- Vagabonds along the Spanish Louisiana-Texas Frontier, 1769-1803: "Men Who are Evil, Lazy, Gluttonous, Drunken, Libertinous, Dishonest, Mutinous, etc. etc. etc—And Those are Their Virtues"
- Southwestern Historical Quarterly
- Texas State Historical Association
- Volume 113, Number 4, April 2010
- pp. 438-467
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Hundreds of nomadic vagabonds wandered throughout the hunting and trading regions of Lower Louisiana and Texas in the colonial period. The area displayed here includes lands currently in the adjoining states ofTexas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Vagabonds alongtheSpanishLouisiana-TexasFrontier, 1769-1803: "Men Who areEvil, Lazy, Gluttonous, Drunken, Libertinous, Dishonest, Mutinous, etc. etc. etc—And Those are Their Virtues" By H. Sophie Burton* In August 18, 1769, don Alejandro O'Reilly, an Irishman in the service of the King of Spain, took military possession of New Orleans and in the following months introduced Spanish laws to the previously French-held colony of Louisiana. A number of O'Reilly's regulations concerned the Indian trade that provided pelts, horses, cattle, and Indian captives—items mostly obtained from Native American tribes living in Spanish Texas—to the port of New Orleans. The new rules, which applied to the interior posts, required that the traders return to the posts to acquire a license from Spanish officials in order to conduct legal commerce and prohibited the sale ofcustomary items such as livestock from Texas. The rules affected the livelihood and personal lives of the several hundred Euroamerican men who participated in the formerly unregulated Indian trade. Two such workers,Jacques Riddé dit Bellefleur and his assistant,Joseph Maloin, traders at the Yatasi Caddo Indian village located near the official post of Natchitoches on the Red River, reacted with alarm at the news of the Spanish regulations. A recent immigrant from Quebec, Maloin, a stonecutter who did not "live in any one place, but rather wandered in search of employment," reluctantly returned to Natchitoches as ordered. He testified that Bellefleur refused to return to the post because his employer "feared the Spanish would not want them to * Dr. Helen Sophie Burton lives in Dallas and wrote a dissertation at Texas Christian University that became the co-written book, Colonial Natchitoches: A Creole Community on the Louisiana-Texas Frontier. The author is grateful to Todd Smith, Guy Chet, Light Cummins, Mike Campbell, Don Chipman, and Ryan Schumacher for üieir encouragement and editorial corrections. Vol. CXIII, No. 4 Southwestern Historical QuarterlyApril 2010 440Southwestern Historical QuarterlyApril trade with the Indians, and he would not be able to earn his livelihood anymore." Instead, Bellefleur opted to remain in the wilderness to hunt in the Ouachita and Arkansas River basins.1 To a large extent, Bellefleur was correct, for Spanish Bourbon policies in the late eighteenth century were directed toward developing stable plantation agriculture and ranching in Lower Louisiana to the detriment of the Indian trade and its workers. As a result, Spanish officials in Louisiana and Texas lumped rank-and-file Indian trade workers and hunters into a category ofundesirables known as "vagabonds." In the 1769 Spanish census ofLouisiana, these "ambulant people who say that they are inhabitants, but who frequently change where they live" constituted about one-fifth (533 of 2,708, or 20.4 percent) of the colony's Euroamerican population. Despite officials' continued attempts to force the wanderers to setüe down with families and raise crops, vagabondage persisted for the rest ofthe eighteenth century. In 1789, the commandant of the post at Natchitoches, Louis de Blanc, complained of the "general crowd of ambulant people in this post of my command as well as the posts ofthis province and Texas and Indian nations ofbothjurisdictions."2 In the late eighteenth century, Spanish officials lamented the presence of poor, rootless vagabonds, inordinately fearing them as a threat to order and stability. As a result, they used strong language to accuse the Indian trade workers and hunters of Louisiana and Texas of the most extreme behavior. Teodoro de Croix, an official from New Spain, complained thatTexas remained underdeveloped because ofthe Indian traders' laxity of conduct, which included "theft, incontinence, scandalous concubinage, prohibited games and drinking, and the lenience with which many vicious, slothful, idle, and vagabond persons have been allowed to establish themselves and live, with no other purpose than that ofpropagating and extending their perverse habits." Another Commandant at Natchitoches, Athanase de Mézières, despised 1 Alejandro O'Reilly toJerónimo Grimaldi, Marqués de Grimaldi, Dec. ??, 1769, in Spain in the Mississippi Valley, Ij6;-iyg4, ed...