A Trail Through Texas History: El Camino Real de los Tejas

A Trail Through Texas History: El Camino Real de los Tejas

Spanning the centuries and the breadth of Texas from the Rio Grande to the Sabine River, a “royal road” connects the present to the past. El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail was designated as part of the National Trails System by the U.S. Congress in 2004, but its story started far earlier, as a series of routes laid by Indigenous Texans and later followed by Spanish colonists, French explorers, Anglo-American settlers, and enslaved people seeking freedom.

In this program, speakers from El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association and the Texas Historical Commission will discuss the trail's historical context and usage, the significance of its status as a National Historic Trail, and ongoing work to preserve this unique cultural landscape. You'll learn about places to visit along the trail, such as Caddo Mounds and Mission Dolores state historic sites.

Presenters:

Discussion:

Is any part of the trail hikable? How many miles? Yes, the longest continuous hikeable section at this point in time is about three miles in length, located in Floresville. The Trail Association is working with multiple local entities to establish additional hiking opportunities in the future. Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, Mission Tejas State Park, and the Lobanillo Swales all have hikeable portions of the trail within them. The camino is visible in rock outcroppings at McKinney Falls State Park.

Is there a way to see how near or far I am from El Camino? Yes! The National Park Service's free app includes the National Historic Trails, and shows where you are in relation to El Camino Real de los Tejas (or the other of Texas' caminos, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro).

So during the 1700s, most travel on El Camino Real de los Tejas was from Mexico north, and then in the 1800s the bulk of traffic was from Texas and Louisiana south? Correct. As settlement patterns shifted, traffic from the east began to outpace travel from the south.

Are there any remaining swales in Mexico? Is there any similar preservation interest there? There are swales in Mexico. Agency partners do work with INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History) toward international protection efforts. We have learned that our Mexican counterparts see the road in a somewhat different way than we do; they focus more on structures associated with the road.

Were there any contacts between communities along the El Camino Real de los Tejas and later Spanish territories along the Mississippi, such as St. Louis and New Madrid in Missouri? The Spanish traveled from more well-known routes such as El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro in New Mexico to the areas along the Mississippi. These trade networks were extensive. As just one example, pieces of Caddo pottery were found at Moundville in Alabama.

Was corn the basis of the Caddo diet, or was it acorn-based as with some of the other mound builder cultures? When the Caddo Mounds site was abandoned around 1200 AD, corn was becoming a dominant food. The Caddo diet also included pecans and wildlife such as rabbits.

Is anything being done to preserve the Caddo language? The Caddo Nation website has some info about language revitalization efforts. Additionally, you can hear Caddo Nation member Alaina Tahlate talk about her language revitalization work in this short video.

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