Bob Feldman : The Hidden History of Texas

Map of the State of Coahuila and Texas, 1836. Image from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

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.]

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4 Responses to Bob Feldman : The Hidden History of Texas

  1. Mariann says:

    Dang, Bob, I was born and raised in Texas and there is a LOT in this article I did not know — nice!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    What do you expect when a “Coach” teaches Texas history??
    Sadly the true “history” of Texas isn’t even taught, now!
    Great story Bob, awaiting Parts 2, 3?, etc. (You ARE going to include the facts about Louis Moses Rose, aren’t you??- at least the Capt. Zuber account)

  3. b.f. says:

    Thanks for reminding readers about the controversy about whether the Louis Moses Rose/Capt. Zuber “line in the sand” account of what happened at the Alamo is or is not historically accurate. If you check out the wikipedia entry for “Louis Moses Rose” and the “Battle of the Alamo” entry at the New world encyclopedia site, you’ll notice that some historians apparently now question the reliabiity of Rose and his account. So this “hidden history” capsule alternative history for those years will focus more on just including a few facts that Walt Disney’s “Davy Crockett” movie version of the Alamo battle (and its participants) may have omitted, when “Davy Crockett” was screened on East Coast tv screens during the 1950s.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Bob F;
    The Rose account has been questioned for decades. Texians do not want to believe that one of our brave heros, facing sure death, opted to live, instead.
    I have the Capt Zuber account in the “A New History of Texas, Revised Edition” by Anna J.H.Pennybacker.. 1895 edition, published in Palestine, Texas.(how much “new and revised” history could there have been in fifty-nine years??)..
    In this book, Capt W.P. Zuber’s account begins with “This does not claim to be a literal reproduction (of Travis’ speech), but it is substantially what Travis said: ‘My brave companions, stern necessity compels me to employ the few moments afforded by this brief cessation of conflict.. etc.’ In additional text is the account of Rose’s trek into east Texas.. a heroic feat in itself.
    I will agree that historians tend to disagree with a LOT of “history” associated with the Alamo. In reality there were no “eye witnesses”, seeing how all the Alamo defenders were killed.. But, there is the Jose Enrique deLa Pena narrative: “With Santa Anna in Texas” (that could be considered a “first person account” if the provenance of the document between 1836 and 1955 could be verified). Bottom line is, with respect to any “facts” about The Battle of The Alamo, we will never know, only our “Texas Pride” (and bravado) can fill in the blanks..
    Lastly, it is my opinion that “The Alamo Story from Early History to Current Conflicts” by J.R. Edmondson is probably the most complete, as well as the most accurate tome written about the Alamo beginning at the time of Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares to that infamous date of March 6th, 1836..

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