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SPANISH TEXAS (Extract from the Handbook of Texas Online article Spanish Texas.)

Spanish Texas, situated on the border of Spain's North American empire, encompassed only a small portion of what is now the Lone Star State. The Spanish province lay above the Nueces River to the east of the Medina River headwaters and extended into Louisiana. Over time, Texas was a part of four provinces in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Colonial Mexico): the El Paso area was under the jurisdiction of New Mexico, the missions founded near La Junta de los Ríosqv were under Nueva Vizcaya,qv the coastal region from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande and thence upstream to Laredo was under Nuevo Santanderqv after 1749, and Texas was initially under joint jurisdiction with the province of Coahuila. Slightly more than three centuries elapsed between the time the Texas shoreline was first viewed by a Spaniard in 1519 and July 21, 1821, when the flag of Castile and León was lowered for the last time at San Antonio. Those 300 years may be divided into three stages: the era of early exploration, in which there was a preliminary evaluation of the land and its resources; the period of cultural absorption, in which the Texas Indians began to acquire Hispanic cultural elements, at first indirectly from Indian intermediaries and then directly from the Spanish themselves; and the time of defensive occupation, in which the Spanish presence in Texas was more dictated by international considerations than caused by the momentum of an expanding empire.

The uninterrupted Spanish occupation of Texas (1716-1821) lasted for just 105 years. However, the legacies of Spanish Texas are lasting and significant. On reflection they seem all out of proportion to the relatively small number of Spaniards and Hispanicized Indians who became the Mexican nation in 1821. Perhaps most obvious, yet superficial in importance, is the use of Spanish names for hundreds of towns, cities, counties, and geographic features in Texas. San Antonio, the first formal municipality in Texas, is one of the ten largest cities in the United States. Forty-two of the 254 counties in Texas bear either Hispanic names, or an Anglicized derivation such as Galveston, or a misspelling such as Uvalde. The names of physiographical features such as Llano Estacado, Guadalupe Mountains, and Padre Islandqv serve as reminders of Spanish explorers and conquistadors who crossed portions of Texas well before the English settled the Atlantic Coast of North America. Spaniards introduced numerous European crops, irrigationqv at San Antonio and other mission sites, livestock, and livestock-handling techniques. Farming, initially practiced by some Indian groups in Texas, was likewise expanded and improved by Spanish missionaries and settlers. The restored missions at San Antonio and Goliad stand as enduring monuments to the Franciscansqv who brought the mantle of Christianity to Texas Indians. With the exception of those in California, the finest examples of Spanish mission architecture in the United States are found in Texas. The missions in Texas, however, are much older than their California counterparts. San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission in San Antonio can appropriately be called the "Queen of the Missions." The reconstructed La Bahía Presidio at Goliad is a fitting monument to the military pioneers of Texas. Spanish is a second language for millions of Texans; for some it is the first language. Although much of the linguistic makeup of the state is the result of Mexican influence since 1821, Spanish-not English, German, French, or Dutch-was the first European language spoken in Texas. The lasting impact of Spanish lawqv on the legal system is likewise of vitally important. Rules of judicial procedure, land law, water law,qv and the law of family relations derive from the Spanish.

Donald E. Chipman

 Citation: "Spanish Texas," extract from The Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, 2001, <http://www.tshaonline.org/tools/article_extracts/nps1_extract.html> [Access Date].

For bibliography and complete article go to Spanish Texas.
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