Spanish Missions

The Spanish Missions’ goal was to introduce the native people to the Spanish colonial empire, their Catholic religion, and their Hispanic culture. Franciscan Catholic priests wanted to build Christian towns where property, labor, worship, political life, and social relations were all supervised by the missionaries.

Altogether there were 26 missions. Most of them failed to meet their goals, but they all helped establish European roots in Texas.

From 1718 through 1731 five missions were established near the San Antonio River: San Antonio de Balero [Valero, today known as the Alamo], San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción, San Juan Capistrano, and San Francisco de la Espada. These missions were successful in developing churches, workshops, fields, ranches, and a social and religious life.

Other missions, including San Francisco Xavier de Horcasitas, San Ildefonso, and Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria suffered from inadequate military protection and bad weather. The friars together with the few Indians who were left moved to the San Marcos River and then to the Guadalupe River. They finally abandoned the mission.

The Nuestra Señora de la Luz Mission, founded in 1756, was affected by unhealthy coastal conditions and inadequate support. The mission did convert some of the local Orcoquiza Indians. When the Spanish left, the natives pleaded the Franciscans to stay.

The Karankawas, from the southern Gulf Coast, were strong economically and could defend themselves. They accepted mission life on a seasonal basis. The original La Bahia Mission and the Rosario Mission both failed. They tried again in 1789, this time with a looser social organization. The last mission founded in Texas, the Nuestra Señora del Refugio, used the same flexible approach.

In 1682 the Indian mission towns of Corpus Christi de la Isleta, Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción de Socorro, and San Antonio de Senecú (this last site is now within Mexico) were founded. The Indians brought a developed cultural organization. Their authorities, with the approval of Spanish officials, controlled the economic and political life. The friars only controlled the spiritual life. For a few decades there was also a mission effort among the Suma people gathered at Santa María de las Caldas in the El Paso district. These Indian mission communities were open villages. By the nineteenth century the social exchange in these mixed Indian and Spanish towns resulted in complete Christianization and cultural assimilation.

Missions for the self-sufficient Caddos in East Texas were unsuccessful. San Francisco de los Tejas and Santisimo Nombre de Maria on the Neches River failed. The San Francisco mission reopened in 1716, along with Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hainais (later Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña), San José de los Nazonis, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Nacogdoches, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Ais, and San Miguel de Linares de los Adaes (in what is now Louisiana). These centers were small with just a chapel.

In 1730-1731, three East Texas missions moved to the San Antonio area because they were no longer protected. Louisiana moved from French to Spanish rule in 1763 and the missions there closed in 1773. When Nacogdoches was reoccupied as a Spanish civil settlement in 1779, no official mission was built there. Most Indians in that area did not practice Catholicism.

In the 1750s, the Lipan Apaches lost ground to their enemies, the Comanches. The Apaches were friendly with the Spanish in Central Texas, hoping for military cooperation. The missions established deep in Indian territory — Santa Cruz de San Sabá, in the vicinity of present-day Menard, and Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria del Cañón and San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz in the upper Nueces River basin — were attacked. The Spanish saw that the Apaches were militarily motivated and were unreliable allies. Colonial policy therefore shifted toward systematic war against the Apaches. Later, during the revolutionary decade of 1811–21, Lipans and Comanches fought the Spanish settlements continuously.

Between 1824 and 1830, all the missions still operating in Texas were officially separated, except for those in the El Paso district, which were turned over to diocesan pastors in 1852.

Source: Spanish Missions
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association

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