The Spanish

The importance of Spanish influence in the areas surrounding the spring cannot be overstated. Through exploration and trade, the Spaniards played an integral part in the development of culture in Texas and the Southwest. The Spanish first introduced the horse to the plains, and in doing so inadvertently helped form the Great Horse Culture of the Plains. Tribes than once roamed very limited distances by foot now could travel with speed over great distances on the backs of their mustangs. The Spanish brought cattle with them when they first arrived. Many of these escaped and evolved into the massive herds of wild longhorn that roamed the Texas badlands and were later driven north on the famous cattle drives. Pigs escaped Spanish settlements and quickly evolved into huge feral hog populations that still roam Texas. The Spanish introduced bronze, copper, and iron metals, which the native populations soon learned to fabricate into tools and weapons. Beads, trinkets and other jewelry were prized among the Plains Tribes, and tremendously long trade routes formed with the goal of exchanging these valuables. The Spanish language was relatively easy to learn, and many of the tribes of the region spoke Spanish almost as smoothly as their native tongue.

Perhaps the most intriguing story behind the big spring is that of Alvar Nunez, also known as Cabeza de Vaca. In the year 1527, Cabeza de Vaca and his fellow Spaniards from the Narvaez expedition shipwrecked onto Galveston Island. In a short time, most of the men died or disappeared trying to get off of the island.Many were taken captive by the native Karankawa and were never seen again. Over the next 8-9 years, de Vaca and two other survivors wandered across Texas and northern Mexico, trying to find their way to the Spanish settlements at Culiacan and what would become Mexico City. His journal recalls finding a large hill of sand that matches a location between current day Medina and San Antonio. From here, the journal tells that they followed a large clear river, probably the Guadalupe, and then crossed 3 others, possibly the Pedernales, the Llano, and the San Saba, finally arriving at a river that matches the vicinity of the Concho. Shortly after, they soon intercepted another river, that many believe to be the Colorado. In reading his journals, some are convinced that de Vaca followed the Colorado westwards to what is now Beals Creek, which was then a substantial stream. The flora , fauna, and escarpments described match the countryside around Big Spring. De Vaca then writes of coming to a spring, (possibly Moss Springs), and then a day later and further west to an immense spring, where de Vaca miraculously found another member of his lost party. Tired, starved, naked, and near death, native Indians (probably Jumanos or Apache) at the spring fed and clothed de Vaca and nursed him back to health. So moved and thankful was de Vaca of his delivery from the jaws of death, that he held a "Celebration of Thanks" with the natives, telling them of the Christian God. If the theory of the spring route is true, this "Thanksgiving" ceremony held at the "big spring" would have been the first in the New World, predating the traditional Plymouth event by some 86 years!

Coronado and his expedition appear to have also traveled to the spring. It is documented that Coronado wintered a few miles south of the spring on the headwaters of the Concho River during 1539. It is hard to comprehend that elements of his expedition would not have come across such a well known spring in such an arid land. Etchings found on the nearby escarpments show what appears to be a Spanish seal, matching a documented etching from Coronado's expedition in the Palo Duro Canyon area. Perhaps the entire expedition came to the spring site, but based upon the etchings, it appears that at least some of Coronado's men found the spring in 1539. 

Spanish exploration and trade around the spring site continued for another 300 years, and today their footprints can be seen in the languages and culture of Texas and the Southwest.