Missions & Presidios of the United States

Spain colonized for three reasons: to locate mineral wealth (gold), to convert the Indians to Christianity (God), and to fight French and English efforts (glory). First, a Spanish armed force established forts, or presidios, for future protection. Then, missionaries moved in to convert the Indians to the religion of Spain.


The Franciscan friars built many missions. They worked to turn the Indians from hunter-gatherers into Catholic farmers.

The missions were important for agricultural production. Each mission had a ranch for raising sheep and cattle to supply meat, wool, cheese, and leather. They expected the Indians to work on the ranches to produce everything they needed in order to survive.

The missions encouraged the Indians to establish settlements nearby where the priests could give them religious instruction and supervise their labor. The presidio, the mission, and the civil settlement were related frontier institutions for Spanish colonization.


The presidios were forts built to protect the Spanish priests and their followers from Indian attacks. Presidio soldiers were expected to bring back any natives who ran away from the mission and to protect the groups arriving with supplies. Soldiers also guarded herds of cattle and horses to keep them from being stolen.

Most presidio compounds were rectangular with four tall walls and lookout points on each corner. They contained barracks for the soldiers, a chapel, and storage rooms. The only entrance was a huge main gate.

The soldiers faced constant danger from hostile Indians and often did not get along with the priests they were ordered to protect. They were not paid well and had to use their salaries to buy their own uniforms, weapons, and other equipment at the presidio store, where the prices were very high.

Some of the native population mixed their traditions with those of Spain to create a new culture. Other Indians moved in and out of the missions, choosing to return to more familiar surroundings during the seasons when the environment was rich with food. Some Indians refused to join at all, continuing to live in their traditional ways.

Source: Missions & Presidios of the United States
Copyright © 2020 Legends of America. All Rights Reserved

Back to top