The Texas Connection to the American Revolution
People all over the world (thanks to Hollywood movies and television) know about the great Texas longhorn cattle drives from South Texas, to the rail-heads in Kansas and elsewhere during the years following the Civil War. Very few people, however, are aware of the fact that Texas longhorns were trailed by Spanish Texans nearly one hundred years before that time. A few historians have written about the Texas cattle drives to Louisiana in 1779, but only recently has their main purpose been discovered, which makes them doubly significant.
The first formally authorized cattle drives out of Texas went east, and their purpose was to provide food for the Spanish forces of General Bernardo de Gálvez (after whom Galveston, TX is named), who fought and defeated the British all along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida during the American Revolution.
After the Battle of Saratoga (1777), France, Spain, and Holland joined the American colonists in their "David and Goliath" fight against Great Britain. When Spain declared war against Great Britain on May 8, 1779, King Carlos III commissioned Louisiana Governor Bernardo de Gálvez to raise and lead Spanish forces in a campaign against the British. Gálvez was successful in raising an impressive army that swelled to seven thousand by 1781.
Then as now, the military axiom that “an army travels on its stomach” held true. Gálvez knew where there was a veritable “travelling commissary” for his troops—on the Spanish ranches in the San Antonio River Valley. Gálvez sent an emissary, Francisco García, with a letter to the new Texas Governor Domingo Cabello, both requesting and formally authorizing the first official cattle drive out of Texas. García arrived in San Antonio de Béxar on June 20, 1779 (the day before Spain formally declared war against England).
By August, two thousand head of Texas cattle, gathered from the ranchos of the missions and private citizens in the Béxar-La Bahia region, were on their way to Gálvez's army in Louisiana.
During the remainder of the American Revolution (1779-1782), some ten to fifteen thousand head of Texas cattle were rounded up on the ranchos along the San Antonio River to Presidio La Bahia, where they were organized into trail herds. From there, this cattle migration moved northeastward to Nacogdoches, Natchitoches, and then to Opelousas for distribution to Gálvez's awaiting forces.
Guiding these massive columns of Longhorns were Spanish Texas rancheros, their vaqueros, as well as some of the mission Indians. Escorting both man and beast were soldiers from Presidio San Antonio de Béxar, El Fuerte del Cibolo, and Presidio La Bahia, as well as hundreds of horses that were also sent along for Gálvez's cavalry and artillery needs. Evidence also shows that soldiers from Texas were recruited to fight with the Spanish army.
Because of these important supplies and support, the Spanish campaign along the Gulf region and along the Mississippi River, in particular, was able to defeat the British in battles at Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez. The momentum was so great that Spanish support for American troops in the Illinois Country under George Rogers Clark were greatly benefited, just as they were launching successful attacks on British outposts.
Early in 1780, after a month-long siege by land and sea, Gálvez, with more than two thousand men under his command, captured the British stronghold of Fort Charlotte at Mobile on March 14, 1780.
The climax to the Gulf Coast campaign occurred the following year when Gálvez directed a two-pronged land and sea attack on Pensacola, the British capital of West Florida. More than seven thousand men, including a part of the French fleet, were involved in the two month siege of Fort George before its capture on May 10, 1781.
Success is often acquired through details and timing, which is why the "Texas Connection to the American Revolution" was the much needed food supply that fueled one of the most successful military campaigns on the North American continent. Without Texas beef, one can only wonder how the dominoes of history may have fallen differently.