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The chronicle of encounters over decades and centuries tells the story of a city’s beginnings and emergence.

BEGINNING IN THE 1680s, 160 years after the conquest of Mexico, several Spanish expeditions entered the still uncharted interior of Texas from Mexico to counter French activity in East Texas and along the Gulf Coast. On June 13, 1691, an expedition led by Governor Domingo Terán arrived at a Payaya Indian ranchería on a beautiful spring-fed river. The Indians called the place Yanaguana. The Spanish named the river San Antonio because it was the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. Eighteen years later, when the next Spanish expedition, with Capitán Pedro de Aguirre and Fray Antonio Olivares, visited the area on April 13, 1709, it stopped at a lush spring just west of the river and named it San Pedro Springs. Nine years later the viceroy of New Spain, the Marqués de Valero, authorized Governor Martín de Alarcón to establish a way station on the San Antonio River between Mission San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande and Spanish missions in East Texas.

The Alarcón expedition arrived along the creek flowing from San Pedro Springs in late April 1718 and selected a site for Mission San Antonio de Valero, which was turned over to Franciscan missionary Fray Antonio Olivares on May 1. Four days later Alarcón founded the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar near the springs. These events marked the establishment of the isolated settlement that survived, grew, and prospered to become the City of San Antonio and Bexar County.

 

Courtesy: John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, R.I.

In the late 1600s the Spanish mounted several expeditions across the Rio Grande to the eastern edge of New Spain, founding missions and presidios to counter the French and to convert the natives to Christianity. This map, by presidial commander Luis Antonio Menchaca in 1764, shows the San Antonio community from the headwaters of the river to its confluence with the Medina River.

Painting: Theodore Gentilz; Courtesy: San Antonio Museum of Art.

Following establishment of the mission and presidio and the arrival of more settlers, Spanish officials allocated land for homes and farms. The community’s first surveyors used ropes and rocks to measure and mark lot boundaries, while in later years more sophisticated instruments were used including the surveyor’s cross depicted in this historical painting.

Drawing: José Cisneros; Courtesy: University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

Spanish expeditions into Texas generally included Franciscan priests who established missions for the indigenous population, soldiers who established presidios to protect the missions, and Indian guides and laborers. New Spain included all of modern Mexico, most of Central America, and the American Southwest.