Río Grande Settlement and the French Challenge, 1656-1689
THE 1680s WERE A TIME OF CRISIS FOR THE NORTHERN FRONTIER of New Spain. The decade began with a massive, coordinated Indian revolt in New Mexico that claimed the lives of more than four hundred Spaniards and forced the total abandonment of a province held continuously for eighty-two years. Survivors, well over two thousand of them, retreated down the Río Grande toward El Paso del Río del Norte. Those events transformed Texas, which had been secondary in importance to New Mexico, into a focus of empire and international rivalry. Refugees were placed in camps southwest of the Rio Grande, while military planning for the reconquest of New Mexico proper was begun. At the same time, Spaniards accelerated Río Grande settlement with the growth of missionary enterprises along the river. Near midpoint in the decade, however, those activities also became secondary when it was learned that Frenchmen had violated Spanish sovereignty by entering the forbidden waters of the Gulf of Mexico and by planting a colony somewhere on the coast between Pánuco and Florida. To meet that challenge, officials in New Spain organized five land expeditions in a span of four years and sent four of them into Texas. In the same time frame, they sent five sea voyages to probe Gulf Coast waters in search of the elusive French colony. These interrelated developments that preceded the founding of the first missions in East Texas are the subject of this chapter.
BY 1680 SPANISH SETTLERS IN NEW MEXICO NUMBERED approximately twenty-eight hundred. The majority of them lived in the southern district, known as Río Abajo, while a smaller number resided to the north in the vicinity of the capital at Santa Fe. Scattered among the various missions of the province were some sixteen thousand partially Hispanicized Indians and thirty-two Franciscan friars. While there was no formal presidio, regular soldiers were stationed at Santa Fe. At that