The Missions of Texas

 

     The Franciscans had almost exclusively the field of Texas Missions. The three principal Orders of the Church that founded and operated the Missions of New Spain were the Franciscans, the Jesuits, and the Dominicans. The first had their chief fields in Texas, Alta California, Sonora, and Chihuahua; the second, in Lower California, Old and New Mexico, and Arizona; the third in Old Mexico and Lower California. Large tracts were conveyed to the Missions, and such privileges as were needful for their purposes.

The following are the Missions of Texas:

Adaes, in honor of Our Lady del Pilar, is supposed to have been founded in 1718, on the Sabine River, by Governor Alarcon, of the Province of Coahuila and Texas, near the French fort at Natchitoches. A presidio was built for the soldiers and garrisoned strongly to watch the French. In 1716 Captain Domingo Ramon was sent to Texas with a small squad of soldiers and friars to .establish Missions, and it is sometimes asserted that he founded this Mission, on the Honda Creek, fifteen miles from the fort. It was always an inferior Mission, and never prospered much. In 1768 it had a church and some thirty houses. The presidio was probably more important than the Mission at that time, as there was another fortress on the Trinity. Spain and France both claimed the province. In 1790 the Mission was about deserted, but Bishop Maria and Governor Cardero were there in 1805, and the prelate is said to have baptized two hundred neophytes in the old chapel. The site can now be found by none but zealots.

Our Lady de Los Dolores, on the Acs Bayou, was not far from San Augustine, and appeared in priestly records as a living Mission about 1715. It is not now known who founded it, and it never brought forth much fruit-not enough to make history. It was abandoned in 1772.

The Alamo is the most noted Mission of all in Texas, not for its sanctity, but because it was besieged and taken by Mexico from those that revolted against her government in 1836. As a Mission it was not a success. From the hour of its location on the Rio Grande almost to its final location at San Antonio, it was a restless and movable shrine. Founded in 17o0, under the name of San Francisco Solano, it was removed in 1703 to Ildephonso; again in the year 1710 it was returned to the Rio Grande. Still again it was transferred to San Antonio, and dedicated in the name of San Antonio de Valero, the duke who was Viceroy of Mexico. Yet more restless, it was moved to the Military Plaza in the city in 1732; and lastly, in 1744, it took its final departure over the river to another site in the city, where it has since been quietly anchored. It assumed the name of Alamo, and was used as a church for the populace. It was a misnomer to call it a Mission, unless it belongs to a class of itinerant Missions.

Concepcion La Purisima de Acuna is located on the left bank of the river, about two miles below the city.
It was projected by the Viceroy in 1722, after whom it was named, but no steps were taken to build it until 1731, when Captain Perez and Father Bergaro laid the corner-stone. It never developed into a prosperous Mission, and was closed to work when Zebulon Pike visited it in 18o7, while exploring the West and Arkansas River regions.

San Francisco de La Espada, meaning the Mission of the Sword-was first located on the Medina River
in 1731, but was removed in 1750 to San Antonio, to escape the raids of the Apaches. Like many other Missions in Texas, this was but a dwarf in the Mission fields, and is not interesting except for its pious purpose, and because it is one of the links in the chain. Life among the Apaches for twenty years raises the presumption that the priests had courage ; but it was a fruitless field, where none were converted but by Father Kuehn, and that but transiently.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Victory County, known sometimes as Mission Valley, was projected, it is said, by Don Domingo Ramon; but this is mere tradition. His plan was supposed to be to open up ditches for the irrigation of the valley and to protect it by a presidio, and in time he would develop a prosperous Mission. Little is known about it, except that there are extensive ruins in the valley.

La Bahia Mission Del Espiritu Santo at Goliad, was begun in 1718. It is supposed to have been projected by Domingo Teran, who founded many Missions. The presidio always had a Mission connected with it, either within its grounds or outside as a separate establishment; so the priests were ever present. The old Mission of Aranama, on the east side of the river, was nearly opposite La Bahia. Both these Missions had their day and did their work of beneficence among the Indians, but it is impossible to give details of either their history or traditions. The Goliad Chapel still shelters the pious.

La Trinidad, Tradition says that this Mission was founded by Governor Teran, in 1691, when he explored Texas with a party of priests for that purpose. He and Don Domingo Ramon, who where favorites with the Indians, at this time devoted a few busy years projecting and founding presidios and Missions in various places. The site was on the Trinity River, near the town of Alabama, but this site was deserted in a short time for another at Nacogdoches. The Indians made trouble; the river became troublesome by overflows; and the malarial climate completed the causes of removal.

Our Lady of Loretto. This Mission, projected by Don Ramon in 1621, on Matagorda Bay, was soon given up.

Our Lady of Nacogdoches. This Mission was founded by Don Ramon in 1716, and prospered until 1772, when contentions between the French and Spanish made it necessary to remove the Indians to San Antonio. The Mission was then garrisoned to hold the French in check at Nacogdoches. The stone fort of 1778 still remains.

Our Lady of Orgnizacco. This Mission was founded in 1716, on the San Jacinto River; to instruct and convert a tribe of that name; but in 1772 the Indian converts were removed to San Antonio. Rosario. In 1730 this Mission was started near Goliad, but soon abandoned.

San Fernando was a chapel in San Antonio in 1730, amplified into a cathedral in 1868, but did not develop into a Mission San Jose de Aguayo was founded in honor of Governor Aguayo of Texas, in 1720. The buildings were begun two years earlier, but not completed until fifty-one years afterwards. When finished they were magnificent, and surpassed every Mission east of the Rio Grande. They were located on the river, about four miles below San Antonio. The Mission was noted for its beautiful statues and decorative paintings. It was built in the Moorish style of architecture, and its great, glittering dome was visible on a clear, sunny day for more than a hundred miles. The Indians called it the Day-Star of their Manitou, and many of them worshipped it. The carving and painting were the work of a Moorish artist from Seville, whose ancestor, centuries before, ornamented and chiseled the statues for the halls of the Alhambra; so runs the legend. The grand dome has long since fallen. The statues of the Queen of the Angels, and many others, have been mutilated by barbaric hands. The beautiful sculptured figures and decorations upon the outer walls have suffered the same fate. Wealth, beauty, and art strove to make it the wonder of those days, and still the love of the wonderful draws to it scores of visitors every year to gaze and meditate upon its grand ruins, beauty of location, and fateful history. It now stands upon the elevated tableland overlooking the river, a solitary monument of the sad fortunes of the old padres. This in its time was the kingly Mission of Texas, like San Luis, Rey de Francia, of Alta California, but it has not, like that, been restored.

San Juan Capistrano is six miles below San Antonio, on the east side of the river. It was founded in 1732. It was never a leading and important Mission, but simply a colony, founded as an experiment. It was one of the unfortunates that were abandoned from poverty or other causes; yet its buildings as studied and viewed from the ruins would indicate wealth at the time of construction.

San Saba was founded in 1734, in Menard County. This was among the Comanches, a powerful and war-like tribe. During twenty years the padres made many converts. When the silver mine, the Las Almagres, was discovered in 1752, the Indians became victims of the rapacious miners and adventurers. The Comanches turned in defense of their rights, and with no sense of discrimination, killed the missionaries and burned the Mission. Many obscure Missions in the Southwest, for real or fancied wrongs against the Indians, not committed by the padres or their followers, were destroyed. In the regions ranged by the Apaches are still found ruins believed to be on the sites of old Missions. Among the priesthood Father Kuehn was the exception who won the friendship of these savages. On the upper Nueces, Brazos, Texas, and Colorado Rivers are found these ruins without a living name. In Texas all operative Missions were secularized by Governor Don Pedro de Navo in 1794; then their property and control were transferred to the clergy of the parishes.

San Antonio de Bexar, the first important settlement by the Spaniards in Texas, was the central point around which clustered the great Missions of this province. Some of them are now restored sufficiently for the use of the secular clergy. The Order of Franciscans did a noble work here, but not comparable with their success in Alta California. The continual raids of the Comanches and the hostility of France were serious obstructions to Mission progress.

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