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Texas by Terán

Texas by Terán
The Diary Kept by General Manuel de Mier y Terán on His 1828 Inspection of Texas
Translated by John Wheat; botanical notes by Scooter Cheatham & Lynn Marshall

An account of the people and poliics of Texas during the 1820s.

Series: Jack and Doris Smothers Endowment in Texas History, Life, and Culture, Number Two

April 2000
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
312 pages | 6 x 9 | 19 halftones |

Texas was already slipping from the grasp of Mexico when Manuel Mier y Terán made his tour of inspection in 1828. American settlers were pouring across the vaguely defined border between Mexico's northernmost province and the United States, along with a host of Indian nations driven off their lands by American expansionism.

Terán's mission was to assess the political situation in Texas while establishing its boundary with the United States. Highly qualified for these tasks as a soldier, scientist, and intellectual, he wrote perhaps the most perceptive account of Texas' people, politics, natural resources, and future prospects during the critical decade of the 1820s.

This book contains the full text of Terán's diary—which has never before been published—edited and annotated by Jack Jackson and translated into English by John Wheat. The introduction and epilogue place the diary in historical context, revealing the significant role that Terán played in setting Mexican policy for Texas between 1828 and 1832.


Finalist, Soeurette Diehl Fraser Translation Award, Texas Institute of Letters

Kate Broocks Bates Award, Texas State Historical Association

Presidio La Bahía Award, Sons of the Republic of Texas

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • The Diary: "Texas by Terán, His Journey, 1828"
    • Diary: Béxar to Nacogdoches
    • Terán's Letters from Nacogdoches
    • Diary: Trip to the Red River
    • Diary: Trip down the Trinity
    • Diary: Nacogdoches to Matamoros
    • Diary: Up the Rio Grande to Mier
  • Epilogue
  • Appendix: Pavie's View of East Texas
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

By the mid-1820s Mexico had begun to doubt the wisdom of opening Texas to immigration from the United States. The influx turned out to be overwhelming, and the North American colonists seemed little inclined to convert to a "Mexican" point of view. They kept their religious and political beliefs and insisted on their right to own slaves. Further, they clamored loudly for Mexico to recognize their ideas about self-government and turned menacing when told to function according to the Mexican scheme of things. Already they outnumbered the native-born tejanos, and this demographic imbalance was rapidly increasing.


Events like the Fredonian Rebellion, late in 1826, seemed to confirm suspicions that the foreign colonists in Texas would not obey the Mexican government's laws when they conflicted with the colonists' own interests. Only a few of the Anglo empresarios, like Stephen F. Austin, gave any indication that they were genuinely interested in peopling the land with productive citizens or that they wished to reach an accommodation between the two cultures. But could Austin control his colonists? No one in Mexico was certain, and the situation concerning the other empresarios was even more questionable.


With these serious matters looming, the idea of a Comisión de Límites (Boundary Commission) began to take form. The Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 had established a boundary between Spain and the United States, and the agreement was inherited by an independent Mexico. But it had not been ratified by either of the interested nations once Spain passed from the scene. Worse, the actual line had not been defined nor its key points surveyed on the ground.


This was the initial and primary purpose of the Boundary Commission: to mark critical points on the dividing line between the United States and Mexico (as set forth in the Treaty of 1819). Sweeping events, however, soon caused the planned expedition to assume a grander import for the government of Mexico than that of a routine boundary survey. These events made it more imperative for the Boundary Commission to assess the present condition of the frontier, determine the measures necessary for its security, and decide which points should be garrisoned and how.


Of particular concern was the Indian situation, not only regarding the wild tribes who regularly committed depredations on the frontier but also concerning those "peaceful" tribes known to be flocking to Texas from the United States. Little information was available in Mexico on these Indians, of diverse origins and various degrees of civilization, except that they were fearless fighters and all well armed. Would they prove to be a stabilizing or disruptive influence on the tribes native to Texas? Alliances might be appropriate with some of these Indians, in order to bind them to the interests of Mexico, but no one knew which tribes merited such recognition or should be encouraged to occupy the frontier zone—for example, by awarding them concessions of land. Their westward migration into Mexican (Spanish) territory had begun as a trickle at the turn of the century but had since become a flow of increasing proportions that must now be reckoned with. Some argued that their hostility to the North Americans would make them an effective buffer against U.S. designs on Texas, if they were guaranteed lands along the boundary line.


Concerning the swarm of Anglo Americans into Texas, the Boundary Commission was to ascertain the true dimensions of the problem. Was it actually a problem involving Mexico's territorial integrity, as the government had been warned? How many of them were in Texas legally, as opposed to being squatters, and what were their circumstances? This meant that the Boundary Commission had to review the results of the empresario system to date and learn how well these individuals were complying with their obligations to colonize Texas with respectable citizens. Some of these contracts might need to be canceled, due to nonfulfillment or improper behavior on the part of the empresarios. Word was that some of them planned to sell their concessions to speculative interests in the United States, thereby compounding the process of North American domination.


The encouragement of immigration from Europe was one option being considered in order to achieve more of a racial and cultural balance in Texas; Irish, Swiss, and German families were deemed preferable, should this approach be taken. In view of rising fears in Mexico City concerning the attitude of the U.S. government toward the acquisition of Texas, it was important to know if some of these "colonists" were actually agents working secretly to undermine Mexican control of the department. The Boundary Commission was also to compile a complete report on the natural resources of Texas, its agricultural, mining, and commercial possibilities, the history of its settlements, etc., in addition to satisfying the pressing need for geographical data.


Named to head this ambitious undertaking was Gen. Manuel de Mier y Terán, perhaps one of the most qualified men in Mexico for the job. Terán, at the time the expedition was launched late in 1827, was thirty-eight years old and in charge of Mexico's artillery school. He had graduated from the National College of Mines, was a recognized specialist in mathematics and engineering, and was very interested in the natural sciences. He had fought in the war for independence from Spain and then served in Mexico's first congress; later he was the minister of war. Many of Terán's comrades in the struggle for independence were now top officials in the government, and he was highly regarded by them.


As the government wanted scientific results from its Boundary Commission, Terán was given a number of capable assistants; it was a matter not just of surveying a line but of cataloging the natural wealth of Texas, so that intelligent decisions could be made concerning its development. Two officers, José Batres and Constantino Tarnava, were selected to make military and geographical observations under Terán's guidance. Both were lieutenant colonels, Tarnava in the army's engineering corps and Batres attached to the general staff. A sublieutenant of the artillery corps, José María Sánchez y Tapia, served as draftsman for the expedition, and it appears that he was also a gifted artist, although none of his original illustrations are presently known. In addition to these soldiers, several civilians were attached to the Boundary Commission. Jean-Louis Berlandier, a young native of France, went as botanist and zoologist, and Rafael Chovell, a student at the College of Mines, was selected as mineralogist. Compared to earlier inspections of Texas under Spanish rule, this expedition was well equipped and composed of men with the training necessary to compile a very useful report of what they saw.


Leaving Mexico City on November 10, 1827, Terán's team arrived at Laredo on the afternoon of February 1, 1828. They were greeted by Gen. Anastasio Bustamante, military commander of the eastern interior states, and remained there as his guests for three weeks. San Antonio de Béxar was reached early in March, after an eleven-day journey. Terán stayed at Béxar until April 13, using this six-week layover to familiarize himself with what was to come once he passed beyond this last bastion of Mexican culture in the north. While at Béxar he wrote an interesting letter to President Guadalupe Victoria that tells us a great deal about Terán's ideas on Texas before he had actually seen much of it. These ideas were either brought from Mexico City as part of Terán's intellectual "baggage" or were based on information that he obtained in Béxar, probably some of both.


Getting under way at the time when Texas is an explosion of wildflowers, Terán passed through Gonzales—then a collection of six recently erected cabins. High water kept him at the Colorado River from April 23 to 25, near present-day Columbus, where Benjamin Beeson had a ferry. He reached San Felipe de Austin on April 27, staying there until May 10 as Stephen F. Austin's guest. All the inspection team members wrote detailed descriptions of this place, the "spark" from which—Sánchez predicted—would "start the conflagration that will deprive us of Texas."


Leaving San Felipe they moved on toward Nacogdoches through unbearable heat, swarms of noxious insects, and rain-sodden roads. Stops were made at Jared Groce's two houses near the Brazos River and at Holland's place on the La Bahía Road, their progress being agonizingly slow. Terán, Berlandier, Juan the cook, and other team members suffered from fevers all the way to the Trinity, where they arrived on May 25.


As it was impossible to cross the swollen, rapidly flowing Trinity with his heavy coach and the breakdown-prone instrument wagon, on May 28 Terán decided to send them back to Béxar, via the high road, with most of the team. He, Sánchez, and an escort of eight men continued by horseback, after crossing the river by flatboat and using a canoe to negotiate the thickly wooded floodplain on its east bank. Worn and weary, they rode into Nacogdoches on June 3, and this town served as Terán's base of operations for the next seven and a half months. During this time he was almost daily regaled by Indian visitors, being assisted by Peter Ellis Bean in this delicate business. He talked to the inhabitants, wrote letters to the Mexican capital, and received many political discourses from Austin, but bad weather and ill health in the summer and fall limited his travels into the boundary zone.


Finally, on October 17 he set out to make observations of the line between the Sabine and Red Rivers, as called for by the Adams-Onís Treaty. He wandered near modern Shreveport and went down into the Bayou Pierre district, returning to Nacogdoches on November 11. A second month-long trip was begun on the 28th, its purpose to survey the mouth of the Sabine River. The country was flooded, however, and Terán was forced to turn back before even reaching the Atascosito settlement on the lower Trinity, his route generally following its course downstream from the Coushatta villages. This frustrated attempt marked the end of Terán's explorations along the border.


Even so, extensive records of Terán's expedition were written by various members of his team. A number of these accounts have been published and will be duly cited. Amazingly, Terán's own diary of the inspection has not been published, despite its valuable and wide-ranging observations of Texas. This document is presented herein—for the first time in Spanish or English—along with some of the general's reports on conditions found in Texas as he passed through "this beautiful portion of Mexican territory."


In the Western Americana Collection at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University are two copies of Terán's diary: Ms. S-313, the document used for this translation, and Ms. S-314. The first is titled "Texas por Terán: Su viage, 1828" (Texas by Terán, His Journey), which we have rendered simply as "Texas by Terán." It commences when Terán left San Antonio de Béxar on April 13, 1828, headed to Nacogdoches, and ends with his arrival at Matamoros on March 7, 1829. We have used this version because of its very legible and beautiful script, possibly in the hand of José María Sánchez, but we have closely checked it against the other version, which seems to be in Terán's relatively cramped handwriting (compare Figures 2 and 3).


This second version (S-314) is titled "Comisión de Límites: Diario de General Terán, 1827"; it begins when Terán left the Mexican capital with his inspection team on November 10, 1827, and runs through August 13, 1829, after he had returned to Tamaulipas. This fuller account, however, has a break between the Rio Grande and Béxar. Either this portion is lost or Terán put the diary aside upon reaching Laredo and did not resume his entries until heading northeast from Béxar.

In terms of the expedition itself, this lapse is not a serious matter because Berlandier and Sánchez kept diaries for the Laredo-Béxar segment of the trip, in which they recorded their impressions of both towns. These two accounts have been published in English and may be consulted for information missing from Terán's diary. Briefly stated, Berlandier's diary focuses on scientific matters (especially those botanical) while Sánchez's tends to be more personal and concerned with the threat posed to Mexico by the Anglo occupants of Texas. Sánchez was very suspicious of these people and found himself favorably impressed, often begrudgingly so, by only a few of them.


Other preconceptions, prejudices, and prevailing ideas of the day run throughout the diaries of all Boundary Commission members (Terán's included), and the reader should be cautioned against accepting these statements at face value. Not all North American settlers wished to "steal" Texas from Mexico, as Sánchez believed, and not all of them drank themselves into oblivion after a hard day's work, as Terán observed at Nacogdoches. The Indians seen in Texas were routinely referred to as "savages" or "barbarians" (salvajes, bárbaros), despite the numerous steps they had taken toward civilization (which were also being noted by the writer in his description of them). This deprecating (by modern standards, insulting) terminology was almost as ingrained among Mexicans as it was among their North American counterparts.


Nor did Africans receive from the diarists much serious consideration as individuals with inherent rights. Apparently, the long-standing tradition of servitude for dark-skinned peoples in both the Anglo and Hispanic cultures overrode whatever judgments Terán and his companions may have entertained about the realities of slavery seen up close. In their era it was easy to compartmentalize the institution and the abuses suffered thereby; indeed, in polite society it was almost expected that the concept of slavery would be dealt with separately from the reality. Since Terán in his Texas travels was hosted by the more prosperous class of people—many of them slaveholders—it should not surprise us that he often gives voice to their concerns over the government's guaranteeing rights of "property" and recognizing the necessity of maintaining slavery for the development of Texas.


In view of Mexico's recent revolution against Spain and the stated egalitarian goals of the independent nation, a surprising theme emerges from the records of the 1828 inspection: class and regional distinctions between Mexicans themselves. The Mexicans in Texas were perceived as different from and somehow inferior to citizens in the rest of the republic: they were irresponsible, lazy, and backward. This theme is repeated in all the inspection diaries; it suggests that the diarists expected to find the frontier a primitive, slothful, degenerate, and violent place and that their expectations colored what they actually saw. No doubt the tejanos entertained similar biases against these upper-class, cultivated visitors who came into their midst to pronounce judgment on them.


In a sense, then, Terán's visita was reminiscent of those of inspection teams that had ridden north from Mexico City during the Spanish colonial era. Alas, however, the citizens of the areas being inspected rarely committed their thoughts to paper, unless in official correspondence, and even then they were careful to maintain a respectful attitude toward General Terán and his entourage—just as they had been toward Rivera, Rubí, and all the military inspectors of the past decades. Needless to say, we have endeavored to render Terán's ideas just as he expressed them, without regard to their political correctness nowadays, and have tried to present his diary as a genuine reflection of conditions as they existed in Texas when he passed through and witnessed them in 1828.


Of the other two diarists of the expedition, Berlandier is far better known than Sánchez and has more publications to his credit. Evidently this process began with his "Diario del viage de Luis Berlandier" (dated November 19, 1828), which was issued in installments starting on January 26, 1831, in the Registro Oficial, a Mexico City paper. In 1832 a pamphlet called "Memorias de la Comisión de Limites" appeared, dealing strictly with botanical observations but credited to both Terán and Berlandier. In 1850 a more comprehensive volume was published under the title Diario de viage de la Comisión de Límites que puso el gobierno de la república, bajo la dirección del exmo. sr. general de división d. Manuel de Mier y Terán, listing Berlandier and Chovel[l] as the authors. It contains only the Laredo-Béxar segment of the Boundary Commission's 1828 travels in Texas (February 1-March 1), plus Berlandier's excursion northwest of Béxar to go bear and bison hunting with Col. José Francisco Ruiz and some Comanche warriors (November 19-December 18). This hunting trip occurred after Berlandier had to leave Terán's entourage on the Trinity River because of illness and once he had sufficiently recovered. In addition to these published sources, at Yale there is a brief itinerary attributed to Berlandier and Chovell in Ms. S-307; it ends on May 4 at San Felipe de Austin. Still another Berlandier/Chovell variant, in Ms. S-315 (a duplicate copy in S-330), continues to the Trinity, where Berlandier's fever caused Terán to fragment the expedition and send most of the troop back to Béxar with the three vehicles. Also, there are copies of Berlandier's "Voyage au Mexique" at the Library of Congress and the Gilcrease Museum, as well as the multiple variants at Yale. Yale has additional manuscripts attributed to Chovell, including one called "General Considerations on the Department of Texas" (written in French on seventy narrow pages, S-317).


While all these diaries differ in minor respects, the most accessible (and extensive) version to appear in print is the Texas State Historical Association's í980 two-volume edition of Berlandier's "Voyage au Mexique," translated from the Library of Congress copy and published as Journey to Mexico. It covers not only his travels in Texas (including an 1834 trip) but those in Mexico as well.


Why another diary of the Terán expedition? First, this one was kept by the man who headed the inspection team and whose views on Texas were critical to Mexican policy-making in the years ahead. After the inspection, Terán became the commandant general of the eastern interior states and the federal colonization commissioner for Texas, based at Matamoros. His opinions were solicited by the president and his cabinet ministers on all matters touching Texas, opinions which in large measure formed the basis of important national legislation like the controversial Law of April 6, 1830.


Second, Terán's diary contains information lacking in the journals of his assistants. As noted, the inspection was divided at the Trinity on May 28, 1828, and only Sánchez stayed with Terán on the trek to east Texas. For the critical months of the inspection Terán's diary is our primary source concerning the activities of the Boundary Commission, because Sánchez apparently stopped his account once they reached Nacogdoches; thereafter he gives us only a brief glimpse of the town and lifts quotes from Terán's diary on some of the Indian tribes who visited Terán at that place. Sánchez may have accompanied Terán's two excursions to survey (i.e., observe) the boundary line, and though he also rode back to Matamoros with Terán at the beginning of 1829, his account—if he kept one—has not survived, or remains unknown. Consequently, only the diary of General Terán offers us a firsthand look at the most important part of the Boundary Commission's work in Texas, and we are at a loss to say why no scholar has heretofore taken the trouble to make this important document available to the general reading public with an interest in Texas history.


To give the reader a fuller, more nuanced picture of Texas in 1828, excerpts from the accounts of several other travelers are presented in two places: Joseph C. Clopper's chauvinistic and testosterone-tinged view of San Antonio, and Théodore Pavie's lively description of life in Nacogdoches. Between the historical accounts of these two young men, one a practical "go-ahead" American and the other a liberally educated Frenchman, we can get a good idea of how Texas looked to cultural outsiders. Taken with the descriptions by Berlandier (who had moved to Mexico from Geneva less than a year earlier) and Sánchez (a native Mexican but new to the northern frontier), it is possible to gain a somewhat balanced notion of the customs and habits of the various ethnic groups in Texas at the time of Terán's visit. All of these descriptions contrast nicely with Terán's own impressions, which were usually given in a more formal, decorous, and nonjudgmental manner.


We have also selected a few of Terán's letters and reports written in Texas to augment the diary at various points. Rather than relegate these letters to an appendix, they are placed in the text to correspond with the time he wrote them. These letters give us a sense of how Terán's ideas about Texas changed after direct contact with the land and its people, of how his opinions were formed concerning the course of action necessary to preserve Texas and keep it attached to the Mexican nation. Thus, these reports back to the president and various ministers of the government supplement Terán's diary observations and demonstrate how his thinking on Texas crystallized into policy recommendations. Especially is this true concerning the large number of Indians who were coming into Texas from the United States as a result of the harsh removal policies being enacted in Washington and carried out from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast. We have accordingly devoted attention to Terán's views on these tribes as they appeared before him at Nacogdoches in a constant stream, all asking for lands in Texas, denouncing the greed and perfidy of the United States, and swearing eternal friendship to the Mexican nation.


While Terán was duly concerned about the plight of these semicivilized tribes (and left us a marvelous account of their customs and appearances), his chief focus was on the restless horde of Anglo frontiersmen who were spilling into Texas and taking up residence with little regard for Mexican territorial claims. These uninvited people, not the various uprooted Indian tribes, were his main problem and Mexico's as well. Terán was not happy with what he saw happening on the frontier—with the indigent squatters he encountered living hand-to-mouth in shacks or with the prosperous variety of colonists such as Jared Groce, who had settled in Texas under the empresario system, obtained legal title to his lands, and grown rich through the morally repugnant exploitation of Negro slaves. More feared than social implications, however, were the political views of these new "Mexicans" and whether or not their views—once put into action—would lead to the loss of Texas. This uneasiness extended even to men like Stephen F. Austin.


Austin, of course, was the figurehead of Anglo-American aspirations in Texas, and for this reason alone he merited close watching. By virtue of his deceased father's colonization contract, he had been the first norteamericano authorized to parcel out Texas lands and usher the recipients into dutiful citizenship. Beyond their personal contact at San Felipe, Austin and Terán wrote each other frequently in 1828, their letters revealing much about their respective concerns. Terán was after scientific information, while Austin was pressing for recognition of his ideas on how Texas should be developed. Even though the two men came to have respect and something akin to personal regard for one another, by no means did they agree on the issues at stake in Texas. Still, Austin helped Terán understand the mechanics of the "system" in Texas and how it differed from the traditional land tenure practices of Mexico. When Terán left Texas early in 1829, he had a much firmer grasp on the internal affairs of the department than did any of his high-ranking affiliates on the national scene.


But was the system working to Mexico's advantage, or would these rich concessions to foreigners eventually result in the dismemberment of Texas from the Mexican federation? Terán came to Texas seeking answers to this vital question, and it occupied his time and attention more than what proved to be incidental concerns about a boundary line drawn through the wilderness—a line that would have little meaning anyway if Mexico could not control movement across it. Further, because of the high standing accorded Terán in the Mexican capital and the role that he played in the future colonization affairs of Texas, his views of the situation became critical to the formation of official policy for governing Mexican Texas. As these views to no small degree resulted from Terán's experiences during his 1828 inspection tour, his diary and letters written while in Texas are the key to understanding subsequent events.


What sort of a man was Manuel de Mier y Terán? He was a man of education, refinement, and considerable talent—also a man of sensitivity, which sometimes led to bouts of depression when he saw events spinning out of control. Above all he was a soldier, dedicated to duty and willing to sacrifice his health, personal affairs, and predispositions for the good of his country. His men were devoted to him and perpetuated his memory long after his death. Left to himself, Terán might have spent years along the frontier, making careful observations of the stars, puzzling over unusual natural phenomena, and recording scientific data useful to the development of Texas. One can imagine him and the old revolutionary "Pedro Elias" Bean riding the boundary zone together with a pack mule, swapping memories, comparing the American and Mexican cultures, dropping in on the Indians whom Bean knew so well, marveling at the natural richness of Texas, and moseying off into the sunset. Political instability in both Mexico and Texas kept either man from enjoying such an idyllic life for long.


Among the other things he meant to accomplish, Terán intended to create a map of Texas from his team's carefully recorded information, but seemingly dropped the idea when he learned that Austin was well advanced in similar plans. Instead, Terán provided Austin with his very precise astronomical readings of latitude and longitude for various places, which Austin then incorporated into his published map of 1830. It was an important contribution to Austin's work, and though he credited Terán with these observations at the foot of his map, Austin claimed sole authorship of the map and used it as a vehicle to spur further immigration to Texas—in the process weakening Mexico's grasp on these fertile lands.


Even after the tumultuous political climate of Mexico forced Terán to abandon the affairs of his Boundary Commission and head back to the Rio Grande, he still pursued the aims that had sent him north to Texas. For example, he kept diary entries for a reconnaissance upriver from Matamoros to Mier in the summer of 1829; because of its relevance to later events such as the Mier Expedition and the Mexican War, we have included this segment of Terán's diary in our translation. It serves as an interesting counterpart to Berlandier's 1829 and 1834 travels downriver along this same stretch of road, the details of which are already in print.


Berlandier, after Terán's suicide in 1832 and Sánchez's death two years later, became the unofficial custodian for most of the Boundary Commission's records. It is to him that we owe the survival of this material and its placement in American archives. After Berlandier's accidental drowning in 1851 these documents were obtained from his Mexican widow by an officer of the U.S. Army who was visiting Brownsville and Matamoros. Prior to his death Berlandier worked constantly on "his" collection, recopying and polishing various drafts of the journals, reports, and miscellaneous records in his possession. A great deal of this documentation ended up at Yale University, but other notable pieces went to the Library of Congress, the Gilcrease Museum (Tulsa), the Smithsonian Institution, and the Gray Herbarium (Harvard University). Berlandier, with all of this material at his disposal, labored long over integrating the bits and pieces of information about northeastern Mexico into a cohesive whole worthy of comparison with Alexander von Humboldt's work. Further, he produced such a multitude of slightly variant copies of his own diaries—and those of his associates on the Boundary Commission—that it is often difficult to ascertain exactly what information derives from whom.


That Terán's diary figured into Berlandier's compilation process is undeniable, certainly with regard to the Indians of east Texas. Berlandier never personally visited these tribes, but he wrote a noteworthy study of their customs from the documents at hand, probably assisted by Sánchez's sketches, notes, and recollections. Both Terán and Berlandier had an informed source on the Comanches and other Plains Indians: Col. José Francisco Ruiz, who spent eight years among these tribes in the aftermath of Gen. Joaquín de Arredondo's brutal 1813 campaign against the anti-royalist rebels in Texas. Thereafter Ruiz acted as a sort of military Indian agent at Béxar and wrote a report on the Plains tribes from his personal knowledge of them. This report is among Berlandier's papers, now at Yale.


Nonetheless, Berlandier continued to gather information on the Indians of Texas after the Boundary Commission effectively shut down in 1829-1830. We are indebted to him for his concise essay on the subject, as well as for the pictures of the Texas Indians that he assembled (evidently at his own expense) to illustrate his account. These charming watercolors are the work of Lino Sánchez y Tapia, though acknowledged as based on the now-missing original sketches of Berlandier and José María Sánchez. More maps, plans, views, and botanical illustrations were executed to accompany his "Voyage au Mexique," which we must assume that Berlandier intended to publish or at least hoped would someday be published. They are priceless documents for the historiography of Texas in the period 1828-1834, and we are fortunate that so much of Berlandier's collection has escaped the ravages of time, especially "Texas por Terán: Su viage, 1828," herein presented after these many years.


San Antonio de Béxar in 1828


As noted above, Terán's diary does not describe San Antonio, but resumes only as he departs the city headed for east Texas. But the diaries of two of his assistants, draftsman José Maria Sánchez and botanist Jean-Louis Berlandier, have entries for the layover at the city between March 1 and April 13, 1828, offering us a fair picture of what was the capital of Texas until the union with the State of Coahuila. With the description by J. C. Clopper, a young trader from Cincinnati who visited Béxar a few months after Terán's Boundary Commission left, we have three perspectives of the town: from European, Mexican, and North American viewpoints.


Sánchez, upon approaching the lower mission of Espada, felt considerable relief at his deliverance from the wilderness: "The view of this temple and the few small houses that surrounded it made an impression upon me that I cannot express. The sight of these dwellings brought forcefully to my mind the fact that I was still living among my countrymen." He and Berlandier commented on the other missions in the neighborhood of Béxar, all of which were in the process of secularization at the time, and both men were caustic about the result. Of these four missions (Concepción, San Juan, San José, and Espada) Berlandier wrote: "Formerly celebrated, they are today abandoned to the mercy of the weather and have become private properties, sold for the profit of the nation. Those who bought and maintain them are poor farmers, who live there in as great a state of misery as the indigenes whom the friars formerly shut up in them. At every moment the warring tribes kill some laborer, and they come almost constantly to steal the animals.... Although in ruins, these edifices still bear the traces of a former splendor." Sánchez blamed their demise on the "very few" persons of judgment in the city, mainly property owners, who had clamored loudly, "Out with the friars, out with the good-for-nothings." "Thus they abolished the missions and divided among themselves the lands they have not known how to cultivate and which they have left in a sad state of neglect."


The fifth mission, San Antonio de Valero, had been secularized in the 1790s and since converted into a military barracks. Berlandier gave the following description:


An enormous battlement and some barracks are found there, as well as the ruins of a church which could pass for one of the loveliest monuments of the area, even if its architecture is overloaded with ornamentation like all the ecclesiastical buildings of the Spanish colonies. In the barracks of that mission lives a presidia company, long since come from Nueva Vizcaya [actually, Coahuila] from a presidio called Alamo de Parras, which has retained the same name in Texas. It is to be regretted that those who founded San Fernando de Béxar did not join it to the presidio of the Alamo, located on a much more favorable site. Convinced of the dangers which another flood could produce, recent authorities have several times proposed establishing the town there. Composed of some one hundred houses, the quarter of the Alamo is considered as part of San Fernando de Bexár. It is subject to the same authorities, and is separated only by the river.


Berlandier and Sánchez described the city itself and its inhabitants in similar terms.


The streets of Béxar [wrote Berlandier] are not very straight, not only because of the windings of the river which flows to the east of the houses, but also because that admirable regularity characteristic of every town founded by the Castilians in the New World was disregarded there. Two large squares, separated from each other by the church and some houses, do not draw the traveler's attention at all. The houses are for the greater part jacales [huts] roofed with thatch. The better ones are of a heavy and coarse construction, and the larger number have fireplaces—in a word, there are already hints of a region lying outside the tropics. The inhabitants are gay and not very hardworking, and the dance is the chief amusement among the lower classes. Most of the families are linked to the military of the presidial companies, and it is to the great defect in the organization of these troops that the lack of agricultural progress observable in the region should be attributed. These soldiers, continually in the wilderness, or going from one presidio to another, cannot devote themselves to laboring in the field. They content themselves with their pay, albeit this reaches their hands only after a thousand detours. The most comfortably off of the private citizens at the Mexican presidios are not lovers of farming; I have often seen them go elsewhere, sometimes even to the Anglo-American colonies, to seek the grain necessary for their subsistence. They much prefer to carry on a wretched trade, in which they have an infamous monopoly, to the detriment of the poor people particularly since a law of the state excludes from retail trade all aliens who have not been naturalized. When they are reproached for their indolence, they allege that the Indians do not allow them to go out to cultivate the fields, which is partly true. But what I have never understood is why, although there are well-watered lands about the houses and the missions—even inside the presidio—one sees no planting there, whereas, moved by a principle of laziness, they go to sow de temporal [dry farming] fields of corn six or seven leagues from the dwellings (in localities truly exposed to attacks by the indigenes), solely in order not to have to take the trouble of watering the fields.

From the brief idea which we have given of Béxar it can easily be seen that, if it did not have a troop stationed there, the greatest of misery would prevail. Indeed, as the presidial companies are not paid in silver, money is extremely rare in the area. It is to the bad financial administration of Mexico that one should attribute the audacity of the indigenes: because the soldiers are badly paid and frequently without horses, or else very badly mounted, the indigenes are sure that after they have committed a theft or a crime the soldiers will find themselves unable to go in pursuit. The military have been without pay or clothing not only for months but even years, and they have been on campaigns against warring tribes in the meantime. They feed themselves by hunting game in the wilderness. When the commissioners of the ports send some few thousand piastres to these wretches, there is always some speculator—guilty of the crime of embezzlement—who uses that money to buy merchandise to sell to the soldiers at an immense profit. These petty tyrants abound in almost all the republic. They are especially common far from the central government, which cannot keep under surveillance the conduct of employees situated at such a great distance. During my sojourn in the Interior Provinces [states] I have witnessed actions which, under a well-regulated government, ought to lead their perpetrators to the gallows, at least.

Ciudad de Béxar resembles a large village more than the municipal seat of a department. There is no paved street and no public building. Trade with the Anglo-Americans, and the blending in to some degree of their customs, make the inhabitants of Texas a little different from the Mexicans of the interior, whom those in Texas call foreigners and whom they scarcely like because of the superiority which they recognize in them. In their gatherings, the women prefer to dress in the fashion of Louisiana, and by so doing they participate both in the customs of the neighboring nation and of their own.... Unfortunately for the creoles of Texas, the agricultural industry which they have shown in our times is so wretched that a monopoly over them by the American colonies founded in this department is to be feared. Several times have Béxar and Goliad gone to seek grain and cattle in those colonies. They cannot vie in any respect with those industrious colonists, much more hardworking than they, who are supplied with implements useful to their labors. If the creoles have some well-built wagons, they are very few; in general, on seeing them one would believe oneself to have gone ten centuries backwards in the elementary and necessary arts. Their wagons [carts], which one would believe to have been built without any tools, ride on wheels made of one or two joined pieces which have a lenticular shape and which are drawn transversally by some large tree trunk. The rest of the wagon [cart] is nothing but an assemblage held together by ropes or rawhide; sometimes there is not even a wooden peg. Oxen, as badly harnessed as the wagons are defective, are the only animals used for draft and plowing.

In regions where man struggles with the land, it is only when cultivation is extended and perfected that the herds multiply. In Texas the inhabitants find themselves in completely opposite circumstances, for the raising of domestic animals on the immense plains covered with pasture is completely independent of the progress of agriculture. I agree that the great obstacle to the prosperity of the herds is the presence of the indigenes who steal or kill them. Nevertheless, those errant and nomadic tribes—enemies of the sedentary arts and of peace and [who are] continually at war with one another—raise horses. Lastly, the foreign colonies have had to overcome the same obstacles and today are full of such animals as oxen, cows, horses, pigs, etc.

When the indigenes are at peace with the presidio, ranchos are found on all the banks of the rivers or streams. Independently of the missions they sow the most necessary grain, and the need for foodstuffs is less urgent. But these proprietors—more active than their fellow citizens—often lack field hands at harvest time, even if paying good wages. At the time for cutting the sugarcane, I have seen a piastre paid to each worker, and even so there was difficulty in finding a sufficient number. At Béxar as at Laredo, at Goliad as at [San Juan Bautista del] Río Grande, and in most of the presidios everything is military, for this is the most pleasant life for the indolent.... I shall content myself with pointing out that the inhabitants [of Béxar] are not at all farmers. More than a century after it was colonized the region remains static, and it will never be covered with fields except in more active and harder-working hands. What surer wealth than the products of a flourishing agriculture? By coastal trade, they would send their cotton to the United States and their grain to Campeche, as all the [Anglo-American] colonists have learned to do. But, ever disdaining what lies under their noses, the inhabitants of Béxar (and even some Anglo-Americans), struck by the immense riches which have come out of Mexico, are forever searching for mines. At Béxar one rarely hears talk about a well-cultivated field or a splendid harvest, but rather hears it said that here or there—in a fluvial terrain covered with fossils—there is a gold or silver mine. So avid are they for metal, the cause of human frailty, that one sees people buying from the Indians granite from the cordilleras of the interior, because they believe that the flecks of mica are small scales of silver. It is perhaps due to false rumors about the existence of mines of precious metal that many adventurers from the north have several times tried to incite small revolutions, because the ignorant have imagined that gold and silver flow there in large waves.


Berlandier devoted much attention to the rather complex military situation at San Antonio. The commanding general of the eastern interior states (Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and Coahuila y Texas) was Anastasio Bustamante, who had entertained Terán and his troop at Laredo. In charge of the Department of Texas was Col. Antonio Elosúa, a career military officer who had only assumed his position at Béxar in December 1827; he reported directly to General Bustamante. A monthly tally of the troops in Texas dated February 1, 1828, reveals that Elosúa had under his command 527 men, divided into eight companies hailing from different Mexican states. Over 300 of these soldiers were dispersed on various assignments, however, and it is difficult to say exactly how many men were garrisoned at Béxar at any particular time. Nor does this total seem to include the regular army troops stationed at La Bahia (Goliad) and Nacogdoches.


Further complicating the troop-strength picture was the "National Civil Militia," sometimes called the "Béxar Civil Militia," whose captain was Gaspar Flores. An April 1832 summary shows 164 cavalrymen in this unit but the number fluctuated widely; an October 1827 report has only 79 men enrolled. Nonetheless, it was a prestigious outfit, and service in the local civil militia exempted members from being "drafted" into the regular army. These militiamen soon played a prominent role in Indian fighting and went on to see action in the Texas Revolution (on both sides). Other such militia units were organized at La Bahía, Victoria, Nacogdoches, and San Felipe de Austin. It is generally agreed that they were more effective at frontier defense than the army units sent to Texas for this purpose.




“The Diary by Manuel de Mier y Terán is an extremely valuable original source on Texas history that heretofore has not been available to scholars or the reading public.... Its usefulness is almost endless.”
Donald E. Chipman, Professor of History, University of North Texas


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