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American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Power
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Power
Text 1. Imperial Rivalry I: Spain and England in the Caribbean
Text 2. Imperial Rivalry II: Spain and France in Tejas (Texas)
Text 3. Imperial Rivalry III: England and France in the Northeast
Text 4. Colonial Rule
Text 5. Colonial Rebellion (English Colonies)
Text 6. Indian Relations
Text 7. Indian Wars
Text 8. Africans I: English Colonies
Text 9. Africans II: Spanish and French Colonies

Reading Guide
Route which the Spanish take to come to the Bay of St. Louis
"Route which the Spanish take to come to the Bay of St. Louis"
Imperial Rivalry II: Spain & France in Tejas (Texas)
- Spanish/French: Rivalry in Tejas (Texas), 1685-1691, four documents (excerpts) (PDF)
- Maps:

French: Les costes aux environs de la rivière de Misisipi, 1701
Spanish: Mapa, que comprende la Frontera, 1769

In the rivalry among European nations in the Caribbean, Native Americans did not play a crucial role, having been decimated and subdued long before the rivalries ratcheted up. On the mainland of North America the situation was quite different: the Indians acted as the spoke of the wheel of ever-intensifying rivalries. Here we will follow (almost literally) the early competition between Spain and France for the land along the Gulf of Mexico we now call Texas and Louisiana. Specifically, we will follow their joint treks in southern Tejas in the late 1600s as they learn of each other's presence from the Indians.

In the 1670s and 1680s France probed further along the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River [see EXPLORATION #2], planning a network of trading posts to establish dominance in the North American interior. In 1682 René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, journeyed down the Mississippi River to its mouth and, two years later with the support of King Louis XIV (thus "Louisiana"), sailed from France with nearly three hundred soldiers and settlers to build a settlement in the lower Mississippi valley. Unable to locate the river, La Salle built a small fort on the coast of Tejas at Matagorda Bay. From here he and his men explored north into Tejas and learned from the Indians of the intermittent Spanish presence, although they encountered no Spaniards themselves. When La Salle was murdered in 1687 by several of his own men, the expedition fell apart. Some of the French headed northeast to New France, some southwest to New Spain, and some remained at the fort which was attacked by the Karankawa Indians in the winter of 1688-1689.

The Spanish, having long been wary of French plans for the Mississippi region, responded immediately to rumors of a French presence on the Tejas coast. Between 1686 and 1691 they dispatched a total of nine expeditions from New Spain (Mexico) to Tejas, four by sea and five by land, to search for the French. They pursued leads provided by the Indians but encountered only a few French survivors of La Salle's settlement, several of whom returned with them to New Spain. The Franciscan priests travelling with them established the first Spanish mission in Tejas (and the future United States) in 1690, and the priests continued to notify officials in New Spain of any rumors of French incursions in the region.

In this reading we weave excerpts from two Spanish and two French documents that reveal the countries' mutual suspicion and ultimate frustration in this stage of their rivalry in North America.
  • THE FRENCH DISCOVER THE SPANISH PRESENCE IN TEJAS. Two documents were considered crucial to the French as they prepared for their second attempt to settle the lower Mississippi. One was the journal of Henri Joutel, second in command on La Salle's expedition, who succeeded in returning to France via Canada. The second is an extraordinary interview with two young brothers, Pierre and Jean-Baptiste Talon, who survived the attack on Fort St. Louis, lived with Indians for several years, and ultimately returned to France in time to be questioned in detail before the second French expedition in 1699. (A portion of their interview that focuses on the Karankawa Indians is included in Section #6: Indian Relations.) These excerpts reveal the growing French awareness of Spanish influence (but no settlements) in Tejas.
    [Henri Joutel, A Journal of the Last Voyage Perform'd by Monsr. de la Sale, to the Gulph of Mexico, to Find Out the Mouth of the Missisipi River (1684), publ. 1714; Interview of Pierre and Jean-Baptiste Talon (Memorial on the questions asked of the two Canadians who are soldiers in Feuguerolle's company), 1698]

  • THE SPANISH SEARCH FOR THE FRENCH IN TEJAS. The five land expeditions to Tejas were led by the Spanish explorer and governor Alonso de León. In his day-by-day "itineraries" of the 1689 and 1690 expeditions we read of the Spaniards' frustrating search for the French, their discovery of the remains of La Salle's fort, and their rescue (or capture) of several surviving French soldiers and settlers. Finally, we read the plaintive letter of a Franciscan priest in the newly established Tejas mission relaying an Indian's message that Frenchmen had been seen en route to their region, perhaps, he fears, "to take vengeance upon the Spaniards for having taken away the Frenchmen who were in these regions."
    [Alonso de León, Itineraries of the 1689 and 1690 expeditions; Letter of Fr. Miguel Font Cuberta in Tejas to his custodio in New Spain, 4 Sept. 1690]
In 1699 the French returned and founded settlements along the gulf coast east of Tejas, including Biloxi, Mobile and, in 1718, New Orleans. The Spanish, having abandoned the Tejas mission in 1693 due to floods, the threat of an Indian rebellion, and the temporary removal of the French presence, returned in 1716 to re-establish missions and to confront the growing French challenge on the coast. We recommend that you study the 1701 French map before reading the selections and peruse the 1769 Spanish map after your reading. (10 pages, excluding the maps.)

Discussion questions
  1. What power relationships between Spain and France are reflected in these documents?
  2. How does the dominant power work to keep its dominance?
  3. How does the challenging power work to establish dominance?
  4. If the countries are equal rivals, how do they position themselves to gain power?
  5. How does each country justify its actions? How does each feel entitled to its claims?
  6. What role do Native Americans play in the European rivalry? At any point are they the dominant power?
  7. What role do other European countries play in the rivalry?
  8. What role do suspicion, rumor, and fear play in the rivalry for power?
  9. What is the final result of the rivalry as presented in these documents and maps?
  10. Who "won" or "lost" land, status, influence, allies, or strategic options? Does one side have the upper hand?
  11. How does the rivalry in the 1690s position the countries for later North American competition in the 1700s?
  12. Compare the documents by author and purpose, i.e., explorers’ journals to record events, interviewers’ summary for planning an expedition, and a priest’s letter requesting military aid.
  13. How do the maps reflect each country’s perspective on the rivalry and its outcome?
  14. Compare the European-European power relationships in Tejas with those in the Caribbean (#1) and the northeast mainland (#3).
  15. Compare the European-Indian power relations in Tejas with those in the Caribbean (#1) and the northeast mainland (#3).

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What power relationships had been forged among the peoples of North America by 1690?
  •  How did the European rivalries of the 1690s in North America set the stage for the later imperial conflicts of the 1700s?
  •  What did "North America" signify to Europe in 1690? to the inhabitants of North America?

Spanish/French rivalry in Tejas: 10 pages, excluding the maps
Supplemental Sites
Spanish-French rivalry in Texas, in Parallel Histories/Historias Paralelas: Spain, the United States, and the American Frontier, from the Library of Congress and the Biblioteca Nacional de España

Spanish Expansion into Texas (map), from USGenWeb Archive Project

Spanish Texas, thorough overview from The Handbook of Texas Online (UT-Austin)

La Salle Expedition, from The Handbook of Texas Online

The Talon children, from The Handbook of Texas Online

Alonso de León and his expeditions to Tejas, 1686-1690, from The Handbook of Texas Online

"Archaeologists unearth bones at French settlement in Texas" (2000), from

Recovery of La Salle's ship La Belle in Matagorda Bay, from the University of Texas-Austin

Voyage of Doom, recovery and excavation of La Belle, from PBS (1999)

Tejas: Life and Times of the Caddo (Ceni) Indians, from Texas Beyond History (UT-Austin)

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Texts: National Humanities Center
Maps: Library of Congress
University of Alabama, Dept. of Geography

Image: Nicolas de Fer, map of the regions explored by Sieur de La Salle (1683-1687) and Chevallier d'Iberville (1698-1699), Les costes aux environs de la rivière de Misisipi: découvertes par Mr. de la Salle en 1683 et reconnues par Mr. le Chevallier d'Iberville en 1698 et 1699, 1701. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division, G4042.M5 1701 .F4 Vault : Low 251.

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Revised: October 2006