“[Settlers] have been extending themselves with ranches and haciendas, not only in the immediacy of said settlements but also in almost all the other shore of the Rio Grande del Norte and even further, nearly up to the Nueces River, about 20 leagues before the Presidio de la Bahía del Espirito Santo whose land is good for pastures and planting; notwithstanding that I understand the inspectors set it down as useless and sterile, an error that I attribute to their quickly believing someone who, without their having been in the region, gave them a report because they did not see it.”
José de Escandón
In 1746, the Spanish government decided that it was time to begin colonizing the area known as the Seno Mexicano, including South Texas. The presence of the French in the area around Goliad and in East Texas prompted Spain to begin colonizing the area. The Spanish commissioned Don Jose de Escandon to establish the Provincia Nuevo Santander in Northern Mexico and along the Rio Grande River.
Despite having been in the New World for more than 200 years, the Spaniards had done little exploration in the area between the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers. The settlement at La Bahia del Espiritu Santo in Goliad was the closest activity the Spanish had going in this part of the world.
When Escandon came up to colonize, pioneers established a road used to travel from Goliad towards the Rio Grande and the Escandon settlement of Camargo. This road crisscrossed through Duval County, most likely through San Diego and Concepcion.
In a report to the central government, Escandon said that he founded a town named Bedoya on May 15, 1749 on the banks of the Nueces River. Escandon reported that Don Pedro Gonzalez de Paredes had organized 50 families and a squadron of soldiers, mostly his family members, to settle the new community. While Captain Paredes delayed his journey due to a lack of corn and an epidemic amongst the horses, they reached their destination by May 15. There is, however, no other mention of Bedoya in subsequent reports from Escandon or others sent by the crown to investigate the new settlements.
Escandon continued to see Camargo and Dolores as crucial to settling the area north of the Rio Grande. Of Camargo, he said it could facilitate the “transit and communication with the Presidio and Mission de la Bahia del Espirito Santo.” Dolores, Escandon believed, “could effect the populating of the Nueces River and lands in between” up to Presidio La Bahia. Escandon clearly wanted to establish a settlement in this untamed area. He hoped for a settlement on the south side of the Nueces River.
He asked several settlers along the Rio Grande to consider this idea. One of these men was Juan Jose Vasquez Borrego who had settled Dolores on the north bank of the Rio Grande above Revilla, in what is now Zapata County. Borrego and his men traveled around the area north of the Rio Grande, particularly on the south banks of the Nueces. After several trips, Borrego concluded that the area was not suitable for a settlement. Borrego’s caporal, or ranch foreman, expressed a different view.
Antonio Manuel Flores reported that while the lands between the Rio Grande and Goliad were not populated, they were “excellent and provided water.” He described the road to La Bahia del Espirito Santo as having “convenient, good, permanent and proportioned” watering places that served both men and beasts. He indicated that the priests from Zacatecas and their companions frequently passed through the area.
Flores may have been in the San Diego area as he described having discovered 30 leagues from Hacienda Dolores “a low hill in which two creeks are formed and connect at a distance of 15 leagues that appear to be permanent.” A league is three miles, so the discovery was some 90 miles from the Rio Grande, which could place Flores and his squadron at the intersection of the San Diego and Tarancahua Creeks, or in the area where San Diego is now located.
A priest or other Spanish explorer most likely named San Diego. These travelers regularly kept diaries to describe places they visited. Oftentimes they named a place for the saint whose feast day fell on the day they discovered a place. In 1691, for example, General Domingo de Teran made an entrada into Texas. On June 6, he reported in his diary that the expedition reached the banks of the Nueces River, which he named San Diego. Five days later, Teran recorded that the “royal standard and camp moved forward toward the north a league and a half to an arroyo which had not been named in the previous expedition. . . I named the arroyo San Diego.” This arroyo does not appear to be the one in Duval County, but rather it was in the area of the Hondo River further northwest. It is likely, however, that San Diego Creek received its name in similar fashion.
It may be more than a coincidence that the original grantees of San Diego were Julian and Ventura Flores, perhaps kin to the caporal at the Hacienda Dolores. Some have said that the father of Julian Flores was one of the original settlers of Mier in 1747, but a list of the census of Mier taken in 1757 shows no one named Flores. Of course, there is a 10-year jump in time and the Flores family could have moved on, perhaps to Dolores, which was upstream from Mier.