Alonso Alvarez de Pineda and the Rio de las
Palmas: Scholars and the Mislocation of a River
DONALD E. CHIPMAN*
N THE FIRST VOLUME OF HIS MASSIVE WORK Our Catholic Heritage in
Texas, 1519-936, Carlos E. Castafieda misidentified the Rio de las
Palmas (known after the mid-eighteenth century as the Rio Soto la Mari-
na) as the Rio Grande. Since the 1930s, many authors, including Paul
Horgan in the first volume of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Great River,
have repeated Castafieda's error over and over again. Worse, textbooks
read by thousands of Texas students in junior high schools and colleges
have used the same misidentification to place Spaniards in the future
Lone Star State as early as 1519.1 That year was the occasion of a sizable
sea expedition captained by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, and without
question Pineda and his crew of 270 men were the first Europeans on
record to view the shores of Texas.2 But Pineda did not set up a colony
on the Rio Grande. Nor did he attempt a settlement on the Rio de las
Palmas, located slightly more than halfway between Brownsville, Texas,
and the Mexican port of Tampico. The misidentification of a river and
the mislocation of Pineda's colony on that river have had a significant
and persistent influence on Texas history and anthropology. This article
will attempt to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that Pineda's
colony was founded on the Rio Pnuco to the west of modern Tampico,
and it will assess the long-range implications of Castafieda's error.
* Donald E. Chipman is professor of history at the University of North Texas. He is the author
of three books and an advisory editor of the New Handbook of Texas Portions of this paper were
read at the 71st Annual Meeting of the Southwestern Social Science Association (New Orleans,
March 17-20, 1993). The author wishes to thank Randolph B. Campbell, Harriett Denise
Joseph, and especially Jack Jackson and Robert S. Weddle, who read early drafts of this article.
All translations of Spanish texts were made by the author.
Carlos E. Castafieda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, 1519-I936 (7 vols.; Austin: Von Boeck-
mann-Jones, 1936-1958), I, 13; Paul Horgan, Great River The Rao Grande in North American Histo-
ry (2 vols., New York. Rinehart and Co., 1954), I, 88. Rfo Grande commonly bears no accent in
English. For reasons of consistency, such as a sentence containing both Rio Grande and Rfo
Pinuco, I have chosen to accent the a throughout.
2 Alonso Alvarez de Pineda would have been known to his associates as "Alvarez" or the more
formal "Alvarez de Pineda." In this article, I have chosen to refer to him as "Pineda," his most
commonly recognized name in Texas history.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/. Accessed March 13, 2014.