This week’s article was written by Eric J. Brock, date unknown. This article isn’t direct history about Shelby County, but one needs to understand what was happening in the area to fully understand the early settlers of the county and their history. I also wanted to let everyone know I may not have any Tidbits for the next 2 or 3 weeks as I will be on vacation.
The Capital of Texas was Once in Louisiana
The Shreveport-Bossier City area’s affinity to East Texas is well known. Also reasonably well known is that in 1873 there was a move to split this area from Louisiana and have it annexed to Texas, an effort that ended when the deadly yellow fever epidemic struck Shreveport. But how many know that the capital of Texas was once in Louisiana? As bizarre as that sounds, it is true, and it was located only about 70 miles from what is now Shreveport.
Los Adaes, near Natchitoches, was the capital of the Spanish territory of Tejas, as Texas was then known. Fourteen territorial governors ruled over the Tejas colony from the Sabine Parish fort between the years 1722 and 1772. This is the story.
For many years France and Spain vied for control over the vast territory of Louisiana. The boundary between Louisiana and Texas was never firm during the period of the French domination of Louisiana, and both nations continually claimed the portions of the other’s land as their own. To defend against the Spanish, the French built a fortified settlement at Natchitoches in 1714, Fort St. Jean-Baptiste. It is from this fort’s establishment that the city of Natchitoches claims its founding date.
Nearby, in 1722, the Spanish, defending their claim to much of the same land claimed by the French, built the Presidio Nuestra Senora de Pilar Los Adaes, a hexagonal fortress 115 feet long on each side. Bulwarks were built on three alternating corners, each defended by two cannons. Around the whole fortress ran a protective ditch or moat. Nearby a mission church was built – the mission of San Miguel de Cuellar de Los Adaes.
Los Adaes, as the fort is known, was made the capital of Texas. Within three years the logs from which the fortress was built began to rot, owning to the damp climate of the area. Gov. Fernando Perez de Almazan, who presided over Texas from there, found the wooded, sweltering, humid, rainy, mosquito-infested climate so inhospitable that he finally left for San Antonio, appointing Lt. Gov. Melcher de Mediavilla u Azcona commandant in his absent. Mediavilla y Azcona rebuilt the entire fortress using heavy timber rather than logs.
In 1728, the number of troops defending the presidio was reduced from 100 to a mere 60. Still, the place remained the seat of government for the Texas territory. The population of Texas has been steadily increasing for a number of years and had seen a great jump during the 1720s. Much of Texas remained unopened and unexplored, especially East Texas, where Los Adaes was situated. The growth of the population was occurring on the other side of the territory, especially in the area around San Antonio and what had formerly been known as the colony of San Fernando de Bexar. Frequently – indeed, more frequently than not – the governor would reside officially at Los Adaes but actually spend most of his time at San Antonio.
East Texas began to fall into decline by the 1730s, though the proximity of Los Adaes to the French fort at Natchitoches made it expedient to retain. Ironically, Los Adaes, being isolated as it was from any other Spanish settlement, became dependent upon the French at Natchitoches for its supplies. Though the French and Spanish forts were near one another and existed primarily to protect each nation’s interests in the region from aggression by the other, the two populations actually got along quite well.
In 1730, Fort St. Jean-Baptiste was attacked by some 400 Indians who kept Natchitoches in a state of siege for 22 days. It was the Spaniards from the Presidio Los Adaes who came to the French outpost’s recue, driving the Indians back and rescuing the besieged Frenchmen.
By the mid-1730s, conditions at Los Adaes were deteriorating. Although officially forbidden by decree from trading with the French, the Spanish had no choice but to continue doing so. Unfortunately, the French, who controlled the rich farmlands around Natchitoches, pushed grain prices so high that the Spaniards could not afford to buy, depending upon the meager produce of nearby missions for sustenance. By 1737, the presidio was described as “a cattle pen” by Gov. Carlos Benites Franquis de Lugo.
Thins improved when, in 1741, the law was changed to allow the Spanish to buy food from the nearby French. In 1744 the influential French commandant of Natchitoches, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, died. In 1752 the Spanish junta general, meeting in Mexico City, proposed raising the rank of the Los Adaes to that of Vera Curz, which would have opened the door for establishing a permanent city at the location. The proposal, however, narrowly failed.
No engagements between the Spanish and the French occurred at Los Adaes. Rather a sort of Cold War-like stalemate existed for the next 50 years the presidio remained the Texas Capital. In 1763, France ceded Louisiana to Spain and the stalemate ended. On Sept. 10, 1772, the capital was transferred from Los Adaes to San Antonio. In 1773 most of the roughly 500 Spanish settlers in the area left for San Antonio and Arroyo del Cibolo. A few remained and a few returned, but by the 1780s Nacogdoches had supplanted Los Adaes as the center of Spanish life in East Texas.
In 1800, Louisiana returned to French hands and in 1803 was sold to the United States. In 1806 Spanish troops reoccupied Los Adaes but were quickly driven back by the Americans. The United States claimed the land on which Los Adaes is situated; Spain claimed it also. The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 settled the matter. Spanish land grants were honored by the United States under the terms of the treaty and Los Adaes, once the capital of Texas, ended up firmly within the state of Louisiana.