In the late 1680’s as New Spain responded to French incursions in its furthermost undeveloped province. It sought experienced and capable military men to carry out their plans of exploration, colonization and Christianization of the Native Americans. Typically, men with higher ranks and frontier experience were considered for these responsibilities. These officers also had to possess administrative, developmental and operational skills in order to conquer the vast Texas wilderness. In 1688, New Spain chose General Alonzo de Leon to lead the first expeditions into the unknown. De Leon had risen through the ranks and was an experienced officer and was also Governor of Coahuila.
In 1689, after prior attempts to locate the French he discovered the ruins of the failed Fort La Salle near the Bay of Matagorda. De Leon is credited with contacting the largest Native American tribes in the east, notably the Caddo’s and Tejas nations. He also established some of the first presidios and missions. He continued in command of the first presidios and missions put into play until 1791.
In 1691, General Domingo Teran de los Rios was appointed the first Governor of Texas and continued the founding of missions and presidios in east Texas along the Sabine River. He was also the governor of Coahuila. Several other governors: Varona, Valdes, Aguirre, Cordova, Subisa and Valdez were appointed between the years 1692-1716.
In 1716, General Martin de Alarcon who had previously served as governor in 1703-1705, was re-appointed to re-enforce the Spanish missions and presidios. At this time, French activity had significantly increased and there was a fear that they might lose their territory. While on his way to east Texas he founded the “Presidio San Antonio de Bexar” and the “Villa de San Antonio de Bexar”. This move helped assure provisions and soldiers could readily be deployed to the eastern missions and presidios. He had also previously named the ‘San Antonio River” that ran through the “Villa”.
From 1719 to 1730, Governors Virto de Vera, Almazan, Azcona and Ceballos were the governors of Texas and Coahuila, New Spain. The most important rule was of Virto de Vera otherwise known as the “Marquis de San Miquel de Aguayo who became famous as a military commander for re-taking eastern Texas from France without firing a shot. During his tenure, 1719-1722, he re-established several missions and presidios and added several hundred soldiers to garrisoned forces in Texas. Plus, his initial expedition brought almost three-thousand horses, seven thousand sheep, cattle and sheep. This constituted the first large “cattle drive”in Texas and provided the foundation of ranching in Texas.
The years 1730 to 1741, were governed by Manuel de Sandoval, Carlos Benites Franquis de Lugo, Prudencio de Orobio y Bastera and Tomas Felipe de Winthuisen. Not many eventful activities occurred during all of these administrations. Only the alleged mismanagement of Governor Sandoval administration has been documented in history to a large degree.
From 1743 to 1751, Texas was governed by Justo Boneo y Morales, Francisco Garcia Larios and Pedro del Barrio, Junco y Espriella and Jacinto de Barrios y Jauregui. Of these administrations, the Jauregui is the most import during this decade of development. In 1751, Governor Juregui arrived in Los Adaes, capital of Texas. During his tenure, 1751-1759, he founded Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba and the Presidios of San Saba and Agustin de Ahumada. In addition, he moved the San Xavier missions and San Francisco Xavier Presidio to the San Marcos River. He, along with the other governors became governors of Coahuila as well.
From 1760 to 1770, Angel de Martos y Navarete, Hugo Oconor and Juan Maria Vicencio, “Baron de Ripperda”, served as governors. Upon his appointment in 1770, Ripperda moved his family to San Antonio. Anticipating reforms, he placed his headquarters there as well, rather than Los Adaes. In 1772, the capital of Spanish Texas was officially moved to San Antonio. The following year he was ordered to remove the eastern establishments and its inhabitants to San Antonio. This action did not end well as the Tejanos from the east petitioned to return and ultimately ended settling in Nacogdoches.
For Tejano leaders in San Antonio having the capital in their community helped strengthen their political, economic and military power base. Also, it gave Tejanos greater independence and self-reliantcy as they were so far removed from the seats of government. The capital of Texas would remain in San Antonio for almost forty years (1821).
From 1778 to 1790, Governors Domingo Cabello y Robles, Bernardo Bonavia y Zapata and Rafael Martinez Pacheco, would serve as Texas governors. Previously, Cabello y Robles had been governor of Nicaragua and had been a Battalion Commander. In 1778, he became governor of Texas and in 1785-1789 he was instrumental in negotiating a peace treaty with the Commanches. During this era, massive exports of castle and horses almost depleted the stock in Texas. The governor issued the “Bando” (Side) Law that help stem the depletion of Texas stock. This circumstance is very similar to the massive “cattle trails” conducted to market in the 1870’s.
Also, important to this era was Governor Munoz’s fulfillment of the Decree of Secularization of the missions in San Antonio. This action meant that the religious lands could now be granted to civilians for homesteading and ranching. This resulted in significant land holdings by the civilian population in an around San Antonio. It also provided for Native Americans to hold title to land.
By 1800 to 1811, Juan Bautista Elguezabal, Manuel Antonio Cordero y Bustamante, Manuel Maria de Salcedo, Juan Bautista de las Casa and Simon de Herrera served as governors. During this period there was very much political unrest as revolution had begun to oust New Spain government. In San Antonio, De las Casa led a coup to depose Salcedo and was governor for thirty-nine days before being arrested.
In 1813, General Bernardo de Lara waged a war against New Spain and won independence for Texas in that year. A constitution was drafted, and he became the first president of Texas. Unfortunately, three months later in August, the Battle of La Medina occurred, and a Spanish army led by Gen. Arrendondo soundly defeated the Tejanos. This battle was the bloodiest battle in Texas history as over one-thousand Tejano patriots lost their lives in combat with a far superior number of forces.
From 1814 to 1821, the following governors served: Cristobal Dominguez, Juan Ignacio Perez, Manuel Pardo and Antonio Maria Martinez was the last serve as colonial governors of Texas. In over one-hundred and thirty years, thirty-eight governors served Texas in many different ways to advance Tejanos, their government, their economy, culture, religion and society.
In 1821, the ten-year revolution to create the new Republic of Mexico was finally over and thirteen Mexican governors would rule over Texas and Texas y Coahuila until 1836. Therefore, a total of fifty-one governors in one-hundred and fifty-two years would rule over Texas until the final Battle of the Alamo and the creation of the Republic of Texas.
We submit that this early Tejano history is very important to understand that Tejanos had governance for a very long period that contributed to their sense and understanding of their laws and order, culture and society and their political and economic well-being. Although other writers have suggested that there was very little development in Texas prior to 1836, we submit some of the most important developments and actions occurred through the direction and orders of these very important and capable leaders of early Texas!