SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The first capital of Texas wasn’t in Texas at all. It was in northwest Louisiana.
Spain claimed Louisiana in 1541
But to understand how and why the Texas state capital wound up in Louisiana, you’ve got to go back to May of 1541.
Or it might have been the Atchafalaya River, a distributary of the Mississippi, that he named the River of the Holy Spirit. (Scholars have differing opinions.)
But regardless of which river he named after the Holy Trinity, things did not go well for de Soto afterward. Some rumors claim he died along the Mississippi (Rio del Espiritu Santo?) in what is now Arkansas, and other rumors boldly claim that de Soto died along the same river in Ferriday, Louisiana. (The land of Jerri Lee Lewis–yes, that Ferriday.)
Either way, de Soto became the first European explorer to die on an expedition to the lower Mississippi Valley, but he would not be the last.
DeSoto Parish in Louisiana is named after him.
And to this very day, Native American tribes such as the Chickasaw tell a different version of early colonization along the Gulf Coast than you’ll find in most American history books.
France claimed Louisiana in 1682
On April 9, 1682, a French explorer came down the Mississippi River (whatever name it went by at that moment is uncertain) and reached a place we now call the Bird Foot Delta.
Bird Foot is the spot where the Rio del Espiritu Santo (Mississippi River) splits in three directions and empties into the Golfo de la Nueva Espana (Gulf of Mexico.)
That French explorer was Rene-Robert Cavalier de La Salle, who immediately claimed the river and everything that drained into it. He called the place La Louisiane.
(Never mind that Spain had already claimed the Rio del Espiritu Santo.)
(And never mind that native tribes had been living upon the lands for more than 10,000 years before Europeans arrived.)
So, in the spirit of ignoring the people who came before him, La Salle claimed the Mississippi River drainage system for the French King.
All was fine and dandy until La Salle tried to return later with French colonists and couldn’t find the Mississippi River. Image not being able to find the river that 15% of North America and 41% of the modern-day continental United States empties into.
La Salle’s colony failed for many reasons, one being that he somehow managed to lose the river and then wandered around in the wilderness with his colonists for so long that some of them decided to kill him.
LaSalle Parish in Louisiana was named after him.
French and Spanish Louisiana in the 1700s
The French pushed forward in the 1700s, building a series of forts across the Gulf south. By the end of 1700, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville explored the Riviere Rouge (Red River) and befriended the Caddo Indians.
By 1714, the French were building a fort near the Riviere Rouge (Red River) in what we now call Natchitoches. They called it Fort St. Jean Baptiste, and the mere existence of the French fort on Spanish lands hacked off the Spanish government.
And so the Spaniards, who had been almost exclusively focused on lands other than the region quickly turning into French Louisiane, devised a plan. The Spanish state of Tejas, not to be confused with the Mexican state of Tejas, which came later, decided to build a Spanish fort quite close to the new French fort called Fort St. Jean Baptiste.
The Spanish also built a Franciscan mission, which is the fancy way of stating that they built a mildly fortified Catholic church to aid in the conversion of the nearby natives.
Then, in 1719, the Franciscan Mission San Miguel was attacked (near Natchitoches), and Spain buckled down. They built a hexagonal stockade with three bulwarks at Los Adaes (Fort of Our Lady of Pilar at the Adaes.)
By 1729, Spain chose Los Adaes as the first capital of the province of Tejas, making the fort the residence of the governor of Tejas. A home was built inside of the fort, and Los Adaes remained the capital of Tejas for 44 years.
Los Adaes is now a historic site in the State of Louisiana, and it’s an exciting place. French, Spanish, and indigenous peoples in the area traded with one another.
And for a while, the very first capital of Texas was a rural little fort in Louisiana.
It was so rural that the nearest Spanish supply post was 800 miles away. There were constant shortages, but the Spanish forbade trade with the nearby French. So what did the Spanish do? They did what was necessary for survival. The French and the Spanish in no-man’s-land, which was really every-man’s-land according to some, decided they would ignore the law(s) that banned them from trading.
The French and Spaniards even intermarried.
Life must have been interesting because they had different names for almost everything. For example–the French called the Red River the Riviera Rouge. The Spanish called it either Rio Rojo or Rio Colorado. (Rojo and colorado are different shades of red.)
Years later, the Americans would buy the land and settle the debate. The river wouldn’t be called Riviera Rouge or Rio Rojo. It would be named the Red River. As generations passed, the name became spoken with an extreme southern drawl: rehhh-ud rihhh-vurrr. Not so much as an ounce of the French or Spanish accents are left in the pronunciation of that name, either.
But the descendants of the French and Spanish are all around us today. And so are some of the descendants of those who once lived in Los Adaes, the first capital of Tejas, near the Rehhh-ud Rihhh-vurr in northwest Louisiana.