The hidden history of Texas
Part 1: The pre-1821 years
By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / August 10, 2011
[This is the first installment of Bob Feldman’s new Rag Blog series on the hidden history of Texas.]
Since 1965 at least three high-profile Texas politicians — former U.S. Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, former U.S. Rep. George H. W. Bush and former Texas Gov. George W. Bush — have used their decision-making power in the White House as U.S. presidents to involve the United States in major morally disastrous and economically wasteful military interventions overseas.
The general populace knows a lot about Texas politics and history, yet most people in the United States who didn’t grow up in Texas and who never have lived in Texas probably know very little about the hidden history of Texas.
Prior to 1821, for example, people of Jewish religious background who wanted to openly practice Judaism were, at least in theory, not allowed to become residents of Texas because the Spanish authorities in Texas required people who lived in Texas to worship openly only as Catholics.
And, even today, only about 131,000 of the over 25.1 million people who live in Texas appear to be of Jewish background, although the land area of Texas is a lot larger than the land area of Manhattan Island — where about 243,000 of the 1.6 million residents are of Jewish background.
But long before white Europeans of Christian religious background arrived and explored Texas in the 1500s, Native American people had been living in the South Plains in what is now Texas for over 10,000 years.
The first permanent settlement of white Europeans in Texas didn’t happen until 1682, when Spanish-speaking people established a settlement a few miles east of what is now El Paso. And over 80 years later, in the 1760s, there were still only 1,000 Spanish-speaking settlers in San Antonio and only 500 Spanish-speaking settlers in East Texas.
Even in the late 1770s, fewer than 4,000 Spanish-speaking settlers of European descent actually lived in what is now Texas.
Of the over 3,000 people who lived in these settlements in 1777, around 50 percent were born in Spain, 25 percent were either mestizo or mulatto, and 25 percent were Native American. But, at the same time, about 20,000 Native Americans still lived in Texas in areas outside the Spanish-speaking settlements at the end of the 1770s. In addition, 20 known slaves of African-American descent also lived in Texas in the 1770s.
As late as 1792, Texas still had only about 3,169 Spanish-speaking residents, including 34 blacks and 414 mulattos of African-American descent. So, not surprisingly, the majority of people who lived throughout all areas of Texas in 1799 were still Native American.
When Texas was part of the New Spain colony in North America under Spanish rule during the late 18th century, the legal status of women who owned property in Texas was actually better than it had been when the 13 U.S. colonies on North America’s East Coast were ruled by the UK prior to 1776.
According to the Spanish laws that governed Texas in the 1770s, for example, unmarried women in Texas who owned property retained title to their own property after marriage; and they also shared equally in the ownership of any property they and their husbands acquired after marrying. In addition, the husband of a woman in Texas in the 1770s could not, under Spanish law, sell the married couple’s community property without the consent of his wife.
In August 1813, an attempt was made by some of the fewer than 4,000 Spanish-speaking residents of Texas to establish a Texas republic that would no longer be either ruled by a royalist viceroy who represented the monarchical Spanish government or be part of New Spain.
But after a leader of the Spanish-speaking rebels named Gutierrez declared Texas independent from Spain on Aug. 6, 1813, the new Texas Republic’s Army of North Mexico (which numbered 1,400 men), led by Jose Alverez de Toledo, was defeated at the Battle of Medina (in what is now the area around San Antonio) on Aug. 18, 1813, by a Spanish royalist force of 2,000, led by Joaquin de Arrendo.
Some 1,000 of the combatants involved in the Battle of Medina were killed during the battle; and the royalist troops of Arrendo then “executed 327 soldiers from the republican army who surrendered or were captured after the battle,” according to University of North Texas Professor of History Randoph Campbell’s 2003 book Gone To Texas: A History of the Lone Star State.
In addition, “in San Antonio 40 men suspected of supporting Gutierrez and/or Toledo paid with their lives,” “eight women and children from their families died of suffocation while packed into prison compounds,” and a detachment of Arrendo’s Spanish royalist army “advanced towards Nacogdoches, executing 71 more accused rebels along the way,” according to the same book.
Six years later, in the summer of 1819, Texas was invaded by an army of about 300 Anglo-American men, led by an Anglo-American merchant named James Long — who also tried to set up an independent Texas republic that would no longer be ruled by Spain or be part of New Spain.
But by the fall of 1819, royalist Spanish troops had driven Long’s army of Anglo-American invaders back across the East Texas border and back into U.S. territory; and after Long led a second unsuccessful invasion of Texas by armed Anglo men two years later, he was imprisoned and then killed by local Spanish-speaking Texas authorities, after the armed Anglo invaders were again defeated by Spanish-speaking troops in the late summer of 1821.
Shortly before Long’s second invasion of Texas was beaten back, an alliance between the white Creole elite landowners in New Spain (who had been born in New Spain and, thus — under Spanish rule — did not enjoy the same political and economic rights as Spanish-born residents of New Spain), New Spain’s clerical leaders and Spanish royalist army general Agustin de Iturbide was successful in pressuring the royalist viceroy to sign the Aug. 24, 1821 Treaty of Cordoba.
Under the terms of the Treaty of Cordoba, New Spain ceased to exist as a political entity and the independent Empire of Mexico was established (although the Spanish government in Madrid later declared the Treaty of Cordoba null and void in February 1822, unsuccessfully attempted to reconquer its former Mexican colony in 1829, and did not formally recognize the independence of Mexico until 1839).
So after Aug. 24, 1821, Texas would become part of the newly independent Empire of Mexico. And after the white Creole military commander of Vera Cruz, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, led a white Creole landowning elite-supported Mexican Army revolt in December 1822 which set up a federal republican form of government in Mexico in 1823, Texas now became a part of the Republic of Mexico’s state of Coahuila y Texas in 1824.
[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]