For decades the Spanish legacy penetrated territories that currently form a part of the United States through a series of trails called the Royal Roads. Originally, these trails connected two capitals, but in time the term was used to designate routes that connected settlements that boasted certain relevance. Today the U.S. National Park Service manages these trails.
The “Camino Real de Tierra Adentro” (Royal Inland Road)
It was the most important of all the Royal Roads and it connected Mexico City and Santa Fe in New Mexico. In its 2560 kilometers (1600 miles) it passed through cities such as Juarez, El Paso, and Albuquerque. It was popularly known as the “Santa Fe Road” and also as the “Silver Road”.
Every three years, the Viceroyalty of New Spain organized the so-called “conducta”, a long ox-drawn overland caravan in which friars, families and a military escort travelled, transporting seeds, plants, furniture, musical instruments, implements, paper, ink and so on - as well a good number of heads of cattle - everything new colonists needed to settle those borderlands.
The trip lasted six months and crossed the arid lands north of the viceroyalty: Querétaro, Zacatecas, Durango and Chihuahua. At El Paso, it crossed the Rio Grande and finally arrived at Santa Fe, its destination. Flash flooding or extreme drought, as in the notorious “Jornada del Muerto”, the “dead man’s day-long route”, a stretch of a hundred kilometers without a single spring, put both men and livestock to the test.
What’s more, they had to face groups of organized bandits that would ambush and attack the caravan as they left Mexico.
The journey itself became an epic tale in its own right. It became the main implementation route of the Spanish presence in the borderlands, and the vehicle by which tangible and intangible Hispanic culture entered the southwest United States.
The "Camino Real de los Tejas" (Royal Road to Texas)
As its name indicates, this was the route by which Spanish colonists entered the territory of Texas. Its length exceeded 4,000 km (2,500 miles).
The "Camino Real de los Tejas" was created to join a series of Spanish missions and posts between Monclova (Mexico) and Los Adaes, the first capital of the province of Texas, in what is today the north of Louisiana. The most important section linked San Antonio, the capital, with the edge of Los Adaes.
This road delivered the supplies needed by the Spanish inhabitants of Los Adaes, an area that served as a frontier against French interests in Louisiana. It was thus a route of decisive importance for sustaining the Spanish presence in Texas, along which missionaries, soldiers and merchants travelled as well as the heads of cattle that would become the area’s first herds of livestock.
The “Camino Real de los Tejas” branched off into two trails: the “Camino de Arriba”, the Upper Road, and the Camino de Abajo, the Lower Road, which ran between El Paso and San Antonio. In reality, both were a tributary of the famous and busy Royal Inland Road linking the Mexican capital with Santa Fe.
The Juan Bautista de Anza Trail
Juan Bautista de Anza was an outstanding figure of the Spanish frontier in North America. He was one of the first renowned Spanish explorers born in Mexico. He opened an inland route to California, reaching the area that is today San Francisco, and pacified Indian tribes.
He was one of the great military and political talents of the so-called frontier territory. He obtained permission to open an overland route between Sonora and California.
After that, he transported a group of 240 colonists and a thousand animals over the new route, and all arrived unharmed. He left the colonists in the San Gabriel Mission and travelled to San Francisco Bay, where he chose a site for a mission and a “presidio”, thus becoming the founder of what was to be a great city and a symbol for the whole world.
As Governor of New Mexico, he managed to establish lasting peace with the local tribes, after a brilliant military campaign in which he defeated Chief Greenhorn’s Comanches, compelling the Apaches, Sioux, Navajos and other Indian peoples sign a peace treaty with the Spanish. This was the so-called “Anza Peace”, which lasted until the end of the Spanish era in the southwestern United States.
Autor — Borja Cardelús ©. Para el Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación del Gobierno de España. www.borjacardelus.com
Créditos de las ilustraciones y de las fotografías © — Borja Cardelús, Eshter Merchán, Bernardo Lara, Juan Carlos Arbex