The better part of the 18th century in North America was a succession of one colonial uprising after another. The fact that most of these engagements took place along the eastern seaboard makes it hard to imagine how or why the tiny Spanish colony of La Bahía could play a pivotal role in the most important of these colonial wars, the American Revolution.
As time will testify, Presidio La Bahía has continually defied “the norm.” Long after many of Spain’s once-grand New World fortresses have crumbled to the ground, the walls and bastions of Presidio La Bahía still stand high, and the call to mass can still be heard from the doors of Our Lady of Loreto chapel. So it’s no surprise that this unlikeliest of places would hold so much value during the American Revolution.
Spain and England had been at odds long before the American colonies decided to free themselves from the grip of a British monarchy. By the end of the French and Indian War, the British had acquired land as far south and west as the Mississippi River, where it bordered Spanish Louisiana. In addition, Spain had traded Florida to the English in order to re-attain Cuba, having lost possession during the British invasion of Havana in 1762.
Initially, trade routes were established between the Spanish and English, but by the early 1770’s there was sufficient evidence to suggest that British traders, who were in truth spies, had made their way into the Spanish provinces of Texas, and even New Mexico. To the King of Spain, it was clear that England was fully intent on taking over all of New Spain’s northern possessions.
Back in the American colonies, a full-on revolution was underway. A formal declaration of independence was decreed on July 4, 1776, and colonist-filled militias began taking the battle to the British. But what the American colonist’s possessed in motivation they lacked in weapons, food, supplies, and money. These things Spain could provide, and did, eventually joining the war effort on June 21, 1779, when King Carlos III officially declared war on Great Britain.
With the declaration of war on England, Spain’s support of the American colonies intensified. At the same time, Spanish Texas, and Presidio La Bahía in particular, began to play a pivotal role in the now massive war effort. Bernardo de Gálvez was the newly appointed governor of Spanish Louisiana and had the task of protecting the Gulf Coast from an English threat of invasion. To do so, Gálvez and his men would need a reliable food supply. This need would result in the first cattle drive to emanate from Texas.
Ranching was the main source of income for Tejano landowners and citizens of La Bahía. Cattle outnumbered people by the tens of thousands, and were so abundant that it was impossible to brand and corral all of the cattle belonging to area ranchers and surrounding missions. The likelihood of an ambush attack by any number of local native tribes was a constant concern as well, and did in fact happen on this first cattle drive.
Despite all of the difficulties, the cattle drive was a success and very instrumental to the war effort. Gálvez’s forces garnered victories over the British at Baton Rouge, Manchac, Mobile, Natchez, and Pensacola during the period between September 1779 and May 1881. It’s hard to determine the impact of La Bahía’s cattle in terms of battles won or lost. But as the maxim goes, “An army marches on its stomach”.
The roll of Presidio La Bahía and the citizens of the community throughout the struggle for American independence must never be forgotten. The soldiers and ranchers who embarked on the first cattle drive are forever veterans of the American Revolution. In addition to the cattle given to the war effort, the civilian inhabitants were obliged to make monetary donations at the urging of their King. Given the difficulty of life on the frontier those funds could have gone a long way in aiding these families at home. Nonetheless these sacrifices were made and Presidio La Bahía’s place in the history of the American Revolution is forever sealed.