Back to top

Texas and Northeastern Mexico,1630-1690

Texas and Northeastern Mexico,1630-1690
Edited with an introduction by William C. Foster Translated by Ned F. Brierley

An English translation of Chapa's Historia de Nuevo León, the first history of the region that eventually became Texas and northeastern Mexico.

February 1997
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
Add to cart
247 pages | 6 x 9 | 6 line drawings, 2 maps |

In the seventeenth century, South Texas and Northeastern Mexico formed El Nuevo Reino de León, a frontier province of New Spain. In 1690, Juan Bautista Chapa penned a richly detailed history of Nuevo León for the years 1630 to 1690. Although his Historia de Nuevo León was not published until 1909, it has since been acclaimed as the key contemporary document for any historical study of Spanish colonial Texas.

This book offers the only accurate and annotated English translation of Chapa's Historia. In addition to the translation, William C. Foster also summarizes the Discourses of Alonso de León (the elder), which cover the years 1580 to 1649. In the appendix, Foster includes a translation of Alonso (the younger) de León's previously unpublished revised diary of the 1690 expedition to East Texas and an alphabetical listing of over 80 Indian tribes identified in this book.

Chapa was also an authority on the local Indians, and his Historia lists the names and locations of over 300 Indian tribes. This information, together with descriptions of the vegetation, wildlife, and climate in seventeenth-century Texas, make this book essential reading for ethnographers, anthropologists, and biogeographers, as well as students and scholars of Spanish borderlands history.


Presidio La Bahía Award
Sons of the Republic of Texas

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Historia del Nuevo Reino de León by Juan Bautista Chapa
  • To the Devout Reader
  • 1. The History of Nuevo León from 1650
  • 2. Indians Attack Alonso de León's House
  • 3. Governor Zavala Requests the Establishment of Two Presidios
  • 4. The Events after 1653
  • 5. Punishment of Indians Who Committed the Murders
  • 6. Captain Alonso de León Represents Governor Zavala before the Royal Council
  • 7. Other Military Action in Nuevo Leon
  • 8. Indian Nations of the North
  • 9. The Death of Governor Don Martin de Zavala
  • 10. The Government after Governor Zavala's Death
  • 11. Developments in 1665
  • 12. Other Developments in 1665
  • 13. Two Other Strange Occurrences
  • 15. Developments in the Province in 1667
  • 16. The Indians of the North Continue Their Incursions
  • 17. Tetecoara Indian Attack
  • 18. Success in Capturing the Indians
  • 19. The Request from the Municipal Council of Monterrey to the Governor
  • 20. The Opinion of Fray Francisco de Ribera
  • 21. Fray Ribera's Opinion Continues
  • 22. The Governor Submits This Opinion to the City of San Luis Potosí
  • 23. Other Skirmishes That Took Place in Nuevo León
  • 24. A Great Uprising in the San Antonio Valley
  • 25. Don Domingo de Pruneda Is Appointed Governor
  • 26. The Administration of Don Domingo de Vidagaray
  • 27. Juan de Echeverría Is Appointed Governor
  • 28. A List of Indian Nations That Were in Nuevo León but Have Vanished
  • 29. Indian Nations Added by the Spaniards
  • 30. The Death of Governor Juan de Echeverría and the Administration of Governor Alonso de León
  • 31. The Beginning of the Marquis of San Miguel de Aguayo's Administration as Governor of Nuevo León
  • 32. The Continuation of Governor Aguayo's Administration
  • 33. Governor Alonso de León Captures a Frenchman Living among the Indians
  • 34. The French Prisoner Explains Why He Lived with the Indians
  • 35. His Excellency Orders an Expedition to Locate the French Settlement
  • 36. Governor Alonso de León Discovers the French Settlement and the Bay of Espíritu Santo
  • 37. The Expedition Continues
  • 38. Arrival at the French Settlement
  • 39. The Discovery and Naming of the San Marcos River
  • 40. Governor Alonso de León Locates the Two Frenchmen
  • 41. Uprisings in Nuevo León in 1689
  • 42. The Exploration and Settlement of the Rio Blanco
  • 43. The Exploration of the Province of the Tejas Continues
  • 44. The Journey to the Tejas Continues
  • 45. The Expedition to the Tejas Concludes
  • Appendix A. Governor Alonso de León's Revised1690 Expedition Diary
  • Appendix B. Indian Tribes Reported in Captain Alonso de León's Discourses, Juan Bautista Chapa's Historia, and General Alonso de León's Revised 1690 Expedition Diary
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

William C. Foster is a partner in the law firm of Patton Boggs, L.L.P., in Washington, D.C.


Three hundred years ago, an anonymous author living quietly and alone near Monterrey, Mexico, completed a rich and detailed history of present-day Texas and Nuevo León covering the years 1630 to 1690. The manuscript, which describes not only the Spanish leaders of the period but also the native population and natural environment of northeastern Mexico and Texas, went unpublished for over two hundred years, and it was not until 1961 that the author's identity was revealed. That author was Juan Bautista Chapa, a man who was fearful of the Spanish Inquisition, but whose experience during the period as secretary to several governors of Nuevo León gave him the ability and the knowledge necessary to write such an insightful account. He was a close companion of Captain Alonso de León (the elder), whom he accompanied on numerous military actions against Indian tribes near Monterrey and the lower Rio Grande, and he served under Governor Alonso de León (the younger) on the 1686 and 1689 expeditions in search of the French settlement at present-day Matagorda Bay on the Central Texas coast. No comparable history was ever written by a resident Spanish offficial about other parts of northern New Spain.


This book is the first annotated English rendition of both Chapa's Historia and Governor Alonso de León's revised 1690 expedition diary. Scholars of the Spanish colonial period and the general public interested in Texas history will find the translations clear and easy to read and will have the opportunity to enjoy a seventeenth-century Spanish classic, the earliest systematic history of Texas.


This introduction will track the publication of Chapa's work and unfold the mystery of authorship. A full review of each of Captain Alonso de León's Discourses on the history of Nuevo León from its inception in 1579 to 1650 is included to provide background for Chapa's account. The Discourses highlight the efforts by Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva in the 1580S to settle the kingdom of Nuevo León (which included most of South Texas) and the lifeways and customs of the Indian population. Finally, a brief examination of the significance of Chapa's contribution to the understanding of the period will introduce his Historia.


In 1909 the highly respected Mexican bibliographer Genaro García included the chronicle or Historia written by Chapa (then known only as autor anónimo) in the Historia de Nuevo León con Noticias sobre Coahu'ila, Texas y Nuevo Mexico, por el Capitan Alonso de León, un Autor Anónimo el General Fernando Sánchez de Zamora. García's compilation also included three Discourses on the history of Nuevo León before 1650 authored by Captain Alonso de León and a short, one-chapter history of the Rio Blanco area— located in the southern part of the province—prepared by General Fernando Sánchez de Zamora. Excluded from García's Historia de Nuevo León was the revised copy of Governor Alonso de León's 1690 expedition diary, which was a part of García's larger collection.


The history of Chapa's manuscript is very sketchy. Genaro García tells us only that José Mariano Beristáin de Sousa referenced a manuscript history of Nuevo León written by Captain Alonso de León that Beristaín had found in the library of the Royal University of Mexico. García obtained the manuscript from Canon D. Vicente de P. Andrade's private library.


Carl L. Duaine, a South Texas historian and descendant of Juan Bautista Chapa, prepared the only known English translation of Chapa's Historia. Duaine added his own historical essays and material relating to his family to the translated but unannotated text of De León's Discourses and Chapa's history. The work was privately printed in 1971. Duaine apparently had a copy of the manuscript used by Genaro García, which is presently held in the Beinecke Library at Yale University. While Duaine's translation gives most of the history with general accuracy, it is inexact in many details.


Herbert E. Bolton reviewed García's edition of the Historia de Nuevo León for the American Historical Review (vol. 15:640-642) in 19l2, three years after the initial publication of the work. In his complimentary assessment, Bolton emphasizes that the chapters written by the "anonymous author" contain significant material relating to the history of Texas, including the only published report of Spanish raids conducted in the 1660s against the highly mobile Cacaxtle Indians, who lived along the lower Rio Grande and in South Texas. In commenting on Chapa's history in his 1916 Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706, Bolton adds, "It is of highest importance, for, besides throwing additional light on De León's early career, it contains a diary of the expedition of 1686, and accounts of the four remaining journeys of De León into Texas in 1687, 1688, 1689, and 1690."


In Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, Bolton includes an annotated English translation of Governor Alonso de León's first edition of his 1690 diary, which he concluded before the expedition was completed. However, in his annotations, Bolton relies heavily on De León's revised version for footnote material to correct and complete the barren parts of the translated version. The professor added that the complete García collection, including the unpublished 1690 revised De León diary, had been purchased by Yale University, which recently made a microfilm copy of the manuscript available for this study.


Texas and Mexican authorities on Spanish Texas and the history of northeastern Mexico have frequently cited Captain De León's Discourses and Chapa's Historia. As mentioned, Bolton gives the chronicles high praise in both his review in 1912 and in his introduction to Governor De León's 1690 diary translation in Spanish Exploration in the Southwest. William E. Dunn cites García's edition of the Historia extensively in his 1917 study, Spanish and French Rivalry in the Gulf Region of the United States, 1678-1702. Carlos E. Castañeda refers to the Historia repeatedly in annotations to his English translation of Fray Juan Agustín de Morfí's History of Texas 1673-1779, and Vito Alessio Robles and Eugenio del Hoyo rely on Chapa's accounts in their histories of seventeenth-century Nuevo León and Texas. More recently, Thomas N. Campbell and Robert S. Weddle have used García's version of the Historia (or a translation of parts of it) in their studies of the native population of northeastern Mexico and South Texas and of Spanish expeditions from northeastern Mexico to Texas during the 1665-1690 period. Finally, the significance of Chapa's history is summarized in Peter Gerhard's conclusion that the Historia de Nuevo León is "the key contemporary document" to any historical study of the region.


In 1961 the second edition of the Historia de Nuevo León was published with a comprehensive introduction by highly regarded Mexican historian Israel Cavazos Garza. Cavazos identifies several manuscript copies of the Historia de Nuevo León but follows the 1909 García imprint in his second edition. In the introduction, Cavazos adds a biographical study of the authors of the three chronicles included in the volume: the Discourses of Captain Alonso de León, covering the period before 1648; the Historia by the anonymous author (identified for the first time as Juan Bautista Chapa), covering the period 1630 to 1690; and the relatively brief "Discovery of the Rio Blanco" by General Fernando Sánchez de Zamora.


Cavazos declares that he assumed the responsibility of determining the identity of the anonymous author and after careful analysis of Chapa's history and numerous documents available to Cavazos in the Monterrey archives, he concludes that the autor anónimo is indeed Juan Bautista Chapa. Since 1961, other scholars, including Lino Gómez Canedo, in the bibliography of Primeras exploraciones y poblamiento de texas (1686-1694), have given Cavazos credit for first identifying the autor anónimo. The 1961 edition of the Historia was followed quickly by a third edition in 1975, a fourth in 1980, and a fifth in 1985.


In 1990 Cavazos prepared an even more exhaustive study of the autor anónimo and a history of Chapa's life for the tricentennial commemorative edition of Chapa's Historia del Nuevo Reino de León. Cavazos invited Alejandro H. Chapa, a descendant of Juan Bautista Chapa and a resident of Monterrey, to write the preface. In his introduction Cavazos stresses the historical value of Chapa's work, which registers chronologically and systematically the outstanding events that occurred in the Kingdom of Nuevo León (which then included all or part of about forty Texas counties south and west of Austin) during the sixty-year period between 1630 and 1690. Cavazos's 1990 study is rich in detail concerning the information available and the analysis that led him (and others) to the conclusion that the autor anónimo was Juan Bautista Chapa.


Chapa, the son of Bartolomé Chapapría and Batestina Badi, was baptized in Albisola, near Genoa, on November 16, 1627. He arrived in New Spain in 1647 and perhaps studied in Mexico City before arriving in Nuevo León around 1650. By 1652 Chapa was secretary to the village of Cadereyta, where Alonso de León (the elder) served as the local militia captain. In 1653 the chronicler married Beatriz de Treviño, the daughter of a wealthy early settler whose residence in Nuevo León predated Governor Martin de Zavala's arrival in 1626. By 1662 Chapa had become secretary to Governor Zavala and had initiated in the municipal archives of Monterrey over three hundred files comprising court cases, reports, wills, land grants, inventories, and other handwritten documents. As his appointment as secretario perpetuo survived the death of Governor Zavala, Chapa subsequently served as secretary to Governor León de Alza, Zavala's successor, and later to Governor Azcárraga.


The fact that Chapa served these governors, according to statements made in his will and other documents, supports the conclusion that he was the anonymous author, and Governor De León's apparent reference to Chapa as "el autor" in his 1689 expedition diary adds additional weight. At age sixty-three, one year after returning from his last expedition, Chapa completed his Historia; he was by then a widower, in poor health, and living alone near his five children, who resided in Cerralvo and Monterrey. He prepared a will in January 1694, and died in Monterrey on April 20 of the following year.


The 1990 commemorative edition of Chapa's Historia was published as a separate work rather than as part of a larger volume, as initially published in 1909. Although Chapa's work stands alone as a comprehensive and systematic historical account, the importance of his chronicle can best be appreciated after reviewing some of the significant observations made by Captain Alonso de León in Discourses on Nuevo León before 1650. De León's detailed observations on the geography, climate, fauna, flora, and native population of Nuevo León provide the background for Chapa's account, which begins with events that occurred in the early 1650s but includes reports from the 1630s.




Captain Alonso de León divided his account into three parts, called Discourses. Unlike Chapa, who constructed his Historia chronologically, De León presents his comments topically, in chapters with general subject headings. This review of the Discourses will follow De León's topical approach.


In one discourse De León identifies the pre-1650 geographic area of Nuevo León and notes that the realm extended from Monterrey south to the Province of Huasteca (south of the Río Blanco), west to Nueva Vizcaya, east to the Gulf coast, and north into present-day Texas to a point 200 leagues north of Pánuco, or the bay and modern port of Tampico. This distance north is the same as that identified in 1579 as Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva's jurisdiction in northeastern Mexico and present-day Texas. As seen on Map 2, Nuevo León included a major part of the lower Texas Gulf Coast, Central Texas, and West Texas. The eastern boundary line extended generally along the coast north from Tampico at approximately 97°48' west longitude (the approximate longitude at Tampico Bay) to intersect with a northern boundary at approximately 29°45' north latitude (approximately 200 leagues, or 520 miles, north of Tampico Bay). This northern boundary line extended from a point about 30 miles southwest of Austin west across Texas toward modern-day Chihuahua.


De León describes the climate in Nuevo León in the 1640s as being extremely hot in the summer and harshly cold in the winter. The temperature dropped below freezing in November, the streams froze hard in February and March, and it snowed regularly from December through January. In the countryside the trees were covered with snow for a day or more, and in the mountains the snow remained for more than two months. De León's report on weather conditions in Nuevo León is also consistent with the climate described in the region by Padre Isidro Félix de Espinosa in the early 1700s, but is inconsistent with the warmer and drier weather recorded in the area during the past one hundred years.


León's description of Nuevo León was given in the middle of the Little Ice Age, a period that occurred in Europe and North America generally between 1550 and 1850. As Jean M. Grove explains, the climate in Europe and North America from the eighth century to the twelfth century was much warmer and drier than today (it permitted grain to be grown in Greenland), but by the thirteenth century, the climate had changed sharply, culminating in the Little Ice Age. During this period, Texas and northeastern Mexico experienced a cooler and wetter climate, which helps explain Chapa's reports of large bison herds on grassland prairies south of the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, where today the brush would not support such herds.


De León carefully records not only the native trees, bushes, and cacti in Nuevo León, but also the domesticated fruit trees and vines planted in the province by the Spaniards. His list of native trees includes the familiar cottonwood, willow, cypress, mulberry, mesquite, and live oak. He also identifies several less familiar ones: the ebony (ébano), a thorny short evergreen with heavy crescent-shaped bean pods; the brazil (brasil), a small colorful shrub with black berries in the fall; and the laurel (laureles), which is today called a Texas laurel (Sophora secundiflora), with small pods that hold rock-hard red beans used by Indians to prepare intoxicating drinks. He mentions the familiar cacti cocolmecate and prickly pear and also includes unspecified wild fruit trees and berry bushes (dewberry or blackberry) as well as medicinal plants and herbs.


The Spaniards, De León says, had introduced their own domesticated fruit trees, fig trees, grapevines, and melons. Although he describes the natives in Nuevo León as nonagricultural, neighboring tribes to the south in Huaxteca and to the west along the Conchos River in Nueva Vizcaya had cultivated maize, beans, melons, and cotton for years, perhaps centuries, before the Spaniards introduced their domesticated plants.


De León also gives one of the earliest lists of the wild animals found in northeastern Mexico and Texas—deer, antelope, jackrabbits, coyotes, cottontails, prairie chickens, javelina, armadillos, raccoons, "spotted cats without tails," and wild or feral cattle and hogs. He further describes the bobtail spotted cat as a large animal capable of downing a three-year-old horse, which suggests that the cat was perhaps a lynx rather than the smaller bobcat. It is significant that he does not mention bison in Nuevo León; De León reports only that Gaspar Castaño de Sosa saw bison in West Texas on his 1590-1591 journey from modern-day Coahuila to New Mexico. Although De León does not mention bison, Chapa and other Spanish diarists repeatedly report seeing and hunting bison south of the Rio Grande in the more open prairies of northern Coahuila.


De León also identifies the fish found in the streams (which concur with the fish named by later historians and diarists): the robalo (bass), bagre (catfish), mojarra, trucha (trout), and besugo (bream).


The author continues his Second Discourse with the early political history and initial settlement of the province. He commences with the entry of Captain Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva in 1576. De León writes about Governor Carvajal's royal grant establishing the province or kingdom of Nuevo León in 1579, his mining and slaving operations at León (or present-day Cerralvo), about forty miles south of the Rio Grande, and finally Carvajal's imprisonment by the Inquisition and the death of this early Jewish Portuguese colonizer. As mentioned, Carvajal's realm extended northward into South Central Texas, and thus, the exploration and colonization of northeastern Mexico and parts of South Texas were under way decades before the Puritans reached the shores of New England.


De León also notes the story of Carvajal's lieutenant, Gaspar Castaño de Sosa, including his early settlement of the modern city of Monclova (then called Almadén) and his daring (but perhaps unauthorized) trek by cart with 160 settlers and soldiers across the Texas Pecos region to resettle along the upper Rio Grande in modern New Mexico. Castaño's 1590 expedition occurred after the earlier explorations of New Mexico by the relatively small Chamuscado-Rodríguez expedition (commenced in 1581) and the similarly sized Antonio de Espejo expedition (1582).


Carvajal's initial trek into the area later known as Nuevo León began in the 1570s as an effort to find an overland route to the Gulf Coast from the newly developed silver mining area of Mazapil (located approximately twenty leagues, or about fifty-two miles, south-southwest of modern-day Saltillo). The mines around Mazapil were opened in 1569, and Carvajal received a grant to settle Nuevo León ten years later. It would be another nineteen years (1598) before Juan de Oñate would set out in the west from Santa Bárbara, Nueva Vizcaya, with 19 men and their families to settle New Mexico.


After recounting Carvajal's activities in northeastern New Spain in the 1580s, Captain De León writes that this was the area that Cabeza de Vaca crossed in 1536; he states that Cabeza de Vaca crossed the Rio Grande and entered Nuevo León near, possibly a few leagues north of, Cerralvo. De León's early account of Cabeza de Vaca's route into present-day Mexico from Texas is consistent with that projected in recent scholarly works that demonstrate to my satisfaction that Cabeza de Vaca's Rio Grande crossing in fact did occur in the vicinity of Falcon Lake, Zapata County, about forty miles north of present-day Cerralvo, as De León reported.


De León's comment on Cabeza de Vaca's route is also consistent with the number of leagues recorded in Oviedo's Joint Report detailing the Spaniards' escape route from the Mariame Indians in South Texas into northern Mexico. Accounting for each day, the Joint Report records that Cabeza de Vaca's party departed their Indian hosts, probably from a village in the vicinity of Jim Wells County, headed for Panuco on the Gulf Coast on or about August 1, 1536, and crossed the chest-deep river, "as wide as the one in Seville," on or about September 30. Recent studies have demonstrated that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spanish travel accounts with a continuous itinerary that provides information on the direction taken and the number of leagues traveled daily are reliable sources for accurately projecting expedition routes. During this thirty-day period, Cabeza de Vaca's party traveled seven days (stopping and resting twenty-three days), for a total distance of approximately thirty-nine leagues, or about ninety-eight miles. According to the U.S. Geological Survey maps Laredo, NG14-2 and McAllen, NG14-5, a movement southwestward of approximately ninety-eight miles from central Jim Wells County (a location about forty miles west of Corpus Christi) would cross the Rio Grande near Falcon Lake. A. D. Kreiger, Thomas N. Campbell, Donald E. Chipman, and other scholars have suggested that this projected description of the route is accurate.


By the 1580s the Spaniards were engaged in silver mining and slaving operations near modern-day Cerralvo, in the area that Cabeza de Vaca apparently crossed about fifty years earlier. Cabeza de Vaca's account of meeting Indians with bags of silver two days after crossing the large river was first published in his 1542 edition of La Relación. His report might have sparked the early (1580s) search for and discovery of silver near Cerralvo, although Oviedo attempted to dampen such mercenary interest.


Captain De León describes the bustling little community of León, or Cerralvo, where slaving ventures rounded up local Indians and marched some of the captives, often chained, south to work in the mines of Zacatecas. The demise of the community of León in the 1590s, he writes, resulted in part from the king's order halting the forced enslavement of natives. During this period of exploration and development along the lower Rio Grande (in the 1580s), the Spaniards likely established slaving and mining outposts and canps at other locations in the area. It was perhaps the remnants of one of these outlying posts that Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, visited with his brother, the Abbe Jean Cavelier, and a small French exploration party from Matagorda Bay in the summer of 1685.


Captain De León's Third Discourse begins with a review of the administration of Don Martín de Zavala, which began in 1626. The captain details several significant trade expeditions conducted from Monterrey southeastward to points along the Gulf Coast and enumerates several catastrophic events that occurred in the province during the period, including floods and a very severe smallpox epidemic that killed over five hundred Indians and Spaniards in the Monterrey area in 1647. Finally, De León covers the founding of the city of Cadereyta, where he, his son Alonso, and their companion Chapa lived and served.


The captain does not offer any general comments on the African American presence in Nuevo Leon during the early seventeenth century, but the Discourses are filled with numerous accounts in which negros or mulattoes are mentioned. A mulatto named Francisco de Sosa, who had arrived in Nuevo Leon with Carvajal and Gaspar Castaño de Sosa in the 1580s, was the head of the last family to leave Cerralvo when it was abandoned in 16l2. Juan, a negro, was among the residents killed in 1626 by an Indian attack reported along the road between Monterrey and Boca de Leónes. In 1632 an unnamed mulatto was part of a squad of seven soldiers from Cerralvo who rescued several comrades after the Tepehuan Indians attacked them. In 1637 the Alasapa Indians killed a number of shepherds, including a negro, near Monterrey. In the early 1640s a negra working in the kitchen of Governor Zavala warned him of the Indians' plan to strike Cerralvo.


References to African Americans in Nuevo León are also found in Chapa's account. According to Peter Gerhard, African slaves were brought nto neighboring Mazapil in the 1580s to work the mines. The 1779 census of the mining district of Mazapil (which bordered Nuevo León) records that the number of negros and mulattoes slightly exceeded the combined populabon of Spaniards and Indians.


One of the principal subjects covered in the Discourses is a description of the numerous Indian tribes and their uprisings in the province. As early as 1624, Indians mounted on stolen Spanish horses raided Monterrey. In reprisal, Spanish troops captured and punished members of the Huachichil tribe. In 1632 and 1633 the Tepehuan revolted near Cerralvo and killed several Spaniards, mulattos, and friendly Cataara Indians. During the same year, the Aguata, Sucuyama, Icaura, and Iquaracata attacked a village and killed fifty-six Cataara Indians who were friendly and loyal to the Spaniards.


De León also describes encounters with the Camalucano, Carana, Amapuala, and Cataara tribes in 1638, when an expedition was sent from Cerralvo east to investigate an Indian report that red-headed Dutch soldiers had landed and occupied part of the nearby Gulf Coast.


De León did not always write about Indian misdeeds; on several occasions the captain was very critical of the Spaniards' excesses in enslaving the Indian population. In some instances he offered tolerant comments and demonstrated a distinct sympathy for the native population, many of whom were held by Spanish encomenderos.


Under the encomienda system, a grant was made under contract with an encomendero (such as De León), who was given jurisdiction over the Indian population brought into his designated area of occupation and use. When his Indian population fled or died, the encomendero often was permitted to search out and round up other Indians in the general area as replacements, an activity that may have appeared to the Indian captives as an operation very similar to slaving.


The Indians were parceled out to the encomenderos to work and, in limited instances, to be educated in the ways of the church. In 1912 Bolton noted that one of De León's and Chapa's principal contributions was their description of how the encomienda system operated in northeastern New Spain in the seventeenth century.


Captain De León was well qualified to write in detail about the lifeways of the Indians in northern Nuevo León in the mid-l600s. He not only lived near the natives but also had daily dealings with them both in his capacity as encomendero and in his duty as a military officer, both of which positions dictated that he restrain and punish Indians when necessary. He observed firsthand how the Indians lived, how they hunted, fished, cooked, related to each other, and survived; he witnessed them resist Spanish occupation, succumb to European diseases, and bury their dead.


De León says that tribes living only a few leagues apart spoke different languages and often could not understand one another; consequently, he devotes a chapter to the diverse Indian languages spoken in Nuevo León. Some authorities have noted that during the period between Cabeza de Vaca's visit to Nuevo León (1535) and the time of De León's description (1640s), the local native population was decimated by Spanish occupation and disease and was probably replaced in part by natives from outside the immediate region. This may partially explain the profusion of native languages.


The tribes (called nations by the Spaniards and French) were so numerous that they could not be counted. The native Indians of Nuevo León, De León says, lived without any god or system of government. He says, after Aristotle, that there are basically three recognized forms of government: "monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. In a monarchy, one rules, like the king. In an aristocracy, a few rule, like a senate. In a democracy, all the people are in common. Of these three, the best one has the fewest heads, the monarchy." He then assesses the native population and concludes that "none of the three types of government is found ;n this realm. From our experience we know the natives live in a bestial state, without political organization, assuming a fourth type of government . . . namely, anarchy."


De León writes that the Indians moved about and lived in small communities (called rancherías by the Spaniards). They were housed in fifteen or more bell-shaped grass or reed huts, which were arranged in a semicircle with guardhouses located on each end of the crescent. The huts were sufficiently large to permit a fire to be maintained in the middle. The Indians slept on the ground and used grass or a deer hide as a pillow, and the residential area was usually filthy, as were the Indians themselves; they bathed only to cool off.


The men were usually naked (but occasionally wore buckskin sandals) and wore their hair long, down to their buttocks and sometimes tied in the back; some men, however, were bald, having deliberately pulled out their hair. Members of each tribe painted their faces and bodies differently. The women were more fully dressed, sometimes wearing a deerskin, or a spun or twisted grass material like flax as an apron that hung from their waist in back and front. To this garment they attached beads, shells, or animal teeth. De León adds that the women enjoyed hearing themselves stroll about. Some men and women pierced their ears and nostrils and hung feathers or bones from them. Occasionally the women wore capes made by weaving together rabbit fur yarn and yarn made from other pelts.


In both hunting and warfare, the Indians used the bow and arrow as their principal weapon. The author describes in more than customary detail how bows and arrows were constructed in Nuevo León. Its intended use determined the size of the bow, but most arrows were half a man's full reach, "thumb to thumb." They used different woods, but mesquite roots made the best and strongest bows. The bowstring was made of lechuguilla fibers twisted together "to a thickness of six harp strings." The arrow shafts were made of slender, fire-dried cane: one end of the cane shaft was notched and two or three feathers, some about four fingers wide across the shaft, were tied to the end with deer sinew. At the other end of the cane, a fire-dried hard stick was placed up the hollow cane about four inches, until it hit a joint, and then was tightly tied, also with deer sinew, to the arrow shaft. A flint arrowhead was then secured with sinew from the two barbs at its base to the tip of the shaft and was fashioned with harpoons on the side to ensure that the arrow would securely lodge in a target. When the Indians used bow and arrow, they tied a piece of coyote hide to the left forearm to protect it from the whip of the bowstring.


The men were accomplished hunters, and deer were their preferred game. (As mentioned, de León makes no reference to bison in the area.) The successful hunter customarily kept the deer hide and shared the meat. Snakes and rats were also acceptable food, but toads and lizards were not.


Both the men and the women fished, utilizing various techniques, including using a spear with an arrow point and employing torches to frighten fish into nets at night. They prepared their food with salt or sometimes used an herb similar to rosemary. To carry drinking water on long trips, the women used hollowed-out prickly pears that were placed in nets (called cacaxtles) and fitted on two small bows that they placed over their shoulders.


De León also describes the Indians' custom of eating human flesh, but he offers a tolerant comment that cannibalism was an ancient practice reported in the Bible and followed by the "Tartars" (a probable reference to people of Mongolian origin). In Nuevo León, he says, the natives ate parts of their deceased friends as well as captured enemies. Dead friends or relatives were eaten after the flesh was cooked on an open fire; their bones were ground into a powder and ingested in a drink at feasts and dances. The Indians cremated or buried the relatives who were not eaten, and the graves were protected from wild animals by planting a thick hedge of cacti around the burial site. Enemies were eaten as an act of vengeance, and the top of their skulls was used as a cup or bowl.


De León describes the natives as having good stature, attractive features, general good health, and the ability to run like a horse. The local natives did not, however, apply their energy to cultivating the land or to planting, although tribes living near the coast, fewer than one hundred leagues to the gouth, were agricultural at the time. In the winter, they ate the heart and fleshy leaves of the lechuguilla and the roots of other unidentified plants. In the spring they ate wild fruit and cooked the green tunas of the prickly pear, which they also dried for future use.


The natives made a fire very quickly, reports De León, by rubbing two sticks together (as did the East Texas Caddoan tribes and other Indians), but De León does not describe in detail the selection of wood for the fire sticks or their use. EthnologistJohn R. Swanton, however, cites reports that Caddoan tribes and other Indians rubbed together a cedar stick and a hard mulberry to start a fire that arose from the cedar to ignite some dry moss into a quick, continuous flame.


According to the captain, the mesquite bean ripened soon after the tunas dropped (a sequence that continues during the autumn). Mesquite beans were a part of the diet from the time the beans started to ripen until they dried, at which time they were ground with wooden mortars into a coarse meal or a finely ground flour and stored in reed bags.


The Indians are described as a dancing and festive people who used peyote as a stimulant. De León renders the word peyote as an Indian word and says that the Indians would trade goods such as skins or arrows for peyote if it was not locally available. The Indians ground up the peyote and mixed it with water to create a potent drink.


Music was provided for tribal occasions by shaking gourds containing small rocks (like the maraca) and rhythmically rubbing a grooved ebony stick with a rounded one. De León does not mention flutes (which Chapa later describes). The males and females, feet close together, elbows out, shoulders lowered, danced together in circles around the bonfire. The dancers hopped forward, almost dragging their feet, and stayed close together so they were almost touching and kept their stomach close to the next person's buttocks. The dance continued for four to six hours. In the dance ring of one hundred or more Indians, the participants sang as a chorus, using meaningless sounds, but maintaining a uniform harmony as in one voice.


De León claims that with such unbridled liberty, no young girl remained a virgin after ten years of age. One bitter result of their openly sexual behavtor is described vividly in the deadly effects of venereal disease.


With respect to the Indians' reaction to violent natural phenomena, the historian records that they were not afraid of lightning or thunderstorms. The men chased away the thunder by running toward the cloud, yelling, making faces, and angrily throwing rocks and sticks at the menacing cloud until it drifted away. The men then proudly returned home to a joyful reception.


The men and women married, but the relationship lasted only as long as the two remained interested in each other. This informal marriage relationship differs from that found among the Caoque (Coaque, Capoque), the Indian tribe with whom Cabeza de Vaca lived when he first arrived on the central coast of Texas. Cabeza de Vaca wrote that the Caoque (identified by Thomas N. Campbell as probably associated with the Akokisa Indians) had comparatively strict rules allowing most tribesmen (except for shamans) to have only one wife and even specifying the formal relationship between the husband and the wife's parents. In contrast, in a village in Nuevo León, a woman might have five or six children, each with a different father, and no jealousy existed among the women. The captain also noted an Indian custom that he thought curious (but that would not appear strange today): Indian parents carried their children on the back of their necks or shoulders and the child's feet dangled on the parent's chest.


Although he describes clearly the incestuous life of the local Indians, De León does not know the origin of the native custom of having intimate relationships with family members. Surprisingly, he suggests that the practice of incest perhaps came from Asia, "where the Indians originated." The captain does not give the reason for his opinion that Native Americans were descendants of Asian people. The undisclosed source of his statement is probably Joseph de Acosta, a Jesuit priest who in 1590 wrote The Natural and Moral History of the Indies, in which this human migration by land from Asia to the Americas was postulated. A learned man like De León would have known of Acosta's works, and Chapa refers to Father Acosta's writings in his Historia. The theory, accepted by De León in 1648, that North America was populated first by the overland migration from Asia is today the dominant scientific explanation of the origin of Native Americans. Although a major area of uncertainty is when that migration occurred into Texas and northeastern Mexico, recent studies conducted under the direction of Thomas R. Hester, Thomas N. Campbell, and Dee Ann Story confirm human occupation in the area about 10,000 B.C. and note one site near Matehuala (located about four leagues west of Nuevo León, in San Luis Potosí) where a scraper and fire hearth were excavated and radiocarbon dated between 32,000 and 33,000 years ago.


De León writes that it was common to find Indian men who served and dressed as women and did the work of women. However, he dismisses the matter as not being particularly significant because the same relationship between men is reported in the Bible. He adds that in Spain young boys who were sent to elite schools to learn to read and write often learned the same behavior. The presence of homosexuals (also called berdaches) in American Indian tribes has been widely reported, and Cabeza de Vaca's account of Texas coastal Indians records seeing men serving as women.


There are further similarities between the customs of the Nuevo León Indians in the 1640s, as described by De León, and the customs of the Caoque Indians with whom Cabeza de Vaca lived for about a year after he and his companions landed near Galveston Island in 1528. Both tribes used the bow and arrow as the principal weapon in hunting and war, had domesticated dogs, and believed in healers, or shamans. Both loved dances and parties, used strong hallucinogens, and neither tribe cultivated crops. Finally, Indians from both areas, as a ritual, drank a mixture that included the ground bones of deceased relatives.


The tribes of these two areas also differed in many respects. The Nuevo León tribes or bands as described by De León were small (although there were numerous bands), each having about one hundred members. The Caoque may have had a population of up to one thousand, as suggested by the report that two hundred bowmen from the tribe arrived to confront the small Spanish party when Cabeza de Vaca first landed. It should be noted again that the tribes in Nuevo León in the 1650s may have been more intensely subjected to the highly contagious and deadly European diseases than had the natives along the Central Texas coast in the 1530s. Cabeza de Vaca reports that the Caoque communicated immediately with the Spaniards with signs and that members of his party continued to use signs to communicate with the tribes in northern New Spain. He observed earthen pots during his first visit to a native residence on the Central Texas coast, but De León does not mention the use of earthenware by the local Indians in Nuevo León. Cabeza de Vaca's party shocked some of the Central Texas coastal Indians by eating their deceased Spanish companions, while De León speaks at length about cannibalism among the Indians of Nuevo León, who ate both deceased relatives and the enemy. For stimulants, the Caoque drank a tea apparently prepared with yaupon berries and leaves; the natives below the Rio Grande drank pulverized peyote tea.


The relationships between husband and wife and between parents and children differed widely in the two native groups. In Nuevo León a father would sell or trade his daughter for a deer hide, newlyweds would remain together as long as the interest lasted, men had several wives, and fathers engaged in open incest. Among the Caoque, marriage was a more lasting arrangement: each man had only one wife (except for the shaman, who could have up to three), and children were protected and loved by their parents. The Indians in Nuevo León seldom helped each other and ignored the needs of family members, the ill, and the aged; in contrast, the Caoque were very cooperative and helpful and provided gifts of food for months to bereaved neighbors.


In closing his account on the Indians of Nuevo León, de León observes that, despite the church's efforts to save the natives, no Indian had ever been truly converted to the Catholic faith, and that the wrath of God and the Spanish military ensured the eradication of the Indian population. In his Historia, Juan Bautista Chapa reiterates the view that the natives in all of New Spain would soon be exterminated. The history of Nuevo Leon and Texas from 1630 to 1690 can be understood (I believe) only with a full awareness that the Indians were suffering a disastrous depopulation. Peter Gerhard projects that the native population in Nuevo León decreased from over 100,000 to approximately 1,000 during the two hundred-year period 1540 to 1740.


Chapa's Historia


Chapa's Historia picks up where Captain de León's Third Discourse ends and reviews events that occurred in the early 1650s. Chapa continues to detail the serious local Indian uprisings, but he concentrates on a new threat— invasions by Texas tribes from north of the Rio Grande, the "Indians of the North." These Indians from present-day Texas raided the region around Cerralvo and as far south as Monterrey in search of goods and animals, particularly horses. Chapa's accounts of Indian theft of Spanish horse herds in the 1650s and 1660s suggest that at least some tribes who lived or ranged in South Texas during that period were mounted and had horses to trade, just like the Jumano and associated tribes who lived near Spanish settlements in modern Chihuahua and New Mexico. In his discourses, de León tells of Indians capturing horse herds and of mounted Indian captains leading attacks on Spanish communities. For example, as early as 1624, mounted Indian leaders and their followers attacked Monterrey, and in 1648 and 1649, hostile Indians, some on horseback, appeared on the Pesquería River and valley. As Thomas N. Campbell suggests, more study is needed of Indian acquisition and use of horses along the lower Rio Grande and in South Texas in the seventeenth century.


It is nevertheless clear that by the middle of the seventeenth century, the wealth of the province below the lower Rio Grande was attracting Texas Indians, particularly the Cacaxtles, who lived or roamed north of the big river. Chapa's is the only known account of two large Spanish military expeditions from Monterrey in the 1660s that were directed against the Cacaxtle Indians in the north. The first was a sizable and extended operation in which 125 Cacaxtle men, women, and children, were captured; this exercise required the troops to remain in the field from October 1663 to March 1664. The second raid involved perhaps the first military expedition into South Texas from northern Mexico; it culminated in a battle fought by a combined force of approximately 400 Spanish soldiers and friendly Indians against the Cacaxtles south of the Nueces River, probably in the Webb-Duval County area.


The two battles against the Cacaxtles demonstrate the ability of the Spanish local militia, supported by volunteer settlers and friendly Boboles, to organize and execute relatively sizable and sustained military operations during this period. The size of the combined force of Spanish troops and friendly Indians employed in the 1665 expedition into South Texas exceeded the number of troops sent to rout the French at Matagorda Bay in 1689, and the 1663 expedition remained in the field longer than de León's 1690 expedition, which established the first Spanish presence in East Texas. Readers will enjoy Chapa's narrative of the second engagement; he adds to the historical account by including the personal story of an elderly female Cacaxtle captive stubbornly playing her flute in the middle of the battle in order to encourage and sustain her tribe in their nearby encircled barricade. In retaliation, the Boboles that night ate a young relative of the defiant flutist.


Chapa develops, through the presentation of correspondence and legal documents'the Spaniards'theological and politicaljustification for crushing the Indians. He cites an extensive record compiled in the 1630s that detailed numerous Indian raids and otherjustifications for Governor Zavala's actions to punish the rebellious native population. The record recites instances in the early 1600s in which Indian raiding parties desecrated church property, including the cross, and humiliated the clergy by forcing captured priests to bow their heads and kiss the cross before being executed. In retribution, the Spanish military was authorized to hang Indian raiders who were captured, although other offenders were often given a trial. Chapa vividly describes the bitterness and suffering of both sides.


Drawing from his many years of senior government service, Chapa assesses the administrations of Governor Martín de Zavala (whom he first served), Domingo de Pruneda, Domingo de Vidagaray, Juan de Echeverría, Alonso de León (the younger), and the first Marques de San Miguel de Aguayo. He does not hesitate to write of his admiration and respect for each of these officials. In reviewing developments in Nuevo León, Chapa occasionally comments on events that occurred in present-day Coahuila, but he does not mention the missionary activities of the priests and other Spanish explorers in Coahuila, such as Fernando del Bosque in the 1670S.


One of Chapa's contributions to the understanding of the native population of northeastern Mexico and the lower Rio Grande is his lists of the names and principal areas of residence of over 250 Indian tribes. These tribal names were probably available to Chapa in the provincial records that identified by name the Indian groups formally assigned to encomenderos. As previously mentioned, his comments about the depopulation of the Indians are consistent with De León's earlier observation; both men recognized that the Indians in northeastern New Spain were then being exterminated by war and disease in the same manner as the Indians had earlier been depopulated on the island of Hispaniola (modern Haiti and Dominican Republic).


Appendix B includes an alphabetical list of 86 Indian tribes that are referenced in Captain De León's Discourses, Chapa's Historia, and Governor De León's revised 1690 expedition diary (this Appendix does not include the 50 tribes listed by name in Chapters 7 and 8 of the Historia). The listing indicates that many tribes encountered in Nuevo León were originally from areas outside the region—from modern Texas, Durango, Chihuahua, and the New Mexico area.


Chapa's Historia includes the only known copy of Governor De León's 1686 expedition diary and his own informative accounts of the 1687,1688, 1689, and 1690 military expeditions into Texas in search of La Salle and his party, who had landed on the Central Texas coast in early 1685. The first account, written in 1686, covers the expedition of Governor De León, Chapa, and troops from Monterrey and Cadereyta to the mouth of the Rio Grande searching for La Salle's settlement. Because Governor De León's diary includes accurate information on the distance and direction traveled and the terrain, the expedition route can be projected with a high degree of confidence. The route projections for this expedition and those that accompany this study have been prepared by plotting route information on largescale topographic maps of Texas and northeastern Mexico. To identify as precisely as possible the line of march, I employed the methodology used in projecting the detailed expedition routes in Spanish Expeditions into Texas.


The 1686 expedition party left Cadereyta with Indian guides on June 27 and traveled along the left bank of the SanJuan River. They continued moving eastward for three days (about fourteen leagues) to the ford where, as Governor De León accurately notes, the river turns northward. On June 30 the troops marched to the northeast and continued in that general direction for three days (about nineteen leagues), to camp a few leagues south of the Rio Grande, between the present-day Mexican cities of Camargo and Reynosa. During the next ten days (July 3-13) De León slowly moved about thirty-five leagues through heavy brush and swampy floodplains downstream to the Gulf. After investigating the area on the south side of the mouth of the Rio Grande, he led a detachment of troops south eight leagues to reconnoiter the coastline. Although he initially sought a shortcut to rejoin his main camp, De León had to retrace his route up the coast and along the river route because of the difficult inland coastal terrain.


The second trip is covered in Chapa's short account of Governor De León's early 1687 expedition from Monterrey into Texas, which apparently ended on the bank of a large salty river (perhaps Baffin Bay) without finding La Salle's settlement. No diary has been found of this journey—which apparently Chapa did not join—and only a brief reference to the trip is found in Fray Damián Massanet's accounts. By the time the 1687 expedition reached the Gulf coastal area below modern Corpus Christi on March 20, the man whom De León sought was dead. La Salle had been assassinated by his own men the day before (on March 19) near the Brazos River, as reported accurately by Pierre Meunier, who was at the assassins' camp, and as subsequently confirmed by Herbert E. Bolton.


Chapa's narrative continues the following year (1688), when Governor De León again crossed the Rio Grande, this time marching from Monclova to an area east-northeast of present-day Eagle Pass to capture Jean Géry, a Frenchman living as a leader among several Indian tribes in South Texas. Chapa's description supplements De León's own diary account of the expedition. De León's capture of Géry from the Indians' tightly guarded encampment required more than military skill; it needed a forceful diplomatic presence. Later the old Frenchman would befriend De León, helping guide him to the French settlement and surrounding bay area and serving as his interpreter with the Central Texas tribes, who held him in high respect.


Chapa concludes his narrative with detailed comments on Governor de León's last two expeditions into Texas—in 1689 and 1690. Chapa's narrative of the 1689 trip enlivens the rather staid military account in De León's diaries. For example, the narrator lists the names on the military roll call made on March 8 after the companies from Nuevo Leon joined forces on the Sabinas River. In addition to General de León, Chapa, and Géry, there were two priests, eighty-four soldiers, and twenty-five mule drivers and servants. Chapa's respect for detail is found in a note omitted by De León, that 490 Indians were counted near the Rio Grande (which did not include those on a bison hunt and some who had hidden nearby). Chapa also gives latitude readings, some of which duplicate those reported by de León, but others apparently correct De León's mistakes or are readings not reported by the governor. Chapa makes clear that, when any dispute arose, the expedition party always followed the Quem guide's direction. It is significant that Chapa's journal supports de León's diary, which clearly states that the Spanish leaders in 1689 were following Indian guides who knew the Indian trail out of Mexico and across southern Texas—a trail that was an ancient route, marked with Indian petroglyphs and cairns.


Chapa also adds two sketches made at Matagorda Bay during the 1689 trip. The first is a drawing of the carving found above the doorway of the fort. The second is particularly interesting because it helps identify the creek on which the settlement was located by indicating that the "arroio," or creek, flowed from the west-northwest into the bay. Had the stream been the Lavaca River, as some historians have argued, the sketch would have shown a much larger stream flowing from the north. (See Figure 5.)


Although Chapa did not participate in the 1690 expedition, his observations on the trip enhance Governor De León's diary account. de León and Chapa describe the same Colorado River (called the Maligne by the French) crossing area in modern-day Fayette County that La Salle used in 1686 and 1687 and the same Indian trade route that La Salle's party followed east to the junction of the Brazos and the Navasota, where La Salle was killed.


Chapa names the three priests who were left to work among the Tejas— Father Miguel de Fontcuberta, Father Antonio Bordey, and Father Francisco de Jésus Maíra. He also mentions an Indian, Tomás, who said he had come from Parral to live with the Tejas two years earlier; as Tomás spoke both the native Mexican or Aztec language and Tejas, he functioned as an interpreter. Chapa's account regarding the Tejas Indians, although brief, strikingly illustrates the Tejas's far-flung trade and communication, including with Parral, a spanish mining community located over seven hundred miles to the southvest in modern southern Chihuahua.


The author also tells a story of French intrigue that Governor De León omits. Chapa says that the Tejas governor told de León that Frenchmen had requested permission to settle among his people, but the Tejas governor had refused, saying that he was friendly with the Christian Spaniards and was awaiting them. This report is consistent with other accounts indicating that La Salle's associate Henri de Tonti had visited the Tejas, probably in search of La Salle's survivors. It is clear from Henri Joutel's detailed journal account of La Salle's party that the Frenchmen in 1687 and de León in 1690 were following the same route from the Colorado crossing in modern-day Fayette County to the Tejas village concentration along San Pedro Creek in eastern Houston County.


Appendix A is an annotated translation of Governor de León's revised 1690 expedition diary, which has not been published previously in Spanish or English. The publication of this revision is significant because it cannot fairly be characterized as simply another rendition of the diary that de León forwarded to the viceroy from the Rio Grande on July 12,1690. With very few exceptions, each daily entry made on the trip—from March 26 to July 15— differs from the corresponding entries in the first edition. De León rewrote whole segments of the diary, added entries about the closing days of the expedition, named the Spanish officials on the trip, described the movement of the supply party, fine-tuned distances and directions with minor (but occasionally significant) clarifications, and included the names of Indian tribes he encountered. It is believed that no other seventeenth-century diary of a Spanish expedition into Texas was subsequently revised and extended by the author in the manner and to the extent that De León altered his 1690 diary.


De León's 1690 expedition is significant for many reasons, but for us its significance may rest in part on the fact that it clearly confirms the location of the northern leg of the ancient trade route out of Mexico, across Texas to the Caddoan Indian villages on the Red River. The Tejas and other Indians along the way guided La Salle's men eastward to the Mississippi. The identification of an ancient trade route from northern Mexico across Texas to the Mississippi is new to some scholars. Although numerous studies suggest that the development of the early (2000 B.C. to A.D. 1000) American civilization of mound builders along the Mississippi was heavily influenced by the importation of agricultural products and practices from Mexico, most experts, being unfamiliar with any more direct overland route across Texas, have assumed the trade route used to introduce the new products proceeded up the Rio Grande to New Mexico, across the Great Plains, and down the Mississippi. Readers will find the annotated translation of this too-long ignored manuscript an interesting and informative complement to Chapa's Historia.




Available for Kindle
Available on Google Play
Available on Kobo
Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca