The entrada, the formal expedition, opened up Texas: the military was usually led the expedition, with the gold and blue banners of Empire and King and of Our Lady of Guadalupe unfurled and held aloft by mounted cavalrymen. Behind the cavalry came cloaked and sandaled missionaries wearing and carrying crosses, foot soldiers in blue and red uniforms, and military wives in long billowing dresses, walking and often leading small children or carrying babies Then followed the heavily-laden carts, pulled by oxen, piled high with supplies, and with water barrels strapped on. When the carts bogged down in sand or mud, the settlers and even the missionaries would put hands to the wheels to get them moving again.
The entrada, brought about by Spanish fear of the French, dating back to the 1680s, stirred the vice regal government of La Nueva Espana to action. Between 1709 and 1722 as many as seven expeditions made their way from Mexico across Texas, pitching camp on the green banks of the San Antonio, before moving eastward to the French frontier.
The entrada was uniquely Spanish, created to explore, expand and assert possession of claim in the New World, particularly Texas. While the royal treasury did sometimes aid or completely finance an expedition, most were funded with private money. All expeditions were professionally organized, sometimes taking years to gear into action.
The formal entrada was composed of military, religious and civilian divisions. The military was responsible for protection against outside forces, usually hostile Indians. The priests and missionaries served the spiritual needs of the expedition. They kept detailed written accounts of the journey, and dealt with the Indians with the aim of Christianizing and civilizing them, bringing them into the fold of the Spanish king.
The civilian segment consisted of families of the soldiers, the settlers and adventurers.
Moving across country, the entrada presented a curious spectacle to the peaceful Indians of the river. It announced itself with the noise and music of a great movement of people and domesticated animals, of creaking wooden-wheeled carts, leather trappings, metal armor, and the shouts, sometimes singing, of its members. It moved in a long, wide line, cumbersome and awkward-looking, stretching out across the plains for as much as a mile when cattle wandered off in search of greener grass.
The most important of the early entradas arrived at the San Antonio River on April 13, 1709, to rest and take on water before moving eastward. In the religious sector of that expedition was the Franciscan missionary Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares, who was so pleased by the river site and the friendly Payayas encamped there, that he began a campaign to build a mission on the banks of the San Antonio.
Olivares zealously wrote letters, petitions and proposals to both the viceroy in Mexico City and to the Spanish king. Finally he was given an audience by the powerful viceroy, Don Baltazar de Zuniga, the Marques de Valero.
The importance of the expedition was expressed in the funding—generous salaries for the soldiers, plus extra money that allowed for the purchase of men’s and ladies shoes, and silk hose for men. The captain's gifts for the Indians included blankets, blue and red woolen cloth, butcher knives, pocket knives, beads of various colors, medals and ribbons, strong tobacco and tall hats.
In the supply train were guns, powder, swords, saddles, bridles and military equipment. Heavily-laden carts pulled by oxen were piled high with sacks of seed for planting, along with fruit cuttings for pomegranate and fig trees. Water barrels were strapped on.
Captain Ramon and Father Espinosa, who had been leaders of the expedition in 1709, predicted the future of Olivares' river. They reported on the supply of water which "reached up to our stirrups" when crossing the river and would be "sufficient for a mission, a city."
Over the next two years, with Olivares persisting, the plans to build his mission on the banks of the San Antonio took shape.
In the detailed recommendations of the Fiscales, the Spanish commission which authorized and funded entradas, the river mission was envisioned as a supply depot for Spanish operations in Texas, but it was also seen as a spot from which "watch could be kept" on any attempt by the French to take possession of the bay into which the river emptied before flowing on into the Gulf of Mexico.
--Mary Ann Noonan Guerra,
excerpted from: The San Antonio River,
(San Antonio: The Alamo Press, 1987)