The Spanish Frontier in West Texas
and Northern Mexico
JAMES M. DANIEL*
DURING SAN ANTONIO'S CENTURY OF EXISTENCE UNDER THE SPANISH
crown, it looked southward to its routes of communication with
the capital of New Spain and eastward to a scattering of presidios,
missions, and villages. To the north and west it faced vast, forbidding
regions inhabited only by roving Indians who presented a constant
threat to the town. Far to the west lay El Paso del Norte, but com-
munications were faster and easier with Mexico City than with the
towns of New Mexico,. When Brigadier Pedro de Rivera made his
inspection tour of the northern frontier of New Spain in 1724-1728,
and when the Marquis de Rubi made a similar trip in 1766-1768, the
usual means of traveling from San Antonio to Santa Fe was to go
southward to Saltillo, west and northwest to Parral, then due north
to El Paso and Santa Fe.' This route which roughly doubled the
distance between San Antonio and El Paso, and followed well-traveled
roads, marked the boundaries of what, for convenience, can be called
the Despoblado." That is, it marked the limits of effective settlement.
As can be seen on a map, the Despoblado formed a funnel, open at
the north and with its southern point reaching deep into, New Spain:
a funnel through which successive waves of Plains Indians poured
throughout the colonial period to prey on ranches and settlements.
Our interest here is to review briefly the Spanish attempts to straighten
the northern frontier and establish communications across the Des-
*Mr. Daniel is head of the Department of History of the Universidad del Valle in Call,
Colombia, and is a member of the Rockefeller Foundation staff.
1See Guillermo Porras Mufioz (ed.) , Diario y derrotero de lo caminado, visto y obcervado
en el discurso de la visita general de Precidios, situados en las Provincias Ynternas de
Nueva Espaa, que de orden de Su Magestad executd D. Pedro de Rivera, Brigadier de
los Reales Exercitos (Mexico, 1945), passim, especially chart opposite p. 16; and Nicolds
de Lafora, Relacion del Viaje que Hizo a los Presidios Internos Situados en la Frontera
de la America Septentrional Perteneciente al Rey de Espana, annotated by Vito Alessio
Robles (Mexico, 1959), passim, especially map on p. 8.
aIn Spanish, despoblado- is either a formerly inhabited area or place which has been
abandoned, or is an uninhabited area. It is in the second sense that the word is used
here. Spanish frontier governors, military men, and others applied the term despoblado
or seno despoblado (uninhabited gulf) to the area.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 71, July 1967 - April, 1968. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117145/. Accessed March 8, 2014.