States of Texas
Texas' borders enclose over 170 million acres of land — grassy prairies, harsh deserts, thick woodlands, and 624 miles of seacoast. The region also boasts many types of animals and plants. With these natural advantages, it supported a diverse population of Native Americans.
Spanish explorers first set foot in Texas in the 16th century, as Spain and France competed to claim New World lands. After years of colonization by Spanish- and English-speaking settlers, the region's residents fought against imperial forces for the right to claim Texas as their own.
Native American Tribes, 1520s
Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca was the treasurer for a 1527 Spanish expedition. The group survived hostile encounters, disease, and a harrowing sea trip before arriving on the Texas coast. The Karankawa Indians they met were fishermen, while the Lipan Apache on the western coast hunted bison and other game. The Caddo and Atakapa tribes in the east knew how to farm as well as hunt.
More Spanish adventurers followed Cabeza de Vaca to Texas in the 16th century, motivated by legends of gold cities and wealth. Travel hardships, including illness — and the lack of gold cities — convinced them to stop their explorations.
Cabeza de Vaca's expedition was shipwrecked on a sandy island that he dubbed Isla de Malhado — "Island of Misfortune." Later, the Spaniard wrote of the unexpected kindness the local Karankawa Indians offered his ragged group.
Historians think Galveston Island is the site of that shipwreck. A two thousand acre wildlife preserve opened on the island in 1975.
... [the native people] had built a hut for us with many fires in it... there was neither pleasure, feast nor sleep in it for us, since we expected to be sacrificed. In the morning they again gave us fish and roots, and treated us so well that we became reassured, losing somewhat our apprehension of being butchered.
— from The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, 1542
Spanish Missionary Settlement, 1720s
Spain wasn't the only nation interested in Texas. In 1683, the French king funded an expedition to lands west of the Louisiana territory, which France had claimed just a year before. Sailing from the West Indies, the French explorers overshot the mouth of the Mississippi River and landed in Texas, 500 miles off course. They built a settlement at Matagorda Bay and claimed Texas for France. Karankawa Indians would destroy the French colony within four years.
Although the expedition was a disaster for France, it renewed Spain's interest in Texas. Both France and Spain fought to bring the land under their control. The Spanish built missions and worked to convert the local population to Catholicism. The king of Spain also sent families — mostly from the Canary Islands — to populate the land, and soldiers to defend the settlements.
Spain's strategically located Los Adaes settlement blocked the French from entering Texas from the east. Domingo Ramón, a Spanish military commander, established Texas's first Catholic mission there in 1717, but French forces captured it two years later. A Spanish nobleman, José de Azlor y Virto de Vera, the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, volunteered to fight the French and push them out of east Texas. After he succeeded, he was named governor of the region. Los Adaes was the capital of Spanish colonial Texas from 1729 until 1772.
"[Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo] suggested... that it would be a good plan for four hundred families to come from [the Canary] Islands, from the city of Havana, and from the Province of Tlascala, and be distributed in Bahía de San Antonio in all the missions, at Adaes... It seemed to him that, without these families, it would be hard to hold the province, which is one of the most valuable in America. It is very fertile in all kinds of grain, seed, and stock; and likewise rich in mines which can be worked..."
— from the Spanish Royal Dispatch Providing for the Transportation of the Canary Islanders to Texas, February 14, 1729
Spanish Colony, 1810s
When U.S. president Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from the French in 1803, conflict broke out again over the eastern boundaries of Texas -- this time between the United States and Spain. Spain moved troops into its eastern outposts. The U.S., fearing an invasion, sent more soldiers to Louisiana. Both governments designated the disputed land "neutral ground" until Spain ceded the land to the U.S. in the Adams/Onis Treaty of 1819.
Spain had divided its remaining North American lands, including Texas and Mexico, into colonial states and territories. The people living there rebelled more and more against paying the taxes Spain demanded. Soon, Mexicans began a deadly fight for independence from Spain.
Spain founded San Antonio as a supply stop between the Rio Grande and missions in East Texas. The San Antonio de Valero mission was built on the San Antonio River, and a military outpost and a civilian settlement were laid out nearby. By 1731, the Canary Islanders recruited to settle in Texas started to arrive. The new immigrants established a church, streets and farming lots. Spain made San Antonio the Texas capital from 1772 until 1824.
In 1793, a group of soldiers from a place called San Carlos del Alamo de Parras made the mission their headquarters, calling it "the Alamo." Today, it is Texas's most popular tourist attraction.
"My... oldest brother Angel... was dismissed [from the Spanish] Royal Service, without pay, and without any kind of discharge as it was... customary and according to the Regulations for the Government of the Armies of the King of Spain; and why? Because ever since the Year of 1813... my Uncle Francisco Ruiz, my brother-in-law Veramundi, my afore-said brother Angel, and even ourselves the minors of the family have fallen into a horrid persecution on the part of all the Spanish officials devoted to the cause of their King."
— Jose Antonio Navarro, 1841
Mexican State, 1824
Three years after achieving independence from Spain, Mexican leaders created a federal government using the American model. They divided Mexico into nineteen states and four territories. Texas was joined with the larger, more populated state of Coahuila. The combined state's capital city, Saltillo, was hundreds of miles from Texas.
Antonio López de Santa Anna, the resilient general who had fought first for Spain then for the rebels in the struggle for Mexican independence, ascended to the Mexican presidency in 1833. He quickly declared that Mexico was not ready for democracy, and established a dictatorship. His rise sparked conflict in Texas, where Anglo-American immigrants had settled and become dominant.
The Spanish established Saltillo in 1575 in a valley of the Sierra Madre. After Mexican independence in 1821, it was named the capital of the state of Coahuila y Texas.
In the 20th century, Saltillo became a key Mexican industrial and automotive center, dubbed a "mini-Detroit" by the Wall Street Journal in 1995.
"The settlers have now nothing to fear, there is no longer any cause for uneasiness, they must not be discouraged at any little depredations of Indians, they must remember that American blood flows in their veins, and that they must not dishonor that noble blood by yielding to trifling difficulties."
— Stephen Austin, Texas settler from Missouri
Independent Nation, 1836
Texas' population swelled as American settlers arrived. By the mid-1830s, there were about 30,000 Anglo residents in Texas, and only 4,000 Tejanos, or Texans of Spanish descent. Many Texans increasingly wanted to be free of Mexican control. On March 2, 1836, a group of citizens approved a Declaration of Independence from Mexico. At the same time, the Mexican army had trapped Tejano and American rebels at the Alamo. On the morning of March 6th, the Mexican forces attacked and slaughtered hundreds of people, including all of the fort's defenders.
Six weeks later, Sam Houston, the energetic commander-in-chief of the Texas Army, surprised Santa Anna's troops at San Jacinto. The rebel forces routed the Mexicans, avenging the fall of the Alamo. Santa Anna was captured and later signed the Treaty of Velasco, ending the fight for Texas. Houston, an imposing man who had emigrated to Texas from Tennessee, became the new republic's first president.
A few months after the Battle of San Jacinto, in a place less than 15 miles from the battle site, two brothers set their sights on building "the great commercial emporium of Texas." Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen took out a newspaper ad promoting the "Town of Houston" and persuaded the Texas Congress to make the new city the temporary capital in 1837, a status it held for two years.
Houston dredged a new ship channel in 1914. The improved port, and America's growing demand for oil, made Houston Texas' largest city by 1930.
"Our Cavalry was first dispatched to the front of the Enemy's left, for the purpose of attracting their notice... Col. Sherman with his regiment having commenced the action upon our left wing the whole line at the center and on the right, advancing in double quick time, sung the war cry 'Remember the Alamo'..."
— Sam Houston, reporting on the Battle of San Jacinto
American State, 1850
Soon after becoming independent from Mexico, Texans voted in favor of joining the United States. But the U.S., deeply divided over the issue of slavery, was reluctant to admit Texas, where slave ownership had been on the rise. President John Tyler proposed annexation again in 1844, amid concerns that Great Britain might become active in Texas. The republic of Texas became the 28th U.S. state in 1845. Mexico disputed the American claim, and the two nations were soon at war over western territories, including Texas and California.
The Mexican-American War ended in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, in which Mexico gave up its claim to Texas. In 1850, to pay debts from its independent days, Texas gave the U.S. government a large part of its western territory, stretching north from present day New Mexico through Utah and into Idaho.
Texans built Austin as their republic's new capital city in 1839. Austin's status as the capital city was in doubt until a Texas-wide vote approved it in 1850. After that, the first permanent government buildings were erected. The granite Capitol building opened on San Jacinto Day, April 21, 1888.
"Foreign powers should... look on the annexation of Texas to the United States not as the conquest of a nation... but as the peaceful acquisition of a territory once her own... with the consent of that member, thereby diminishing the chances of war and opening to them new and ever-increasing markets for their products."
— from President James K. Polk's Inaugural Address, 1845