Heart of Louisiana: Los Adaes

If you have friends or relatives who have connections to Texas and occasionally brag about the Lone Star State, you can tell them that the first capital of Texas was in Louisiana.  Back in the early 1700's, when the French and Spanish were competing for territory, the Spanish set up a fort and home for their governor in Natchitoches Parish.

The ancient trail starts near the small Louisiana town of Robeline. It travels west for 700 miles to Mexico.

"You're walking in the same path, you are seeing the same type of trees, same animals -- you put yourself back into the 18th century life," says site manager Justin French.  "The ditch area, just in front of me, is the El Camino Real, going from Los Adaes down to San Juan Batista in Mexico."

Early Spanish explorers followed this trail into central Louisiana and built a mission, a presidio, to defend the territory, and a small community they named Los Adaes.  It was only 15 miles from the French fort at Natchitoches.  Starting in 1729, Spain designated Los Adaes, as the capital of the province of Texas.  The governor lived here, and for the next 44 years, it was the seat of Spanish government.

"It would have been a tall walled structure," says French.  "Inside you would have had soldier barracks, you would have had a church, you had the governor's house, you would have had a power magazine for ammunition."

An old Spanish map shows the details of the presidio.  Timbers mark the outline of where the walls once stood.  The locations have been confirmed with archaeological digs and ground penetrating radar.   And outside the walls is evidence of a small community.

"The depression just ahead of us would have been a settlers' house back at the time of the presidio, sometime in the 1700's," French tells us.

While the Spanish and French were not always on the friendliest of terms, it looks like there were very few problems between the Spanish soldiers here and the nearby French.

"We found a lot of French artifacts here at Los Adaes, letting us know that there was trading going on back and forth," says French.

It was a harsh life for the Spanish troops and settlers who mixed with the local Adaes Indians.  Today, there are descendants of those Spanish and Native American families in western Louisiana.

"A lot of those men brought their wives with them and their family, so that's how my people came to be here at Los Adaes," says descendent Rhonda Gauthier.

Gauthier's ancestors were among those early Spanish settlers.  She learned a few Spanish phrases from her parents and grandparents.

"It was a dialect of Spanish, but it had the old archaic French words in it," Gauthier says.

The site of Los Adaes is rich in artifacts.  And it tells an almost forgotten story of where the Spanish staked their claim in this state's history.

Because of state budget cutbacks, the state historic site at Los Adaes is available for tours by appointment.  For more information, go online to http://www.crt.state.la.us/parks/ilosadaes.aspx.