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Document Number: AJ-019
Author: Léon, Alonso de
Title: Itineraries of the De Léon Expeditions of 1689 and 1690
Source: Bolton, Herbert Eugene (editor). Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916). Pages 388-423.
Pages/Illustrations: 38 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-019/

Author Note

Alonso de Léon was a soldier of Nuevo Léon. In 1687 he became governor of Coahuila, Mexico, and captain of the presidio of Monclova. Prior to the 1689 expedition described here, he had made three expeditions into Texas, one a year beginning in 1686. In 1684, Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, and a group of French settlers landed at Matagorda Bay, Texas, and established a fort at Garcitas Creek (see AJ-114 and AJ-121). Alarmed by this intrusion into Spanish territory, several expeditions set forth to find the La Salle settlement, destroy it, and remove all Frenchmen from the area. The 1689 expedition was one of five led by Léon.

León-Massanet Expedition, 1689

The León expedition set forth from Monclova, Mexico, March 23, 1689, crossing the Rio Grande and continuing east-northeast to the Rio Guadalupe near present-day Victoria, Texas.

In the expedition’s first days, Léon observed a large cottonwood tree as a landmark that eventually became the site of the Alamo in San Antonio. The party headed east through extensive grasslands considered suitable for pasture for livestock. The Indian guides they brought along were used to visit Indian villages to let the tribes know about the expedition. The first village encountered was formed by a confederacy of five nations, the Humanos, Hapes, Xiabu, Mescale, and another group that displayed the heads of enemy tribesmen they had killed. Léon traded goods with Indians in this tribe, then headed further east.

The 1689 expedition crossed an expanse of dry, arid land punctuated by mesquite and prickly pear thickets. As they continued east, the landscape changed to include oak and pecan groves. It was in this region that they encountered an Indian village that four Frenchmen, survivors of La Salle’s ill-fated colony, had recently visited. The Indians deserted the village because a recent outbreak of smallpox had killed most of the tribe.

In late April, 1689, Léon found the remains of La Salle’s settlement, Fort Saint Louis, on Garcitas Creek about five miles above its mouth. It had been destroyed by Indians living on the Texas coast after the death of its leader. No corpses were found, however, and Léon presumed the French were thrown to the numerous alligators living in the nearby creek. The Indians ransacked the French possessions, taking what they wanted and leaving the remains to rot. Léon describes their fortress on Matagorda Bay as being made of ship’s wood and sited on raised level ground, but deteriorated after five years. From the ransacked French fortress, Léon explored the bay and set out to search for the remaining French colonists.

A week later they discovered two Frenchmen streaked with paint in Indian fashion, being hidden by the chief of the Texas tribe. The Frenchmen told how after the outbreak of smallpox wiped out one Indian village, other local Indians had befriended the French. Once the Indians had won their confidence, they cleverly killed all the remaining French, despite their extensive supply of weapons, guns, and powder. For the French version of these events, see AJ-114 and AJ-121. After leaving Matagordo Bay the expedition returned to Coahuila in two weeks.

León-Massanet Expedition, 1690

Starting March 26, 1690, Léon followed the same route from Monclova, Mexico, used the previous year to reach Fort Saint Louis and Matagorda Bay. Fray Damián Massanet accompanied the expedition and, as the Reverend Father Commissary, he converted several Native Americans to the Roman Catholic faith. From Matagorda Bay, the expedition headed northeast to the Neches River. On May 26, Léon and the Spanish clergy selected a location for building the mission near the Neches River. Three weeks later they heard reports that another tribe, the Caocosi, was holding French children for ransom, that were captured from La Salle’s destroyed fort on Matagordas Bay (see AJ-114). Léon traveled to investigate if he could barter to free the French children. Although they bartered for their freedom, some Indians started shooting arrows at Léon and in the skirmish that followed, several Indians were killed before both sides retreated. The Spanish returned to the site of the mission and then to Monclova, which they reached July 15, 1690.

Document Note

This document provides a day-by-day account of the expedition route, distances between sites, and incidents during the journey. The account includes information about the geography of the territory and encounters with Native Americans that ranged from trade and sharing food to skirmishes. In the villages of the Texas Indians, Léon recounts the Texas tribe raised maize, watermelons, beans, and pumpkins in a valley near Crockett, Texas, filled with oak groves and small cliffs. This itinerary is contained in the manuscript collection known as “Memorias de Nueva España.” Its English translation by Elizabeth Howard West was published in 1905 in the Texas State Historical Association Quarterly and again in Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed., Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

Chipman, Donald E. "De León, Alonso." The Handbook of Texas Online. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fde06

Givens, Murphy. “Exploring Texas. Part 2 of 3. New Spain Begins Search for the French.” Corpus Christi Caller-Times (December 11, 2002). http://www.caller.com/ccct/opinion_columnists/article/ 0,1641,CCCT_843_1602014,00.html

Weddle, Robert S. "La Salle, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de." "The Handbook of Texas Online." http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fla04

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