The San Antonio Missions

The Missions are fundamental to San Antonio's character.

Spanish Missions and Presidios in Texas

The arrivals of Columbus and later Cortez, Pizzaro and their cohorts altered both Native American and European cultures forever. With the Spanish came change. The Spaniards brought with them a distinct religion, powerful diseases, new technologies, animals, food, and unique customs. In exchange, the natives introduced the foreigners to indigenous resources and customs which created a blend that can still be observed today. Texas was subjected to these winds of change when the Spanish began their occupation by way of the many missions, presidios and settlements that they established throughout the region.

The first permanent Spanish settlement within the boundaries of the state of Texas is believed to have been founded in 1682 by Fray Francisco Ayeta. The mission, Corpus Christi de la Ysleta del Sur, was located east of present day El Paso. The last mission, Nuestra Señora del Refugio, established on the Mission River in what is now Refugio County, was secularized in 1830, some nine years after the end of Spanish rule in Texas (Tennis 2002:49). In the intervening 148 years, these institutions functioned as the centers of the Spanish colonization efforts in Texas.

Goals and Strategy of the Missions

The mission institution was developed for three main purposes: to protect, to Christianize, and to “civilize” (Fisher 1998:1). Missionaries were to be the cultural emissaries who established relations with native groups and founded far-ranging settlements that constituted the first step toward a Spanish foothold in the hinterlands. In this respect, the work of the Church served the purposes of religious zealots, military leaders, and the few European colonists alike, by converting the Native Americans to Catholicism and to a European lifestyle (McEwan 1993: xix).

After becoming aware of French encroachment, Spain found that its own citizens were not interested in entering the harsh Texas frontier in order to colonize the area. Instead, Spain had to examine other options that were protecting their claim against French advancement. Luckily, Pope Paul III had offered a solution that would benefit both the Spanish Crown and the Roman Catholic Church. In 1537, Pope Paul III decreed that the Natives encountered in the New World were “truly men capable of understanding the Catholic faith”, once again creating an opportunity for the clergy to spread Christianity to unexposed people (Fisher 1998:1). This proved to be a successful solution in the case of the Spanish Territory of Florida. Unlike the English colonial powers, which aimed to displace or even eradicate the Native Americans, Spain worked to incorporate Native groups into their society. Ultimately, Spain intended to create the same success story in Texas as they encountered in Florida.

The missionary was regularly accompanied by the presidial soldier (Bannon 1979:68). The establishment of missions paired with a presidio propagated Spanish northern expansion. These two institutions provided a defended frontier with the labor force needed to undertake construction activities that would encourage subsequent colonization (Scurlock et al. 1976). The armed soldiers present at the presidio provided protection for the missionaries and sometimes provided the force necessary keep Native Americans from leaving. The soldiers also aided the priests in the education of the Natives (Hinojosa 1991:66-67).

It was expected that both institutions were only to remain in existence until the missionaries felt that enough Natives had converted and were educated enough to be left on their own. The plan was that missionaries would gather the natives into the mission complex, using abundant food as an enticement (Meissner 1999:40-41). There they could be instructed in the disciplines of religion, farming and a European way-of-life. Secularization would then occur, and the land divided among the Natives. Then the mission and presidio would be re-established at another location (Scurlock et al. 1976:19). It was hoped that the seeds planted through such expansion would make the territory more attractive to colonists from Spain (Fisher 1998:1), who could use the Native Americans as a peasant labor force.

The missionaries of Florida did not find many sedentary agricultural societies flourishing throughout the land. Most of east Florida was occupied by hostile, nomadic groups which required some time to subdue and extract the obligatory labor and tribute (Deagan 1983:22). Similarly, the majority of the indigenous groups of Texas, with the exception of those living in East Texas and along the Rio Grande north of the Big Bend, were nomadic hunters and gatherers. They were not exposed to agriculture before the Spanish missionaries arrived and had not experienced a settled way of life.

The friars who came to Texas tried to apply the model that had been successful in Florida and sought to gather the natives into fixed settlements or reducciones. It was believed that sedentary living was the “Natural Law” (Hinojosa 1991:64). By having the natives live sedentary, agricultural lives, the missionaries were teaching the European lifestyle through example. Examples were insufficient, however, in convincing the inhabitants, even those who had established a sedentary lifestyle before the Spanish occupation, to remain permanently within the missions and the friars constantly complained of fluctuations in resident populations. One missionary explained to the Viceroy:

In this province, one cannot found a mission, nor resurrect those that have been abandoned in the same way that Mexican settlements are established, where the Indians, prior to their conquest, already lived in society, with some of the cleanliness, and with commerce between the kingdoms. With the nations of the north, it is impossible because they live dispersed in their heathendom, without loyalty to any monarch, since they have none. These nations have no fixed abode and are always wandering about.

Spanish Missions

On several occasions, during the 16th and 17th centuries brief exploration of the Texas frontier occurred. Cabeza de Vaca’s journey through Texas did not begin with the intended purpose of surveying the Texas territory; rather, he was part of a crew trying to investigate the Florida Gulf Coast that got separated from the rest. He spent seven years on the Texas frontier before returning to Mexico. Other expeditions briefly ventured into Texas territory, but usually with the intended purpose of finding easier routes to present-day New Mexico. The first real settlements in Texas began with the entrance of the Spanish missions and presidios.

The timing and locations of the missions established in present-day Texas reflect both geographical factors and concerns about the French encroachment into regions neighboring Texas. From a chronological and geographic perspective the Spanish settlement of Texas resulted in five waves that established missions in:

  1. West Texas, in and near what is now El Paso and Presidio;
  2. East Texas, where the Spanish hoped to find allies against the French in the indigenous population;
  3. San Antonio, which could provide a secure way station between the Rio Grande and the East Texas Missions;
  4. Central Texas, where attempts were made to Christianize the Apaches; and
  5. the Gulf Coast. The West Texas missions represent the earliest permanent settlements in Texas and date to the late 1600s.

The East Texas missions were established during the early 1700s in response to the perceived French threat, while the several San Antonio mission represented a strong push, between 1718 and 1731, to colonize the new frontier. The Central Texas missions were highly unsuccessful attempts that took place between 1740 and 1770 to end the predations of the Apaches and other “Norteños” by settling them in missions. With one exception, the Coastal missions came relatively late in the history of colonization of the state and reflect both concerns with re-establishing Spain’s claim to the area in the face of the French threat as well as reducing the threat from the natives groups of the region.

Figure 1-1 is a map showing the locations of all the known Spanish missions, presidios, and secular communities in Texas. The sites are grouped into missions and presidios and are numbered from west to east across the state. Table 1-1, which serves as a key to Figure 1-1, is a list of these missions and presidios, their archaeological site numbers, and the dates of their founding and abandonment or secularization, with notes relating each site to others when missions or presidios were moved and/or renamed. Below we present a brief summary of regional histories in mission establishment and refer to specific missions to illustrate those trends. For the reader that is interested in learning more about these missions and trends we recommend that they consult some of the several authoritative works including Habig (1968a, 1990), Bannon (1974); and Chipman (1984).

West Texas Missions

In 1659, two Franciscans from New Mexico, Fray Juan Pérez and Fray Juan Cabal established a small church near El Paso de Norte, near present day Cuidad Juarez, which developed into Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Chipman 1992:66; Weber 1992:91). Though the mission was not placed within the modern Texas boundary, several of the native groups serviced here were from east of the Rio Grande. The first permanent Spanish settlement within the Texas state boundaries is believed to have been founded in 1682 by Fray Francisco Ayeta. The mission was named Corpus Christi de la Ysleta del Sur (3), in honor of the refugees from Ysleta who congregated there. The mission was located east of present day El Paso. During the next 50 years four additional missions were built in the El Paso/Socorro area (Habig 1990). These include: San Antonio de Senecú del Sur (1), San Lorenzo (2), Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción de Los Piros de Socorro del Sur (4); and Santa María de las Caldas (5). All of these missions were affected by a major flood of the Rio Grande in 1829. Corpus Christi de Ysleta, Concepción del Socorro and San Antonio de Senecú were all originally established west of the Rio Grande, but the flood in 1829 destroyed San Antonio de Senecú, Concepción del Socorro, and San Lorenzo, and created an island containing Corpus Christi de Ysleta east of the new main channel of the river, moving it into what became Texas. Corpus Christi de Ysleta and Concepción del Socorro were rebuilt, and then rebuilt again on higher ground after an 1840 flood, churches that are still being used today (Habig 1990:149). Santa María de las Caldas was originally built for the Suma people, and was always an open community, more similar to the missions in New Mexico than the walled fortresses of Texas (Wright 2001). It existed from 1730 to 1749 (Habig 1990:166).

Southeast from the El Paso missions along the Rio Grande, several missions were established near present day Presidio. Navidad en las Cruces (6) (also known as San Francisco de los Julimes) was established in 1682 for the Jumanos who requested the mission (Habig 1990). The mission existed for one and a half years before the Franciscan missionary was forced out by the aggressive natives. It was re-established in 1687 for a short time. Soon after Navidad en las Cruces was founded, two Franciscan missionaries founded El Apostol Santiago (7) at another church constructed by the Jumanos, located further south. The missionaries were forced to leave this mission approximately six months later. It is possible that the mission had a brief resurgence in 1687 (Habig 1990).

Attempts to re-establish missions in the Presidio area were made in 1715. Mission San Antonio de los Puliques (8) was founded near the site of present-day Presidio (Habig 1990:153-154). Some speculate that the mission may have had its start sometime during the 1680s, though this may be due to the fact that Mission San Antonio was placed near or on the site of El Apostol. Mission San Antonio de los Puliques lasted until 1795, though it was abandoned several times for periods of up to six years. Another mission founded in the area during 1715 was San Cristóbal (9). Habig (1990:154) reports that the mission’s history was similar to that of San Antonio de los Puliques, although other sources believe that it was initially started in 1683, and given its name in 1715 (Burke 1971:63-64).

Mission Santa María la Redonda de los Cibolos (10) was located approximately twenty miles north of Presidio near Cibolo Creek. Little is known about this mission. It appears to have been established by the Trasviña Retis expedition in 1715, but it is possible that it was founded in 1684 by the Dominguez Mendoza expedition. Regardless, the mission was abandoned in 1724 (Habig 1990:154).

East Texas Missions

The Aguayo expedition of 1689 to East Texas in search of the La Salle colony found that the settlement, known as Ft. Saint Louis, had already been destroyed by a smallpox epidemic and by hostile Native Americans (West 1916:398). Some of the Native American groups living inland from Fort Saint Louis had expressed interest in maintaining contact with the Spanish, which made the latter believe they would be willing to enter a mission (West 1916:403).

The Spanish returned to East Texas in 1690 to establish two missions along the Neches River. Texas was officially created as a frontier province in 1691, with Domingo de Teràn named as governor. Teràn found the Native Americans in the area were not as eager to enter the missions as had been supposed (Bannon 1979:102). The first two missions, Mission San Francisco de los Tejas (34) and Santísimo Nombre de Maria (33) did not last long. The first existed only three years before the missionaries and soldiers abandoned the site. Rumors of an invasion by the French caused the Spaniards to bury any large valuable items (bells, cannons, etc.) and burn the structures to the ground before retreating to Coahuila (Burke 1971: 118, Habig 1990:153). Santísimo Nombre de Maria had been even less successful, existing only for approximately one and a half years. When a flood washed away the straw chapel the missionaries fled to San Francisco de los Tejas (Habig 1990:153).

In 1713, the French constructed Fort Natchitoches on the Red River under the instruction of Louis Juchereau de Saint-Denis. This prompted Spain’s second attempt to secure East Texas in 1716 (Bannon 1979:111). By July of 1716, four Spanish Missions and Presidio Nuestra Señora de las Dolores de los Adaes (located in what is now Louisiana) were founded not far from the French fort. San Francisco de los Tejas was restored six miles from the original site and rechristened Nuestro Padre San Francisco de los Tejas (32). The new missions were Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hasinai (36), Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Nacogdoches (37) and San José de los Nazonis (35). Two more missions, Mission San Miguel de Linares (in present day Louisiana) and Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Ais (38) were added the next year to provide a better defense against the French (Burke 1971:70). The French presence in Texas had been met and Spanish presence in the area had been established “…but it was immediately evident that it could be held only if strong reinforcements, military and civilian, came up from Mexico and quickly (Bannon 1979:116). Sickness and dissention reduced the population at the East Texas Missions and presidio leaving them vulnerable to Indian revolt or French invasion. It was clear that the settlements needed assistance in 1719, when these missions were all abandoned after the French attacked Presidio los Adaes (Burke 1971:70). Most of the Spanish fled to Mission San Antonio de Valero (16), which had been established the year before on the San Antonio River (see below).

By 1721, however, the threat of French encroachment lessened. Marquis de San Miguel de Aguayo was sent to East Texas to push the French out, but he found them willing to go without a fight (Hackett 1945). He re-established the missions and built a new presidio, Loreto de la Bahía (E) on the site of La Salle’s Fort Saint Louis.

By 1729, however, Spanish officials were convinced that the East Texas missions were too costly to maintain and their presence was no longer needed. The Hasinai and other Native American groups in the area had not been very receptive to the Spanish Missions (Bannon 1979:102). French attempts at occupation of the area had ended in 1721, so they no longer posed a threat to Spanish territory. Only Mission Guadalupe de los Nacogdoches (37) and Dolores de los Ais (38) were to remain in East Texas. The other three, Concepción de los Hasinai (36), San José de los Nazonis (35) and Nuestro Padre San Francisco (32), were moved, first briefly to a location on the Colorado River not far from modern Austin, and then to the San Antonio River, where each was renamed. The two remaining missions in East Texas were finally abandoned in 1773 (Burke 1971:70; Habig 1990:156-157).

The Missions of East Texas faced several problems that limited their impact on Native American culture and ultimately led to their failure. Even though they were already living a sedentary life in small farming communities the Natives were not interested in joining the missions. In addition, the distance that supplies from Mexico had to travel (Scurlock et al. 1976:23; Bannon 1979:121) to reach the missions often lead to shortages in resources that would discourage full-time residence at the missions.

The San Antonio Missions

In 1709, an expedition led by Captain Pedro de Aguirre stopped briefly near the headwaters of the San Antonio River (Foster 1995:99). Accompanying Aguirre on the expedition was Fray Antonio de San Buenaventura Olivares. Fray Olivares was greatly impressed by the abundance of resources, ideal locations, and disposition of the natives found near the Rio San Antonio. Olivares began petitioning to be allowed to move the rapidly failing Mission San Francisco de Solano across the Rio Grande (de la Teja 1995:8; John 1975:206-207) to this place where the creeks were “bordered by many trees and with water enough to supply a town” (Tous 1930:5). Before the end of 1716, the Governor of Coahuila commissioned Olivares to found a mission along San Antonio River (Bannon 1979:117). On May 1, 1718, Mission San Antonio de Valero (16) was founded (Foster 1995:132). Five days later Presidio San Antonio de Béjar (C) was established nearby (Bannon 1979:117). This Spanish community on the San Antonio was intended more to provide a secure way station on the road to the East Texas Missions than to convert the local Native Americans (de la Teja 1995:7).

Mission Valero (16) was originally located just west of San Pedro Springs. The young mission experienced several setbacks at its first location. The mission was moved to the east side of the river in 1719 (Habig 1990:159). This second location did not fare much better as in 1724 a hurricane destroyed what few buildings had been erected at the mission. After the devastating hurricane passed, Mission Valero was moved to its present-day location across the river from the Presidio San Antonio (C). Mission Valero (16) was initially successful, with the Native population reaching 328 by 1756. The mission served many groups of Native Americans from all areas of Texas. These groups included the Payaya, Tacame, Xarame, Apache, Coco, Karankawa, Ervipiame and Yuta (Schoelwer 2006).

When the fears of French aggression led to the abandonment of the missions in East Texas during 1719, many of the missionaries came to Mission Valero (16) for refuge. One of them, Fr. Margil de Jesus asked permission to establish a second mission in the valley. Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo (19) was founded in 1720. The original location of Mission San José (19) was the east bank of the San Antonio River, approximately three leagues from Mission Valero. Its location changed to the opposite bank sometime between 1724 and 1727. The mission moved to its present location during the 1740s due to an epidemic (Scurlock et al. 1976:222).

In 1722 Mission San Francisco Xavier de Nájera (17) was established, probably on the original site of Mission San José (Ivey and Fox 1999:45). The mission served a group fifty Ervipiami families that came from the Brazos River area. It appears that a shortage in funding created the decline of the mission and it lasted only about two years (Habig 1968a:78-81), although it is possible that the decline was due to a lack of interest on the Native’s part (Ivey 1984:13). The mission closed in about two years but it was reopened shortly thereafter in an attempt to have it serve as a sub-mission of Valero. This trial did not last long (Habig 1968b:78-81) and its doors closed for good in 1726 (Schuetz 1968:11).

The year 1731 proved very eventful in the area. Three East Texas missions relocated to the San Antonio vicinity in March and the civilian town of Villa de San Fernando de Béjar was established across the river from Mission Valero near the location to which the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (C) had been moved (Scurlock et al. 1976:22). San Fernando de Béjar was established on March 9, 1731, but did not receive viceregal approval until October (Scurlock et al. 1976:22). The villa expanded throughout the eighteenth century, with both immigrants from Mexico and Native Americans who had been baptized and married into presidio and villa families forming the population (Scurlock et al. 1976:22).

As the villa grew, the three East Texas missions were busy settling in their new locations. Each mission was re-christened upon arrival along the San Antonio River. Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hasinai (36) was renamed Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña (18); Mission San José de los Nazonis (35) became Mission San Juan de Capistrano (20); and Mission Nuestra Padre San Francisco de los Tejas (32) was renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada (21) (Scurlock et al. 1976:22-23).

The early years of the San Antonio Missions saw much hardship and struggle. Though there were adequate resources of wood, quarry stone, and water, fields had to be irrigated to be used as croplands. This necessity limited the areas that could be settled around San Antonio: “…The fields required irrigation and this could be accomplished only in a narrow area along the upper 10 miles or so of the valley” (Ivey 1984:4). A major difficulty the missions faced was that, unlike the Native Americans surrounding the West Texas and East Texas Missions, the Natives inhabiting South Texas were hunters and gathers who would have to be convinced to give up their nomadic ways (Schuetz 1968:14). The need to provide a large and dependable food supply to entice Native Americans into the missions led to the building of an extensive acequia system to provide irrigation to the fields around each mission (Cox 2005). In addition, large tracts of land surrounding San Antonio were pulled into service as ranches to raise large herds of cattle (Cargill et al. 1998).

The population census data of the missions reveal that initially there was no problem enticing the natives to join the missions. The prospect of abundant food, supplied by irrigated fields and the rapidly increasing herds of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, as well as acquisition of material objects such as metal tools and glass beads, was an important lure to the missions, but protection from other Native Americans, especially Apaches, and later, Comanches, may have been an even greater inducement (John 1975:255-257; de la Teja 1995:9). However, even with these inducements, the Natives often did not stay (Ricklis 1995:159-162; Schuetz 1968:14). One father noted “It is the exception who does not flee to the wilderness two or three times and so far away that sometimes they go as far as 100 leagues away” (Habig 1978:56). At first, those who left and those who died of disease were readily replaced. Valero (16) and San José (19), the first two missions established, had a neophyte population of over 500 by the end of the 1720s. In 1740 the overall Native American population of the missions was 987 (Habig 1978:80), but by 1750 the combined missions population was declining, all five missions housed only a total of about 800 Natives (Hinojosa 1991:62). In 1789, Fray Lopez noted that although Mission Valero (16) was now some 70 years old, the majority of the population there had converted as adults (Habig 1968a:65). Hinojosa (1991:75) has pointed out that over two-thirds of the 319 Native Americans who were identified in both baptism and death records died before the age of three. Only eight from this group lived to the age of 30. No population growth within the mission community was taking place.

Historical records reveal much concerning the subsistence of the inhabitants of the missions. Farming and ranching endeavors were given much attention, “…types and quantities of vegetables and grains cultivated, the location and structure of the rancho, and the number of horses, sheep, pigs and mules and chickens” (Scurlock et al. 1976:23-24). In Padre Dolores’ account of mission life he wrote:

There are consumed for this cattle which they try to increase to kill for them in each mission each Sunday and some special feast days, four or five heads of cattle butchering them, according to the number of people, making the pieces for each individual according to his ration, and mutton is given when they are sick. The maize from the harvest is used by giving it to Indians that they need to their complete satisfaction, also they issue beans, squash, watermelons which in each mission there is care to plant annually, for this produce is a major gift for the appetite of the Indians (Schuetz 1968:20-21).

Evidence suggests the use of indigenous food resource as well. An account from an anonymous missionary from Mission Concepción states “some women are in the habit of leaving the mission toward evening to eat tunas, strawberries, sour berries, nuts, sweet potatoes and other fruit and roots from the field” (Luetenegger 1976:49). Catching fish from the irrigation ditches was not uncommon either (Schuetz 1980:205). Some padres exhibited culturally biased views in their accounts of the natives’ use of indigenous foods: “common illness [es] were fatal to the natives because they ate unwholesome foods gathered in the el Monte (wilderness) nearby” (Hinojosa 1991:76).

The early mission sites did not boast the impressive structural remains that we see today. In fact, original mission structures were very rudimentary. The buildings were constructed of cedar posts, thatch roofs, adobe walling and lime or mortar flooring (Ivey 1984:37; Scurlock et al. 1976: 23). Permanent stone structures at four missions began to be constructed during the 1740s and 1750s. Great care was taken in the construction of the churches, often taking up to 15 years to complete one project. All the missions had a stone church building by the mid 1750s. Mission San José was the exception, with an adobe church finished in 1749, and a stone church was not even begun until 19 years later (Scurlock et al. 1976:23).

The institution of the frontier mission was originally believed to be a temporary means of Christianizing and Hispanicizing indigenous cultures. The missions were only to remain functioning until it was deemed that the people could be integrated into Spanish society. It is believed that the San Antonio Missions did not work towards this goal:

As for assimilation of the Indians into the Hispanic society of San Fernando, it does not appear to have been seriously considered. Quite the contrary, the work and life in the mission and the building programs directed by the padres were designed to create permanent communities completely separate from the other institutions on the frontier. The survival and development of the missions for almost a century attests to the strength of those ideals of segregation and independence (Hinojosa 1991:69).

The San Antonio Missions may have received support from both religious and political sects; for the most part, they acted in total isolation from the urban San Antonio society (Hinojosa 1991:68-69; Ivey 1984:1).

Secularization of the San Antonio missions began in 1793 (de la Teja 1995:86). Mission Valero and Mission San Juan were fully secularized in that year. Final secularization occurred at Mission Concepción in 1823. Secularization was completed in 1824 at Mission San José (Habig 1968b:122). In September 1831, all of the remaining Mission Espada lands were ordered to be auctioned.

Central Texas Missions

Several clusters of missions were founded in Central Texas, north and east of San Antonio. Many of these missions were established in an effort to serve the Apaches, though much of their work was not successful.

Three missions were founded along the San Gabriel River between 1746 and 1749. Mission San Francisco Xavier de Horcasitas (28) was the first organized in 1746, though it was not officially established until 1748. The mission was not very successful due to the squabbling between the Natives and the presidio soldiers, a yearlong drought, and the murder of the missionary at Candelaria (Burke 1971:72). The mission functioned at this site until 1755 when it was moved to the springs at San Marcos where it lasted for a year before being moved yet again to the last site in present-day New Braunfels. After the last move, the mission was referred to as San Francisco Xavier on the Guadalupe (15), or just the Guadalupe Mission (Chipman 1992:849; Habig 1990:173). The mission was never formally recognized at its final location, but Father Dolores campaigned to include the site among the missions supported by Pedro Romero de Terreros. Terreros was encouraging the founding of missions among the Apaches, and the Guadalupe Mission fell outside of that region. Due to lack of funding and protection from a presidio, the mission was abandoned in 1758 (Chipman 1992, Habig 1990).

Soon after the establishing of Mission San Francisco (28), Mission San Ildefonso (29) was founded approximately two miles east of the first mission. It was hoped that this mission would serve the Coco, the Mayeye, the Orcoquiza, and other local groups. A smallpox epidemic, combined with a drought and the murder of Fr Ganzábal at Mission Candelaria (Burke 1971:80-81), caused a decline in the native population of the mission. The third mission established along the San Gabriel River was Mission Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria (30). The mission was founded in 1749 and had some success in the beginning. Troubles brewed, nonetheless, between the presidio soldiers and the native inhabitants. The decline of the mission was set off by a double murder that appears to have been orchestrated by Captain Felipe de Rábago y Terán. Terán had been admonished by Father Miguel Pinella and Father Juan José Ganzábal on several occasions for his harsh punishments of the natives, and the refusal to order his soldiers to conduct themselves in a more appropriate manner with the native women. To add to the ill behavior of Terán and his soldiers, an affair between Terán and the wife of one of his enlisted men, Juan Joseph Ceballos, came to light. Ceballos, unhappy with Terán’s behavior, went to the padres for guidance. Ceballos had publicly denounced Terán, who imprisoned Ceballos for his actions and continued his affair. Fr. Ganzábal petitioned for the release of the prisoner, which induced Terán to punish Ceballos further. Infuriated, Fr Ganzábal threatened to report the incident to the superiors. Terán released Ceballos to appease Ganzábal, but was still filled with anger toward the priest. A few days later, on May 11, 1752, Fr Ganzábal and Ceballos were murdered while having dinner in the priest’s room. A member from the Cocos confessed to the murders, though provided additional information implicating Terán. Within the next four years, the mission experienced a rapid decline in native inhabitants, brought on by their lack of faith in the Spaniards. In 1855, the mission was moved to San Marcos, and was deserted within the year (Burke 1971, Habig 1990, Richards 1936).

The establishment of Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá (12) in 1757 was another attempt to establish a mission for the Apaches. San Sabá (12) was placed approximately three miles east of present-day Menard. Temporary structures were quickly erected at the mission and a protective stockade was built surrounding the complex. Presidio San Luis de las Amarillas (B) was established nearby in 1757. The Apaches who were to enter San Sabá were apprehensive due to persistent rumors of attack by their enemies to the north, including Comanches and Tejas. The rumors proved true in 1758, when a large gathering of Comanches arrived at the mission’s gate. Among them were some Tejas, who tricked the padres into opening the gate by insisting they were on a friendly visit. Soon after the gates were open, the invading natives massacred the padres and many of the soldiers at the mission. After they collected all that was transportable, the structures were burned. The attackers left before any assistance from the local presidio was organized. Attempts were made to re-establish the mission; however, none were productive (Burke 1971:134-137, Habig 1990:175). The presidio, later known as Presidio San Sabá (B), remained working until 1771 (Habig 1990:185).

Four years after the demise of Mission San Sabá (12), another attempt to Christianize the Apaches was undertaken near the present site of Camp Wood, along the Nueces River. Mission San Lorenzo de Santa Cruz (13) was founded in 1762 with the help of soldiers from the Presidio San Luis (B). Efforts were made by the Apaches’ enemies to keep the mission from becoming established. San Lorenzo experienced a little more success than Mission San Sabá, but ultimately the mission failed and was abandoned in 1770 (Habig 1990:176). In the same year that San Lorenzo was established, Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria del Cañon (14) was founded approximately ten miles south. The mission existed for approximately six years before consolidating with San Lorenzo (Habig 1990:176).

Coastal Missions

Several missions were established along the Texas Gulf Coast to administer to the Aranama, Karankawa, Orcoquiza, and Bidai groups. In 1721, the Marques de Aguayo, having negotiated the withdrawal of the French to Louisiana, established a presidio, Loreto de la Bahía (G) on the site of La Salle’s Fort St. Louis, on Garcitas Creek (Hackett 1945). The next year Mission Nuestra Señora Espíritu Santo de Zúñíga (22) was founded approximately two miles north of the presidio. In 1726, a conflict between the natives led the Franciscan missionary to move the mission to a new location believed to have been in present day Victoria. The exact locations of the early sites of the mission have been the subject of debate for some time (Walter et al. 2006a). It is not known how long the second location of Espíritu Santo (25) was occupied after the mission was officially moved to the Guadalupe River later the same year, though archaeological research has suggested that the mission may have been in substantial use until the move to the final location on the San Antonio River near Goliad in 1749 (26) (Walter et al. 2006a). This final location of the mission served the Aranama, and prospered in ranching endeavors. The location did not allow for irrigation, therefore farming was never very successful. Often, the San Antonio missions sent supplies of vegetables and fruit to sustain Espíritu Santo and Rosario (23). The women at Espíritu Santo were well known for their pottery making skills (Walter et al. 2006b). The mission began secularization in 1802, with complete surrender of the church in 1830 (Burke 1971:124-126; Habig 1990:166).

Just across the San Antonio River, approximately four miles west of Espíritu Santo (26), Mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario (23) was established for the Karankawa in 1754 (Habig 1990:174). The mission was quickly moved to a higher location soon after it was founded. The need for Rosario was due to the animosity between the Karankawa and the Aranama. Similar to Espíritu Santo, farming was only possible when the weather was favorable. Irrigation was not possible due to the contour of the land, however, the mission was successful in cattle ranching. Rosario was abandoned by 1780, accounts indicate that the Karankawa were not happy with their treatment by the Spanish missionaries and soldiers (Fox 2000:5).

The Karankawa returned in 1789 for a brief revival of the mission. The period was marked by peaceful relations between the Natives and the Spaniards. By 1791, a new church was built of stone. The mission continued until 1808, when the mission inhabitants were moved to the newer mission of Refugio (24), although there is evidence that at least some Native Americans remained at the mission until about 1830 (Fox 2000:6; Habig 1990:174).

Nuestra Señora de la Luz de Orcoquisac (31) was founded in 1756 across the bay from present-day Houston. The mission was intended to serve the Orcoquiza and Bidai tribes of the area. Two years before the mission was founded, a Frenchman was arrested near the mouth of the Trinity River. To reassert Spain’s claim to the area, Governor Jacinto y Juaregui pushed for the establishment of the Orcoquisac Mission. Conflicting accounts speak of the mission as a success and as a failure. The mission persisted until the closure of the Presidio San Agustín de Ahumada (I) in 1770. The mission possibly continued one to two additional years before abandonment (Burke 1971:78-79, Habig 1990:174, Wooster 1996:1069). The last mission in Texas, Nuestra Señora del Refugio (27), was established on the eastern shore of Guadalupe Bayou in 1793 (McDonald 2002:14-15). It soon became clear that the first location was not well chosen. It was inaccessible during long periods, when almost continuous rains left it surrounded by water and mud. The massive numbers of mosquitoes were intolerable. Most importantly, the mission was completely vulnerable to attack by Natives (McDonald 2002:20-21). Refugio was moved to the Mission River in 1795 to the site of the present Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church in

Refugio, Texas. Here the mission persisted, with the inhabitants constructing a stone church and convento by 1809. Missions Rosario and Refugio were combined in 1808 and all the remaining inhabitants of Rosario moved to Refugio. Many of the mission buildings were badly damaged in a hurricane in 1818 (McDonald 2002:53). In 1824, the mission was ordered to close, with all possessions being transferred to La Bahia. The mission continued to serve the remaining natives until 1830, when the mission was officially abandoned (Benowitz 1996:1073; McDonald 2002:66-67).

Mission Refugio was the last Texas mission created and the last mission abandoned.


The construction of presidio complexes often occurred simultaneously with the establishment of the Spanish missions. The presidios offered added protection to the mission inhabitants, as well as providing opportunities for colonists to brave the frontier. Regulations stated that settlers were not to be turned away at the presidios, rather, they were allowed inside the wall to sell their wares, given parcels of land to produce crops, and encouraged to help in the defense of the settlement with the presidial soldiers (Moorehead 1975:270). The presidios would often be placed within close proximity of the missions, usually on the other side of a river, so as to be near enough to supply aid when needed, but far enough to offer some obstacle to the soldiers’ access to the missions’ female neophytes. One presidio may serve anywhere from one to five missions at a time.

The population at each presidio varied in the number of individuals and the ethnic background. As the mission period progressed in Texas, the ethnic dynamic shifted frequently. Some presidios were manned by individuals of purely Spanish background (i.e. espanoles, europeos), with a few members who were considered mixtures (mestizos, mulatos, coyotes, etc.) and some members of the local native groups considered to be scouts (exploradores) (Moorehead 1975:182-183). At the presidios on the frontier, the ethnic Spaniards were usually outnumbered by the men of mixed background and acculturated Native Americans (Moorehead 1975:197-198).

Eight presidios were established in Texas. These included San Elizario (A), San Luis de las Amarillas (B), San Antonio de Béxar (C), Santa Cruz del Cíbolo (D), Loreto de La Bahía (E, F, G), San Francisco Xavier de Gigedo (H), San Agustín de Ahumada (I), and Nuestra Señora Dolores de la Tejas (J). Each presidio played a specific role in the development and protection of the Texas frontier. The first presidio established within the present State of Texas was Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Tejas (J) (Habig 1990:178-180). The presidio was founded in 1716 to serve the missions of Nuestro Padre San Francisco (32), Concepción de los Hasinai (36), San José de los Nazonis (35), Guadalupe de Nacogdoches (37), and Dolores de los Ais (38). The presidio was moved a few times before settling at the location along Thomas Creek, but the exact location of these sites is not known. Presidio Dolores not only acted to protect the missionaries and their neophytes from raiding natives, but also as a listening station to track French activities in the area (Faulk 1996:334). The presidio persisted until April of 1729 when it was ordered to close (Habig 1990:180).

The presidio of San Antonio de Béxar (C) was first erected at San Pedro Springs, near the San Antonio River in 1718. The exact location of this presidio is not known, though it was likely on the hill above the springs. The complex consisted of an adobe house that served as a headquarters, while the soldiers resided in huts. In 1722, the presidio was moved to a location on the west side of the river where it would serve as the nucleus around which the secular settlement of San Fernando would later develop. The new structures were to be built of adobe bricks, but documents indicate that they were never completed. Unlike the other presidios in Texas, San Antonio de Béxar lacked any substantial structures such as walls, or towers. The compound was enclosed by a stockade, though the soldiers continued to live outside the walls within the town (Faulk 1996:334). The few structures fell into disrepair, and by 1790, new plans to reconstruct the presidio were created. These plans were never followed through. The Segunda Companía Volante de San Carlos de Parras del Alamo arrived in 1803 to help protect the town from hostile Native Americans, but they chose the recently abandoned buildings of Mission Valero, across the river from the town itself, giving it a new name: the “Alamo.” The soldiers utilized the abandoned mission structures as the center of the fortified defense, and the plazas surrounding San Fernando as the municipal center. The old presidio in the center of town witnessed much of the hostility during the Mexican and Texan fights for independence. The presidio had a very brief reinstatement after the fall of the Alamo, but was finally closed in 1836, after Texas won its independence (Handbook of Texas 1996:826).

Presidio Santa Cruz del Cíbolo (D) was built on Cibolo Creek in Karnes County on the site of a small fort “Fuerte Santa Cruz del Cíbolo” that had been maintained there from 1734 to 1737 to protect the horse herd of Presidio San Antonio. The little fort had failed and was abandoned, but in 1771 a full-scale presidio was built on the site to protect the road from San Antonio to Mission Espíritu Santo and Mission Rosario in Goliad. Almost constant hostilities with Apaches and later Comanches became much worse by the early 1780s and in 1782 the men were returned to San Antonio and the presidio burned down to prevent its use by Native Americans (Cox and Ford 2001:11-13).

In 1721, Marques de Aguayo built Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahia del Espíritu Santo (G) on top of the site of LaSalle’s Fort St. Louis. The presidio was intended to discourage any future French aggression and protect Mission Espíritu Santo as well as rescue shipwreck victims and deter coastal invaders (Faulk 1996:333-334). A map of the presidio showing a large palisade in the shape of an eight-pointed star found among the papers of the Aguayo expedition was considered by historians to be merely a plan for the presidio. Archaeological excavations at the site by the Texas Historical Commission in 1999-2001 found the setting trench for this elaborate fortification and discovered that not only was the map correct, even the scale was almost exactly right (Bruseth, J., personal communication 2002).

Within five years after the initial founding, however, the presidio was moved to its second location due to conflict with the Karankawa. The second site of La Bahía (E) was along the Guadalupe River near present-day Victoria. In 1749, the presidio and mission were moved once again to the final site along the San Antonio River near present-day Goliad. Even at its newest location, the role of the presidio La Bahía (F) was to protect Mission Espíritu Santo, but, in 1754, it was also charged with protecting Mission Rosario as well. The stone structures of the presidio were built during the 1790s. La Bahia, at its final location (F) was able to withstand attacks from the Apaches and Comanches, as well as to prevent Dutch, English and French intrusions (Roell 1996:1067-1069) even before the stone buildings were finished. After Mexico gained its independence, Presidio La Bahia acted to protect and supervise many of the colonies that came to the area. During the fight for Texas independence, Goliad experienced much of the hostile action between the Mexicans and Texans, most notably the Goliad Massacre that occurred in 1836. Though Texas gained its independence, the presidio compound still did not fare well, with additional repeated attacks in 1842. Restoration efforts during the early and mid-1900s revealed several occupation levels at the presidio producing a myriad of artifacts relating to each period in the presidio’s history (Roell 1996:1067-1069).

Presidio San Francisco Xavier de Gigedo (H) was founded in 1750 to serve the three San Xavier missions, namely, missions San Francisco Xavier de Horcasitas, San Ildefonso, and Candelaria. The presidio was situated on the south bank of the San Gabriel River, west of the three missions. The presidio remained at this location until 1855 when, soon after the double murders of Ceballos and Fr. Ganzábal, it was moved to the San Marcos River with Mission San Francisco Xavier and Mission Candelaria. The presidio persisted for an additional two years at the new site until the soldiers were transferred to San Sabá (Habig 1990:184).

Presidio San Agustín de Ahumada (I) , established in 1756, was originally located on the east bank of the Trinity River, approximately five miles north of Trinity Bay. Mission La Luz de Orcoquiza was founded three months later east of the presidio. San Agustín was destroyed by a hurricane in 1766, but was rebuilt on the east bank of the river within one mile of the original location. The presidial soldiers were relocated to San Antonio in 1770 (Habig 1990:184-185). By 1772, the missionaries from Mission La Luz abandoned the site. Repeated attempts were made by the French to settle in the area sometimes referred to as “Atascosita” over the years, until one succeeded in 1810 (Habig 1990). The Presidio of San Luis de las Amarillas (B), commonly known as San Sabá, was situated in 1757 near Mission San Sabá on the north bank of the San Sabá River. The presidio was to protect the mission for the resident Apaches and to buffer San Antonio from the advancing Comanches. The presidio remained at its original location after the fall of the mission in 1758. More permanent stone structures were erected at the presidio in 1760, but this did not keep the presidial soldiers and their families from moving to San Lorenzo in 1768. While a few remained behind with some missionaries, by 1771 the remaining soldiers were recalled, transferring the garrison to San Fernando de Austria in what is now Mexico (Habig 1990:185-186, Faulk 1996:1067-1069).

Presidio San Elizario (A) was established in 1780 along the Rio Grande near present day El Paso. The presidio was to serve the missions of San Lorenzo, Ysleta, Socorro, and Senecú, and to provide a colony of “pacified Apaches” (Timmons 1996:838-839). The chapel at the presidio served the spiritual needs of the surrounding town named San Elizario. In 1807, Zebulon Pike was imprisoned at Presidio San Elizario after crossing into Spanish territory and causing concern over possible American invasion. Until the presidio was recalled in 1814, a part of its function was to hold American traders, who were encouraged to enter Spanish territories after reading Pike’s review on the commercial properties of New Mexico (Timmons 1996:838-839). The presidio’s church was washed away in the big flood of 1829.