The language the Spanish used to describe their North American frontier in the 18th century simultaneously evoked the condition of edge and interior. Las Provincias Internas and Tierra Adentro were both at the edge of Spanish civilization and deep within the unknown heart of the continent. My paper explores the lives of the people who inhabited what we have come to know as the southwestern borderlands, using the documentary record to better understand what the notion of interiority meant for residents of the 18th-century frontier. Focusing on the colonies bordering the Rio Grande in South Texas and Northern New Mexico, I propose that the “interiority of the frontier” is a useful tactic for understanding the specific ways in which the notion of a borderland was constructed through the private, social, and political lives of the individuals who made their homes in a region that contested by rival European, American, and Native powers. As an example I describe how padrones or annual church censuses, combined with genealogical data and legal proceedings, can reconstruct the familial and spatial networks of dispersed ranch settlements that became interior worlds unto themselves amid a landscape of change and uncertainty. I suggest that these “private frontiers” were both intensely personal, rooted in place, and also indicative of broad social conditions and structures. The northern frontier of New Spain in the 18th century was an in-between space simultaneously at the edge of Spanish civilization and deep within the unknown heart of the continent. Representational modes such as mapping, itineraries, and networks provide insight into the differentiation of identities that today forms part of the unique cultural legacy of South Texas.
Presented at the Interior Provocations Symposium “onEDGE”, April 9, 2022