, he was asked to officiate at a wedding for Samuel C. Hirams at Ace, 90 miles south of Nacogdoches. He went reluctantly, as he had heard that one or more persons had been hired to kill him. After performing the ceremony, Díaz de León asked for an escort to accompany him back to Nacogdoches. Hirams hired Philip Miller, a 34-year-old Kentuckian, to go with the priest.

The two men left Ace around noon on November 2. They spent the night at the home of Henry Bordon Prentiss. While there, Díaz de León wrote a farewell letter.

This Sunday, Nov. 2, 1834, I returned to this house [of Prentiss], and as it seems to me to be the last day of my life (God knows why), I address my weak and anguishing words to my beloved parishioners of Nacogdoches, bidding them from the bottom of my heart an earnest farewell, A Dios, A Dios. Let them commend me to His Majesty in the state that I am in; saluting them as I salute them, with my heart in my eyes and in my tears…. And let it be clear and notorious by this, that I beg, as I do, pardon from each and all the persons whom I have offended, and likewise, prostrate in spirit on the ground, I pardon, with all my heart, all and every person who has offended me, be the offense what it may. I press all, without exception, to my hearts as my beloved children in the charity of our Lord Jesus Christ…. Farewell, farewell, farewell; Amen, Amen, Amen. (3)

The next night Díaz de León and Miller camped near Big Sandy Creek. Miller spread a blanket over a pole to make a tent for the priest and then went to sleep. The next morning – November 4, 1834 – Miller woke about an hour and half before daylight. Feeling chilly, he went to the fire and saw Díaz de León’s body with blood trickling from its mouth. A pistol that Miller had obtained at Díaz de León’s request was lying near the body. According to the doctor who performed the autopsy:

We found a gun…shot in the left breast, between the fourth and fifth ribs, about two inches from the medial line of the breast bone; an inclination upward had been given to the ball or balls so that in entering the chest it fractured the fourth rib…and from its apparent direction we should think opened the largest artery of the body…as it emerges from the heart in a manner sufficient to cause instant death. (4)

Father Diaz de Leon was buried in what is now the Alabama-Coushatta Indian reservation in Polk County. The investigation into his death lasted for months. A court of inquiry manned by Anglo colonists concluded that the missionary had grown so frightened of being killed that he committed suicide. Hispanics, however, believed that José Antonio Díaz de León was assassinated. Catholic historians regard him as a martyred priest.

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  1. Paul H. Walters, “Secularization of the La Bahia Missions,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Jan. 1951), p. 293.
  2. Ibid., p. 297.
  3. John Gilmary Shea, A History of the Catholic Church within the Limits of the United States, Vol. II (New York, 1890), pp. 712-713.
  4. Lorraine G. Bonney, The Big Thicket Guidebook: Exploring the Backroads and History of Southeast Texas (Denton, TX, 2011), p. 545.

Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Anglo-American Texas

Stephen F. Austin

Stephen F. Austin

It’s hard to avoid the name of Stephen F. Austin in Texas. The state capital is named after him, as are Austin County, Austin College, Stephen F. Austin State University, Stephen F. Austin State Park and numerous schools, buildings and associations. He has been called the father of Texas and the founder of Texas. Austin led the Anglo-American colonization of Texas, paving the way for the state’s independence from Mexico, although this was not something he initially wanted.

Moses Austin’s plan

Stephen Fuller Austin was born in southwestern Virginia on November 3, 1793, the son of lead mine owner Moses Austin and his wife Mary Brown Austin. In 1798, after his business in Virginia faltered, Moses Austin moved his family to what is today Potosi, Missouri (it was then part of Spain’s Louisiana Territory). Moses started a new lead mining operation there. Stephen was sent to good schools in Connecticut and Kentucky. By the time he returned to Missouri in 1810, the family business was again in trouble. Moses tried putting Stephen in charge of the mine, but it didn’t help. The Austins were ruined in the financial Panic of 1819.

Stephen F. Austin moved to Arkansas, and then to Louisiana, intending to study law at New Orleans. Meanwhile, Moses Austin headed for Texas, in Spanish-ruled Mexico, to apply for a grant of land and permission to settle 300 families there. Though his request was approved, Moses was unable to carry out his plan. He died on June 10, 1821, shortly after returning to Missouri.

Settling the wilderness

In accordance with his father’s dying wishes, Stephen F. Austin took up the colonization project. He arrived in San Antonio in August 1821 and received permission from Texas Governor Antonio Martínez to start a colony on his father’s grant. Austin chose a tract of land between the Colorado and Brazos Rivers. He began advertising for colonists in newspapers along America’s western frontier. Austin had no trouble finding takers. At 12.5 cents per acre (paid to Austin, as a fee for his services), the land was one-tenth the cost of land in the United States. The first settlers arrived in late 1821. In the meantime, however, Mexico had achieved its independence from Spain. The new government wanted to regulate immigration through a general colonization law. It hesitated to acknowledge the Spanish land grant to Moses Austin.

As described in my post about Josiah Hughes Bell, in 1822 Austin travelled to Mexico City to lobby the Mexican government. This is where Austin is when Napoleon helps out his colonists in Napoleon in America.

In April 1823, Austin received a contract to introduce 300 families to Texas as an empresario. Subsequent colonization laws passed by Mexico and the new state of Coahuila and Texas continued the empresario system. By 1825 Austin had fulfilled his initial contract, having brought in 300 families (1,800 people, including 443 slaves). He obtained three more contracts – in 1825, 1827 and 1828 – to settle 900 additional families in the area. He also received a contract, in partnership with his secretary, to settle 800 families in western Texas. By August 1828, Austin’s colony contained about 8,000 inhabitants. The previous non-Indian population of Texas had never exceeded 4,000.

According to Stephen F. Austin, when he first arrived in Texas, it

was entire wilderness with the exception of the old Spanish posts of San Antonio de Bexar and La Bahia, and they were poor and inconsiderable villages reduced to wretchedness and misery by the arbitrary and cruel measures of the Spanish general in 1813 after the defeat of the Republicans on the Medina; and by the subsequent Indian war, with the Comanches and other savages. Between the Sabine [River] and San Antonio, a distance of 400 miles, there was not twenty souls of civilized inhabitants, and the country was occupied in every direction by wandering bands of the Comanches, Lipans, Tancawas, Wacos, Tawacanys, Karankaways, and other Indians. The government at this period (the winter of 1821-22) was unsettled, all Mexico was in revolution. The Spanish power was prostrated, but much doubt and uncertainty prevailed as to the final result – public opinion and parties vacillated between monarchy, aristocracy, and Republicanism; and it would seem that even these flattering hopes could have offered few inducements to enter Texas with families of women and children, under such circumstances. … The alarming and exaggerated rumors that went abroad relative to the sufferings of the first settlers greatly impeded the progress of the new settlements, and increased [my] difficulties in procuring emigrants. True it is, the first adventurers suffered greatly. They did not taste bread for six months; their only hope for subsistence was the game of the forests until they raised a crop; and they were constantly harassed by Indian depredations. The vessels sent round from New Orleans…with provisions and supplies were lost on the coast and plundered by the Indians and many other casualties occurred; but great as the obstacles were that opposed their settlements in this wilderness, their fortitude and perseverance was still greater, and success has fully rewarded their toils. (1)

In 1824, Austin founded San Felipe de Austin as the unofficial capital of his colony. Austin initially had complete civil and military authority over his colonists. He allowed them to elect militia officers and alcaldes (local mayors/justices of the peace). He drew up a civil and criminal code. He served as a lieutenant colonel of militia. He also surveyed land and allocated it to applicants, trying to keep conflicts among the colonists to a minimum. The Baron de Bastrop served as his initial land commissioner. Since any fees Austin was able to collect from the colonists were eaten up in public expenses, all of which he had to bear himself, he was unable to make much money. His wealth consisted in the 67,000 acres of land he was personally given for every 200 families he brought in. This was not necessarily of much value, given that settlers could essentially obtain Texas land for free through him or other empresarios, or could simply settle illegally in Texas. Unlike some of his peers, Austin was meticulously honest and did not engage in land speculation.

A fortune I have not made, on the contrary, except my land I am poor, but am satisfied, for I have fully succeeded in the main object. If speculation had been my object I should now have been dashing in wealth in Europe or where I pleased, worshipped by the thousands and despised by the two’s or three’s (two or three out of a 1000 is perhaps a low estimate of those who would be governed by principle alone when placed in opposition to wealth). Texas would have remained to this day what I found it, a wilderness and many of the capitalists of the U.S. and of England would have been gulled out of their money. (2)

Austin recognized that his colony’s success depended on the good will of Mexican officials. Under the terms of the grant, all settlers were required to profess the Roman Catholic faith and to respect the government and laws of Mexico. Austin insisted that his colonists become loyal Mexican citizens. He frequently reminded them of the benefits they received from Mexico’s liberal colonization policy. He hoped that Texas would develop into a prosperous Mexican state. Some people thought this pragmatic approach was too cautious. In February 1831 Austin wrote:

[In] my intercourse with this govt. I have followed a few fixed rules from which I have never deviated since 1821 when I first entered the country. In the first place I came with pure intentions. I bid an everlasting farewell to my native country, and adopted this, and in so doing I determined to fulfill rigidly all the duties and obligations of a Mexican citizen. I have endeavored to keep all the officers with whom I was in direct communication in good humor, and to make friends of them. I have excused and even invented plausible reasons to justify or explain away all the political errors of my adopted countrymen. I have been silent as to all their defects, and lavish of praise where there was the least pretext for bestowing it, but at the same time decisive and unbending where a constitutional or vested right of vital importance was direction attacked. Rights of minor consideration I have paid no attention to, for bad feeling might be engendered about trifles, that would jeopardize an important interest….

My native countrymen are blunt republicans, and do not always reflect sufficiently, and some of them have accused me of debility, want of firmness, temporising, etc. It was my duty to steer my precious bark (the Colony) through all the shoals and quicks[ands] regardless of the curses and ridicule of the passengers. I knew what I was about – they did not. (3)

Some of these “shoals” included hostile Indians, the issue of slavery (the colonists favoured it; Mexico didn’t), and the colonists’ increasing desire for self-government. In 1827, Austin helped put down the Fredonian Rebellion, an attempt by fellow empresario Haden Edwards and his settlers to secede from Mexico.

Texas independence

In 1833, Stephen F. Austin travelled to Mexico City in an unsuccessful attempt to petition the Mexican government to separate Texas from Coahuila and make it a Mexican state in its own right. He also sought other reforms, including the repeal of a law that attempted to halt immigration from the United States. On his way back home in January 1834, Austin was arrested in Saltillo on suspicion of trying to incite insurrection in Texas.

He wrote to his friend, Mexican senator Rafael Llanos:

I have been accused of having magnificent schemes for Texas, and I confess that I have had them…. To suppose that the Mexican nation in its present situation, immersed in clouds of prejudice, and backward in every thing, can advance rapidly of itself alone and reach the level of other nations without drawing learning, industry, and population from abroad is almost the same as to imagine that the Mexicans of the time of Cortés could have advanced to where they now are without knowing any other people or having had communication with any other nation in the world…. [Texas] is depopulated; I wish to people it. The population that is there is backward; I wish it to be advanced and improved by the introduction of industrious agricultural settlers, liberal republicans. I want the savage Indians subdued; the frontier protected; the lands cultivated; roads and canals opened; river navigation developed and the rivers covered with boats and barges carrying the produce of the interior to the coast for export in exchange for foreign products, thereby saving the precious metals which are now our only medium of exchange…. These are the magnificent, and as it now appears, visionary, plans which I have held for Texas, and for all this frontier; and if there is a Mexican who does not wish to see them realized, I must say that he does not love his country; neither wants to see her emerge from the darkness of the fifteenth century nor shake off the chains of superstition and monastic ignorance which she is still dragging along….

I entered Texas in 1821 an enthusiastic philanthropist and now at the age of forty I find myself on the verge of misanthropy, tired of men and their affairs, and convinced that I wished to finish in a few years the work of a century….

I was not born in a wilderness, and have not the patience of the Bexareños [the residents of San Antonio] and other inhabitants of this frontier who are daily enduring the same dangers and annoyances that their fathers and grandfathers and perhaps their great-grandfathers suffered, without advancing a single step or even thinking of advancing. Death is preferable to such stagnant existence, such stupid life. (4)

Austin was held as a prisoner in Mexico City until July 1835. This experience convinced him that negotiating with the central government was no longer the way to secure Texas’s well-being. He supported the organization of a local provisional government for Texas. When he learned that Mexican troops were advancing towards Texas, he told the colonists:

War is our only resource. There is no other remedy but to defend our rights, ourselves, and our country by force of arms. (5)

Despite his lack of military training and combat experience, Stephen F. Austin was elected the first commander of the Texans’ volunteer army. He successfully led them in the Siege of Béxar in late 1835. A regular Texas army was created, with Sam Houston as commander-in-chief. Texas declared its independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. On April 21, 1836, the Texian Army defeated Mexican forces at the Battle of San Jacinto, effectively ending the independence war.

Stephen F. Austin stood as a candidate in the election for president of the new Republic of Texas. In July 1836 he wrote:

I am nothing more than individual citizen of this country, but I feel a more lively interest for its welfare than can be expressed – one that is greatly superior to all pecuniary or personal views of any kind. The prosperity of Texas has been the object of my labors, the idol of my existence. It has assumed the character of a religion, for the guidance of my thoughts and actions, for fifteen years. (6)

Austin lost to Sam Houston, who was inaugurated on October 22, 1836. Houston appointed Austin as secretary of state. Austin served for only two months. He died of pneumonia on December 27, 1836 at the age of 43, in the new Texas capital of Columbia (now West Columbia). By then, the wilderness he had settled had been transformed into a relatively advanced and populous country, thanks in large part to his patient, hard work.

Stephen F. Austin never married, and he had no children. He was originally buried in Brazoria County, Texas. In 1910, his body was reinterred at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

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The Extinct Karankawa Indians of Texas

  1. Eugene C. Barker, “Descriptions of Texas by Stephen F. Austin,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Oct. 1924), pp. 101-102.
  2. Eugene C. Barker, ed., Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1922: Vol. II: The Austin Papers, Part 2 (Washington, 1928), pp. 678-679.
  3. Ibid., pp. 600-601.
  4. Ibid., pp. 1029-1031.
  5. Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin (Nashville & Dallas, 1925), p. 481.
  6. Ibid., p. 520.

Presidio Commander Francisco García

Presidio La Bahía (Goliad, Texas), of which Francisco García was the commander in the early 1820s

Presidio La Bahía (Goliad, Texas), of which Francisco García was the commander in the early 1820s

Captain Francisco García was the military commander of Presidio La Bahía (present-day Goliad, Texas) from 1821 to 1823. He is thus the commandant who parleys with Napoleon outside La Bahía in Napoleon in America. In 1821, American filibuster James Long captured La Bahía while García and his men slept.

Major Ross’s sweetheart

Francisco García arrived as a Spanish soldier at San Antonio de Béxar in February 1811. Sometime after 1813 he married a local woman, Gertrudis Barrera. She had been the sweetheart of American Major Reuben Ross, who briefly commanded the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition, an early filibustering foray into Spanish Texas. On April 1, 1813, the filibusters succeeded in capturing San Antonio. On June 16, Spanish Colonel Ignacio Elizondo camped near San Antonio with a large force and demanded the surrender of the town.

Ross ordered the drums to be beat for parade but no Mexicans appeared; they all shut themselves up. This was a mystery to Ross. It was soon unraveled by the girl [Gertrudis] to whom he was attached, who came to him and told him that the Mexicans had all determined to join the enemy and make a massacre of all the Americans. She loved Ross and implored him to retreat; he told her he would do so. Whether thro’ treachery or through imprudence she communicated this intention to her father who was in Elisondo’s army. Ross on receiving these tidings from the girl, immediately called a council of officers and expressed his conviction that they were betrayed & would all be murdered; he advised a retreat; this was opposed by every man present in the council; they resolved they would not fly but remain & abide their fate. That night Ross himself left town and made safe his Retreat. The next morning the Americans elected another commander; they chose Col. [Henry] Perry. (1)

Francisco García and Gertrudis had one child, a daughter named Pilar.

Commandant of La Bahía

In May 1819, Antonio Martínez, the Spanish governor of Texas, sent Captain García to investigate accusations regarding Juan Manuel Zambrano, the military commander at La Bahía, a town of about 600 people located 100 miles southeast of San Antonio. Zambrano had been using his position to operate an extensive contraband operation that involved the exchange of livestock for goods.

Instead of uprooting the vices of the citizens of La Bahía, he led them into illicit trade, and…he abused his license to supply mules to the troops who were afoot by charging them a higher price than the animals were worth. (2)

In April 1821, García took over command of the Presidial Company of La Bahía. At the time there were only three presidial companies in Texas: two in San Antonio (about 136 soldiers), and the one in La Bahía (64 soldiers). Two years later, some Mexican commissioners reported that the condition of the men was “deplorable,” most “being naked and several among them unarmed.” (3)

In August 1821, Stephen Austin described La Bahía as follows:

This place is beautifully situated on an eminence, immediately on the bank of the St. Antonio River. The surrounding country is rolling prairie, land rather sandy but produces well, might all be watered from the River. Town in a state of ruin, owing to the shock it recd in the revolution and subsequent Indian depredations. The Inhabitants have a few cattle and horses & raise some corn. There is however a very considerable trade through this town from Natchitoches to the coast and money is tolerably plenty.

The Spaniards live poorly, have but little furniture or rather none at all in their houses – no knives, eat with forks and spoons and their fingers. (4)

Captain García’s correspondence with Governor Martínez reveals the sorts of things that concerned a commander on Mexico’s northern frontier: lack of supplies; lack of ammunition; the need for money to pay the troops; expeditions to neighbouring outposts; desertions; drought; Indian attacks; cargoes of pottery and pigs.

García was not the most diligent of commandants. He did not get along with La Bahía’s alcalde (mayor), whom he accused of usurping his authority and of refusing to provide support for the pursuit of Indians.

Asleep on the job

García got into trouble when American filibuster James Long captured La Bahía on October 4, 1821, with a force of only 52 men.

He found the task of easy execution; for the garrison was greatly exposed by the want of proper vigilance and discipline which had followed the relaxation of war. After a forced march during the night of thirty miles, [Long] arrived at La Bahia a little before the dawn of day. ‘Who comes there?’ cried the drowsy sentinel. The only reply was a strong hand upon his shoulder. The sentinel was made [an] easy and unresisting prisoner; and before any alarm could be given, the Americans rushed into the fort, put the garrison to flight and took quiet possession of their quarters. Not a gun was fired; and the only damage resulting was the breaking of the soldiers’ morning slumbers, and the transient alarm occasioned to the women and children. (5)

Four days later, a force from San Antonio retook the town. Long and his men were sent as prisoners to Monterrey and then to Mexico City, where Long was killed in mysterious circumstances as described in my post about Ben Milam.

On November 2, 1821, Gaspar López, Commandant General of Mexico’s Eastern Interior Provinces, wrote to Governor Martínez:

Long and his adventurers having empowered themselves in a scandalous way, of a fortified post in that province, is an act which deserves the attention of Govnt. and as it does not appear from the documents referred to that Your E. has taken any measures for the formal investigation of that incident, it is of absolute necessity that the Military Commander of the Bahia, Dn. Fraco. Garcia, be removed from the Command, Your E. ordering that the corresponding summary be immediately formed alleging against him the corresponding charges which will notoriously result for his not having kept the coast covered by the detachment with which he was provided; and the state of abandonment in which the place was found the night of the surprise, for there is no proof of its having been guarded by one single sentinel. (6)

After the reprimand

Francisco García was fired from his post in December. One month later he was granted a pardon and resumed his duties. His job was not an enviable one. In the spring of 1822, Comanche Indians raided La Bahía, stole the horses of the garrison cavalry and carried away five prisoners. That October, Karankawa Indians attacked four of Stephen Austin’s colonists who were guarding a cargo of supplies that had just been landed at the mouth of the Colorado River. The cargo was looted and only one of the guards escaped. Francisco García wrote to Commandant General López that he did not have sufficient force to punish this outrage; that the colonists badly needed the stolen supplies for survival; and that if this act went unpunished, it would encourage the Indians to take similar action in future. On November 8, the Karankawas struck again, seizing two wagons carrying provisions and merchandise. According to García, the Indians were retaliating for an attack the American settlers had made against them. He told López:

This and several other such incidents are the cause of the Indian hostility in order to escape the threats of the Americans. In such a situation peace is impossible. (7)

Francisco García remained in command at La Bahía until the beginning of April 1823. He was dismissed because he and the La Bahía ayuntamiento (town council) proclaimed their undying loyalty to Mexican Emperor Agustín de Iturbide, who had just been kicked out of office. The residents of La Bahía responded to this official slap in the face by electing García as their representative to the new junta gubernativa (governing council) at San Antonio. Garcia, who was opposed to Mexico’s liberal constitutionalists, asked to be excused from the post. José Antonio Navarro (nephew of José Francisco Ruiz) was chosen as his replacement.

Francisco García remained in the La Bahía area as a rancher. In 1829, La Bahía was renamed Goliad. The name is thought to be an anagram of Hidalgo (omitting the silent “H”), in honour of Miguel Hidalgo, the father of the Mexican War of Independence. Francisco García died of cholera in Goliad in 1834.

In 1835, after the start of the Texas Revolution, García’s wife Gertrudis, their daughter Pilar and Pilar’s husband Manuel Sabariego (they married in 1833) fled south and settled in Matamoros. Many years later, they tried through the courts to recover the land they had abandoned in Texas. In the 1860s they succeeded in regaining at least half of their property in Goliad. (8) In 1887, however, the US Supreme Court found against Pilar’s attempt to recover a tract of land in San Antonio that Francisco García had bought in 1819. (9) The defendant in that case was Mary Maverick, a prominent Texas pioneer and diarist.

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Texas entrepreneur Ben Milam

Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios

Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Anglo-American Texas

The Extinct Karankawa Indians of Texas

Texas Revolutionary José Francisco Ruiz

The charmingly deceptive Baron de Bastrop

Jim Bowie before the “gaudy legend”

José Antonio Díaz de León, the last Franciscan missionary in Texas

Felipe de la Garza, the general who captured Iturbide

  1. Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., ed., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Vol. 1 (Austin, 1920), p. 282. Perry defeated Elizondo’s troops, but on August 18, 1813, the filibusters and Mexican republicans were defeated by Spanish royalist forces at the Battle of Medina.
  2. Virginia H. Taylor, translator and editor, “Calendar of the Letters of Antonio Martinez, Last Spanish Governor of Texas, 1817-1822,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 4 (April 1957), p. 536.
  3. Gary Clayton Anderson, The Indian Southwest, 1580-1830: Ethnogenesis and Reinvention (Norman, OK, 1999), p. 256.
  4. “Journal of Stephen F. Austin on his First Trip to Texas, 1821,” The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Vol. 7, No. 4 (April, 1904), p. 298.
  5. Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., ed., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Vol. 2 (Austin, 1922), p. 115.
  6. The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Vol. 1, pp. 51-52.
  7. Joseph Carl McElhannon, “Imperial Mexico and Texas, 1821-1823,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 2 (October 1949), pp. 123-124.
  8. George W. Paschal, Reports of Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Texas, during the Tyler and Austin Sessions 1867 and part of the Galveston session, 1868, Vol. 30 (St. Louis, MO, 1882), pp. 549-563.
  9. Stephen K. Williams, ed., Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1887, in 123, 124, 125, 126 US, Book 31 (Rochester, NY, 1887), pp. 430-445.

Texas Pioneer Josiah Hughes Bell

A plaque commemorating Josiah Hughes Bell in West Columbia, Texas

A plaque commemorating Josiah Hughes Bell in West Columbia, Texas

Josiah Hughes Bell, the founder of East and West Columbia, Texas, was one of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists and Austin’s trusted friend. Austin left Bell in charge of the colony when he had to go to Mexico City in 1822 to confirm his empresario grant with the new Mexican government. Thus Napoleon and his men meet with Bell, rather than Austin, when they arrive at the Brazos River in Napoleon in America. At the time, Bell was finding it hard to keep the colonists’ spirits up.

American businessman

Josiah Hughes Bell was born on August 22, 1791, in Chester District, South Carolina, the son of John and Elizabeth (Hughes) Bell. John died when Josiah was five years old. At the age of 11, Josiah Hughes Bell was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, to apprentice with two uncles who were hatters. Ten years later, he moved to the Missouri Territory and began his own hat manufacturing business. During the War of 1812, Bell fought against the Indian attacks instigated by the British.

In 1818, Bell sold his business and went to visit his mother, who was living in Kentucky. While there he met and married Mary Eveline McKenzie. They settled in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where Bell developed a prosperous business. Unfortunately, his business partner disappeared with all of the profits.

Austin colonist

Josiah Hughes Bell moved to Texas, which was then part of Mexico, and joined a Missouri friend, Stephen Austin. Austin’s father Moses had received permission from the Spanish government to settle three hundred Anglo-American families in Texas, but died before completing the task. Stephen Austin took over his father’s job.

On October 6, 1821, at Nacogdoches, Stephen Austin granted Josiah Hughes Bell permission to settle along the Brazos River.

He is to receive nine hundred and sixty acres as head of his family and in addition to that three hundred and twenty acres for his wife and one hundred and sixty acres for each child and slave, one half of which is to be taken in an oblong on the River and the other half back from the River. The said land must be inhabited and cultivated within one year and there must be paid me twelve dollars and fifty cents per hundred acres one half on the receipt of the title and the other half in twelve months which is to be in full for all surveying and other expenses. (1)

As Mexico had recently declared its independence, Austin was obliged to travel to Mexico City to seek the new government’s authority to give the settlers title to their land. Since Bell was one of his most trusted friends, Austin left him in charge of the small number of families who had already arrived, as well as the incoming colonists.

On January 17, 1822, Bell wrote to Austin:

I have only time to drop you a line in haste as the bearer is in a hurry. All things are going on well and people crowding on their way to the Brassos [Brazos] and Colorado [Rivers] and are all coming for your claim. You will find that they will all crowd for your settlement notwithstanding what the few may say that are opposed to your [interest]. We understand here that [James] Long is well received by the Government. He may have some influence hereafter and situated as things are at present you would do well to pay attention to that circumstance and as his good will may be of service an early attention will in my opinion be no disadvantage. My anxiety for your [interest] makes me take this liberty at present…. You may rest assured that old [James] Dill does and will do you all the injury you [he] can. (2)

Austin was gone for over a year and a half. Despite Bell’s efforts to keep spirits up, some of the settlers became demoralized by Austin’s long absence, the unclear status of their grants, a bad drought, and the hostility of the Indians. Austin wrote to Bell from Mexico City in July 1822: “I fear some of the settlers may have become a little discouraged at my long absences and at the uncertainty in which they have remained, but I assure you that I have been labouring hard the whole time for your good.” (3) He also promised that the government would send a body of troops “with whose aid I think the Comanches may be humbled.” (4)

The troops were never sent. Bell was left having to deal with the colony’s security, as well as matters of justice. In May 1823 he wrote to Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios:

On the twenty first of March last there was a Frenchman who called his name Bt. Rashall a citizen of the United States of America passed through this neighbourhood. [H]e had in company with him a man he said was an Indian. Rashall had a small cavallard sixteen in number of horses and mules of different brands. [A]s they passed through the neighbourhood of the Colorado they stole thirteen head of horses from Mr. Buckner and Parker, came on to Martin Varner living on the road in the neighborhood of the Brazos and stole four head from him, and passed on across the Brazos intending to make their escape for the United States. We raised a party of men and followed them near the Trinity river and overtook them, and they having no passport we brought they back, and on examination found them guilty of theft. I detained the cavallyard and started the men on to [San] Antonio under a guard for your instruction. [A]t the Colorado, the Alcalde and Commandant stopped them, and directed the guard to return, saying they had instructions from your excellency not to send any guilty of such crimes on but to decide on the case ourselves. [T]heir doing so put it out of my power to send them on after they returned as we have not horses for that purpose and men could not leave their crops having lost so much time already. [B]eing convinced of the guilt of Rashall I took the property I found to be his, to pay the expense of apprehending them, and also to pay for the property they stole and did not return. There was one hundred and fifty dollars of the stolen property we could get nothing for, which was lost to the owners. … The manner in which I acted appeared from every evidence I could get on the subject to be as near justice as was in my power to come at and I wish your Excellency so soon as convenient to say whether the part I acted was right or not. We are much at a loss for instructions from that place, as we have never received one official line since the officers were elected. Be so good as to give us instructions when you can with convenience (5)

Austin seemed pleased with Bell’s efforts. Upon his return to the colony in August 1823, he wrote to Bell:

I rely greatly on your prudence and judgment in preserving harmony and content amongst the settlers. It now depends altogether on my will to admit or reject who I please, and if there are any who are not worthy I must be informed of it that they may be ordered off, and if the order is not obeyed it will be enforced with rigor. (6)

In March 1824, Austin appointed Josiah Hughes Bell as lieutenant of the militia within the Brazos district.

The said Bell will adopt all necessary measures to protect the said settlements from the attacks of the Karankawas, Cokes, or any other Indians, and to chastise them for any depredations they may commit within said limits without waiting for orders from his superior officer, avoiding in all cases the shedding of blood where more gentle means are likely to produce the proper effect…. The said Bell will also watch over the public peace and the observance of the laws generally and forward on to the Alcalde of the District for trial all persons who violate them. He will also be attentive that no vagabond or fugitives from justice are harbored or protected within his command nor any persons who are avowedly enemies of the Mexican Nation, giving an account to me of all such and if necessary apprehending and forwarding them to the Alcalde for trial. He will be particular to give frequent statements to me in writing of all his official acts, as also of the arrival of any vessels or emigrants or any other remarkable occurrence. And I command all persons to obey the said Bell accordingly, under the pains and penalties prescribed by the law. (7)

Founder of East and West Columbia

Bell’s land grants were located on the west side of the lower Brazos. He built his home there and developed a sugar plantation. A town called Marion, or Bell’s Landing (now known as East Columbia), grew up around a river landing he constructed. It became the most important shipping point in the colony. In 1826, Bell laid out the town of Columbia (now called West Columbia), two miles west of Marion.

Josiah Hughes Bell became a prosperous colonist. He built a hotel in Columbia to accommodate the many travellers who came to visit him. He also constructed a school. Bell was loyal to the Texas cause during the Texas Revolution. Columbia served as the capital of the Republic of Texas from September to December 1836.

Josiah Hughes Bell died in Columbia on May 17, 1838, at the age of 46. He and Mary had eight children: Samuel (1819), Elizabeth Lucinda (1820), Thaddeus (1822), James Hall (1825), William (1828), John (1832), May (1834), and Amanda (1836). Mary Bell died in 1856, after being thrown from a carriage.

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Texas entrepreneur Ben Milam

Jim Bowie before the “gaudy legend”

  1. Eugene C. Barker, ed., Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1919: Vol. II: The Austin Papers, Part 1 (Washington, 1924), p. 415.
  2. Ibid., p. 466.
  3. Ibid., p. 534.
  4. Ibid., p. 535.
  5. Ibid., pp. 636-37.
  6. Ibid., p. 681.
  7. Ibid., pp. 759-760.

The charmingly deceptive Baron de Bastrop

Monument to the Baron de Bastrop on the grounds of the courthouse in Bastrop, Texas.

Monument to the Baron de Bastrop on the grounds of the courthouse in Bastrop, Texas.

The Baron de Bastrop (Felipe Enrique Neri) was a prominent resident of Texas in the early 19th century. Charismatic and enterprising, Bastrop brought some pioneers into northern Louisiana and encouraged the Anglo-American colonization of Texas when it was part of Mexico. He also lied about his past and left a trail of litigation involving questionable land titles that lasted for over 20 years after his death.

Dutch beginnings

The Baron de Bastrop was born on November 23, 1759 as Philip Hendrik Nering Bögel in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana (Suriname). His father, Conraed Laurens Nering Bögel, was a member of the Court of Justice in Paramaribo. Around 1764, the family – which included Philip’s older brother and younger sister – returned to Holland. Philip’s mother, Maria Jacoba Kraayvanger, died shortly after they arrived. Philip’s father, who remarried, died nine years later, when Philip was 13.

In 1779, Philip enlisted in a Dutch cavalry unit. It’s unlikely he saw any action, and he was probably discharged before marrying Georgine Wolffeline Françoise Lijcklama à Nyeholt in 1782. Philip and Georgine had five children: Susanna (born in 1783), Christina (1785), Coenraad (1786, died in 1788), Martha (1788) and Augustina (1790). They lived in Leeuwarden, where Philip served as a tax collector for the province of Friesland.

In May 1793, Philip suddenly disappeared from his job. He and his family left Leeuwarden, leaving behind substantial debts and the suggestion of embezzlement. A hasty audit of the tax funds found a shortfall of some 250,000 guilders. A reward of 1,000 gold ducats was offered for the capture of Philip Hendrik Nering Bögel.

From Bögel to Bastrop

On September 25, 1793, one Philip Hendrik Bastrop arrived in Philadelphia on a ship from Hamburg, accompanied by five female Bastrops named Georgine Wolfeline Françoise Lijcklama, Susana, Cristina, Marta and Augustina. (1)

By April 1795, Philip was in Louisiana, where he represented himself as a Dutch nobleman with the title of Baron de Bastrop. Claiming he had come to the United States to escape the French invasion of Holland, Bastrop became friends with the governor of Louisiana, Baron de Carondelet.

Carondelet was concerned about the advance of American settlers into Spanish-ruled Louisiana. He wanted to create a buffer against this. In 1796, Carondelet signed a colonization agreement with the Baron de Bastrop for the settlement of European immigrants in an area of approximately 850,000 acres along the Ouachita River in northeast Louisiana. Bastrop promised to recruit 500 families. They would each receive 400 acres of land on which to grow wheat. Bastrop would build grist mills for the colony at his own expense. Carondelet promised to cover the settlers’ transportation expenses, provide six months’ worth of provisions, and supply seeds for the initial crop. Bastrop also gained a monopoly on milling and selling the colonists’ wheat.

In 1797, Bastrop brought in 99 settlers, recruited from Kentucky. They began to clear and plant land. Bastrop built a mill and a warehouse, and traded with the Indians. However, the project foundered when a Spanish official declared the government could not afford to subsidize the colony. Financial aid to the settlers was cut off and Bastrop was ordered to stop bringing in colonists. In 1799, Bastrop sold the property, only to have it deeded back to him when the purchaser learned that Bastrop’s grant had never been officially approved by the Spanish King. Bastrop turned to other business ventures in Louisiana and Kentucky, but found himself facing a rising number of lawsuits. When the United States took possession of Louisiana in December 1803, there were various competing ownership claims attached to the Bastrop tract, including those of the settlers.

A French traveller who visited Louisiana at the time wrote:

During the approximately three years that this establishment lasted, the Dutch baron was occupied from start to finish with building a mill for the future races of Ouachita where, when the weather permitted, he employed twenty to twenty-five workers for one piaster a day payed from Delisle-Serpi’s [a New Orleans merchant’s] funds. At the same time, he took vigilant care to ensure that nothing harmful to his trading privilege was imported to the post. Extending his surveillance much too far, he caused the inhabitants to lack everything and to pay dearly for the smallest things. His blind cupidity prevented him from noticing that he was the biggest victim; because, if he had contributed to generously provisioning this canton, he would thus have convinced a large number of colonists to come and establish themselves on his concession….

Few men inspired, on the outside, so much confidence and interest: a handsome physique, a pleasant and calm face, simple and relaxed manners, agreeable, if not brilliant, conversation; he was affable, with no apparent pretensions, always obliging, and the best of masters in his own house; his defects were vices of the mind rather than of the heart. Always seductive, without much knowledge or ability, he had…without enriching himself, ruined all who joined in his projects; all his steps were marked with disaster. In Louisiana, all of the governors and men of substance were captivated by him. He left the Ouachita without having earned a cent, and having done more damage than the wickedest of men…. (2)

Part of the Bastrop tract was eventually leased by Aaron Burr. Litigation over ownership continued for nearly half a century. In December 1850, the US Supreme Court finally ruled that the agreement between Bastrop and the Spanish government did not give him title to the land. The following March, the US Congress enacted legislation so that all settlers who could prove they had occupied and cultivated land in the Bastrop grant for 20 years would receive legal title to their holdings.

Felipe Enrique Neri: The Baron de Bastrop in Texas

Leaving his Louisiana interests in the hands of an agent, Bastrop arrived in Nacogdoches, Texas in 1805 with three slaves and a French servant. (3) By this time Bastrop’s family had returned to Holland. They do not appear to have ever joined him in Louisiana. A Philip Bastrop family appears in the 1800 US census as living in Frederick County, Maryland. (4) By November 1803, Georgine was back in the Netherlands, where she died in 1816. All four daughters were married in Holland between 1810 and 1817.

In 1806, Bastrop settled in San Antonio de Béxar. A plan to establish a colony between San Antonio and the Trinity River came to nothing. He entered into mercantile partnerships and started a business that involved freighting goods by mule. He went by the name of Felipe Enrique Neri, Baron de Bastrop. Bastrop’s charm and his fluency in English, Spanish, French and Dutch helped him become a leading member of the community. In 1810, he was appointed second alcalde (deputy mayor) of the ayuntamiento (municipal council). That same year, he petitioned to become a Spanish citizen.

In 1820, when Connecticut businessman Moses Austin came to San Antonio and proposed to settle 300 families in Texas, the Baron de Bastrop helped persuade the Texas governor to support Austin’s plan. Stephen Austin wrote:

In crossing the public square, [my father] accidentally met the Baron de Bastrop. They had seen each other once before in the United States, having met at a tavern when travelling, many years previous. He invited my father to his room, where he lived in great poverty, but his influence with the government was considerable, and was very great with the inhabitants of Bexar who loved him for the benevolence of his disposition. He was a man of education, talents, and experience, and thoroughly initiated into all the mysteries of the government house. (5)

In 1822, the Baron de Bastrop acted as an interpreter for the agreement between the Cherokee Indians and Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios. In Napoleon in America, Bastrop helps Trespalacios take a stand against Napoleon.

In 1823, the Baron de Bastrop was appointed commissioner of colonization for the Austin colony, with the authority to issue land titles. The settlers elected Bastrop to the provincial deputation at San Antonio, which, in 1824, chose him to represent Texas in the legislature of Coahuila and Texas of the Mexican republic. During his time in Saltillo, the Baron de Bastrop supported legislation favourable to immigration. He also helped pass an act to establish a port at Galveston.

In a letter written in May 1823, one of Austin’s colonists said he found  the Baron de Bastrop “intelligent good and much Service to this Province…” (6) However another of Austin’s correspondents hoped to dislodge Bastrop from his post of surveyor in Texas, “by several good reasons some of which are the following, that he is too old to give personal attention, that [he] probably knows nothing of the new mode of calculation by Lat. and depart. which is the only mode to do it correctly.” (7)

Another colonist offered the following recollection, which provides a hint of the myth Bastrop created about his past.

When the Baron first came to Austin colony D. thinks he was nearly eighty years of age, but very hale and active. He was, says Judge Duke, a native of Holland, but at an early age went into the service of Frederick the Great of Prussia. He soon distinguished himself and was ennobled by Frederick. At a later period he received from the King of Spain a large grant of land in Louisiana, but after the acquisition of that territory by the United States he could not sustain his claim. He thought that great injustice had been done him and always spoke in bitter terms of the United States government. He always signed his name ‘El Baron de Bastrop.’ Judge Duke never learned his family name. (8)

The Baron de Bastrop died on February 23, 1827 at the age of 67 in Saltillo, Mexico. There was not enough money in his estate to cover his burial expenses. Bastrop, Louisiana and Bastrop, Texas are named after him, as is Bastrop County in Texas.

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  1. William Henry Egle, ed., Names of Foreigners who took the Oath of Allegiance to the Province and State of Pennsylvania, 1727-1775, With the Foreign Arrivals, 1786-1808 (Harrisburg, PA, 1892), p. 541.
  2. Charles-César Robin, Voyages dans l’interieur de la Louisiane, de la Floride Occidentale, et dans les Isles de la Martinique et de Saint-Domingue, Vol. II (Paris, 1807), pp. 342-344.
  3. Charles A. Bacarisse, “Baron de Bastrop,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Jan. 1955), p. 330.
  4. http://us-census.org/pub/usgenweb/census/md/frederick/1800/pgs-148-to-161.txt (p. 157). Accessed December 27, 2015.
  5. Dudley G. Wooten, ed., A Comprehensive History of Texas 1685 to 1897, Vol. 1 (Dallas, 1898), pp. 442-443.
  6. Eugene C. Barker, ed., Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1919: Vol. II: The Austin Papers, Part 1 (Washington, 1924), p. 669.
  7. Ibid., p. 640.
  8. H. Kuykendall, “Reminiscences of Early Texans: A Collection from the Austin Papers,” The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Jan. 1903), p. 248.

Texas Priest Francisco Maynes

Mission San Juan Capistrano, around which Father Francisco Maynes acquired land. Painting by Hermann Lungkwitz, 1856.

Mission San Juan Capistrano, around which Father Francisco Maynes acquired land. Painting by Hermann Lungkwitz, 1856.

Francisco Maynes was a Spanish-born Catholic priest and occasional military chaplain who served in Texas in the early 19th century under Spanish, and then Mexican, rule. Maynes proved quite successful in petitioning the San Antonio town council for land that belonged to the former Spanish missions, thus establishing a precedent for local clergymen to become land speculators. In Napoleon in America, Father Maynes insists he is ready to give his life to prevent Napoleon from entering San Antonio.

Frontier priest

Francisco Manuel Maynes was born on November 5, 1761 in the province of Soria, Spain, the son of Juan Maynes and Maria Cruz Utrilla. He was ordained in 1793 in Seville. Maynes liked to be addressed as Bachiller, the honorific title of a secular priest, in recognition of his university education. At some point Francisco Maynes travelled to New Spain (Mexico). In 1808, he was appointed as a chaplain to the presidial and “flying” (mobile) companies of Texas and Coahuila. These were the military formations manning the garrisons (presidios) and frontier outposts of this vast region. Military chaplains were responsible for celebrating mass on feast days, administering the sacraments, performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers and officers, and accompanying the troops on expeditions.

In 1808 Francisco Maynes began his service at Atascosito, a Spanish settlement and military outpost on the Trinity River near the site of present-day Liberty, Texas. In August 1809 he was transferred to Santísima Trinidad de Salcedo, a small military-civilian settlement on the east bank of the Trinity River, near present-day Madisonville. In February 1810, when the Spanish government solicited a donation of funds for defence, Father Maynes was one of the largest contributors from Trinidad.

Later that year, Texas Governor Manuel Salcedo visited the eastern frontier and asked Father Maynes to provide a written report on his pastoral charge.

Maynes characterized the Spanish inhabitants of Trinidad as loyal subjects of their King and country, devout Apostolic Roman Catholics, breeders of horses, mules, cattle, and hogs, and planters of corn, beans, pumpkins, watermelons, and other crops. The foreign inhabitants he stated were more prone to live in the country than the town and preferred hunting, breeding horses, mules, cattle and hogs. They cultivated corn, beans, watermelons, pumpkins, greens, and some cotton. Some were devoted to drinking when they came to the settlement, but they were generally peaceful and respectful of the country and the Catholic religion.

Maynes also wrote eloquently about the prospects of the land. Native trees, fruits, nuts, and medicinal plants were described, maritime prospects outlined, and a silk-worm industry suggested. He also said the surrounding Indian tribes were peaceful and industrious. (1)

In contrast, the priest at the neighbouring parish of Nacogdoches described his charge as “a village without order, morality, or Christianity. He deplored the lack of education, poverty (due in his estimation to restrictions of trade with their nearest Louisiana markets), and the quartering of the soldiers in private homes, which he said led to moral dissolution.” (2)

Revolution

In January 1811, the Mexican war for independence reached the province of Texas. A retired militia captain named Juan Bautista de las Casas led a successful coup d’état in San Antonio de Béxar (present-day San Antonio) and arrested Governor Salcedo.

When the news reached Trinidad, the settlers declared themselves in favor of Casas. Because of his friendship with Salcedo, Father Maynes was arrested and taken to San Antonio. Though his property was seized, Maynes was otherwise treated with respect. Casas was soon toppled and Maynes was released.

In 1813, Trinidad was destroyed in revolutionary violence and Father Maynes moved to Natchitoches, Louisiana where he became the priest of St. Francis Catholic Church (Maynes mistakenly appears in some transcribed Natchitoches parish records as Father Francisco Magnes). In 1817, he caused a church to be built at Alexandria, Louisiana.

Presidial chaplain

Francisco Maynes remained in Natchitoches until after Mexico gained its independence. In 1822, he was again appointed as a presidial chaplain, this time to the San Antonio military company of Alamo de Parras. He arrived in San Antonio in November 1822. Since Father Refugio de la Garza, priest of the San Antonio parish (San Fernando), was on a leave of absence from 1822 to 1824 as a Texas delegate to the Mexican Congress, Father Maynes also assumed pastoral care for the parish. In addition to administering the sacraments, he was responsible for endorsing the citizenship of Protestant American settlers who sought to become Mexicans by marrying Mexican women and converting to Catholicism.

In August 1823, Texas empresario Stephen Austin tried to secure Francisco Maynes’ services for his colonists. He petitioned Texas governor José Antonio Saucedo.

The neighbors of the Rio Colorado and Bravo say that since they have been here they have had no spiritual pastor. Their children have not been baptised, there have been no marriage ceremonies and many have died without the ministrations of a priest. If possible they would like to have Father Maynes, chaplain of the company of Bexar and a priest well known by many of them and who speaks the English and French. He will set them a good moral example which should exist amongst the colonists and instruct the youth in the dogmas of the Roman Catholic religion. (3)

To his colonists, Austin wrote:

I wish the settlers to remember that the Roman Catholic is the religion of this nation. I have taken measures to have Father Miness [Maynes] formerly of Natchitoches, appointed our Curate, he is a good man and acquainted with the Americans. We must all be particular on this subject and respect the Catholic religion with all that attention due to its sacredness and to the laws of the land. (4)

Saucedo forwarded the request to the relevant bishop, who replied:

I am very sorry not to be able to send Father Maynes, for he has a position, being chaplain to the troops and you want a missionary priest. (5)

There were no missionary priests available. The dissolution of the Franciscan missions in Texas, which had started under Spanish rule, was completed with an 1823 Mexican directive requiring “full and complete secularization.” (6) The directive reserved only the church buildings for the diocese. The San Antonio ayuntamiento (municipal council) assumed the job of distributing the land, water rights and tangible assets of the abandoned missions.

Landowner

Frontier priests were poorly paid. They often added to their meagre earnings through secular activities such as ranching. Francisco Maynes thus joined the scramble of applicants petitioning the ayuntamiento for land. In 1824, he received one of the most generous land grants at Mission San Juan Capistrano, south of San Antonio. In 1827 he augmented his holdings at the mission. Maynes may have set a precedent, as Father Garza – notorious for neglecting his spiritual duties – also enriched himself in this fashion.

Late in life Maynes adopted an orphaned immigrant, Jacob Linn, who was born in Bavaria in 1825. Jacob’s parents had died on the voyage to Texas, and his sister died shortly after arriving in San Antonio. Father Francisco Maynes died in September 1834 at the age of 72, the victim of a cholera epidemic. He left the majority of his estate to young Jacob.

You might also enjoy:

Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Anglo-American Texas

José Antonio Díaz de León, the last Franciscan missionary in Texas

Texas Revolutionary José Francisco Ruiz

Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios

Texas Pioneer Josiah Hughes Bell

Texas entrepreneur Ben Milam

Jim Bowie before the “gaudy legend”

  1. Jean L. Epperson, “Trinidad de Salcedo: A Lost Texas Town,” Journal of the Houston Archeological Society, Number 107 (December 1993), p. 19.
  2. Ibid., p. 19.
  3. William Stuart Red, The Texas Colonists and Religion, 1821-1836 (Austin, 1924), p. 33.
  4. Eugene C. Barker, ed., Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1919: Vol. II: The Austin Papers, Part 1 (Washington, 1924), p. 680.
  5. The Texas Colonists and Religion, 1821-1836, p. 35.
  6. Félix D. Almaráz, Jr., “San Antonio’s Old Franciscan Missions: Material Decline and Secular Avarice in the Transition from Hispanic to Mexican Control,” The Americas, Vol. 44, No. 1 (July 1987), p. 4.

Texas Revolutionary José Francisco Ruiz

José Francisco Ruiz

José Francisco Ruiz

José Francisco Ruiz was a Mexican soldier who fought for Mexico’s independence from Spain and later supported Texas’s struggle for independence from Mexico. He is most noted for being one of only two native-born Texans to sign the 1836 Texas Declaration of Independence, even though he was “horrified” by the idea. Ruiz spent considerable time among the Texas Indians, most notably the Comanches. He was well thought of by the Indians and was influential in brokering peace agreements with several Texas tribes. Ruiz thus appears as the Mexican Indian administrator in Napoleon in America.

Mexican revolutionary

José Francisco Ruiz was born around January 28, 1783, in San Antonio de Béxar (now San Antonio, Texas), which was then part of Spanish-ruled Mexico. He was the son of Juan Manuel Ruiz and María Manuela de la Peña. At some point Ruiz left San Antonio to receive an education at a college in Spain. When he returned in 1803, he was appointed the first schoolmaster of San Antonio. On March 8, 1804, he married Maria Joséfa Hernandez, with whom he had three children. Ruiz tended his father’s ranch and served in various official capacities in San Antonio, including regidor (town councilman) in 1805 and procurador (town attorney) in 1809.

In 1811, José Francisco Ruiz joined the Béxar Provincial Militia with the rank of lieutenant. The Mexican revolution had begun the year before. In 1813, Ruiz became one of the insurgents seeking independence from Spain. He fought in the Battle of Medina on August 18, 1813, in which Spanish troops defeated rebel forces.

With a price on his head, Ruiz fled to the United States with some family members. Ruiz’s nephew, José Antonio Navarro, later wrote:

[E]ver since the Year of 1813, and particularly since the unfortunate Battle of the Medina, my [Un]cle Francisco Ruiz, my Brother-in-Law [Juan Martín de] Veramendi, my aforesaid Brother Angel, and even ourselves the minors of the family have fallen into a horrid persecution on the part of all the Spanish officers devoted to the cause of their King. The names of Ruiz, Veramendi and Navarro was the mark of ignominy, the alarm of treason, and of all evil that could be invoked against the holy cause and the rights of the King of Spain….

[M]y Uncle Ruiz, my brother-in-law…and myself may be said wandering, in the State of Louisiana; behold here a family scattered and persecute[d by?] so many disasters. (1)

Indian agent

Comanche Indians by George Catlin. José Francisco Ruiz was instrumental in helping the Mexican government make peace with the Comanches and other tribes in the 1820s.

Comanche Indians by George Catlin. José Francisco Ruiz was instrumental in helping the Mexican government make peace with the Comanches and other tribes in the 1820s.

In the spring of 1821, José Francisco Ruiz was offered a pardon by the Spanish government in Mexico City, on the condition that he help make peace with the Comanche Indians. Ruiz had spent time among the Comanches and was thought to have considerable influence with them. When Mexico gained its independence later that year, the new government took up the initiative. Gaspar López, Commandant General of the Eastern Interior Provinces, wrote to Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios. He said that he had written to Ruiz and others,

who are all residing at Natchitoches [in Louisiana], not only inducing them to restore themselves to their country and families, the Independence of the Republic being now proclaimed, but also urging them to make use of their acquaintance and influence with the warlike Indians; so that after having attained the emancipation of our beloved country, we may see them laying down their arms and becoming friendly, with the understanding that the new government established on a liberal basis and principles, shall accede to their propositions, in order to put an end to the effusion of the blood of the inhabitants of these provinces. (2)

Ruiz convinced the Comanche leaders to proceed to San Antonio, where they agreed to a truce in August 1822. Ruiz then accompanied a Comanche delegation to Mexico City to sign a formal treaty. In 1824, when the Mexican government made money available for presents to be distributed under the terms of the treaty, Ruiz was appointed the distributor. He was, in effect, the Indian agent at San Antonio.

Meanwhile, Ruiz continued to manage his large ranch holdings in the area. He also received a promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Mexican army. In December 1826, he was sent to Nacogdoches to help put down the Fredonian Rebellion. As the commander in Nacogdoches, Ruiz was instrumental in making peace with the Waco and Tawakoni tribes in mid-1827.

Ruiz returned to San Antonio in 1828. He assisted the Mexican Boundary Commission, led by General Manuel de Mier y Terán, in its travels through Comanche territory. He also wrote an influential “Report on the Indian tribes of Texas in 1828.”

In 1830, Ruiz was dispatched with the Álamo de Parras company to establish a military post on the Brazos River, called Fort Tenoxtitlán. The aim was to provide a base for the settlement of Mexican colonists and to prevent illegal American immigration and smuggling. The post suffered from isolation, hostile Indians and desertions. Ruiz was also troubled by the fact that he was not allowed to let Americans – for whom he felt sympathy – settle within his jurisdiction. In a letter to Stephen Austin dated November 26, 1830, Ruiz expressed discouragement.

Friend, I am tired already with my destiny in such a short time; it seems to me that I shall last little time with it [his post at Tenoxtitlán]. I realize that my separation from a military career is in my best interest, because I am not of the sort to be commanding during calamitous times, and much less at a point so advanced and without recourse for already there is a shortage of troops and following that there will be a shortage of necessities…. And do not ignore the fact that I detest the Indians for I know what they are, and only put up with them because the circumstances demand prudence…. (3)

The following year, Ruiz wrote to Mexican Vice President Anastasio Bustamante requesting retirement or a permanent leave from the army because of failing health. In August 1832, Ruiz received orders to abandon Fort Tenoxtitlán and move his troops back to San Antonio. He officially retired from the army at the end of that year. He devoted himself to managing his substantial ranches along the San Antonio and Brazos Rivers.

Texas revolutionary

When the Texas Revolution broke out in 1835, José Francisco Ruiz allied with those who were seeking independence from Mexico. He told his nephew José Antonio Navarro:

The die is cast, and something will be done in a few months towards effecting a separation of Texas from the Mexican Republic. I feel horrified at the idea of having to pronounce this anathema on our dear country. I have fought and shed my blood in my youth for Mexico and Mexican liberty; and, although advanced in years, I would offer her the aid of my arm, if I had the least glimmering of hope that this unhappy country could be capable of self-government. But I have lost all hope for her: I see her ruin and inevitable degradation. I have military honors (you know it well) and receive a pension from the Government of Mexico. I will lose it all rather than go to Mexico and unite myself to the ranks of that oppressive army. (4)

On March 2, 1836 Ruiz and Navarro signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. They were the only native-born Texans to do so. Ruiz’s son, Francisco Antonio Ruiz, then alcalde (mayor) of San Antonio, was an important eyewitness to the Battle of the Alamo.

José Francisco Ruiz represented the San Antonio district as its senator in the first Congress of the Republic of Texas (1836-37). He died of hydropsy (edema) in San Antonio on January 19, 1840, at the age of 57. He is buried in San Fernando Cemetery Number 1. His former house is on the grounds of the Witte Museum in San Antonio.

You  might also enjoy:

Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios

Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Anglo-American Texas

Texas Priest Francisco Maynes

Texas Pioneer Josiah Hughes Bell

Texas entrepreneur Ben Milam

Jim Bowie before the “gaudy legend”

Cherokee Indian Chief Bowles (Duwali) and his tragic quest for land

Caddo Indian Chief Dehahuit

  1. Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., and Katherine Elliott, eds., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Vol. 3 (Austin, 1923), p. 598.
  2. Nora Elia Cantu Rios, “José Francisco Ruiz, Signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence,” M.A. Thesis, Texas Tech University, 1970, p. 27.
  3. Eugene C. Barker, ed., Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1919: Vol. II: The Austin Papers, Part 1 (Washington, 1924), pp. 541-542. Letter translated by Nora Elia Cantu Rios in “José Francisco Ruiz, Signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence,” pp. 34-35.
  4. Jacob de Cordova, Texas: Her Resources and Her Public Men (Philadelphia, 1858), p. 149.

Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios

Early San Antonio, where José Félix Trespalacios was governor

Early San Antonio

José Félix Trespalacios, an insurgent who fought for Mexico’s independence from Spain, became the first governor of Texas in newly-independent Mexico in 1822. As such, he has to deal with the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte on the Texas frontier in Napoleon in America. Trespalacios was a hard-working and optimistic governor. He established the first Texas bank, negotiated an agreement with the Cherokees, supported Stephen Austin’s colony, and introduced the first printing press to Texas. His term was short, however, and most of his innovations came to naught.

A Mexican revolutionary

José Félix Trespalacios was born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1781. He was the son of Francisco Antonio Trespalacios, a Spanish immigrant who served several times as the alcalde (mayor) of Chihuahua. At the time, Mexico was under Spanish rule. When the war for Mexican independence broke out in 1810, José Félix Trespalacios joined the militia. Though he was supposed to be supporting the royalists, his sympathies lay with the rebels. In 1814, Trespalacios was elected alcalde of Chihuahua. In November of that year he was arrested and tried for conspiring to provoke a rebellion. His initial death sentence was commuted to ten years in prison. Trespalacios escaped (possibly in Havana) and joined a rebel band fighting in the Mexican countryside. Sometime between 1816 and 1819, Trespalacios was again captured and imprisoned. For a second time he escaped. His wife, Ana María García Roiz, assisted in one or both of his escapes.

The Long Expedition

José Félix Trespalacios wound up in New Orleans, where he joined James Long’s 1820 filibustering expedition to Texas. Trespalacios was named military commander of the expedition. It was thought that putting a Mexican in nominal charge would give the venture political legitimacy and financial support.

It was agreed…that Trespalacios should be invested with the chief command on the condition of his obtaining a recognition of the enterprise from some of the newly created juntos in the Interior, and a due authority from them for its prosecution. This was readily effected through some of the Mercantile houses in New Orleans; and the arrangements thus entered into, being communicated to General Long, he very readily assented to them, as the best means of nationalizing his proceedings and rendering them acceptable to the people of the United States, as well as to the Mexican nation. He was also encouraged to believe that the finances of the enterprise might be a little improved. Trespalacios himself was very sanguine of being able to retain resources from the Interior; and accordingly addressed various letters to the Insurgent Chiefs, invoking their pecuniary assistance. (1)

At Long’s outpost on Bolivar Point, Trespalacios

was received with a warm and generous welcome; heightened, no doubt, by the timely supply of provisions and clothing which he brought with him. His presence had a tranquilizing effect. He was a tall, sedate and dignified man, gentlemanly in his deportment, kind in his expressions and liberal in his dealings. He assumed command without giving offense to any, and entered upon the discharge of his duties, with a promptness, zeal and sound discretion which inspired general confidence, and gave new life and animation to the garrison…. There was but one draw-back to the general jubilee; and that was the disposition of the new Commander to set them to work instead of fighting…. It was their contempt of the vulgar pursuits of industry which had led them to adopt the more glorious profession of arms. (2)

As the expedition was low on funds, Trespalacios issued treasury notes to the soldiers in payment of their dues. The men’s joy at getting paid turned to anger when they discovered that the notes were not accepted by New Orleans merchants.

There was no deception, however, practiced on the part of Trespalacios neither in this; nor indeed in any other matter; for his conduct was always frank, liberal and up-right…. The provisions at Bolivar Point being nearly exhausted, it became necessary for Trespalacios to repair to New Orleans for fresh supplies. Previous to his first debarkation from this City he addressed a communication to some of his Revolutionary compatriots of Mexico, appealing to them for pecuniary aid for the prosecution of his purposes…. On his arrival, however, to his great discomfort and confusion he finds that his friends had not responded to his communication; and as his chief reliance was upon them, for the necessary means to supply the wants at Bolivar, as well as to meet his own daily, individual expenses, he soon found himself entangled in a labyrinth of difficulties from which it was no easy matter to extricate himself…. Some fifty of the persons attached to the enterprise had accompanied him to New Orleans, for the purpose, probably of rioting upon their Treasury Notes; and finding on their arrival that Trespalacios possessed neither credit nor resources, and that the Scrip which he had issued to them, was valueless and worthless, they took no pains to conceal their dissatisfaction nor hesitated to conspire against him. (3)

News of the revolutionary Plan of Iguala reached the Long Expedition in July 1821. Trespalacios sailed with Ben Milam down the Mexican coast, hoping to contact rebel leaders Agustín de Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero. Their plan was to join the republican forces, raise funds, and move back up the coast to unite with Long’s forces. Upon landing at Veracruz, they were imprisoned by royalists on suspicion of conspiring to proclaim a republican form of government. They were eventually freed and went to Mexico City, where Iturbide had become president of the provisional governing junta of newly-independent Mexico. Milam was opposed to Iturbide, while Trespalacios supported him.

As described in more detail in my post about Ben Milam, James Long was killed in mysterious circumstances in Mexico City on April 8, 1822. Milam suspected that Trespalacios had plotted the murder. He considered this suspicion confirmed when Iturbide appointed Trespalacios as governor of the province of Texas. Milam and other Long sympathizers planned to intercept and kill Trespalacios on his way to Texas. However, two of the men warned Trespalacios of the plot. Milam and his associates were arrested.

Governor of Texas

José Félix Trespalacios arrived in San Antonio de Béxar, the capital of Texas, in August 1822. His wife, whom he had not seen for years, joined him in October. One of his first acts was to order a detachment of soldiers to gather the remains of the bodies of the republican warriors killed in the Battle of Medina in 1813 – still scattered across the battlefield – and bury them under an oak tree on the site. His first proclamation to the inhabitants of Texas read:

You are free: as such, you may criticize my actions without fear of being inconvenienced neither in body nor in your opinion…. You are going to freely engage with other Nations, and I hope that your social virtues will instill confidence and make credible this new nation that will soon appear on the face of the Universe. (4)

Texas was thinly populated and underdefended. San Antonio and La Bahía del Espíritu Santo (Goliad) had only 250 poorly equipped soldiers between them. The chaos of the independence war meant that these frontier troops had often gone without pay or supplies. In October 1822, Trespalacios convinced the San Antonio ayuntamiento (town council) to establish a bank to issue paper notes to cover soldiers’ salaries until Mexico City could send their wages in silver. The Banco Nacional de Texas (Texas National Bank) issued approximately 12,000 pesos, in two installments in November and December 1822, to be backed by the silver due from the central government. Bank operations were suspended in early 1823, when Iturbide decided Mexico should issue its own paper currency. He decreed that Texas paper should be exchanged for Mexican. Holders of the Texas notes refused, arguing that Trespalacios had guaranteed payment in specie. It wasn’t until 1830 that the remaining Texas notes were finally exchanged for coin.

In November 1822, José Félix Trespalacios signed a treaty with the Cherokee Indians, as described in my post about Cherokee Chief Bowles (Duwali). Trespalacios wrote about this, and his other activities and concerns, in a letter to Stephen Austin on December 15, 1822.

As soon as I arrived here as Governor of this province I endeavoured to promote its welfare. I directed the inhabitants of the Colorado to appoint an alcalde of their own choice to administer justice, and organize the militia to oppose the Karankawas or other intruders who might attack their persons or their property. I provided the wants of some distant settlements who petitioned for the protection of the Government. The presence of several Indian chiefs in this place gave me the opportunity to bring to an understanding nations who had been heretofore at war. Though the plan of colonization is not yet known I am confident it shall be drawn up upon liberal principles and will afford to industrious emigrants the advantage of a rich soil fit for every kind of crops. I expect shortly a strong reinforcement of troops and intend to visit with them the province and leave detachments at the most important points to protect the settlers and travellers. While I am waiting with anxiety the means of contributing to the final happiness of this section of the Empire I feel myself somewhat disappointed in my expectations in seeing a band of villains, Spaniards and Americans, actually engaged in stealing mules and horses and so bring them with impunity to the United States. The existence of this set of robbers cannot be but prejudicial to the inhabitants of both countries, therefore I take the liberty to ask your opinion upon the measures which are better calculated to stop such criminal a traffic. (5)

The promised reinforcement of troops from the central government never arrived. In December 1822, Mexican generals Antonio López de Santa Anna and Guadalupe Victoria signed the Plan of Vera Cruz, aimed at abolishing Iturbide’s monarchy and transforming Mexico into a republic. On March 19, 1823, Iturbide resigned. The Texans were slow to catch on to the new state of affairs, in part because the news took some time to reach them. On March 21, Trespalacios wrote to his commanding officer enclosing a petition that proclaimed the San Antonians’ loyalty to Iturbide. When Santa Anna threatened to send troops against them, the Texans amended their views.

Earlier in his term, Trespalacios had ordered equipment for a printing press to “facilitate the spread of the arts and enlightenment.” Previously, proclamations from the governor had been handwritten and posted for those who could read. On April 9, 1823, Trespalacios published 20 copies of the first known imprint from the press: a prospectus – in both Spanish and English – for a newspaper called El Correo de Texas. In it, Trespalacios expressed anger at Spain for having prevented the circulation of knowledge in Texas, and for not establishing schools or supporting the arts and industry. Even as he proclaimed the birth of freedom, however, Trespalacios forwarded a regulation from Mexico City that prohibited the introduction and circulation of books criticizing the Catholic Church. (6)

With Iturbide out of office, Trespalacios received notice that he was relieved of his duties too. He officially resigned on April 17, 1823. The new government would be a federal republic, not a monarchy. Before Trespalacios’s departure from San Antonio, the Texans elected him to represent them on the newly formed deputation (council) of the Eastern Interior Provinces in Monterrey. Upon arriving there, Trespalacios sold his printing press to the deputation for 3,500 pesos. There would be no printing press in Texas again until 1829.

Trespalacios later served as a senator from Chihuahua to the Mexican National Congress from January 10, 1831, to December 1, 1833. He was commandant general and inspector of Chihuahua from January 10, 1833, until his retirement from the army on December 15, 1834. José Félix Trespalacios died at Allende, Chihuahua, on August 4, 1835, age 54.

You might also enjoy:

Texas entrepreneur Ben Milam

Cherokee Indian Chief Bowles (Duwali) and his tragic quest for land

Caddo Indian Chief Dehahuit

The Extinct Karankawa Indians of Texas

Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Anglo-American Texas

Texas Priest Francisco Maynes

Texas Pioneer Josiah Hughes Bell

Texas Revolutionary José Francisco Ruiz

Jim Bowie before the “gaudy legend”

Jean Laffite: Mexican Gulf pirate and privateer

Felipe de la Garza, the general who captured Iturbide

  1. Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., ed., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Vol. 2 (Austin, 1922), pp. 93-94.
  2. Ibid., p. 97.
  3. Ibid., p. 99.
  4. Raúl Coronado, A World Not to Come: A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture (Cambridge and London, 2013), pp. 277-78.
  5. Eugene C. Barker, ed., Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1919: Vol. II: The Austin Papers, Part 1 (Washington, 1924), p. 560.
  6. A World Not to Come, pp. 281-285.

Cherokee Indian Chief Bowles (Duwali) and his tragic quest for land

Chief Bowles (Duwali)

Chief Bowles (Duwali)

Cherokee Indian Chief Duwali or Di’Wali, also known as John Bowles or Bowl, was born around 1756, possibly in North Carolina. He is thought to have been the son of a Scotch or Scotch-Irish trader and a Cherokee woman. It is claimed that Bowles’ father was killed by white settlers when Bowles was a boy, and that the son killed his father’s murderers in revenge when he was 14. Bowles never learned how to read or write, and could not speak English. Late in his life, he was described as being “somewhat tanned in color,” and having “neither the hair nor the eyes of an Indian. His eyes were gray, his hair was of a dirty sandy color; and his was an English head.” (1)

Early life

In 1792, John Bowles became chief of the Chickamauga tribe of Cherokees in the town of Running Water (now Whiteside), Tennessee. Two years later, Bowles was involved in a murderous altercation with some white men, known as the Muscle Shoals massacre. Bowles and his warriors fled up the St. Francis River to southeastern Missouri, where they were joined by other Cherokees. They lived in the St. Francis valley until 1811, when the area was struck by a large earthquake. Taking this as a sign from the Great Spirit to leave the area, the tribe moved into territory between the Arkansas and White Rivers in present-day Arkansas. Unfortunately, Bowles settled on land that was not part of the territory retained by the Cherokees in treaties signed with the United States in 1817 and 1819. He had to move again.

Move to Texas

In the winter of 1819-20, Chief Bowles, along with sixty of his men and their families, journeyed to Texas, which was then part of Mexico and under Spanish rule. They eventually settled about fifty miles north of Nacogdoches, in land traditionally populated by the Caddo Indians (see my post about Dehahuit). They were soon joined by other Cherokees. A Mexican census taker reported in 1821 that the Caddos “are rivals of the Cherokees; they were jealous of the influence that these were going to acquire; and in all their conversations with the Mexicans, they manifest their disgust at the introduction of foreign savages.” (2) Horse thefts and revenge killings kept the two bands on the verge of war for at least a decade. This is the environment in which Napoleon smokes the peace pipe with Bowles in Napoleon in America.

Bowles shared leadership of the Texas Cherokees with Richard Fields, another less than full-blooded Indian who served as the tribe’s diplomatic chief. Though the Cherokees had permits from Spanish officials allowing them to live in Texas, they did not own their land. After Mexico achieved its independence, Fields led a Cherokee delegation to the provincial capital, San Antonio, seeking a land grant from Mexican officials. Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios proved sympathetic. In November 1822 he signed an agreement that allowed the Cherokees to remain on their land in exchange for guarding against American incursions and smuggling. Trespalacios wrote to the area’s commandant:

The Cherokee Nation, according to their statement, numbers fifteen thousand souls; but there are within the borders of Texas only one hundred warriors and two hundred women and children. They work for their living, and dress in cotton-cloth, which they themselves manufacture. They raise cattle and horses and use firearms. Many of them understand the English language. In my opinion, they ought to be useful to the Province, for they immediately became subject to its laws, and I believe will succeed in putting a stop to carrying stolen animals to the United States, and in arresting those evil-doers that infest the roads. (3)

Trespalacios gave Fields and five other Cherokees permission to travel to Mexico City to request written title to their land from Mexican Emperor Agustín de Iturbide. Soon after their arrival, Iturbide was overthrown. Although the new Mexican government gave a vague verbal promise to uphold the treaty signed with Trespalacios, the Cherokee delegation had to return to Texas without written title.

In 1825, American empresario Haden Edwards was granted land that included territory claimed by the Cherokees. Fields supported Edwards’ efforts to secede from Mexico and form a separate Republic of Fredonia, based on an agreement that land would be divided between the Indians and the Anglo-Americans. Bowles doubted Fields’ judgement and refused to take part in the uprising. After the rebellion collapsed in 1827, he and other Cherokee leaders had Fields executed for putting the tribe at risk.

Chief Bowles continued to seek title to Cherokee land, without success. An 1833 petition addressed to the Secretary of State of Coahuila and Texas noted:

The tribe at present numbers about 150 families, the total number of persons being about 800. The property of the Cherokees, consisting of about 3,000 head of cattle; about the same number of hogs and 500 or 600 horses. The subscribers inform you that the said tribe lives chiefly by tilling the soil and raising cattle. (4)

The Texas Revolution: Hopes raised and dashed

Map showing the territory in Texas set aside for the Cherokees according to an 1836 treaty. Source: Albert Woldert, “The Last of the Cherokees in Texas, and the Life and Death of Chief Bowles,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 1, No. 3 (June 1923).

Map showing the territory in Texas set aside for the Cherokees according to an 1836 treaty. Source: Albert Woldert, “The Last of the Cherokees in Texas, and the Life and Death of Chief Bowles,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 1, No. 3 (June 1923).

When the Texas Revolution began in 1835, both the Mexicans and the Texans sought to draw the Cherokees to their side, or at least keep them neutral. In February 1836, Texan General Sam Houston signed a treaty with the Cherokees that promised them land between the upper Sabine, Angelina and Neches Rivers, an area smaller than they actually occupied. Two months later, Texas won its independence from Mexico.

Although Houston became president of the Republic of Texas, the Texas senate refused to ratify his treaty with the Cherokees. Mexican agents promised the Cherokees land and plunder if they would attack the Texans. Though Chief Bowles tried to maintain good relations with both the Mexicans and the Texans, a strong pro-Mexico faction arose among his people. In 1838, the Texans captured papers that compromised Bowles and other Cherokee chiefs. Later that year, a band of Cherokee warriors massacred a group of white Texan settlers. When Mirabeau B. Lamar became president of Texas, he ordered the Cherokees out. They were instructed to move north of the Red River, to Indian territory in the United States, “peaceably if they would, by compulsion if they must.” (5)

John H. Reagan, who was present when Chief Bowles gave his response to Lamar’s message, writes:

Bowles stated that his young men were for war, and that they believed that they could whip the whites. He said all the council was for war except himself and Big Mush, one of his chiefs. He said he knew that in the end the whites would whip them, but, he added, ‘It will cost you a bloody frontier war for ten years.’ ….

Bowles asked time for his people to make and gather their crops, but was informed by [the Indian agent] Mr. Lacy that he had no authority to act outside of the letter of the President. Bowles said if he fought, the whites would kill him; and if he refused to fight, his own people would kill him. He added that to him personally it mattered little, that he was eighty-three years old, and by the laws of nature could live but little longer; but that he felt a great interest in the future of his wives (he had three of them) and his children. His tribe, he said, had always been true to him, and though he differed with them in opinion, he would stand by them. The council ended with the understanding that war was to follow. (6)

The Battle of the Neches, which pitted about 500 Texans against 800 Indians, took place on July 15 and 16, 1839, between present-day Tyler and Ben Wheeler, Texas. Reagan, who fought on the Texan side, provides this account:

Chief Bowles displayed great courage in these battles. In the second engagement he remained on the field on horseback, wearing a military hat, silk vest, and handsome sword and sash which had been presented to him by President Houston. He was a magnificent picture of barbaric manhood and was very conspicuous during the whole battle, being the last to leave the field when the Indians retreated. His horse, however, was now disabled, and he dismounted, after having been wounded himself. As he walked away he was shot in the back and fell. Then, as he sat up with his face toward us, I started to him with a view to secure his surrender. At the same time my captain, Bob Smith, with a pistol in his hand, ran toward him from farther down the line. We reached him at the same instant, and realizing what was imminent, I called, ‘Captain, don’t shoot him.’ But he fired, striking Bowles in the head, and killing him instantly. (7)

Chief John Bowles (Duwali) died on July 16, 1839. His body was left on the battlefield. In 1936, a marker to Chief Bowles’ memory was placed on a plain above the Neches River about 13 miles west of Tyler, Texas. The inscription reads: “On this site the Cherokee Chief Bowles was killed on July 16, 1839 while leading 500 Indians of various tribes against 500 Texans – the last engagement between Cherokees and whites in Texas.” You can see photos of the site on Paul Ridenour’s website. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission website provides an image and transcription of a letter Bowles sent to Sam Houston, dated August 16, 1836.

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  1. John H. Reagan, Memoirs with Special Reference to Secession and the Civil War, edited by Walter Flavius McCaleb (New York and Washington, 1906), p. 35.
  2. David LaVere, The Texas Indians (College Station, 2004), p. 165.
  3. Emmet Starr, History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folk Lore (Oklahoma City, 1921), pp. 189-190.
  4. Albert Woldert, “The Last of the Cherokees in Texas, and the Life and Death of Chief Bowles,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 1, No. 3 (June 1923), p. 192.
  5. Memoirs with Special Reference to Secession and the Civil War, p. 29.
  6. Ibid., pp. 30-32.
  7. Ibid., p. 34.