Heritage, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 1987 Page: 17
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Crossroads of South Texas
by Robert W. Shook, Ph.D.
e first Europeans to appear
along the Texas Gulf Coast
were Spanish sailors under the command
of Alonzo Alvarez de Pifieda, who
charted those waters in 1519 but
produced no permanent settlements in
the area. When Spain's Captain Panfilo de
Narvaez enlisted Alvar Nnfiez Cabeza de
Vaca as treasurer of a later expedition in
1527 for an ill-fated journey to Florida,
he little imagined that Cabeza de Vaca
would become the first European to live
among and record the characteristics of
coastal and southwestern Indian tribes.
Ravaged by misfortune, Cabeza de
Vaca and several comrades were shipwrecked
somewhere in the Galveston
area to suffer for several years among the
Karankawa and Coahuiltecan Indians, returning
to New Spain in 1536 in the
company of Estevanico, a Moor, who was
later a major figure in Coronado's quest
for Quivera, mythical land of riches
of which de Vaca and Estevanico had
rumors during their travail. Thus was established
the first of Texas' claim to six
A century passed before another European
claim competed with that of Spain.
In 1685 on Garcitas Creek, some twenty
miles east of present-day Victoria, shipwrecked
Frenchmen under Rene Robert
Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle,established
Fort St. Louis. Several Spanish search
parties crossed the waters of the Gulf of
Mexico and flatlands of this area to locate
and expel King Louis' intruders, and in
1690 Alonso de Le6n was successful. By
that time Fort St. Louis posed no threat
to Spain, for La Salle had trekked north
to establish contact with French settlements
along the Mississippi River, only to
be killed by a member of his own party.
Those French left at the Garcitas post either
died or were captured by Spaniards,
who constructed a mission and presidio
on the site of Fort St. Louis.
During 1726-1749, or perhaps earlier,
a temporary Spanish structure was completed
in what is now Victoria's Riverside
Park (Tonkawa Bluff). Nothing of this
probable outpost of La Bahia remains save
potsherds, bone fragments, and a Texas
State Historical Marker. Nearly a century
would pass before a permanent settlement
appeared on the Guadalupe River.
0 - i 0
This , eg c 1870 s *E X s s : :ids
This photograph, circa 1870, shows the east side
of Main Street opposite de Le6n Plaza and is a
view of the downtown region looking south. The
Wheeler Building is located to the far right, while
the A&S Levy store is left center.
With Mexico's independence after
1821, the practice of granting empresario
contracts introduced a third national flag
to the region. Don Martin de Le6n
(1765-1833) was the son of Don Bernardo
and Maria Galvan de Le6n. Don
Martin's parents settled at Burgos, Tamaulipas,
Mexico; there were four sons and
one daughter. This future founder of Victoria
was described as six feet tall, dignified,
and a skilled horseman of military
bearing. He married Patricia de la Garza
in 1795 and became the father of four
sons and six daughters.
Supplemented by Dofa Patricia's inheritance,
an 1824 land grant detailed a
town with a public square and streets to
be built on the east bank of the Guadalupe
River with a name to commemorate
Mexico's Nuestra Sefiora de Guadalupe
de Jesus. This origin for the town's designation
is often amended in favor of the coincidence
that de Le6n was a personal
friend of Mexico's first president, Guadalupe
Victoria. In either case, Cypress
Grove would hereafter be known as
De Le6n's colony was bounded by Coleto
Creek, Mission Valley, the Lavaca
River, and Matagorda Bay. Most colonists
lived in simple jacales (mud and stick cabins)
which were used into the 1860s. The
empresario's home was located where
St. Mary's Church now stands with the
church on the corer of present-day
Bridge and Church streets. His ranch of
30,000 acres was located along Garcitas
Creek; the sons settled on this river and
on the Arenosa and Lavaca.
Few remnants exist today of de Le6n's
colony. His extensive lands along the
Garcitas became John H. Keeran's California
Ranch after the Texas Revolution; his
sword and spurs were once displayed at
Mitchell School and at San Antonio,
only to disappear; gold altar pieces at St.
Mary's, donated by the de Le6n family,
are still in use. The empresario's plans for
a large cathedral never materialized. A
fine bed belonging to de Le6n and a
money bag which once held the gold to
build St. Mary's can be seen in the Victoria
De Le6n died of cholera in 1833 at the
age of 68. He was buried in a family plot
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 1987, periodical, Spring 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45438/m1/17/: accessed October 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.