The Twilight of Spanish Texas,
From the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to July 21, 1821, when the flag of Castile and León was lowered for the last time at San Antonio, Texas experienced its most turbulent and bloody years as a Spanish province. Along the Sabine River, a shared but undefined border with the United States highlighted continuing problems over the extent of and rights to Spanish and American possessions on the North American continent. Throughout much of the eighteenth century, Texas had been a frontier province of New Spain, but in 1803 it faced entirely new circumstances. Its Spanish subjects stood face to face with Anglo-Americans who embodied what Julia K. Garrett called “the greatest evil to monarchy, the rising plague of the nineteenth century—ideas of liberty—theories of popular sovereignty—and revolution.” A non-Indian population in Texas of fewer than 3,000, largely vacant and dilapidated missions, two fixed presidios, three settlements, and two roads were the only “memorials of Spain’s imperial enterprises in this primeval kingdom.”1
To Spain’s credit, it would give increased attention to Texas over the better part of two decades. The indefinite boundary that separated the province from land-hungry Anglo-Americans moved Spain to adopt a threefold approach: “First, to hold the territory with its ancient boundaries in place; second, to increase its garrisons and colonize the territory with loyal Spanish subjects; and third, to keep out Anglo-American intruders.”2
Overall, Spain would accomplish those goals, but the real danger in maintaining its nearly 300-year claim to Texas lay in Spain and elsewhere in its American empire. The ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte, revolution in the heartland of New Spain, and the reactionary policies of King Ferdinand VII in Spain spelled the loss of an entire viceroyalty in less than twenty years.