Explorers and Conquistadors, 1519-1543
THE EARLIEST EUROPEAN CONTACTS WITH TEXAS AND ITS inhabitants were both accidental and sporadic. Explorers first approached from the east by sea along the Gulf Coast, then overland almost simultaneously from New Mexico and Louisiana. Those initial contacts were the result of historical processes generated within the West Indies and the vast Kingdom of New Spain, a viceroyalty that ultimately stretched from the northern limits of Panama to the Spanish Borderlands in the American Southwest. This chapter chronicles events in New Spain that related to Texas, and it focuses on the pioneering accomplishments of Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, Cabeza de Vaca, Coronado, de Soto, and Moscoso.
AFTER THE INITIAL COLUMBIAN VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY, THE Spanish empire in America began amid the major islands of the Caribbean Sea. The first explorers and conquistadors, most of whom were young men who hailed from proud but poor families in Extremadura in western Spain or Andalucia in the south, sought new opportunity in a New World, and they usually did so with the blessings of their monarchs. While jealous of their absolute powers, Spanish sovereigns lacked sufficient resources to meet the obligations of a nation that would soon claim the dominant role in Europe and America.
Until the discovery of rich silver mines in Mexico and Peru in the 1540s, the most important source of wealth on the continental land masses was gold and silver already in the possession of high Amerindian cultures. Consequently, in the first half of the sixteenth century, the crown not only favored expansion into unexplored areas but also endorsed free-enterprise ventures by granting contracts to private individuals. By this arrangement, the Spanish monarchs risked not a single peso, although they stood to profit from the actions of explorers and conquistadors who increased the Spanish empire in America while spreading the