Texas Insights - August 2011

Volume II, Issue 1

What’s New?

Texas! The Exhibit is an adventure of exploration of Texas History, currently on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. It is rare in the teaching of Texas History to have such a grand collection of artifacts and information together in one place, which makes this a must see for Texas History educators, students, and enthusiasts alike. 

Touring the exhibit, you will be introduced to Texas Legends, such as Rene’ Robert Cavelier de La Salle, Stephen F. Austin, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and E. E. Townsend; who was a Texas Ranger and founder of Big Bend National Park. Experience the adventure, while exploring artifacts of the 1686 shipwreck of the La Belle, the “come and take it” cannon, Col. William Barrett Travis’ “Victory or Death” letter, the famous James Bowie knife found at the Alamo, and the Juneteenth order.   

The exhibit is open now at the Houston Museum on Natural Science, but will close on September 5, 2011. The display will then move to the Hall of State on the Texas State Fair Grounds in Dallas, opening there on September 30th and will be open until December 4, 2011. Funding exists for Dallas area teachers and students with transportation and field trip expense needs.  To inquire about funding, contact Dealey Campbell at the Dallas Historical Society, 214-421-4500 ext. 104 or by email at booking@dallashistory.org. You can find more information about Texas! The Exhibit by visiting TeachingTexas.org.

New TEKS Alignment

TeachingTexas.org and other Texas State Historical Association websites have been re-correlated to the new Texas history TEKS which go into effect this school year. You can find a variety of resources, including a side-by-side comparison of the new and old TEKS, lesson plans, and an alignment guide to help you find information on the new people and topics listed in the new standards. See TeachingTexas.org for details.


Save Texas History Symposium

The Texas General Land Office’s Save Texas History Program is offering its 2nd Annual Symposium, titled The Texas Revolution at 175: Onward was the Cry! in Austin at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on October 1, 2011. The Symposium will feature Dr. Gene Smith, James P. Bevill, Dr. Stephen Hardin, Dr. Gregg Dimmick, Dr. Alwyn Barr and more. For more information, see TeachingTexas.org.

Featured Institution

The Texas General Land Office - Archives and Records
Education and Outreach

“ Resources for Texas history are often difficult to find; your outreach program and materials have been outstanding.”
                                 Barbara Taylor, Education Specialist, ESC Region 6

For teachers of Texas history, finding new, interesting, and relevant resources for the classroom can be a challenge. The search for meaningful, curriculum-based materials can be a time-consuming dead end. The Texas General Land Office can help minimize this frustration.

The Archives and Records collection contains the original land records and related documents dating back to the Spanish era. These documents tell the story of the land and its people through first person accounts and descriptions of early life in Texas, including correspondence from early settlers and soldiers of the Texas Revolution.

Although the Archives collection is extensive (35 million documents and 80 thousand maps and sketches!), many of these documents and maps have been identified and selected for their high interest and connections to the curriculum. Example documents include correspondence from Stephen F. Austin to Spanish and Mexican officials during the colonization period, and   letters from settlers, soldiers, and sailors during the turbulent Revolution and Republic periods.

To familiarize educators with the Archives and Records collection, a Teacher’s Guide to the Archives Collection was written to provide a concise, easy-to-read introduction to the Land Office and the land grant programs and processes associated with early Texas land history.

In addition to the Teacher’s Guide, the education and outreach program also provides:
  • Access to primary source documents in PDF format that includes a copy of the original document, an easy-to-read transcription, and an English translation if in Spanish. A list of these documents is available upon request
  • TEKS-related lessons that use primary source maps and documents from the collection to enhance the classroom experience
  • Primary source workshops to introduce the collection to teachers and offer ways to access and infuse documents and maps into the curriculum
  • Tours of the Archives and Records collection, for teachers and students; 
  • A special Texas History Educators workshop as part of our annual Save Texas History Symposium
  • A summer Primary Source workshop co-sponsored by the Capitol Visitors Center;
  • A state-wide essay contest for students, and more!

The goal of our education and outreach program is simple. Through an understanding of the GLO Archives and utilizing its documents and maps in the classroom, teachers can play an important role in ensuring our state’s history endures for future generations.

For more information on the Texas General Land Office Archives educator resources and workshops, please contact Buck Cole at buck.cole@glo.texas.gov or call him at 512-936-9644.

Historian's Corner

The French Challenge in Spanish Texas and the Spanish Response, 1684-1762
By Donald E. Chipman

The competition between Spain and France and its impact on the Spanish settlement of Texas is important. Its outcome determined that Texas would become a Spanish province, not French. Between 1517 and 1519, the Spanish explored and mapped the entire Gulf Coast from Florida to Yucatán; and during that time, they also carried out land operations in Yucatán, Tabasco, and the east coast of Mexico. More important to the future of Texas was Spain’s assertion that the Gulf of Mexico was a Spanish Sea from which all foreigners were strictly prohibited by royal decree. That claim, remarkably, went unchallenged for 165 years (1519–1684).

In 1684, René Robert Cavelier, sieur de la Salle, having previously descended the Mississippi River to its mouth from Canada in 1682, sailed from northwest France with four vessels bound for French-held Haiti. While there, one of La Salle’s cargo ships, the Saint-François, and its crew was captured by Spanish privateers, while still other members of La Salle’s company deserted and remained in Haiti. One of the deserters was young Denis (Dionisio) Thomas, who had overheard La Salle’s intended destination on the Gulf Coast.

La Salle and his three remaining ships entered the Gulf in November 1684 and made landfall at the entrance to Matagorda Bay. The light frigate Belle sailed safely into the bay, but the heavily laden supply ship, Aimable, drifted outside the channel and was wrecked. The flagship, Joly, sailed back to France, as planned; and La Salle’s one remaining the ship, the Belle, with an inadequate anchor, was later driven stern-first by strong winds into an embankment one hundred yards off Matagorda Peninsula. This left La Salle and perhaps 160 followers stranded on the right bank of Garcitas Creek in present-day Victoria County. Survivors at the French colony, popularly known as Fort St. Louis, although never called that at the time, would face a brutal fate that ultimately spared the lives of only a few.

As though the sorry condition of La Salle’s colonists in the Texas wilderness was not bad enough, in late summer 1685, Spanish officials in Mexico learned of the French intrusion. This intelligence came from the deserters in Haiti. Many of them, unable to find employment, joined privateers who carried out a bloody raid on the Yucatán peninsula. In the passage out of San Francisco de Campeche, two Spanish ships confronted the pirates and took 120 prisoners. One of them, the youth Denis Thomas, when interrogated by Spanish officials in Mexico, revealed that La Salle’s secret destination on the Gulf Coast was the mouth of a river called “Misipipi.”

The Spanish searched their badly flawed maps and concluded that the Great River entered the Gulf in the approximate location of the Nueces River, which empties into Corpus Christi Bay. A hostile French colony there would place the enemy dangerously close to settlements and mines in northern Mexico. If the French gained even a toehold on the upper Gulf Coast, they would be sure to bring in additional manpower and weaponry as soon as possible. It was therefore necessary to find the French colony and destroy it as soon as possible.

Between 1686 and 1689, the Spanish sent out five expeditions by sea and six by land in search of the French colony. From Coahuila, four of the land expeditions were led by Alonso de León Jr. The first followed the right bank of the Rio Grande to the coast and then turned south toward Mexico, but his three later marches entered Texas. The other land expeditions were sent out from different locations in northern Mexico and Spanish Florida.

On April 20, 1689, De León on his fourth expedition took a sun shot, which if accurate placed him about eight miles southeast of present-day Victoria, Texas. Two days later, the expedition began a march down the right bank of Garcitas Creek. Shortly before noon, it came upon the ruins of the French settlement, which had been destroyed by Karankawas, most likely in late December 1688.

To protect Texas from further French intrusions, De León helped found Mission San Francisco de los Tejas for the Hasinai Caddos in East Texas in 1690. A satellite mission, Santísimo Nombre de María, was later located about nine miles from the first mission site. The lesser mission was destroyed by a flood, while the first failed to attract a single resident neophyte in its three-year existence. It was burned and abandoned in1693. By then, the Spanish pattern of responding to French rivals in Texas was established. This approach has been appropriately labeled “defensive expansion”—settlement followed by withdrawal when the threat of French interlopers was dispelled, or at least so perceived.  It would be repeated in 1716 and 1717 with the establishment of a presidio, five missions in East Texas, and Los Adaes in western Louisiana after the French returned to the Gulf Coast in 1699 and founded Natchitoches, late in 1714.

An obscure war between Spain and France in Europe, which began in January 1719 and ended in February 1720, spilled over into their American colonies. During the brief conflict, the French captured Pensacola and launched an attack from Natchitoches on Mission Los Adaes. Panic over the war led to the complete abandonment of all Spanish presence in East Texas and western Louisiana. 

 The Spanish would re-establish the six missions and a presidio in that same locale under the leadership of the marqués de Aguayo in 1721. The three most eastern of the missions and the presidio would be maintained by Spain as outposts against the French in Louisiana for the next fifty years. But from the 1720s until 1762, the Spanish and French, both under Bourbon monarchs, increasingly behaved as “friendly enemies” in the Americas and even became allies during the final phases of the French and Indian War (1754–1763) against Great Britain. Once Louisiana passed from France to Spain, as it did in late 1762, Texas was no longer a frontier province, and only a decade would pass until Los Adaes would lose its status as the capital of the Texas, the three nearby missions be abandoned, and some five hundred Spanish settlers and ranchers in East Texas would be compelled to move to San Antonio in 1772.

Spain was never able to grow the population of Spanish Texas. The province throughout its history had remained one of the most sparsely occupied regions in Spain’s North American empire, which stretched from the northern border of Panama to California in the Spanish Southwest. By the 1790s, both Texas and Coahuila had slightly fewer than two residents per square league (approximately seven square miles). Only the desert region of Baja California was more thinly populated with one person per square league. By necessity, “defensive expansion” and settlement, followed by occasional withdrawals, was the best Spain could muster in defending the future Lone Star State from foreign encroachment, first begun by France in 1684.

Featured Lesson

As you plan your instruction on the conflict between Spain and France and how that affected settlement in Texas, check out this issue’s featured lesson plan from the Bob Bullock State History Museum. Available on TeachingTexas.org, Expedition to the Texas Coast: Exploring the Wreck of the French Ship La Belle is a unit of study, for both 4th and 7th grade students. In the provided lesson, students will explore the La Belle using photographs and artifacts from the discovery of the ship to answer both history and geography based questions.

Texas History News

Several opportunities for Texas history educators and students are available or are on the near horizon:

The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum is offering an Educator Resource Fair in Austin on Saturday, October 8, 2011. The Fair will showcase exciting resources for use in the classroom. For additional information, see TeachingTexas.org.


Texas High School Football: More Than A Game is a new special exhibit featured at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. The exhibit is open now and will run through January 22, 2012. For more information, visit TeachingTexas.org.

The University of North Texas History Department is offering their annual Teaching of History Conference, at Wooten Hall, on September 24th from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.  This year’s theme is Insurrections and Rebellions.  For more information and to register online, visit TeachingTexas.org.


The Institute of Texan Cultures presents Texas Football: In Their Words. Currently open and running through September 13th, in San Antonio, the exhibit seeks to answer the question, “What does football mean to you?” Visit TeachingTexas.org for additional information.

Visit the exhibit, Frank Reaugh: Master of Pastels and the Plains of Texas, at UNT on the Square, located in downtown Denton, TX. The event opened July 7th and will continue through October 1st 2012; and is sponsored by the Torch Collection, TSHA, UNT College of Arts and Sciences, and the UNT Institute for the Advancement of the Arts.  Visit TeachingTexas.org for more information.


 The Terrell Flight Museum and the No. 1 British Flying Training School Museum in Terrell presents their annual Flights of Our Fathers weekend, September 16–18, 2011.  The weekend is full of events including a reunion of the American and British men who were trained in Terrell, for service in World War II. For more information, visit TeachingTexas.org.

Victoria College and the University of Houston – Victoria Library are proud to present The Civil War in Texas: Changing Interpretations after 150 Years, part of their ongoing conference series, on the weekend of October 20–22, 2011.  Visit TeachingTexas.org for more information.


The Texas Historical Commission presents Caddo Culture Day on October 22, 2011 in Alto. At the event, enjoy performances by Caddo Indians of the Caddo Nation Tribal Lands in Binger, Oklahoma, and other hands on activities. Visit TeachingTexas.org for more information.

TexasTejano.com is hosting a student art contest, set to begin on September 9th and run through October 31, 2011. To honor and celebrate Tejano Heritage Month, students in grades K through 5 are welcomed to submit their artwork. For more information visit TeachingTexas.org.


Join Region X and the Texas State Historical Association at the Hall of State at Fair Park, in Dallas, Texas for Energizing Texas History.  The workshop will be held on November 10, 2011 and all history, math, and science teachers are welcomed to join.  Visit TeachingTexas.org for additional information.

Texas Insights is a publication of the Texas State Historical Association
in cooperation with the University of North Texas.

Texas State Historical Association
1155 Union Circle #311580
Denton, TX 76203-5017

Stephen Cure - Editor
Kim White- Associate Editor
JoNeita Kelly- Associate Editor  


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