José de Escandón: The Classical Creation of a Conquistador
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Spain’s final thorough colonization in North America occurred on the northern fringes of its empire. The man who carried out this great effort was José de Escandón, Spain’s last conquistador in New Spain. Escandón not only pacified the Sierra Gorda in north-central Mexico, he explored, conquered, and colonized the area of northeast Mexico and South Texas known as the Seno Mexicano. His life reflected the ideal career path of an 18th century peninsular in the New World. Building upon family connections, Escandón embarked on a military life that lead to prosperous careers in commerce, the colonial bureaucracy, and colonization. He successfully carried out military and colonization campaigns where others failed, employing the dual principles of generosity and iron-willed discipline. The pacification of the Sierra Gorda and the colonization of the vast Seno Mexicano were great feats, yet history books typically mention José de Escandón and his accomplishments only in passing. The impression is that Escandón appeared from nowhere and was almost irrelevant. In reality, his efforts began a process that has resulted in the creation of what has become one of the most dynamic regions in Texas. Here is a man whose previous efforts in royal service and for personal gain positioned him to conquer South Texas and northern Mexico on behalf of his Crown, Church and fellow Spaniards. In the end, Escandón’s personal and public success did not make him immune from a fate that befell many of the conquistadors who preceded him; the trinity he served faithfully turned against him.