Heritage, Volume 8, Number 2, Spring 1990 Page: 12
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Spanish Padres and French Fusils
Spanish and French Approaches to Native Peoples in Texas
By Kathleen Gilmore
W hat is now Texas ......
came close to being
a battleground between
powers-France and Spain.
Spain claimed the area because
of Cabeza de Vaca's long and
tough trek across it in the 1520s
and 30s. France claimed the
Mississippi River Valley and all
land drained by the river and its
tributaries by virtue of LaSalle's i
trip down the river in 1682.
Efforts to advance and hold the
borders were approached '
differently by the two powers.
Spain was to use the missionpresidio
system, while France
would use trade and the
promotion of Indian good will.
LaSalle's plan to control
his claim was to place a settlement
at the mouth of the Mis- Map
sissippi River. But he sailed on
past the mouth and landed
instead at Matagorda Bay in
Spain had neglected exploration and
settlement of Texas until suddenly it was
realized that LaSalle's settlement on
Garcitas Creek near Matagorda Bay might
give France an excuse to claim the territory
traversed by Cabeza de Vaca. LaSalle had
hidden his little colony from the
Spaniards, but not from the Indians. After
a long search it was finally found in 1689 by
Alonso de Leon. Most of the inhabitants
had been killed and the village sacked.
Even the tough Spanish soldiers seemed to
have been touched since one soldier wrote
a poem of lament.
The next year de Leon returned to the
village site, burned it and proceeded
eastward to establish missions in the Tejas
country on New Spain's eastern border.
This was the beginning in Texas of the
Spanish pattern of advancing and holding
the frontier with the mission-presidiovillage
system. These missions were
abandoned in 1693 because of lack of
supplies and the disinterest of the natives.
showing the Spanish-French border in the early eighteenth c
France now began placing colonies on
the Gulf Coast acting to hold the claims
LaSalle had made on the lower Mississippi
River. Frenchmen were also exploring the
rivers and making friends with the Indians.
In 1714 the colorful Louis Juchereau St.
Denis established a trading post on the Red
River among the Natchitoches Indians. St.
Denis promptly loaded his pack mules with
merchandise and headed for the newly
established Spanish fort, San Juan Bautista
on the Rio Grande. This trip was a blatant
commercial venture, spurred by Cadillac,
the governor of Louisiana, and abetted by
the Spanish Padre Hidalgo who wanted to
return to the missions of east Texas. It was
the beginning in Texas of the French
The Spanish response to the threat of
the French settlement of Natchitoches at
the door of their claimed border, was to
send Domingo Ramon to east Texas,
guided by no other than St. Denis himself,
who in the meantime had married the
Spanish commander's granddaughter, to
establish missions along the
eastern frontier. This
entrada established six
missions and a presidio; one
of the missions-San
Miguel de Linares-was in
present-day Louisiana, about
twelve miles from the
French village of Natchitoches.
^^Si=s:' . C X0The Spaniards were
responding to a threat to
which St. Denis seemed
oblivious. It is difficult to tell
which side he was on. He
helped the Spaniards secure
their claimed territory but,
at the same time, had
brought his customers closer
to his home base where illicit
trading with them
would be easier.
century. Spain and France went
to war in the summer of
1719, and because of inadequate
the lack of Indian cooperation, and panic
after a mild show of aggression from
Natchitoches, the Spanish establishments
of east Texas were again abandoned, this
time for three years. It was in the spring of
that same year that the Frenchman Benard
de la Harpe ascended the Red River past
the Great Bend to establish a trading post
among the Nassonites. This village, one of
the Cadohadacho villages, had been
visited by some of the survivors of the
LaSalle colony in 1687 and by the
Spaniard, Teran, in 1691. Teran's orders to
establish missions were not carried out.
La Harpe was ordered to enter into
trade with the Spaniards of the province of
Texas, the Kingdom of Leon and New
Mexico. He wrote Father Marsillo a
humble, polite letter suggesting that the
opening of commerce with Natchitoches
and the Nassonite Post, where European
goods would be available at reasonable
prices, would benefit the conversion of
pagans.. La Harpe suggested that Father
Marsillo contact his friends in Paral, New
12 HERITAGE * SPRING 1990
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 8, Number 2, Spring 1990, periodical, Spring 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45428/m1/12/: accessed May 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.