Mesilla Plaza c. 1885, as depicted by French painter, Leon Trousset.  Note the original church (which no longer stands) and the long, low adobe façades; Cannon Art at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.
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American Latino Heritage

Los Adaes

Robeline, Louisiana

No above-ground evidence of Los Adaes remains today, but the site of the c.1721 presidio is still a popular tourist attraction. Above, re-enactors shoot rifles at the Los Adaes Historic Site marker

No above-ground evidence of Los Adaes remains today,
but the site of the c.1721 presidio is still a popular tourist attraction.
Above, re-enactors shoot rifles at the Los Adaes Historic Site marker.
Courtesy of Louisiana State Parks, Wiki Commons

During the mid 1700s, Spanish and French interests in North America often overlapped and collided as the two nations discovered and explored new territories. Los Adaes is the site of a presidio and mission the Spanish built in 1721 to protect their landholdings from potential French encroachment on the northeastern frontier of New Spain. The Spanish named the presidio – Nuestra Senora del Pilar de los Adaes, and the mission – San Miguel de Cuellar de los Adaes, after the Adaes Tribe, a group of Caddo American Indians who inhabited the area at the time of its construction.

The entire complex, known simply as Los Adaes, quickly became the administrative capital of the Spanish province of Texas (Tejas) in 1729 and served as the first capital of Texas until 1770. Los Adaes would also become an important cultural and social melting pot at the international border between Spanish and French controlled lands. Although abandoned in 1773, Los Adaes set the stage for the blend of Spanish and French traditions that is still celebrated in Louisiana’s Creole heritage today.

During the early 1700s, France controlled the large Louisiana Territory, a region that directly bordered Spanish-owned land in Texas. Potential conflicts along this international boundary spurred the creation of the presidio at Los Adaes. In 1714, the French founded a new mission in Natchitoches, near the Spanish border, and soon constructed Fort St. Jean Baptiste to protect it.

In response to the ominous French presence, the Spanish established Los Adaes in 1716 directly across the border to protect its holdings in Texas and check French expansion into the territory. By 1721, the Spanish had erected a large fort on the site and a mission church in order to convert the local American Indians to Catholicism and a more “civilized” way of life. The fort (presidio) included a thick hexagonal stockade with three defensive bulwarks that surrounded the presidial town and its mission. After Los Adaes became the capital of the province of Texas in 1729, the Spanish built a house for the governor within its walls.

Even though it was the capital, Los Adaes remained relatively isolated because the nearest Spanish supply post was over 800 miles away. Life at the presidio was harsh during its early years. The land was difficult to farm, and heavy rainy seasons often spoiled supplies and rotted structures. The Spanish government strictly forbade trade with the French at the time, but a cooperative relationship soon formed between the neighboring forts due to the difficult conditions. Although Spain and France supposedly were enemies, the communities grew close, extensively trading goods illegally across the border, exchanging cultural ideas, language, and often even intermarrying. This early Spanish-French cooperation laid the foundations of the Creole culture that still thrives in Louisiana today.

The Presidio at Los Adaes consisted of a walled-community and nearby mission, as shown in this map (originally drawn in 1767: labels added)

The Presidio at Los Adaes consisted of a walled community and nearby mission, as shown in this map (originally drawn in 1767: labels added)
Public domain, Wiki Commons

In 1762, after the French and Indian War, France ceded all of its territory west of the Mississippi to Spain, including New Orleans and a portion of the modern-day state of Louisiana. This erased the former border between the two powers that Los Adaes was to protect. The presidio continued to serve as the capital of Texas until 1770, but it was decommissioned and abandoned in 1773, less than 60 years after its construction.

Although the Spanish population largely left the isolated Los Adaes in the late-18th century, some stayed and other former residents returned later to the area and reestablished a community. Many people who live in the Cane River region today can trace their heritage back to the original presidial town. The nearby Church of Saint Anne, (a Louisiana State Historic Landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places )is the direct descendent of the original San Miguel de Cuellar de los Adaes mission church at Los Adaes.

Today, nothing of the mission or presidio that comprised Los Adaes is still standing, but the site of the fort is a very important archeological site where much research has been conducted. A small visitor/interpretive center is at the site, and visitors can enjoy nature hikes on the land, which is now a Louisiana State Park. The park offers educational programs for the public and live reenactments. Visitors can learn more about Los Adaes at the nearby Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site and museum, where live reenactments, tours, and educational programs interpret the relationship between Fort St. Jean Baptiste and Los Adaes.

Plan your visit

Los Adaes is a National Historic Landmark, that is part of the Cane River National Heritage Area and El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail, both administered by the National Park Service. Los Adaes is located at 6354 Highway 485 in Robeline, LA. The site is open by appointment only between 9:00am and 5:00pm on weekdays. The public is welcome and admission to Los Adaes is free.  For more information, visit the Los Adaes State Historic Site website. Please call the staff at nearby Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site at 888-677-7853 to schedule a visit and for more information.

Los Adaes is featured in the National Park Service Cane River National Heritage Travel Itinerary. The National Park Service Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures: Explore their Stories in the National Park System Travel Itinerary also features the Cane River National Heritage Area as well as El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail.

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