o begin, I need to explain why the Irish and other Celts were in Texas as early as they were. To do this I will need to relate to you some general history. We need to go back again to the twelfth century. As stated before, England invaded Ireland in 1169. For the next 434 years, the Irish resisted as best they could. It was an unequal fight, farmers against soldiers and mercenaries, few against many.

In 1691, British forces known as Williamites under William of Orange were able to defeat most of the Irish, Scottish and French forces of the Jacobites who followed James II of England (James VII of Scotland). The term Jacobites comes from the Latin word for James, Jacob. The only Jacobite group that held out was led by Patrick Sarsfield and they were under siege at Limerick. Both sides wanting to avoid further bloodshed settled for a treaty to end hostilities. The fourteen thousand armed men of Ireland watched as Patrick Sarsfield signed the Treaty of Limerick, witnessed by the Chief Justice of England (a prerequisite of the treaty made by Sarsfield). The Treaty of Limerick called for the Irish in the army:

-to lay down their arms and return to their farms

-to join the English army

-or to keep their arms and be provided free passage to France

........Patrick Sarsfield

...............William of Orange >

< James II
The treaty provided for those that elected to stay (as well as for all other Irish in Ireland) to be promised security in property, civil, and religious rights. The Irish Army was then organized by units and paraded to a place where they were to turn to the English or French standard. Some members of the Irish Army, believing the English administration of their country would abide by the terms of the treaty, marched to the English banner and elected to stay. Ninety three percent marched to the French Standard.

After more than four hundred years of dealing with the English in Ireland, most of the Irish troops, about 13,000 men, elected to leave for France. The departure of these men, all at one time and probably forever, left an indelible mark on the Irish people. Seamus MacManus in his book, The Story of the Irish Race, wrote that Erin searched all nature for its most desolate image to remind her of the wailing made in her ears by their last farewell. She called them, na Geana Faidhaine, "The Wild Geese."

Probably closer to the origin of the term was John O’Hart’s explanation in his Irish Pedigrees first published in the early 1880's. He wrote that smugglers carrying Irish men to Europe listed them as wild geese on the manifest.

Since then the definition of "Wild Geese" has been stretched from its original usage to include any Irish who left Ireland and became famous in the service of or on behalf of another country. Later the definition was broadened even further to touch the descendants of immigrating Irish if they made a contribution of note to the history of a land other than Ireland. See Appendix II, 1691 for examples of the "Wild Geese."

Leaving Ireland proved the right decision for the original Wild Geese; within the year, the English repudiated the treaty and began to confiscate the property, civil, and religious rights of the Irish. This was not restricted to the Catholic Irish, the Presbyterian Irish also were victims. This situation among the Catholic and Presbyterian Irish triggered a round of emigration from English control.

Thousands fled Ireland. Many of these immigrants went to the new colonies in the Americas. They found the English administration in the Americas only slightly less discriminatory than in Ireland. Hearing of this many of the Catholic Irish chose to follow the Wild Geese to France, or to other countries on the continent. There they joined the Catholic and Anti-English armies of Austria, France, Russia and Spain where they hoped to train and gain experience fighting against the English and return to liberate hostage Hibernia. Several times the Europeans, with the Irish among them pushing for revenge, engaged England to no avail.

Many of the Irish who remained in Ireland, the English "transported" to British colonies for crimes against the crown which ranged from resisting English authority, to the impertinence of owning a horse. Some Irish were forced into England's army or navy, while others joined British service to escape the shambles of their home with a view to desert on a foreign assignment and begin a new life in a new land. Not a few Irish men stayed in the British service for a military career.

Things were booming in the war business. Generations of Wild Geese passed on the family business to their sons so that the great grandsons of those who left to join the armies of England, France, Spain or other countries were still in that army more than fifty years later. An example found in the records of just one of the countries the Wild Geese served, France, shows that fifty four years after the Wild Geese left Ireland, 450,000 died - for France!

At the end of the seventeenth century, there were twenty-six Irish regiments in the Spanish army. By 1709 they had been reduced to seven Irish regiments by heroic fighting. Examples were at Melazzo, Sicily where the regulars of the Spanish Army had panicked and were fleeing from an Austrian army of 6,800 men. Two Irish regiments stood their ground suffering 600 casualties to 2, 200 by the Austrians. Twice more, during the War of the Austrian Succession, Irish regiments in Spanish service protected the Spanish army. At Campo Santo the Irish Regiments, Irlanda and Hibernia covered the withdrawal of the Spanish army at a cost of 1,000 Irishmen. Again at Velletri, Irish regiments saved the future King of Spain, Carlos III, by delaying entry of the Austrian army into the city at a cost of 1,000 Irish lives.

Drawings of officer's and soldier's uniforms and the banners of the Irlanda and Ultonia Irish Regiments in the Spanish army

The greatest number of Irish were in the armies of England, France, and Spain as individuals or in organized Irish units. Each of the countries had at least six regiments that were all Irish. England, France and Spain were each building colonial empires and fighting to protect territorial gains. This situation gave expanded opportunities to the Irish in their service. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, England, France, and Spain fought so many wars among one another, historians refer to the period as the Second Hundred Years War. The theater of the war spanned the globe. Each of the wars had a counterpart in the Americas.



1689-1697 ~~War of the League of Augsburg ~King William's War

1701-1710 ~~War of the Spanish Succession ~~Queen Anne's War

1740-1748 ~~War of Austrian Succession ~~~~~King George's War

1756-1763 ~~The Seven Years War ~~~~~~~~~~French and Indian War

1775-1783~~ Wars of Revolution ~~~~~~~~~~~~American Revolution

The Irish in the service of their adopted countries won many an important battle. King Louis the XIV complained to one of the Irish officers that the rambunctious Irish unit caused him more trouble than the rest of his entire army. "Your Majesty," the Irish officer is said to have replied, "your enemies make the same complaint."

Despite the many political obstacles, many Irishmen rose to positions of importance in their adopted countries. Irishmen became Generals, Marshals, Governors, and Prime Ministers in all three countries (England, France, and Spain). One, Leopoldo O'Donnell, became a Regent of Spain, and another, Patrice McMahon became President of France. See Appendix II just after 1691.

< Leopoldo O'Donnell





........................................Patrice MacMahon >








Meanwhile, the less fortunate Irish in foreign military and administrative positions were usually kept on the battle front, or out in the provinces and colonies far from the heart of their host country. Regrettably, they were even farther from Ireland.

I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above,

Those that I fight I do not hate,

Those that I guard I do not love;

William Butler Yeats

Some of these men found themselves in the Americas before or during the American Revolution. Elements of the Irish regiments of England, France, and Spain were in what is now the United States in the eighteenth century. The Irish in the French service were in Georgia. Irish units of Spain were in Florida and New Spain. The British had Irish units in Illinois, New York and the Carolinas. The British also had Irish units in Canada, Jamaica and Brazil. Officers from these units often served as officials in colonial administration.

Most of the claims for territory in America were based on the results of military expeditions. Most of these expeditions, especially in the case of the Spanish were quite large. Their make up is described in the literature. A typical expedition was described as having three hundred "Europeans" or "whites" accompanied by Indians and/or people of mixed race. The Europeans or whites are not described as Spaniards or Frenchmen per se, leading one to conclude there were mercenaries and other nationalities among them. As we have noted, there were many Irish in both French and Spanish service as well as in the army and navy of England, and that the Irish were among the military these countries stationed in their colonies. Is it not reasonable to suggest there were Irish among the many English, French, and Spanish military land and sea expeditions in the New World, including those that came to Texas?


Based on expeditions from Mexico, Cuba, and Florida in the period 1519-1540, Spain claimed an area north of the Gulf of Mexico. This included the area from Florida to Mexico. Other foreign nationals visited these areas and Spain became defensive. In 1568 several Englishmen, members of John Hawkins' fleet that took a beating from the Spanish in the Gulf of Mexico off Vera Cruz, landed on the Mexican coast. They then went by foot along the coast moving north.

An expedition led by Luis de Carvajal, a Portuguese in Spanish service, was sent to capture them. He caught the group at the mouth of the Panuco River. Three of Hawkins' men were able to escape capture. David Ingram, Richard Browne and Richard Twide walked from the mouth of the Panuco River, through Texas and Spanish Florida to the Atlantic seaboard and then along the east coast line all the way to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia which was then under British control. David Ingram (possibly Irish), wrote of his experiences.

In 1682, the Frenchman La Salle challenged the Spanish claims by coming down the Mississippi and claiming its environs for the King of France. Two years later he led an expedition of four ships from France and landed on the Texas coast at Lavaca Bay (near present day Port Lavaca). La Salle sent out three expeditions from the fort he built, Fort Saint Louis. La Salle claimed all the land from the Rio Grande River to the Perdido River (the latter is located between Mobile and Pensacola), and named it Louisiana for Louis XIV. When the Spanish heard of this, they dispatched five sea expeditions and six land expeditions to find Fort Saint Louis. The Spanish found the fort. It had been attacked by Indians and most of the garrison killed. A search found several survivors among friendly Indians. One of them, Juan Jarri or Jean Henri, had forged an alliance among 24 Indian tribes and had set himself up as King replete with an elevated throne, albeit made of buffalo skins and wood.

The English, too, were in the area though they made no territorial claims. In April of 1688, two Englishmen were captured in Nueva España. They were Ralph Wilkinson and John Philip Vera. There is evidence, discovered in Houston in 1986, there may have been an English settlement in the Houston area in the late 1600's. Archeological evidence shows the English were engaged in trade in the Nacogdoches area by artifacts found on the site of the Mission Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Ais. The mission operated from 1717 - 1773. This is not entirely surprising for in May of 1762, the Spanish commander at La Bahía asked the Viceroy for a strengthening of the mission closer to the coast known as Rosario, because of " ...incontestable evidence of English prowlers... ." In 1769 the garrison at La Bahia captured the English schooner Britain in Matagorda Bay. In August of 1771, another incident presented more convincing evidence. Scouts found an English ship shipwrecked at the mouth of the Nueces River. They captured Joseph Dickson, James Sherman, Neill McMillan, and Arch McKenzie. All are Celtic names. The Spanish took them and their equipment to Béxar. After some time they were allowed to go overland to Natchitoches in French territory. In 1772, there were reports that Indians along the Trinity River had made contact with the British. No British were found but the Indians were found to have British arms. In 1777, a British ship was found stranded and abandoned in Sabine Lake. A short time later a man by the name of Miller, said to be from the ship, was found along the Trinity River.


The French and Spanish troops were always accompanied by Catholic priests. These priests were usually from the Dominican, Jesuit, or Franciscan orders, all of which had many Irish among them. The Irish priests were with the French and Spanish armies as a result of having attended seminaries in France and Spain. Young Irish Catholic men were in these foreign seminaries because they were not allowed to practice their religion in Ireland, let alone study it. Those Irish who heard the call to this vocation had to go outside of Ireland to answer it. Not a few New World missionaries did the work of God and king, while exposing the natives to Celtic culture.


Another area where there were Celts, besides as military or religious support to English, French and Spanish administrations, was as Indian agents or traders. The names: McDonald, MacTavish, MacGillivray, McKay, McLellan, McDougall, Fraser, Stuart, McIntosh, Carr, McQueen, McPerson, Sullivan, Bowles, Adair, and Ross are but the names of a few Celts who left their names not only in the history of the formation of North America but also with many indian children and their descendants. The Irish and more particularly the Scottish were excellent traders and there were many in the New World. Most students of American history know of the mountain men and trappers of the Northwest who were engaged in Indian trade. Across the continent to the Southeast were others. There were other influences as well, when Hudson Bay ships sailed from London, they many times made last calls at the Hebrides or Orkneys, where they found many recruits. The Hudson Bay Company maintained agents in Stornoway, the Isle of Lewis, and Stromness, Orkney, for years.

The French were better at building trading settlements than the English or Spanish. They had two large trading posts in place; both of which affected the development of parts of Texas. One was in Natchitoches (the first permanent town in Louisiana). It was established in 1713 by a Frenchman from Quebec, Louis Antoine Juchereau de St. Denis. Two years later in 1766 the French erected a fort called Fort St. Jean Baptiste.

The sketch above was done for the reconstruction of Fort St. Jean Baptiste de Natchitoches from a 1733 plan of the fort. It shows the St. Francis of Assisi chapel in the upper left. This drawing was done by Auseklis Ozols for the Louisiana State Parks and Recreation Commission and Kock and Wilson, Architects.

The other early French trading post was established in New Orleans in 1718. Another French trading post was founded on the Red River by French trader Bernard de la Harpe in 1719 among the Caddo Indians. The site was near present day Texarkana. A fort was built there to protect the trading post. It was also called Fort Saint Louis. Although these were French trading posts, a Celtic connection existed. All trade in Louisiana between 1717 and 1731 was controlled under a contract with Spanish authorities by the Scottish trading firm of John Law. Law and the French developed and established a trading business that went all the way to Taos, New Mexico by 1739.

The Commandant at the presidio La Bahia in 1746, Joaquín Orobio Basterra, reported French traders who had arrived by sea were contacting Indians on the lower Neches, Trinity and Brazos Rivers. They told the Indians they would set up a permanent trading site on the San Jacinto River. In 1754, Lieutenant Marcos Ruiz went to the Trinity River to investigate reports of French traders and arrested three Frenchmen there operating a trading post.

The French were on better terms with the Indians of the Texas - Louisiana area than the Spanish because of their willingness to trade with guns and powder, something the Spanish would not do. The French traded for horses which they did not raise. The Indians stole horses from the Spanish to trade with the French. It was said the French did not raise their own horses to keep this dynamic going. It was also said the reason for the later attraction of settlers to the east Texas settlements was because the Indians wanted to keep the peace in these areas for the barter and trade that was ongoing.

In 1759, Colonel Diego Ortiz Parilla left San Antonio with 380 soldiers and 220 allied Apache Indians. He was the commander of the presidio at San Saba. For many months his charges at San Saba were attacked by Comanches who traded with the French on the Red River in the area of San Teodora which later became known as Spanish Bluff. The French moved in and took over the settlement when the Spanish pulled back toward San Antonio. The French traded aggressively with the Indians, providing guns and tactics that caused problems for the Spanish at San Saba. In August, enroute to the French trading post, Parilla fought a successful engagement against Tonkaway Indians on the Brazos River.

On October 25 Colonel Parilla arrived in the area of the French trading post on the Red River at Spanish Bluff. He found there were cultivated fields outside the trading post which was a pallisaded village. It was guarded by a Taovaya Indian village (the Taovaya Indians were later called the Wichita Indians). The Indians had plenty of guns and ammunition and the village was enclosed by fortifications and encircled by a moat made by diverting the Red River. A number of the Indians were in fortified positions outside the fort. The fort had cannon manned by Indians trained to use them. Fourteen or more Frenchmen were observed among them and a French flag boldly flew over the village. There was even a fife and drum heard from the fort during the time Parilla made his observations. The Colonel had his men make several attacks over a four hour period, all of which failed. After losing 52 men, Colonel Parilla withdrew to his base at San Saba pursued all the way.

To continue the Prologue click here >