A Brief Look at the Early History of Texas by Bill Stewart TEXAS. The state people the world over have heard of. It’s the place a vast number of people living in the United States and abroad want to come or a vacation, visit for extended periods of time, or make their home. The state of Texas has a reputation around the globe equaled by no other. We, the residents of this vast portion of our country, are known to brag about everything being bigger and better in Texas. Like Walter Brennan’s character in the TV series frequently said, “No brag, just fact…”
All those things are true resulting from what happened dating back even as early as the 15th century. The history of Texas is exciting and interesting, especially to those of us who are native born, and dearly loved by Texans whose roots go back to the early 1800s when a small group of men and women were determined to escape oppression and declare independence from a country and government to the south of their newfound homeland.
Much of our history has been recorded for us to study, learn from, and enjoy. We find so interesting we want to share it with others not fortunate enough to be Texans.
Prior to the arrival of the first explorers from European countries in the 1400s, many Indian tribes hunted, roamed, and lived in the expansive area between the rivers now known as the Rio Grande and the Red River. By 1519, Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda explored and mapped the Texas coastline. History tells us he was the first European to view this area.
In November 1528, while on his way to Mexico, Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked on what was to become known as Galveston Island. He spent about six years in that area trading, observing indigenous personnel, and getting to know the culture of the inhabitants. He later explored the interior of Texas before deciding to venture into the mainland of Mexico.
Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle built a fort at Matagorda Bay in February 1685. The fort he named Fort St. Louis, and by doing so, claimed the land for the county of France. Two years later, while in the area known today as Grimes County, more specifically near the city of Navasota, he was murdered by his own men close to the banks of the Brazos River.
The French didn’t actively pursue colonization, so Mexican citizen Alonso de Leon began to explore the area, finding the fort abandoned. Upon doing so, he decided to reestablish the area with a Spanish presence. That act precipitated the building of several Catholic missions in Texas. Not only were missions built and contact made with natives, but the towns of Nacogdoches, San Antonio, and Goliad were founded. The dates these missions and towns were established were from approximately 1716 to 1789, the formative years of Mexican presence and control of the area.
Between the years of 1817 to 1820, French pirate Jean Lafitte occupied Galveston island. He used it as a base while boarding and stealing the cargo held in ships flying the flags of other nations. It was from this location he smuggled gold, silver, and assorted booty to other locations as his wealth and fame grew.
During the very early part of January, 1823, Stephen F. Austin received a grant from Mexican officials to begin colonizing the area of the Brazos River. Even though the Mexican Constitution of 1824 bestowed upon Mexico a republican form of government, it didn’t define the rights of the states within the country itself. That meant Texas had limited and questionable rights to govern itself. A positive, peaceful relationship between Mexico and the residents of what was to become Texas began to fade, reaching a new low by April 6, 1830. It was then Mexico forbade the entry of immigrants from the United States into Texas.
As tensions grew between the two peoples, a battle broke out on June 26, 1832, known as the Battle of Velasco. Suffering casualties and running out of ammunition following several days of fighting, the Mexican leader, Domingo de Ugartechea, surrendered to the Texians, the name of the army of Tejanos, (native Mexican settlers), volunteers from the United States and other countries, and white Texas settlers who assembled to fight the Mexicans under the leadership of General Antonio López de Santa Anna.
During the Convention of 1832, dissatisfaction among the settlements escalated because of the Mexican government’s policies. This led to the first political meeting of Texas colonists who sought reforms from the Mexican government, as well as the power to form an armed militia and independent statehood. They hoped this action would put an end to the rumors and beliefs that they wanted to secede from Mexico. There was also hope that Stephen F. Austin, serving as convention president, could persuade the Mexican officials to agree to their requests. This convention, the first in a series of attempts to negotiate a peaceful agreement with the Mexican government, yielded no results.
The Convention of 1833 was attended by 56 delegates who met in San Felipe de Austin. They elected William H. Wharton as convention president. Their agenda was much the same as the one presented in 1832. Delegates decided to ardently pursue independent statehood, as they had been made part of the state of Coahuila y Tejas. Sam Houston helped guide a draft of a state constitution to submit to the Mexican Congress that was patterned after the political principles held by the United States, while it also contained several Spanish customs.
Even though some residents thought the conventions and actions were not legal, Stephen Austin determined to go to Mexico City to present the message of the convention delegates. Becoming disgruntled by the lack of progress made by the Mexican government, Austin wrote a letter to the Texians encouraging them to form their own government. The letter found its way to Mexican governmental officials who threw him in prison in 1834. While he was imprisoned, their federal and state legislatures passed measures they thought would appease the colonists. Still, the winds of possible war blew strong.
On March 2, 1836, the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed at Washington-on-the-Brazos by members of the Convention of 1836. At that point, war was inevitable. After fighting many battles and being far outnumbered by a much superior army of well-trained, well-armed, and well-supplied soldiers, the Texians won their independence from Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, enabling them to become a republic.
Mirabeau B. Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas, specifically referred to Texas citizens as Texians. He did so as an attempt to build a sense of national pride among the people. The term Texian gradually grew less popular following the annexation and statehood of Texas in 1845. The term “Texan” became the more common name for residents of the new state. However, those who lived through the years of oppression, revolution, and republic continued to call themselves Texians, many even into the 1900s. Some descendants of early Texas settlers still use the term because of their strong sense of heritage, pride, and appreciation for the sacrifice made by their ancestors.
Texas. Strong, proud, patriotic, determined. No brag, just fact.