Manuel Alegre

Manuel Alegre

(Written for Handbook of Texas, November 2020)

In my most recent article, “The Karankawa-Spanish War from 1778 to 1789: Attempted Genocide and Karankawa Power,” I prominently feature two Karankawa individuals: Joseph María and Manuel Alegre. In the war, Joseph María fought against the Spaniards. Manuel Alegre, contrarily, aided the Spaniards. Provided below is the Handbook of Texas entry I wrote on Alegre.

ALEGRE, MANUEL (?-?). Manuel Alegre was a Copano-Karankawa leader in the late eighteenth century and a brief advocate for Mission Rosario and Mission Refugio. In Alegre’s early years, the Spanish sent him to the College of Zacatecas in Mexico, a missionary school five-hundred miles removed from his homeland on the Texas Gulf Coast, where he became fluent in the Spanish faith and language.[1] Upon returning to Texas, Alegre lived primarily among the semi-nomadic Copano-Karankawas who intermittently visited Mission Concepción in San Antonio.

In mid-February 1780, while Alegre and his peoples were on the shores of Mustang Island, Texas, a vessel captained by José Montezuma landed and asked for a guide.[2] Alegre agreed to serve in that role upon being offered “many gifts.”[3] After skirting the coast for two-hundred miles, the crew reached their destination of the Bay of San Bernard (Galveston Bay) without complication. Nevertheless, when the voyagers encountered the narrow pass into Galveston Bay, it appeared too shallow for their vessel to traverse. Better acquainted with the labyrinthine seaside geography, Montezuma decided to retrace his steps and deposit Alegre among the Copanos before attempting to sail through the pass under better conditions. On the return trip, Montezuma’s ship struck a sandbar and filled with water. While the sailors unloaded goods from the vessel, seventy Karankawas led by Joseph María surrounded and killed all of the marines. Alegre survived by hiding in nearby brush. After three days, he walked back to his tribe, then located at the confluence of the Guadalupe and San Antonio Rivers.

The Montezuma massacre occurred during the Karankawa-Spanish War (1778-1789) and when anti-Spanish Karankawa groups (Guapites, Cujanes, and Carancahuas) heard of Alegre’s involvement with Montezuma, they made plans to track down the Copano and kill him. Alegre, accompanied by a handful of other Copanos, headed to San Antonio to find refuge. They informed the Spaniards of the Montezuma massacre upon their arrival. Undermanned and under repeated attack from various Native groups, the Spaniards did nothing, despite Alegre offering to take them to the wreck.

By the end of the war in 1789, Manuel Alegre acted as a proponent for Karankawa tribes to reenter Mission Rosario, which they had fled in July 25, 1778, and also the soon to be established, Mission Refugio. In 1790, Alegre is recorded as living at Mission Rosario and as being in a relationship with Joseph María’s former wife, María del Rosario.[4] Her marriage to Alegre gave him ties to the Carancahua tribe of Karankawas because her father, Captain Grande, served as their chief.[5]

As a result of Alegre’s Spanish language skills, of his new connections with the numerous Carancahuas, and of his track-record for being a loyal Spanish ally, the Castilians treated him as an intermediary for the Karankawa groups entering Mission Rosario and Refugio.[6] This role provided him limited authority. Alegre attempted to assert this authority in April 1790 when challenged by Copano chief Baltazar. Alegre grabbed Baltazar by the hair and took away his staff of office (bastón), which Spaniards gave to Native leaders.[7] Outraged, the Karankawas at Mission Rosario demanded Alegre’s removal. The Spaniards calmed the mission Indians by temporarily sending the Copano to San Antonio.[8]

When Alegre returned to Mission Rosario in early 1791, his relations with the Spaniards and his own people soured further. On July 20, Alegre tried to kill his wife, María del Rosario, for unknown reasons.[9] Sent in chains to La Bahía, the Karankawa “governor” Santiago whipped Alegre fifty times. The Copano was then placed in Mission Refugio, and Spaniards began to look upon him as a troublemaker. On multiple occasions, they refer to him as being another “Joseph María,” intending to incite the Karankawas to rebel.[10] Their suspicions were well founded. At Refugio in late September 1793, Alegre was caught trying to lure Spanish soldiers away from their posts.[11] The exact purpose of this decoy is also unknown, but Captain of La Bahía Juan Cortes thought it such a grave offense that Alegre again received lashes, reportedly 500.[12] Alegre defended his behavior by stating that living conditions at the missions were atrocious, that the Spaniards had not fulfilled their promises to provide food for the Karankawas, much less regular gifts.[13] After being sent back to Mission Rosario on December 15, 1793, Alegre makes no further known appearances in Spanish historical records.[14]

Histories often depict Karankawas as callously anti-Spanish. Manuel Alegre provides a stark contrast. He believed allying with the Castilians—not out of love for the Spaniards but for the protection and goods that Spaniards, rather inadequately, provided—would best serve the his own interests. Alegre’s exact place and date of death is unknown.



Béxar Archives, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, the University of Texas at Austin. Juliana Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007). Todd Smith, From Dominance to Disappearance: The Indians of Texas and the Near Southwest, 1786-1859 (Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 2005). William H.. Oberste, History of Refugio Mission (Refugio: Refugio Timely Remarks, 1942).

[1] Cabello to Croix, May 30, 1780, BA.

[2] Cabello to Croix, May 30, 1780, BA; “Proceedings concerning Croix’s instructions,” November 25, 1782, BA.

[3] For “many gifts,” see Cabello to Croix,  May 30, 1780, BA.

[4] “Census,” 1790, BA; Espadas to Martinez Pacheco, April 9, 1790, BA.

[5] Barr, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman, 155.

[6] For being an intermediary, see Martinez Pacheco to Espadass, February 18, 1790, BA; Martinez Pacheco to Revilla Gigedo, March 5, 1790, BA; Espadas to Munoz, September 29, 1790, BA.

[7] Espadas to Martinez Pacheco, April 9, 1790, BA; “Correspondence between Fray Manuel de Silva, Fray Jose Francisco Mariano Garza and Munoz, concerning missionary work with the coastal Indians,” April 26, 1791, BA. For more on Balthazar being a confirmed Copano chief, see

[8] Espadas to Martinez Pacheco, April 9, 1790, BA; Martinez Pacheco to Espadas, April 13, 1790.

[9] Espadas and Munoz, July 28, 1791, BA.

[10] Lopez to Munoz, September 30, 1790, BA; “Incomplete cuaderno borrador of letters from the Governor of Texas to Revilla Gigedo and others,” August 15, 1790, BA.

[11] Jose Manuel de Castro to Juan Cortes, October 1, 1793, BA; Castro to Cortes, October 3, 1793, BA; Cortes to Munoz, October 3, 1793, BA; Munoz to Cortez, October 5, 1793, BA.

[12] Cortes to Munoz, October 3, 1793, BA. I thought this was a typo in the translation, but upon looking at the original, it does indeed say 500, see

[13] Father Silva and Munoz, November 1, 1793, BA.

[14] Cortes to Munoz, December 15, 1793, BA.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *