The Spanish Legacy

Unwilling, cold, defeated, and sick, the first consequential representatives of European civilization in Texas landed with a thump on the sands of Galveston Island in November 1528. They were the remnants of the ill-fated Narváez expedition sent to conquer Florida. Abandoned by their fleet and attacked by hostile natives, the four hundred starving Spaniards ate their horses, built crude barges, rigged sails from their shirts, and floated westward. The chill waves dumped eighty to ninety survivors on the beach at Galveston, and of these only four lived to see their countrymen again. The white men called the place Malhado, or the Isle of Doom.

There had been earlier investigations of the Texas coastline by Spanish explorers. In 1519 at the time Cortez began his adventure among the Aztecs of Mexico, Alonso Álvarez de Piñeda, a navy lieutenant, sailed from Jamaica and followed the northern Gulf Coast to Veracruz. He was rejected by Cortez, who saw him as a rival. Piñeda retreated to Río Panuco to rest and repair his ships, and then he returned home. Much later, in 1785, at the command of Bernardo de Gálvez, the viceroy of Mexico, José de Evia charted the Texas shoreline, but the first European to cross Texas was Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the second in command of the Narváez expedition and one of the survivors.

Most of the Spaniards on Galveston Island shortly died from disease, malnutrition, exposure, and angry Karankawa Indians. The initial meeting of the two cultures, however, was friendly. The Europeans exchanged bells and beads for food, and after the Spaniards lost all of their clothing and gear to the surf in an attempt to continue their voyage, the Indians shared food, warmth, and shelter. The Karankawas, however, blaming the white men for a rash of dysentery and disgusted at an example of cannibalism among the starving Europeans, enslaved the Spaniards after this brief period of helpfulness and compassion.

Cabeza de Vaca survived by his wits for six years and then escaped with three others by walking into northern Mexico.

Battle cry of the
Spanish Conquistador


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Texas, a Modern History


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