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  • General Alonso de León's Expeditions into Texas, 1686–1690 ed. by Lola Orellano Norris
  • Bradley Folsom
General Alonso de León's Expeditions into Texas, 1686–1690. Edited and translated by Lola Orellano Norris. ( College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2017. Pp. 256. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.)

From 1686 to 1690, Spain dispatched five expeditions under the command of General Alonso de León with orders to locate and destroy a recently established French colony in Texas. The assignment was difficult. Having largely ignored its northern frontier for the past century, the Spanish were unversed in Texas geography, were ill-informed about the customs and behaviors of its Indian inhabitants, and knew little about the French or their reasons for establishing a colony in Texas. This lack of knowledge frustrated Spanish efforts to track down the French and at the same time made De León's own observations about Texas and its people all the more valuable to Spain. This dearth of contemporary sources also makes De León's reports vital for historians studying seventeenth-century Texas.

Over the course of his five expeditions, De León progressively learned more about the fate of the French colony, its inhabitants, and its leader, René Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle. In this way, his methodology was much like that of a detective trying to solve a crime. He used tips from Indian allies, testimony from captured Frenchmen, and material clues to eventually locate what remained of the French settlement. Although De León never constructed a complete narrative of what happened with the French colony, his investigations convinced Spanish officials that something needed to be done to prevent future foreign intrigue in Texas. Accordingly, De León's final journey in 1690 was under orders to escort the first missionaries to East Texas.

Historians have long recognized the importance of De León's reports, but until the publication of General Alonso de Leon's Expeditions into Texas they have had to rely on difficult-to-decipher manuscripts or improper translations. As editor and translator Lola Orellano Norris explains in the introduction to this book, these minor transcription and translating errors have often led to historical misinterpretations. Orellano Norris perfectly illustrates this point by opening the text with an insightful anecdote about how a single transcription error of the Spanish word for "wheat" created [End Page 338] an inexplicable anomaly that left borderlands historians perplexed for years.

In addition to an English translation of each of De León's reports, readers will find paleographic Spanish transcriptions and philological analyses of each manuscript associated with the expeditions. These new translations and transcriptions do not dramatically alter the traditional understanding of what happened to the La Salle expedition or the Spanish response to it, but their readability over prior translations will still make this book valuable to borderlands and Texas colonial historians. Owing to the more comprehensive and accurate translations of De León's interactions with the Indians of Texas and his descriptions of Texas geography and wildlife, cultural and environmental historians will be the greatest beneficiaries of Orellano Norris's efforts.

Bradley Folsom
University of Texas at Arlington


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pp. 338-339
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