Early Attempt at Colonization of Future DeWitt Colony of Texas
The Villa de San Marcos de Neve
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Amid the distrust and xenophobia toward immigrants from the new United States of the North by Texas Governor Elguezábal and Commandante of the Provincias Internas Nemecio Salcedo, Manuel Antonio Cordero y Bustamante was appointed acting governor. Cordero was a visionary who realized the necessity of settling and developing the vast territory of Texas. His vision was a settlement at the crossings of the major rivers with El Camino Real or the Bexar-Nacogdoches Road between Bexar and Nacogdoches. This included San Telesforo at the Brazos, Santísima Trinidad de Salcedo on the Trinity and San Marcos de Neve on the Guadalupe. An elaborate system for administration of land titles and government was laid out which was the precursor of the colonization laws under Mexico and empresario contracts after 1821. Similar to the later trend of that period, immigrants from the United States, both legal and illegal, far exceeded those from the south. An early attempt at colonization of the area with Spanish settlers from the south that spanned a significant part of future DeWitt Colony from the crossing of the San Antonio-Bexar Road on the San Marcos to the conjunction of the San Marcos and the Guadalupe Rivers at current Gonzales was led by Nuevo Santander resident, Felipe Roque de la Portilla. De la Portilla was a personal friend of Acting Governor Cordero and later the father-in-law of empresario James Power by marriage to daughters María Dolores Portilla and Tomasa. He was an influential figure in later years in the Power and Hewetson Colony.
Establishment of the colony was described in detail in Our Catholic Heritage in Texas by historian Carlos Castañeda.
Establishment of the Villa de San Marcos de Neve
Governor Cordero had not forgotten his proposed settlement on the Guadalupe, which Salcedo had authorized when he approved the plans for Trinidad de Salcedo. Villa de San Marcos de Neve was to be located at or near the point where the Camino Real (Royal Highway) crossed the Guadalupe River. But the problems of 1806---Burr's conspiracy, Wilkinson's dubious activities, Trinidad de Salcedo's difficulties, and American immigration prevented Cordero from giving much attention to this second project.
The unpleasant experience with the villa in East Texas had convinced even the enthusiastic Cordero that it might be better to try to secure settlers from the interior of Mexico for Villa de San Marcos de Neve. The struggling and thinly populated outposts of northern New Spain seemed to offer an unpromising source from which to draw recruits for the hazardous undertaking. But after prolonged negotiations with Felipe Roque de la Portilla, of Nuestra Señora del Refugio (a recently founded settlement in Nuevo Santander, located where Matamoros stands today), a group of about sixteen families set out in December, 1807, to found the new villa. In accord with the terms agreed upon, Cordero furnished the settlers with the necessary supplies, and sent a guard to the Nueces to escort the pioneers to their destination.
The caravan proceeded by way of San Antonio along the Camino Real to the crossing on the San Marcos River, located a few miles above its confluence with the Guadalupe, probably just below the modern city of San Marcos. Here they began to build the new villa. Governor Cordero proudly reported on January 6, 1808, that Villa de San Marcos de Neve had been established. Lieutenant Juan Ignacio Arrambide, Carrasco's successor in charge of Trinidad de Salcedo, was appointed Justicia of the new villa.
According to the census taken the following year, most of the settlers came from Refugio, Nuevo Santander, but there were a few from Mier, Béxar, Nacogdoches, Boca de Leones, and Camargo. The founders of the new villa deserve to be remembered, even though their efforts to hold the settlement permanently soon proved unavailing. The leader of the group, as previously stated, was Felipe Roque de la Portilla, a native of Spain, who was accompanied by his wife, María Ignacia de la Garza, a native of Mier, and his seven children: Juan Calixto, Juan, María Dolores, José Francisco, María Tomasa, Luciana, and María Monica. He brought 380 cattle, 388 mares, 200 mules, 20 horses (6 tame), and 25 donkeys. Arrambide granted Portilla a 30 by 60 vara lot on the main square and several sitios for a ranch, 12 leagues downstream.
Five of his ten herders were married men, but one of them, Manuel Landa, a native of Camargo, left his family at home in Nuevo Santander. Pedro Salazar brought his wife, María Ignacia Salinas; Basilio Gómez was accompanied by his wife, María Guadalupe; Santos Hernández took along his wife, Juliana Garcia, and their two children, José Sabas and Pedro José; and Jesusa Salas came with her husband, José María Castañeda. The bachelors in the group were Máximo and Estanislao, Salazar, Pedro and Francisco Gómez, and José Eleuterio. Portilla's party also included two housemaids, María Gregoria, a widow, and her daughter, María Ignacia.
Jesus Solis, a stockman from Refugio, and his herder, Nepomuceno Munguía, left their families in Nuevo Santander, and drove 180 head of cattle, 5 horses, and 3 mules to San Marcos de Neve. Solis' failure to bring his family seems to account for his not having been assigned either a lot for a home or lands for a ranch. He appears, however, to have been permitted to pasture his stock on the common lands until his family could come. But before he could take steps to have them join him, the whole project was abandoned.
Another settler of San Marcos de Neve was Mateo Gómez, who gave his age as 60 and his occupation as farming. He, too, was accompanied by his wife, María Josefa, and also a young Indian servant named María Rafaela. They had 6 cows, 2 yoke of oxen, and 3 horses, and received a 40 by 60 vara lot for a home, and land for cultivation.
Pedro Flores brought his wife, Rita de la Garza, and two children, José Felipe and José Bernardino. He drove 30 head of cattle and 2 oxen, 26 mares, 6 horses, and 12 mules. He was assigned a lot facing on the main square, and a grant of land for a ranch.
With his wife, Barbara Músquiz, and his two children, María Telesfora and María Matiana. Victorino Losoya, a carpenter from Béxar, joined the settlers in San Antonio. He had 6 oxen and 2 horses, and received a lot on the main square, on which he immediately built a house---one of the first in the new villa.
Also in San Antonio, the settlers were joined by Salvador Bermúdez, a bachelor, whose occupation as herder possibly explains his sole equipment, 2 saddle horses.
From distant Nacogdoches came Juan Soto, a laborer. At the time the caravan set out, he was living in San Antonio with his wife, Feliciana Rodriguez, a native of Béxar. They had four children: José Tomás, María Encarnación, José Soto, and José Lorenzo. He had Cesario Sánchez help him bring the 2 work horses and 2 yoke of oxen. Soto received a lot on the plaza, where he immediately built a home.
The town of Mier gave to the new settlement Juan Ramirez, his wife, Dolores de la Garza, and their three children: José Macedonia, María Nicolasa, and María Salomé. They brought 160 head of cattle, 22 horses, 16 mules, and 5 donkeys. Alejandro Peña, Manuel Barcenas, and Jesús Valdés, laborers, came with this family. They were granted a solar on the main square and land for a ranch. Francisco Farias, another cattleman from Mier, brought his two motherless children, María Petra and José Ignacio. He, too, was given a solar and land for his stock, 105 head of cattle and 7 horses. The third Mier family consisted of Gil Gómez, his wife, Antonia Garza, and one son, Santiago. They possessed 40 head of cattle, 8 mares, and 4 horses.
From San Antonio came José Salinas and his wife, Margil Chirina, with their two daughters, María Josefa and María Francisca. They received a solar on which they built a house, and land for their 40 head of cattle, 13 horses, 3 mares, and 97 sheep.
Pedro Gallego and his wife, María Michela, with their daughter, María de los Angeles, and a herder, Luis Villarreal, came from Boca de Leones with 45 cattle, 2 yoke of oxen, and 5 horses.
José María Carrillo had his wife and three children with him. He and his servant, Trinidad Montoya, drove 16 head of cattle, 1 yoke of oxen, and 2 horses from Boca de Leones.
La Bahia, noted for its cattle herds, contributed Juan Almontes; his herder, José María Garcia; and a servant, the widow, María Prudencia. His stock consisted Of 2 droves of mares, 28 horses, 5 donkeys, ii head of cattle, and 3 yoke of oxen.
Manuel Landa, a native of Camargo, who had helped Portilla drive his cattle, lived on the Portilla ranch 12 leagues down the river.
Shortly after the establishment of the new settlement, a bachelor, José Estevan Garcia, left Camargo to join the pioneers. It seems that he did not find much employment for his talents as a teacher in this community of cattle raisers, and left San Marcos before the end of the year to try his luck in Salcedo.
The new villa had a population of 82 persons. Its establishment cost the royal treasury much less than did Salcedo, only 79 pesos. But it appears that Governor Cordero personally invested a considerable sum in the enterprise, possibly for some selfish reason. According to the census records, the cattle and horses brought by Portilla belonged to the governor. He had agreed to finance another group of settlers, but was forced to inform Portilla in December, 1807, that he would be unable to fulfill his promise until he had received additional funds from Saltillo.
After the establishment of the Villa de San Marcos de Neve, Portilla contracted for the transportation of six more families from Nuevo Santander. Four of these families could boast servants; the other two, only numerous children. Cordero agreed to send an escort to meet them on the Nueces to accompany them to the new settlement." But it seems that they never came, for no new names were added to the list of settlers.
The details of the subsequent history of the villa are, indeed, meager. We catch only glimpses of hardships and tribulations. Shortly after the establishment, the poorer members of the settlement appealed to the Government for help and were given temporary relief in the hope that they would soon become self-supporting. Hardly had the struggling settlers begun to build their homes, however, when on June 5, 1808, a flood practically swept away the villa. The water roaring through the main square gave the inhabitants barely enough time to gain the surrounding hillsides. Serious doubts about the suitability of the location arose. Plans were presented for the removal of the villa to higher ground, but were never put into effect. To the many hardships of the settlers was added the constant fear of Indian attack, for the savages frequently raided the colony until it was finally abandoned in 1812.
John J. Linn in his Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas relates: