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Early History Of Victoria, Texas

In 1530, only 38 short years after Columbus made his historic voyage, a Spanish expedition was shipwrecked in the Gulf of Mexico and the survivors landed on the coast of Texas.  Because of the abundance of stately pecan trees, the Guadalupe River was given the name of "The River of Nuts".  The leader of the expedition was Cabeza de Vaca.  Fortunately, of the four main Indian tribes which he encountered in the area, the Lipans and the Toncahuas were friendly and helped the Spanish castaways recover their health.  Later, the expedition led by de Vaca made its way to California and then returned to Spain.  Indications are that Cabeza de Vaca was the first white man to ever set foot in Texas.

A tiny fort was established by Robert de La Salle and named for his king - Fort St. Louis.  Hostile Indians and disease forced La Salle to abandon the fort, but not before the news of this French foothold had reached Spain.  This caused much consternation at the Spanish court, and word was sent to Mexico.  "Locate and get rid of the French."  This was more easily said than done.  It took four attempts before an expedition led by Captain Alonzo De León got through to this area, rediscovered our river, and named it for the patron saint of Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe, in 1689.

In 1722, the Spanish established a mission and a fort for its protection on the site of old Fort St. Louis, thus reclaiming the soil for Spain.  But Indians and disease were too much for the Spanish, and both the mission and the fort were moved to a valley on the Guadalupe River, where there was only irrigation and cattle raising.  This area is today known as Mission Valley and is located just northwest of Victoria.  Later, the mission and fort were moved to a place on the San Antonio River, the site of today's city of Goliad.  Permanent buildings were erected and visitors to Goliad can visit the mission, which has been restored to its original state.  The chapel was also restored, and services are conducted regularly.  This mission, called La Bahia, played a prominent part in the Texas Revolution.

Neither the French nor the Spanish settlements made a permanent impression on the area.  It was left to Martín De León to change forever this vast and virgin countryside.  The year was 1805 and many things were happening.  The United States had won its freedom from England, the French monarchy had been overthrown, and Spain's most important colony in Mexico had thrown off the Spanish yoke.  Permission to establish a settlement with the official name of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Victoria was granted, but following Texas Independence the name was shortened to Victoria.

The boundaries of De León’s colony included parts of Jackson, Calhoun, DeWitt and Victoria counties, located roughly between the lower Guadalupe River and the Lavaca River.  The seat of government was located on the banks of the Guadalupe River in 1824 on a 640 acre grant, and the original city plot was one of the first in Texas to show a site for a school.  There were eight Anglo-American families of good standing and of Catholic Faith.  Each colonist received one league of land and a town lot, and the colony prospered.  In 1829, De León obtained a contract to bring 150 families.  His death and a cholera epidemic of 1833 prevented this.

De León's first task was to plan his city which was laid out in accordance with his knowledge of European and Mexican cities. Of prime importance was the market square used by itinerant traders and local settlers.  Today Victoria's City Hall stands on the old market square.  Apparently, De León's best friends lived on our present Main Street because it was originally named La Calle de Los Diez Amigos - "The Street of Ten Friends".  It was not until after the Texas Revolution that Victoria started taking on its Anglo-American characteristics.  Under the Republic of Texas, Victoria County was created on May 17, 1836, with the City of Victoria for the county seat.