RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – Imagine going around the country in the 15th or 16th century dressed in armor. Welcome to the Conquest period. There is a vastly under told story that involves South Texas, the Gulf Coast, and the Spanish Conquest period. When Christopher Columbus landed in Española in 1492, it wasn’t 22 years until Pineda was on the coast directly off of South Padre Island.
The big names of the explorers including Cortez, Pineda, LaSalle and a whole host of others were in south Texas. They came through from Tampa and went all the way eventually to San Antonio and down on into the interior of Mexico. South Texas was on the map, but they were curious, they were wondering what is here? Emphasis in the mid 1500s was the center part of Mexico because that’s where all of the gold and silver was. They registered what was here and then saw that it was a wonderful agricultural terrain and its potential, but they bypassed it for those many years until one very important factor came into the picture; colonization by the French. LaSalle started a colony in Matagorda Bay.
In 1685 when LaSalle got into Matagorda Bay, it got the Spaniard thinking that the French are going to come in here and colonize it so therefore, we better do it. That is when they really stepped up their effort. The biggest push for any colonization here came in what was called the Nuevo Santander push and that was in the mid 1700s. The big colonial effort in 1745 to about 1750 were the years that really developed south Texas as we know it. LaSalle drew the colonies out of the interior of Mexico on into the Rio Grande River.
When Spain took upon the effort to organize an expedition, that was a sight to behold. They had not only just soldiers coming through on the ships, they had a whole hold of specialists from the University of Salamanca which was begun in the 1200s.
They were specialists in agriculture in geology or the gold and silver. Cartographers, linguists, they had a whole troop of people that came through this region and they develop the land. This is a precious land and what they gave wrote itself into the pages of our culture.