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Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The Fayette County 

Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office

Jesus, Maria y Joseph 

Buena vista

By Charles Hebert

On March 23, 1690, Alonzo De Leon, the governor of New Spain, Province of Coahuila, left Monclova in northeastern New Spain (now Mexico) to lead the first expedition beyond the Nueces River in search of La Salle’s French Colony. The location was thought to be somewhere on the present-day Texas Coast. It is this expedition that would bring sweeping change to the territory that is now Fayette County, along with the counties that lie to the east across the Trinity River into deep East Texas. Eighty-five armed soldiers; a French-speaking interpreter; two Padres; 12 mule drivers; an unspecified number of Indian guides; over 700 horses; 200 head of cattle and pack mules carrying 80 loads of flour, 500 pounds of chocolate and three loads of tobacco, the latter to be used for trade with the Indians, accompanied De Leon on his trek northeast.

Traveling about 18 miles per day, the party crossed numerous rivers and streams with De Leon naming them along with every night’s camp in the name of New Spain. The expedition, led by Indian guides, often followed old Indian trails, which were marked with distinctive crosses for expeditions to follow. The expeditions and the participants’ accounts of their encounters with the Indians were filled with fright, as noted by De Leon in his journal.  At his first encounter with the Emet and Cava tribes, however, tribal members immediately fled into the woods for fear of the Spanish, leaving only the dogs behind.  Once assured that no harm was intended, the Indians extended to the Spanish a greeting that would become associated with the future name of the state: “Techas, Techas!” This greeting later caught on to be used by various tribes to identify themselves as enemies of the Apaches.

On May 2, 1690, De Leon traversed 91 miles in three days and reached the Rio San Marcos (Colorado River) near present-day La Grange where he noted in his journal that thousands of buffalo were grazing west of the Colorado.  De Leon was close to the site of a Toho Indian encampment where he had found two Frenchmen the year before.  It was also here that De Leon found two other tribes, the Emet and the Tohaha, encamped near Buena vista, a site which De Leon documented, using an astrolabe.

Following explorations into East Texas in search of Tejas Indians and the remnants of La Salle’s Fort, De Leon began his return trip westward, retracing the same road with the precision that he used on his trip east. On May 11, 1690, the party stopped for the evening at a creek a few miles northeast of the Colorado River, eventually reaching Jesus, Maria y Joseph Buena vista (Jesus, Mary and Joseph Beautiful Vista) on June 17. The identifiable high hill on the Colorado, across from present-day La Grange, would serve as a significant landmark on future expeditions, including Teran’s 1691 Expedition. It has, of course, been a significant landmark throughout the centuries. The site further became a stopping point on the El Camino de los Tejas Road, established during the Spanish Colonial era, from Monclova, New Spain to East Texas and beyond to Louisiana, where it was known as the Opelousas Road. 

On July 3, 1691, the area was again revisited by the Spanish, who were led by Captain Martinez with a supply train comprised of 20 soldiers, 56 mules and almost 300 horses to be used as mounts and pack animals to replenish those needed by explorer Captain Salinas. Jesus, Maria y Joseph Buena vista served as the campsite with Martinez confirming in his journal that he was familiar with the site, having passed it the year before with Deleon.

Numerous expeditions would follow well into the 18th century, led mainly by Catholic Padres spreading Christianity to the Indian tribes of Central and East Texas. All the expeditions followed the same roads explored in the 17th century, following the Indian trails which were crossed again by early Spanish explorers.

The limestone bluff, previously known as Jesus, Maria y Joseph Buena vista, and the chalk bluff and lower riffles (Svrcek Riffles), both located upstream from La Grange, all served as reference points for multiple expeditions traveling inland along the river to find the low-water crossing that was first used by bison, then the Indians, followed by La Salle and the Spanish. Due to Indian attacks on several expeditions, part of the old El Camino Real Road that first ran north of Fayette County was re-routed south of the post oak belt, where it crossed the Colorado River at the low-water crossing. It was re-named the La Bahia Road in the late 1700s and was again re-routed to cross the river somewhere between the Highway 71 bypass and Business Highway 71 bridge. Later, circa 1838, John Moore’s ferry was located in the general vicinity of the second crossing. 

Interestingly, the park with a boat launch below the Business Highway 71 bridge in La Grange is known as “Buffalo Trails Park” to highlight the fact that bison had once used the low water crossing upstream. 

Sources:  

Fayette Heritage Museum & Archives

Foster, William. Spanish Expeditions into Texas 1689-1768. First Edition; University of Texas Press, 1995

West, Elizabeth Howard. “English Translation of Spanish Diaries”, Texas  

     State Historical Quarterly, Vol. 8, 1905.

Newcombe, William W. The Indians of Texas from Prehistoric to Modern Times; University of Texas Press, 2002.

Portal to Texas History. www.Texas History.UNT.Edu/ark/67531/meapth/493023

Texas Parks & Wildlife

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