Phillip Nolan and Texas
Maurine T. Wilson
Expeditions to the Unknown Land, 1791-1801. In the closing decade of the eighteenth century a few bold Americans began to push westward into Spanish Texas. They came at first to exploit the herds of wild horses that roamed the wide-open plains, but the Spaniards suspected that they had more sinister objectives in mind.
One name, above all others, figures in the threat that Spain sensed from these easy incursions: Phillip Nolan In the decade between 1791 and 1801 four expeditions were made to Texas from neighboring Spanish Louisiana under the leadership of Philip Nolan. Due to Nolan's links with the nefarious Gen. James Wilkinson, these expeditions are generally considered to have had a political character and were regarded by early historians as filibusters. In view of the lack of documentary evidence, however, these expeditions are more correctly described as horse-catching operations motivated by personal profit rather than as revolutionary efforts to free Texas from the rule of Spain.
Nolan organized a fourth expedition-which proved to be his fatal one. His departure had been vigorously opposed by José Vidal at Natchez, a Spanish official who then alerted the entire frontier to the "hostile intentions" of Nolan's party. Troops marched out from Nacogdoches under Commandant Miguel Músquiz, who located Nolan's force at some horse pens thought to be near the site of Blum in northern Hill County. A battle was fought with the defiant Americans on March 21, 1801, and Nolan was killed by a random shot to the head. His men were captured and sent to Chihuahua, where they were tried and imprisoned. After Nolan's death, Texas was set on a course that inexorably led to revolution and independence from Mexico.
To understand this troubled era and the Texas Revolution, it is necessary to start with Nolan.