Spanish Colonial Era Gallery

Spanning thousands of years, the Spanish Colonial Era Gallery explores Native American, French, and Spanish influence on the West. Special attention is given to the Spanish mission system and the unique pattern of settlement it promoted.

The History

Santos (Statues of Saints), Artist Unknown (c. 18th Century)
Santo (Statue of Saint),
Artist Unknown
(c. 18th Century)

Before European explorers reached the New World, there were hundreds of independent cultures in what we now call Texas. The Karankawa (pronounced "car-WRONG-cow-uh"), Comanche, Apache, and Kiowa are notable Indian nations.

Spanish exploration of Texas began in 1528 when Cabeza de Vaca and several other men washed ashore on the Gulf Coast after a failed expedition in Florida. In 1598, an expedition passed through present-day El Paso. Galleons (large ships with several masts and expansive cargo holds) brought soldiers, missionaries, and supplies back and forth across the Atlantic. They were the semi-trucks of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Spanish Royal government sent Catholic missionaries into South and Central America as well as into New Spain (present-day Mexico and Texas). The priests and monks established a web of Mission churches, which ebbed and flowed across the Texas landscape in the face of Indian attacks, French invasions, and the Spanish government's fluctuating interest in the area.

Detail From Folding Fan Depicting La Salle's Expedition to Texas, Maker Unknown (Mid-18th Century)
Detail From Folding Fan Depicting
La Salle's Expedition to Texas
,
Maker Unknown (Mid-18th Century)
Mother-of-Pearl Chest That Carried a Spanish Royal Grant for California Lands, Maker Unknown (18th Century)
Mother-of-Pearl Chest That Carried
a Spanish Royal Grant for California Lands
,
Maker Unknown (18th Century)

The French entered Texas in 1686 when explorer René-Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, navigated into Matagorda Bay, believing it was the Mississippi River. He established an outpost near present-day Goliad, called Fort St. Louis, and reached the current site of Navasota, Texas. There his men ambushed and killed him. This French incursion into Texas prompted the Spanish to expand their Mission activity and settlement-building into East Texas, including the San Antonio Mission chain, as well as at Goliad.