Spanish Texas, 1519-1821

By Donald E. Chipman; Harriett Denise Joseph | Go to book overview

ONE
Texas: Geography and First People

To walk the boundaries of modern Texas would require a trek of more than 3,800 miles, circumscribing a remarkably diverse land of 267,338 square miles. Within this vast area are rivers and mountains, deserts and woodlands, plains and basins. The physical dimensions of contemporary Texas have led scholars such as D. W. Meinig to use the word “imperial” in describing the size and importance of the Lone Star State. Even when writing about only the eastern two-fifths of Texas, where African-American slavery thrived in the antebellum period, Randolph B. Campbell called that region “an empire for slavery” in his book by the same name, for it equaled in size the combined states of Alabama and Mississippi.1

By contrast, Hispanic Texas as a physical unit comprised far less than the totality of the present state of Texas, but the province—known to the Spanish as Tejas or the New Kingdom of the Philippines—was nevertheless imperial in size. It lay north of the Medina River and east of its headwaters, extending into present-day Louisiana. However, throughout the three centuries during which Spain laid claim to Texas, its soldiers, missionaries, settlers, and pathfinders traversed every major physiographic region of the modern state.

The authors of a recent book on Texas geography have chosen to emphasize the “formal plurality of Texas rather than its functional unity.”2 They point out that the landscape of Texas decreases in elevation from north to south, while rainfall increases from west to east. The overall land configuration tilts gently to the southeast, as evidenced by the flow of all major rivers as they make their way to the Gulf of Mexico (see Figure 1). Aside from these broad observations, Texas requires analysis by particulars rather than generalizations.

Four physiographic regions of the United States are found in Texas: the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain, Interior Lowlands, Great Plains, and

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