The gap in Texas urban life between today and 300 years ago is more than a matter of mere numbers for Think, Texas.
Amarillo and Lubbock are big cities. Their metro areas are home to about 250,000 Texans apiece, making their combined contribution to the Cap Rock-area population pool a cool half million.
Dallas and Houston are much bigger. Their metro populations have ballooned up to 7.4 million and 6.9 million respectively, so more than 14 million total. Together, they would easily qualify as a global megacity, which typically host more than 10 million people.
What were the big Texas cities in the 1700s?
In 1773, San Antonio de Béxar, newly named the capital of Spanish Texas, counted 2,060 souls, including 1,351 military personnel and civilians as well as 709 mission residents, mostly mission Indians.
One of the biggest knots of indigenous peoples, however, in what is now Texas was called Rancheria Grande, located near the current town of Gause in mostly rural Milam County.
There, 22 Native American nations gathered in what might be called a giant village amid the rich Brazos River bottomlands. During the 1700s, the Rancheria was handy to the old Indian trails that the Spanish repurposed as El Camino Real.
The primary indigenous group, whose members likely gathered at nearby Sugarloaf Mountain above the Little River for ceremonies, appears to have been the Ervipiame.
Here’s part of what we wrote about Rancheria Grande in a story about the successful campaign to plant historical signage in the region by the Camino Real de los Tejas National Trail Association:
“According to a report made to the Texas Preservation Trust, Spanish Colonial records say that the Ervipiame lived between the San Gabriel River and the Trinity River. Early 18th-century Spanish explorers, too, wrote that the western Brazos River region was the Ervipiame customary settlement area. But they moved around quite a bit over the course of their encounters with the Spanish.”
Related: Steven Gonzales wants to put you on the Camino de los Tejas
Some specific evidence of Rancheria Grande survives in Spanish records.
More from the previous article: “In 1716, during a tour of La Provincia de los Tejas, Captain Domingo Ramón, commander of Mission San Juan Bautista, and Fray Isidro Félix de Espinosa encountered an Indian from Rancheria Grande, who became their guide.
Ramón’s diary records his arrival at the settlement: ‘Forty Indians of various nations came out to receive us. Among them were four captains. One of them, the leader from the Ervipiame tribe, knew me.’
In San Antonio in 1720, Fray Juan Antonio de la Peña, the missionary with Governor Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo’s expedition to Texas, met an Ervipiame leader from Rancheria Grande named Juan RodrÍguez.
RodrÍguez requested that the Franciscan send a mission for his people back at Rancheria Grande. They traveled to the site but couldn’t find his tribe, so he guided the expedition back to the Brazos River.”
The Spanish did plant some missions in the area during the 18th century. Eventually, the dwindling Ervipiame blended with the Tonkawas and other groups.
“The Tonkawas still consider Sugarloaf a sacred spot, the place where their tribe began,” Steven Gonzales, head of the Camino Real trail association, told me in 2016. “They return from Oklahoma for ceremonies.”