In 1519, just 27 years after Columbus discovered the New World, Captain Alonso de Pineda sailed the Gulf Coast and reached the area later to be called Texas. In 1528, Cabeza de Vaca, a shipwrecked Spaniard, was the first European to walk across Texas and by 1542, he published his journal “Los Naufragios”, a description of the territory, plant and animal life, and the numerous Indian tribes.
For the next 150 years Texas remained virtually ignored, until in 1685, attempts by France to establish settlements on the coast alerted Spaniards to the danger of foreign intrusion.
Mexican settlers were concentrated in the town of San Antonio de Bexar (founded May 5, 1718 by Franciscan father Antonio Olivares), at Goliad and at Nacodogches (near the Louisiana border).
Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, after a revolution led by Agustin de Iturbide, an officer in the Spanish army, who proclaimed himself Emperor.
The word of Mexico’s liberal land policies spread like wildfire across the southern United States and through the Mississippi River valley and shortly, thousands of colonists, led by Stephen F. Austin, Texas’s first and most successful land agent (empresario), moved to the new territories.
During the next 15 years the population of colonists (often former frontiersman, traders, and adventurers) increased at a steady pace. In 1836, the foreign settlers outnumbered the Mexican population of Texas five to one (25,000 to 5,000).
So in 1830, Mexico called a halt to immigration and, in spite of settlers’ objections, combined Texas with the state of Coahuila, with its capital in Saltillo, more than 600 miles from northeastern Texas. During this period, a man emerged in Mexico as a leading political figure: Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna Perez de Lebron. Santa Anna, an officer in the Spanish army officially became president in 1833. Immediately after, he named himself dictator, declared Mexico not yet ready for democratic government and abolished the Constitution of 1824. Then, in 1835, continuing with his policy against the federal system, Santa Anna decided to replace it with a centralized republic and, accordingly, disolved local legislatures and imposed a strict central control.
Texans believed the new system interfered with their rights and, on October 2nd, 1835, the curtain on the Texas Revolution rose with the first shot fired at Gonzales.
After the fall of the Alamo, Santa Anna, minimizing his losses, said “It was but a small affair”. Santa Anna ordered the bodies of the Texans burned. One of his officers then commented “Another such victory and we are ruined”.
While General Sam Houston was moving his troops and gathering reinforcements in the eastern part of Texas, Colonel James W. Fannin and his nearly 400 men, captured at the Battle of Coleto Creek, were all massacred at Goliad by order of Santa Anna. But the Napoleon of the West, as he used to call himself, was to face his “Waterloo” in less than one month.
On April 21st, 1836, near the San Jacinto ferry crossing, the Mexican army (1,500 strong) was disrupted by Houston’s force (some 800-900 men) at the cry “Remember Alamo! Remember Goliad!”. Texas, having won its independence, became a republic. Independence from Mexico was declared on March 2nd, 1836, at the Washington-on-the-Brazos Convention.
On December 29th, 1845, U.S. President J. Polk signed legislation making Texas the 28th state of the United States. This statehood did not, however, solve the problems which had grieved the former republic: financial crises, Indian intrusions, and continuing clashes with Mexico. The already critical relationship between the two countries was further deteriorated by the American expansionist policy. Thousands of settlers, traders, fur gatherers, and adventurers started on Mexican territories west and northwest of Texas.
On April 25th, 1846, the Mexican-American War ignition was the inevitable outcome of the dispute. War lasted about 3 years and was concluded with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo which, in 1848, set the border from the mouth of Rio Grande to the Pacific.
After the flames of the Civil War were extinguished and the reconstruction initiated (thanks also to the abundance of longhorn cattle, a real Texan wealth), the quality of life in Texas steadily improved for the rest of the 19th Century. Then, on January 10th, 1901, a small Texan location broke into history at Spindletop, an oil field near Beaumont, black gold erupting from a derrick, rocketed Texas towards the future.