Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

How Do You Get from Jamestown to Santa Fe? A Colonial Sun Belt

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

How Do You Get from Jamestown to Santa Fe? A Colonial Sun Belt

Article excerpt

LONG AGO, IN 1541, THE WESTERN AND EASTERN PORTIONS OF THE southern regions of the present-day United States were oh-so-briefly connected. That year, expeditions of two different Spanish explorers, one from the southwestern reaches of the continent, the other from the southeastern edges, came within three hundred miles of one another--separated by only the expanse of northern Texas. Francisco Vazquez de Coronado moved northeast out of Pueblo territories--more than fifty years before the region was claimed by Spain as the province of New Mexico--in search of the fabled lands of Quivira. At the same time, Hernando de Soto led men westward out of Florida across the Mississippi River--twenty-four years before it was claimed by Spain--in hopes of reaching the Pacific Ocean. The link between the two groups came in the form of an enslaved Plains Indian woman, one who had been "acquired" by one of Coronado's men, slipped his clutches as they crossed Texas's Llano Estacado, and then fled eastward with amazingly bad luck into the waiting arms of Soto's party. The story of this ill-fated woman suggests a striking notion--that the greater South was first brought together, albeit momentarily, not by the forebears of Confederate loyalists but by a slave, and an Indian one at that. (1)

If asked today where the Spanish borderlands fit within the historiography of the colonial South, the most likely answer from either southern or borderlands historians would be, "well, they don't." Until recently few scholars have seen the two regions as kindred. Traditionally North American history does not recognize the existence of a domain called "the South," with a capital "S," until the sectional tussles of the nineteenth century that ultimately separated the states into the Union and the Confederacy. So is the "colonial South" the same nineteenth-century region traced back in time? Is it simply the seventeenth-or eighteenth-century precursor to the "Old South"? That certainly seems to be the traditional approach, as textbooks of southern history often cover the colonial period by looking primarily at Anglo colonies. Florida, Louisiana, and Texas hover on the peripheries due to their Spanish and French associations during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Florida is mentioned vis-a-vis its conflicts with the British colonies to its north, and Louisiana makes an appearance in reference to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. By a nineteenth-century standard, Texas comes closest of all the southwestern regions of the Spanish borderlands to making the cut; if Texas was part of the Confederacy--and thus part of the South with a capital "S"--then surely one could argue that eighteenth-century Texas was part of the colonial past of that region? Yet in southern history, Texas generally does not merit inclusion in discussions of the colonial period, as the "colonial South" stops short of crossing the Louisiana-Texas border. All in all, the colonial South, even with Frenchmen and Spaniards added for a little spice, remains predominately an Anglo Southeast; it does not include the Southwest. (2)

In contrast, the historiography of the Spanish borderlands--though originally conceived by Herbert E. Bolton to include all of New Spain's provinces in North America, from Florida in the East to California in the West--more typically imagines its domain as primarily one in the Southwest (with the notable exception of David J. Weber's 1992 Spanish Frontier in North America). (3) It thus ignores the Southeast. The histories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries here too have most often determined the scholarly attention focused on the regions of the Spanish Southwest. Contacts, conflicts, wars, and immigration that influenced the movement of Anglo-Americans into the "American West" and along what would become the U.S.-Mexico border reorient the colonial storyline. The search for beginnings there often becomes an effort to explain the state of the southwestern lands and peoples when they confronted and were subsumed by Anglo-American hegemony in the nineteenth century. …

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