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South Texas History

The Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, was the first person to write about the Native Americans of South Texas. The Native American people he met gave the Spaniards food and a place to sleep. They helped Cabeza de Vaca and his fellow sailors find other villages they could stay in while they tried to find their way back home. The Spaniards were fascinated by the fact that Indians from different villages communicated with each other using sign language. Many different languages were spoken, but everyone knew the sign language. Cabeza de Vaca soon learned this sign language himself. He described the Native Americans as having to live a difficult and harsh life. He was grateful that the Native Americans saved his life.

This region has some historically important sites. When the Spanish built missions, they usually built a presidio, or fort, to protect the mission. The Goliad State Historical Park has the oldest fort in the western United States, the Presidio La Bahia. The post was originally built to house Spanish soldiers assigned to protect a nearby mission. The mission was called Mission Espiritu Santo. Espiritu Santo and La Bahia are special because they are the only pair of mission and presidio buildings left in the United States! The first large cattle ranch in Texas was started at the Goliad mission and presidio complex, and the first cowboys were the Indians who lived at the missions.


The Fannin Battleground State Historic Site is near Goliad State Park. During Texas’ War for Independence from Mexico, Texans and Mexicans fought a battle on this site. The Texans were out-numbered and surrendered. In 1836, Col. James Fannin and 342 of his men were imprisoned and later executed at this Presidio by orders of the Mexican General Santa Ana. There is a granite monument on the battlefield reminding visitors of this sad time in Texas history.


African Americans, Mexicans, and Native Americans were very important in the history of our state. They were pioneers who created ranches and farms, and took care of livestock. Some of the state’s oldest buildings are in South Texas. The first big ranches were started in Texas. The work of African Americans, Mexicans, Native Americans, Spanish, and Americans all helped make South Texas an important part of the state.


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