1513 - 1821

Spanish Trails in the United States

Spanish Legacy in the United States of America

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”.

Map of the "Camino Real de Tierra Adentro" between Mexico and Santa Fe, as drawn by Alexander von Humboldt. 
The caravans on the "Camino Real" introduced in the southwestern United States all of the ingredients of their Spanish cultural heritage: families, livestock, horses, plants, seeds and more.

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.

Journeys on the "Camino Real de Tierra Adentro" lasted six months and travelers were exposed to all kinds of hazards that put their lives at risk.  
Indians kept a close eye on the caravans in order to exploit any mistakes and to steal horses. 

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 road was fraught with danger. Every night, the wagons formed a circle to protect people and property.

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).

Path of the "Camino Real de los Tejas". It was a branch of the "Camino Real de Tierra Adentro" towards Texas, and it also branched off into two trails, the Upper Road and the Lower Road.

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.

Los Adaes was the limit of Spanish territory in Texas. Beyond it lay the territory of Louisiana.
Texas’ formidable wealth in livestock had its origins in this trail.
Everything families needed to settle was transported on wagons.

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.

Mule-drawn wagon on the "Camino Real de los Tejas".

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.

Course of the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail between Sonora and California.

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.

The Juan Bautista de Anza route has been declared a National Historic Trail. It was the route followed by the great explorer to transport a party of colonists to California.
Juan Bautista de Anza, combining military with political strategy, managed to do what none of his predecessors had achieved: pacify the warlike Indians of the frontier region. This was the “Anza Peace".

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.

On his way to California, Anza masterfully overcame obstacles such as the crossing of the Gila and Colorado Rivers and the Sierra Nevada.
San Gabriel Mission in California, Anza used the new route to lead all the colonists there without suffering any losses.

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.

Credits: Story

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

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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