When the Spanish first arrived, various Indian groups roamed through this region. Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, the first European in the Southwest, traveled the Southwest beginning in 1528, when he landed near present day Galveston, until he returned to Spain in 1935. He no doubt gathered pecans and tuna (fruit of the prickly pear) nearby. The 1709 Spanish exploration of Espinoza, Olivares and Aguire found a peaceful tribe of Tonkawas in the San Marcos area. The explorers found a rich area, ripe with nuts like pecans and with so many deer that one explorer called them like "flocks of goats." It is interesting to note that these first explorers also found alligators and bears but were disappointed not to find buffalo. At first the Indians were peaceful and helpful, but over time they became more hostile because of encroachment on their territory. The various tribes began dispersing as they fought with one another for European trading rights, not to mention the conflicts they had with white settlers.
In the 18th Century, Spanish missionaries, soldiers and settlers began pushing north from Mexico through San Antonio and into the San Marcos area, then eastward to Louisiana. Spanish missionaries set up several missions at the headwaters of the San Marcos between 1755 and 1756, the remains of which have not been found. Spanish settlers first made San Marcos their home in 1807, led by Felipe de la Portilla, but their attempt was short-lived due mostly to Indian attacks and floods, and they were forced to abandon "San Marcos de Neve" in 1812. In 1831 Juan Martin Veramendi, a powerful and interesting figure-a one-time governor of Spanish Texas-was granted more than 45,000 acres of land in the area.
San Marcos was a stop on the Old San Antonio Road (El Camino Real), a fact which made the town grow in importance. The first Anglo settler in the Hays County area was Thomas G. McGehee, who was granted land by the Spanish.