General Alonso de León's Expeditions into Texas, 1686-1690

General Alonso de León's Expeditions into Texas, 1686-1690

General Alonso de León's Expeditions into Texas, 1686-1690

General Alonso de León's Expeditions into Texas, 1686-1690


In the late seventeenth century, General Alonso de Leon led five military expeditions from northern New Spain into what is now Texas in search of French intruders who had settled on lands claimed by the Spanish crown. Lola Orellano Norris has identified sixteen manuscript copies of de Leon's meticulously kept expedition diaries. These documents hold major importance for early Texas scholarship. Some of these early manuscripts have been known to historians, but never before have all sixteen manuscripts been studied.

In this interdisciplinary study, Norris transcribes, translates, and analyzes the diaries from two different perspectives. The historical analysis reveals that frequent misinterpretations of the Spanish source documents have led to substantial factual errors that have persisted in historical interpretation for more than a century. General Alonso de Leon's Expeditions into Texas is the first presentation of these important early documents and provides new vistas on Spanish Texas.


In Herbert E. Bolton’s seminal work Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542–1706, readers learn that during the 1689 expedition into Texas in search of La Salle’s colony, General Alonso de León distributed “cotton garments, blankets, beads, rosaries, knives, and arms” to five Indian nations gathered near the Río Grande ([1908] 1916, 389). While giving gifts to members of indigenous groups was common practice on exploratory journeys, readers may be surprised to discover that “arms” were included as gifts. Supplying arms to Indians was outlawed by royal decree. Moreover, at the end of the seventeenth century, New Spain was in a constant state of war with the natives of her northern frontier. Indian raids on colonial settlements were frequent and Spanish punitive attacks numerous. Thus, it would appear to have been ill-advised to place weapons in the hands of potential enemies. the assertion seems even more startling in that, just a year prior to this 1689 expedition, de León himself had led a protracted campaign against various belligerent groups of natives and crushed yet another bloody uprising in the region. When preparing to undertake said 1689 entrada to locate the French fort on the Texas coast, the general expressed concern that warring Indian bands might attack the new settlements in Coahuila during his absence. This begs the question: why would he supply them with weapons?

A careful reading of the oldest extant manuscripts of de León’s 1689 expedition diary, which the explorer kept in his native Spanish, makes it perfectly clear that he provided the five Indian nations with harina, which means "flour," not "arms" (89-A 429r17; 89-B 39r20; 89-C 134v21). How could these two

1. Five manuscripts have been identified for the 1689 expedition: (1) Archivo General de la Nación, México, Provincias Internas, vol. 192, folios 428r-440v (cited hereafter as 89-A); (2) Archivo General de Indias, Spain, Audiencia de México, leg. 616, folios 37v-50r (cited hereafter as 89-B); (3) Biblioteca Nacional de México, Archivo Franciscano, caja 1, expedientes 13 y 14, folios 133v26–141v (cited hereafter as 89-C); (4) Archivo General de la Nación, México, Ramo de Historia, vol. 27, folios 51r-66r (cited hereafter as 89-D); and (5) University of California– Berkeley, Bancroft Library, M-M 278–281, doc. 24, folios 305r-318r (cited hereafter as 89-E). the first three, 89-A, 89-B, and 89-C, are the oldest copies. No original diary is extant.

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