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The first Europeans in Texas


Sieur de La Salle
Sieur de La Salle

The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore present-day Texas. In 1519 a group led by Alonzo Álvarez de Piñeda mapped the coast of the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Veracruz, spending 40 days at the mouth of the river they named Rio de las Palmas (probably the present-day Río Grande). In 1528 Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and other members of an expedition led by Pániflo de Narváez were shipwrecked on the Texas coast. Cabeza de Vaca and three others made their way across Texas, wandered through what would become the southwestern United States, and in 1536 reached a Spanish settlement in Mexico. The native inhabitants told Cabeza de Vaca tales about cities full of gold and jewels, which interested the Spaniards. In 1540 an expedition led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado marched northward from Mexico in search of these cities, called the Seven Cities of Cíbola (actually a village of the Wichita in present-day Kansas) and the city of Quivira (actually a pueblo of the Zuni people in present-day New Mexico).

The group spent much time wandering over the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain, of western Texas and eastern New Mexico in 1541, but found no evidence of cities full of treasure.

At about the same time, the Spanish adventurer Hernando de Soto was exploring the Mississippi River. After de Soto died of fever, his men tried to reach Mexico by an overland route. They traveled through eastern Texas, but when they reached the plains area, they turned back to the Mississippi. The Spanish lost interest in the territory after the disappointing reports of the two expeditions, although in 1598, Juan de Oñate explored the area above the Río Grande.

In 1682 the Spanish established the first mission in Texas at Ysleta, a village near present-day El Paso, to bring Christianity to the native peoples. In 1685 the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle built Fort Saint Louis near Matagorda Bay and claimed for France all the lands drained by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Soon afterwards La Salle was killed on another expedition, and the men at the fort died from disease or were killed by the native inhabitants. The French claim alarmed the Spanish, who sent several expeditions to find and destroy the French fort. In 1690 churchmen from these expeditions established the first of several missions among the Tejas people of eastern Texas. The missions were difficult to maintain and were quickly abandoned.

The eastern province of what was called New Spain was ignored until 1714, when a French trading expedition crossed Texas and founded a settlement on the Río Grande near present-day Eagle Pass. Again the Spanish were alarmed by the French activities. In 1716, fearing more French incursions into their territory, the Spanish re-created the eastern Texas mission system. More than 30 new missions were established, the most prominent of which was near San Antonio, which was founded as a Spanish town in 1718. No official boundary had ever been set between the territories claimed by Spain and those claimed by France, and when the United States bought the Louisiana territories from the French in 1803, the boundary was still unknown. "Texas" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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