Disclosure: I participated in a hosted FAM tour with the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to help bring awareness to the area and the historical aspects. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
A couple weeks ago, I made a trip to Nacogdoches in East Texas. From there, I joined the Nacogdoches Chamber for a three day trip on the El Camino Real de los Tejas, ending in Natchitoches Louisiana. It was a lot of fun and educational. I love historical sites and throughly enjoy dragging my children to them, so this trip was right up my alley.
If you aren’t familiar, Nacogdoches is pronounced Nak-e-Doe-chiss. I know. I someone knew how to pronounce that already. Natchitoches however, I completely butchered. I assumed it rhymed with Nacogdoches. Nope. It’s pronounced Knack-A-Tish. You can tell which city was founded on the Spanish side and which on the French side.
We’ve all heard of the Oregon Trail. Many people still travel sections of the trail and the remaining wagon ruts will forever remind of us those who traveled the route. Did you know that there are more such roads though? Many that are hundreds of years older than the Oregon Trail.
The El Camino Real de los Tejas was established by the Spaniards in 1680 and parts of the road had been used before that by the Native Americans. The Spanish used the previous trails, as they linked villages and access to natural resources. The road started in Mexico City and continued up into present day Texas and over into present day Louisiana. The French and the Spanish were going back and forth over the land, but for the most part, the Spanish were in what is now Texas, and the French in Louisiana.
Spanish Missions were built along the trail, with the intention of converting the Native Americans to Catholicism. They were also used as places to trade. Mission Delores in San Augustine was built in 1717. It wasn’t overly successful though, only baptizing 11 members of the local Ais tribe in 50 years, and was closed in 1773. The most well known mission, the Alamo, was opened in 1718. It, along with four other local missions, became the basis for the city of San Antonio.
The El Camino Real follows what is now highway 21 in Texas and highway 6 in Louisiana. It is still easy to travel today. We started our trip in Nacogdoches and ended three days later in Natchitoches, hitting seven towns in all. There is a lot of history along the trail, as well as some adorable towns. It’s only about a 2.5 hour drive between the two cities, but there is so much to see and do along the way. Nacogdoches is the oldest town in Texas, with a mission being built there in 1716. It was a Caddo Indian settlement long before that though. In 1779, a Spanish trader led a group of settlers to the area and the town was established as a Spanish pueblo. Natchitoches was established in 1714 and is the oldest city in not only Louisiana, but the entire Louisiana Purchase.
There are many places where the swales, the low places left from the road, can be seen. The land is so compacted from use, even after all these years, that it can be easily detected. There are some great swales, some of the best in the country apparently, outside of San Augustine. Legend says (complete legend, a Caddo Indian Chief told me it was a completely made up story) a Caddo Chief had twin sons named Nacogdoches and Natchitoches. He sent them in opposite directions to settle their own tribes. One went east three days, the other traveled west for three days. They frequently visited each other, traveling the road between.
Whatever you believe, there is a lot of history in the area and between the two cities.