(Author’s note: I’ve met with several Book Clubs in Austin, Texas, answered questions about Birds of Passage, and spoke about early Italian immigrant history including Texas. I’d be delighted to have meetings or Facetime conferences with interested Book Clubs anywhere.)
Like Christopher Columbus, Italians were often in the employ of the Spanish court during the era of discovery. On Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s 1540-42 epic expedition from Mexico to Kansas, later termed the search for the “Seven Cities of Gold,” his soldiers included men named Loro, Napolitano, and Romano.
Neapolitan, Henri di Tonti, was an associate of French explorer Robert de la Salle. He entered Texas in 1686 and 1689 searching for the ill-fated, lost French settlements near Matagorda Bay.
Settlers in Texas in the late 1700s included fur and horse trader Vincente Micheli from Brescia, calling himself, “The Merchant of Venice.”
During Texas’s war of independence, San Antonio’s Giuseppe Cassini turned over his store’s supplies to the revolutionary army and later scouted for William B. Travis. Prospero Bernardi fought with Sam Houston at San Jacinto, the decisive battle for Texas independence.
In 1883, Frank Qualia established the Val Verde Winery, Texas’s oldest. Between 1880 and 1920, the coal-mining town of Thurber, west of Fort Worth, employed thousands of Italian miners and brick makers. In 1881-82, the Richmond and Rosenberg to Brownsville railroad extension became known as the “Macaroni Line,” for the number of Italian workers.
Sicilians from Poggioreale, Corleone, and Salaparuta were cotton and corn tenant farmers, later acquiring land in the Brazos Valley. Italians established vegetable and fruit farms in mainland Galveston County, and stood fast after the 1900 Galveston hurricane saltwater tide-surge damaged the soil.
Tuscany-born Pompeo Coppini sculpted the Littlefield Fountain at the University of Texas in Austin, a commemoration to World War I dead, and the Alamo Cenotaph Memorial in San Antonio. Enrico Cerrachio created the Sam Houston monument in Houston’s Hermann Park. Rodolfo Guzzardi was known for his mission and landscape paintings.