Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
American Latino Heritage
El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail
Louisiana and Texas
El Camino Real de los Tejas stretches 2,500 miles from colonial Mexico City through Texas and ends in Natchitoches, Louisiana. This trail provided the only primary overland route from Mexico across the Río Grande to the Red River Valley. Other trails such as the Lower Road, Old San Antonio Road, and Laredo Road were also created along this route to accommodate varying weather conditions, terrain, and relations with American Indians.
The Spanish began using the trail in 1690, when Alonso de León, a Spanish explorer, crossed the Rio Grande heading to eastern Texas to establish missions. He followed routes previously used as Indian trails and trade routes. The following year, Domingo Terán de los Ríos traveled the same route with additional missionaries.
Along with missions, the Spanish built presidios to protect Spanish territory from French intrusion, as well as trading posts and ranches. Throughout the 17th century, Spain, France, and England engaged in a major power struggle to control North America. This fight over control served as a catalyst for exploration, settlement, and trade.
El Camino Real de los Tejas was used extensively during the period when Texas was Spanish, then Mexican, land. When Texas became independent, trade between Texas and Mexico declined while trade between Mexico and the United States increased. The trail was briefly a way to get supplies to the Confederacy and to send cotton to Mexico, but this soon waned with the arrival of the railroad. By the mid-19th century, El Camino Real de los Tejas was no longer in use. During its heyday, the trail had a permanent impact on the people of Texas and Louisiana.
Growing interest in the history of El Camino Real de los Tejas caused the Texas Legislature to research the route in 1915. V. N. Zively, a professional surveyor, surveyed the trail and placed wooden markers along it. In 1918, the Texas Daughters of the American Revolution installed inscribed pink granite markers every five miles along the route to mark it. Today, visitors can see nine of these granite markers in their original locations. A number of towns along the route have their own monuments and historical markers to commemorate the trail, including Natchitoches, Louisiana and Cotulla, Texas. In 2004, El Camino Real de los Tejas became a National Historic Trail.
The trail passes through Cane River Creole National Historical Park (a part of the Cane River National Heritage Area) in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. Using a land grant from the Spanish government, Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prudhomme established Oakland Plantation in 1789. Here, cotton was harvested and bailed by Prudhomme’s enslaved African American laborers. Visitors are able to explore many of the plantation’s original buildings and structures, including the main house, carriage house, slave/tenant quarters, and cotton gin ruins. Magnolia Plantation began cotton production in 1840. As this plantation grew, it became the largest cotton-producing plantation in Natchitoches Parish. In 1864, the Union army burned the main house at Magnolia Plantation but the brick slave houses still stand for visitors to see.
The best known cluster of missions along El Camino Real de los Tejas is part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park: Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuna, Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada. These four missions, established in the 18th century along the San Antonio River, became the foundation for the City of San Antonio. Each mission offers much to see. The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is featured in this itinerary here.