El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750 Page: 7
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Spanish exploration of Texas began in 1519, when
Alsonso Alvarez de Pineda spent six months map-
ping the coast between Florida and Tampico, Mexico,
providing the first accurate map of the Texas Gulf
Coast. He did no exploring beyond mapping, and did
not travel across land. The first European explorers
known to have actually traveled through this part of
Texas came with Alvar Niifiez Cabeza de Vaca. He and
three companions, members of the ill-fated Pnfilo de
NarvAez expedition which shipwrecked near Galveston
Island, were rescued by the Karankawa Indians and
spent the following eight years as slaves, as traders,
and finally as healers. Cabeza de Vaca's diary, written in
1542, provides the first descriptions of South and West
Texas. Because his descriptions were not encouraging,
exploration into Texas and other parts of the South-
west ceased for some forty years. During this time,
however, the Mexican frontier continued to be pushed
northward by ranchers seeking land for their growing
herds of cattle and other livestock, by miners and sol-
diers continuing their search for precious metals, and
by missionaries seeking converts for the Church.
As the Spanish soldiers, miners, missionaries, and
settlers pushed the Mexican frontier farther north, they
brought with them three principal institutions: mis-
sions, established as religious centers; presidios, estab-
lished as military outposts; and ranches, established as
residences. They settled in four areas of Texas, three of
which remain Hispanic population centers even today.
These four regions include the El Paso region of West
Texas, East Texas in the Nacogdoches area, the San
Antonio area (including the Refugio/Victoria area),
and South Texas (south of the Nueces River).
Missions in Texas
Missions functioned as agencies for both the state and
the church. In the eyes of the latter, their chief func-
tion was to spread Christianity to the heathen inhabi-
tants. From the point of view of the Spanish Crown,
missionaries were to serve as both explorers and diplo-
mats, so that missions would play a role in extending
the Spanish frontiers (Weddle 1992).
While the Franciscans gave religious instruction to
the natives, they also taught them about agriculture
and industry, including the rudiments of cultivating
and harvesting crops and caring for livestock-horses,
cattle, sheep, goats, and hogs. In effect, then, these
early missions also functioned as ranches, with the
Crown furnishing the land and the church furnishing
the livestock. In 1768, Fray Jos6 de Solis, Inspector
of Missions for the College of Zacatecas, reported
that the missions at San Antonio owned about 5,487
cattle, over 600 saddle horses and about i,ooo breed-
ing mares, over ioo burros and about ioo mules, and
around 17,000 sheep and goats. That same year, Mis-
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Graham, Joe S. El Rancho in South Texas: Continuity and Change From 1750, book, 1994; Denton, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28328/m1/19/?q=el%20rancho: accessed March 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.