"Nuestra Herencia" Mural at Chamizal National Memorial; Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park.
Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
American Latino Heritage

The National Park Service and American Latino Heritage

The Spanish-Franco-Anglo Struggle for Control of the Mississippi Valley

Natchez Trace ParkwayJefferson National Expansion Memorial

Top Image: Part of the animal and hunting trails
that grew into the Natchez Trace,
Courtesy of the National Park Service / © Marc Muench

Bottom Image: Winter sunrise at the Gateway Arch,
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Courtesy of the National Park Service, Sue Ford


The history of the interior of Florida, a land stretching from the Georgia-Florida coast to the Mississippi River, formed part of the diplomacy between European powers, the United States, and the American Indians of the area. Although Europeans competed for many frontier areas in North America, the Mississippi River Valley and its adjacent territories became a focal point for control in the late 18th century. Natchez Trace National Parkway preserves the story of an Indian trade route and the many cultures that used it before the contact period and of its later use for Spanish, French, and Anglo-American trade and military ventures. For three decades of early Anglo-American expansion westward in the beginning of the 19th century, it was the main route linking Natchez and Nashville.

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in New Orleans, Louisiana; Arkansas Post National Memorial in Gillette, Arkansas; and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri interpret a broad history of Spanish interest in the Mississippi River and Anglo-American westward expansion. By dint of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the Spanish took formal possession of New Orleans.

The Spanish tenure at New Orleans was marked with the administration of a multi-ethnic frontier composed of Frenchmen, Cajuns (Acadian refugees from French Canada) and Métis, various Indian tribes, Anglo-Americans, and Black runaway slaves from the United States as well as Spaniards, Canary Islanders, and Caribbean Blacks who served in the Spanish army. The Spanish improved the commercial interests in Louisiana and rebuilt the wooden French Quarter with stone after it burned down in the middle 1790s. The Cathedral, the Cabildo, the Plaza de Armas in present-day Jackson Square and other buildings in New Orleans represent the peak of Spanish colonial administration of the Mississippi Valley. Under provisions of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, New Orleans became part of the United States. In regard to its Spanish colonial heritage, the multi-cultural theme at Jean Lafitte Historical Park is ironically underscored by the fact that the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, during the War of 1812, took place on Juan Rodríguez's plantation. Rodriguez, a plantation owner, also traded in the Caribbean and, at one time, was an associate of Jean Lafitte.

Likewise, the Spanish occupation of San Luis de los Ilinueses (St. Louis) resulted in a history of diplomacy and commerce as the United States expanded toward the Mississippi. Arkansas Post, too, was part of a large Spanish trade network begun by French coureurs de bois among the many Indian tribes along the Mississippi-Missouri-Arkansas river drainages. Arkansas Post National Memorial commemorates the establishment of the 1686 French trading post near the confluence of the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers. After France transferred Louisiana to Spain, the trading post continued to serve as a point of contact among the many Spanish Indian allies who cooperated to impede the Anglo-Americans and their Indian allies from advancing westward. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial places the historical theme of the territorial advance of the United States west of the Mississippi, inclusive of the Louisiana Purchase, within the context of the early history of St. Louis under French and Spanish influences.

Spain ceded Louisiana to France in the Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800, and the French sold it to the United States in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase opened the door to a new phase of westward expansion. The westward movement of the United States represented to many Native American groups a new cycle of conquest that would not end until after the disaster at Wounded Knee in 1890, which resulted in the death of over 150 innocent Sioux as they awaited removal by United States troops. Many others died later from wounds they received in the encounter.

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