Early Texas Background
The story of the arrival of the Irish colonists to form the nucleus around which Bee County was created, organized, and developed could not properly be chronicled without relating some of the historical and traditional descriptions of conditions that existed in this area of Texas prior to the colonization period.
For thousands of years the lands of Texas had been occupied by Indians of many tribes, but the Karankawa, Lipan, and Apache tribes were living a nomadic life in the Coastal Bend section of Texas when the Spaniards, headed by Alvarez de Pineda, explored the Texas Gulf Coast in 1519. Ralph W. Steen in his The Texas Story,” a textbook for Texas public schools, said this area (Gulf Coast) of Texas was then known as Amichel. Pineda was an agent of Governor Garay of Jamaica, and was commissioned to explore the Gulf Coast from Florida to Vera Cruz. He reported that Texas was a healthful and fertile land and described the Indians as peaceful. The Texas population at that time consisted of approximately 30,000 Indians.
Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, another Spanish explorer, was the first white man to cross the area that is now known as Bee County. He was the treasurer of an expedition led by Panfilo de Navarez, and the travelers left Spain with instructions to land in Florida and explore the country. The landing party became stranded “when it was unable to keep a rendezvous with the ships, and through the exercise of what must have been a minor miracle, Navarez and his men built five small vessels in which 242 Spaniards set out from Florida for Mexico."
All of the vessels were wrecked or lost along the Texas coast, and most of the men fell victim to disease and the Indians, Steen relates. Cabeza de Vaca’s vessel was wrecked on Galveston Island in November 1528. He became a trader, dealing in red ochre, flint, hard canes, hides, and shells. Steen’s map shows that Cabeza de Vaca trekked (in 1534) from Galveston in a southwesternly direction, through the Coastal Bend, crossed what is now Bee County, then turned in a northwesternly direction and went to El Paso and into New Mexico. They were in search of gold and silver. They encountered the buffalo, which Cabeza de Vaca described as cows.
The French exploration in Texas began in I 685, when Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, landed at Matagorda Bay. He had intended to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi but a Gulf of Mexico storm drove him to the Texas Coast. He established a colony called Fort Saint Louis, several miles inland, and raised the Lilies of France over a short-lived settlement. La Salle was killed in 1687 by one of his men while engaged in an altercation. Disease and Indians killed the rest of the colonists and Fort Saint Louis was destroyed by the Indians. (World Book Encyclopedia.)
Two monuments were erected to the memory of La Salle, one at Navasota and the other at Old lndianola, near Port Lavaca, as a token of appreciation to the French explorer who established the first European colony on the Texas Coast.
By 1731 Spain had sent more than ninety expeditions into what is now Texas, and established missions throughout Central, East and South Texas. In 1718, the Spaniards built the fort of San Antonio de Bexar to guard the mission of San Antonio de Valero. Later the name of the mission was changed to the Alamo, the Spanish word for the cottonwood trees that surround the structure. Several other missions were built there during the 1730s, the most beautiful of the group being Mission San Jose.
Incidentally my mother, the former Sarah Jane (Jennie) Camp, daughter of Colonel and Mrs. L. B. Camp, was born in this mission during a forced interlude on a trip from Atascosa County to Austin, on February 2 I, 1857. My grandparents were en route to Austin to attend the session of the Legislature, Colonel Camp having been a representative from his district. Arriving in San Antonio in their buggy, my grandmother started having labor pains. There were no hospitals then, and friends advised them to go to San Jose Mission, where they would receive care. And there my mother was born.
In the spring of 1722, under the direction of the Marques de San Miguel de Aguayo, governor and captain-general of the province of Tejas and New Philippines, the presidio and mission at La Bahia del Espiritu Santo, or Lavaca Bay, near the site of La Salle’s old fort, was constructed. The purpose of this project was to found new presidios and missions “where security and Christianity could march together . . . and to domesticate and Christianize the savage Indian.” (Joe B. Frantz in “Six Missions of Texas,” published by Texian Press.) Ninety soldiers were left to defend the fort-mission.
But within a year after the mission was established, quarrels between the soldiers and the Indians began, and continued, and in 1726 the Franciscan Friars of Zacatecas, who built the Spanish missions in this area, were commissioned to move the buildings to the banks of the Guadalupe River near Victoria. Again the location failed to satisfy, and in I 749 the mission-fort was moved to its permanent site near the banks of the San Antonio River at Goliad.
This mission is particularly endeared to the people of Bee County, not only because of its historic and religious aspects, but also because of its propinquity to our places of abode, which gives us frequent opportunities to see the structures and do research on their historic past. Through a generous gift of around a million dollars by Mrs. Thomas O’Connor of Refugio, the buildings were restored several years ago. Catholic masses have been celebrated there throughout the years since it was moved to Goliad.
Another area mission, the memory of which is dear to the hearts of South Texans, was Nuestra Senora Del Refugio (Our Lady of Refuge) at Refugio, the last of the Spanish missions to be established in Texas. It was moved to Refugio County in 1795 under the leadership of the Franciscan priest, Father Manual Julio Silva, who was in Texas to inspect the numerous missionary establishments sponsored by his order. (Hobart Huson’s “History of Refugio.”) Accompanying him was his religious brother, Father Josef Francisco Mariano Garza, who helped make the project a reality. The mission was used both as a refuge and for Christianizing the Karankawa Indians, but it was destroyed, or “became extinct,” in 1830, “after a hectic existence of thirty-five years.” In later years the stones were razed to make way for another church.
In 1821, a movement was led by Agustin de lturbide against Spanish rule, and Mexico broke away from Spain. Texas became part of the new Empire of Mexico, with lturbide as the monarch. But soon a new rebellion broke out and lturbide lost his title of Emperor of Mexico. He was allowed to go to Europe provided that he would never return to Mexico. A year later he tried to come back and fight for his throne, but was arrested and shot.
On October 4, 1824, the congress adopted a constitution that made Mexico a republic, and the state legislature elected Guadalupe Victoria, a republican leader, as the first president of Mexico. (World Book Encyclopedia.)