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The Spanish Missions in Texas

Filed Under: 
Texas History Features
Filed Under: 
Timeline of Texas History

 

The Spanish royal administration closely coordinated all missionary activity in the New World. The intermingling of church and state was a legacy of Spain’s own long struggle to push Islam out of the Iberian Peninsula and to re-establish a homogeneous Christian faith and culture there. This experience of reconquest set the Spanish nation on a crusade for most of the rest of its history, combining all civil and religious activity into one.

In Texas, this meant that only rarely did missionaries venture into hinterlands without official authorization and without soldiers being stationed at nearby presidios for protection. This process of approving a new mission could be lengthy, sometimes beginning in Spain, but often determined by the viceroy in Mexico. The friars were almost always eager, but politics and financial restraints often created delays by the civil authorities. The establishment of the Texas missions, which were to total some 35, came in spurts, following the rhythm of the fortunes of Spain.

Map of Spanish mission sites in Texas
The locations of mission sites. Click to enlarge.

The Order of Friars Minor, known as the Franciscans, was founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. It was the Franciscans who were given responsibility for all the Texas missions. The first missionary journeys into Texas came from the west, where the Franciscans had begun evangelizing the Indian pueblos around Santa Fe soon after it was made the capital of New Mexico in 1610.

These earliest missions at San Angelo, El Paso and Presidio were directed from New Mexico, but later most of the Texas missions were directed from two conventos or colegios (colleges) of Franciscans in Mexico.

These two units of the order that had custody of the Texas missions were the College of Santa Cruz at Querétero and the College of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at Zacatecas. Later, there were three missionaries from the College of San Fernando in Mexico City who served at the Apache missions on the San Saba River and the upper Nueces River.

This division of custody between the colleges of Querétero and Zacatecas was reflected in various decisions throughout the Texas mission history. For example, when the civil authorities removed the Presidio de los Dolores from East Texas (Nacogdoches County) in 1729, the Querétero Franciscans decided to remove their three missions from the area and eventually relocate them to San Antonio, while the nearby Zacatecas missions in Nacogdoches and San Augustine remained.

Besides providing protection for the Spanish missions and nearby settlements, the soldiers who lived at the presidios often became the source of trouble with the Indians and were often in conflict with the friars. Thus, there was a constant dilemma over whether to place the presidio close enough to the mission to provide quick response during attack or far enough away to keep the soldiers from harassing and aggravating the mission Indians.

The general purpose of the missions was to “reduce” or congregate the often nomadic tribes into a settlement, convert them to Christianity, and teach them crafts and agricultural techniques. Once these goals were met, the mission was to be “secularized”; that is, the church was to be turned over to the local bishop and administered by “secular” clergy (local priests not belonging to a religious order). The land was to be turned over to the Christianized Indians.

The Spanish civil authorities saw the missions and presidios as financial drains and were often the early proponents of shutting down the mission activities. Almost without exception, the decision to secularize was opposed by the friars. They felt the Indians were not sufficiently educated and would be taken advantage of by the authorities and the Spanish settlers. Thus, not until 1830 were the last missions in Texas secularized.

Early Evangelizing

The first mission in Texas was established in 1632 near present-day San Angelo. It was a follow-up effort to an initial 1629 missionary trip to the area at the request of the Jumano Indians, which was the first journey into Texas specifically for Christian evangelization. The Spanish Franciscans spent only a short time there in 1629 but promised to return. The 1632 mission existed for six months before it was abandoned because of its remoteness from the Franciscan home base in New Mexico.

This mission is believed to have been located near the confluence of the Concho River and the Colorado River, which was known as the Río San Clemente at that time. (Later, in 1684, another San Clemente mission was located in the same general area; see San Clemente section, following). Today, there is a small commemorative monument along the Concho River in the city of San Angelo.

El Paso Missions

In 1680, the Indians at Santa Fe in northern New Mexico revolted, causing the Spanish settlers there to flee and take refuge in the El Paso area. Along with the Spanish came friendly Indian tribes who settled along the Rio Grande. Here, the Franciscans began the missions of Corpus Christi de la Isleta (Ysleta), Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción del Socorro and San Antonio de Senecú.

Ysleta exists today as a parish, although in 1881 the church name was changed to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The present mission church, which dates to an 1851 reconstruction, required major renovation after a 1907 fire. However, some of the walls and bells date to the 1744 church (click for photo).

Socorro also exists today as a parish, La Purísima, with a church built in 1843 and renovated in the 1980s. It underwent another renovation in 2004 (click for photo).

There is a state historical marker two miles north of Ysleta marking the approximate site of the Senecú mission.

The first missionary efforts in the whole area of El Paso del Norte were on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande in the 1630s. After failed attempts, a temporary church was built in 1656 and a successful mission was founded in 1659. There were subsequent missions in the area, and some sources say the Senecú mission was established soon after 1659 and before the refugees arrived from New Mexico in 1680.

Other sources list a fourth church after 1680, San Lorenzo, on the Texas side, but this appears to have been primarily a settlement of the Spanish refugees and was not a mission for Indians. But historian Robert S. Weddle says San Lorenzo later became a mission in 1726. Historian Carlos Castañeda says the settlement, Real de San Lorenzo, was first located at present-day San Elizario. In 1684, San Lorenzo was moved upriver to be closer to the protection of the presidio. In 1936, a state historical marker was placed in south El Paso commemorating San Lorenzo.

Included on El Paso’s Mission Trail today is the Chapel of San Elizario (Elceario). It was not a mission but served the presidio that was moved there from across the river in 1789. The present chapel was built in 1877 after floods destroyed the original, and the chapel interior has been redone since a fire damaged it in 1935 (click for photo).

La Junta Missions

In the area of present-day Presidio, in the Big Bend region, the Rio Grande is joined from the south by the Río Conchos of Mexico. Called La Junta (the junction), this area was on the principal route used by the Spanish to travel from the settled areas of northern New Spain (Mexico) to New Mexico. The first missionary efforts at La Junta began as early as 1670.

In 1683 and 1684, the Franciscan friars at El Paso were petitioned by the La Junta pueblos to establish missions at the ancient site. The area is considered the oldest continuously cultivated farmland in Texas. Corn farmers of the Cochise culture settled there around 1500 B.C.

In is not clear which missions were in Texas and which were on the Mexican side, although today most sources agree that El Apóstol Santiago was on Alamito Creek between Presidio and Redford. Also on the Texas side, about four miles to the north along the Rio Grande, was El Navidad de los Cruces. These missions were abandoned in 1688.

State historical markers have been erected for El Apóstol Santiago four miles east of Presidio and for San Francisco de los Julimes 10 miles north of Presidio, although most sources now believe San Francisco de los Julimes was one of the La Junta missions on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

San Clemente Mission

In 1684, a second mission in the area of San Angelo existed from March to May. Its location was near the juncture of the Colorado (San Clemente) River and the Concho River of Texas (then called the Nueces), most sources say.

Others have placed the mission farther east, on the South Llano River and the San Saba River. Because it is not known exactly where the San Clemente mission was located, several markers in the area commemorate the site. A state historical marker erected in 1968 is about six miles south of Ballinger on US 83 in Runnels County. It states, “The building was probably constructed of logs, its lower story serving as a chapel and its upper story as a lookout post.”

There was another state historical marker erected in 1936, about 12 miles north of Millersview on FM 2134 in Concho County. The Texas Department of Transportation has placed a sign in Millersview, and there is a commemorative plaque there at the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Records show that thousands of Indians were baptized at San Clemente, but hostile Apache tribes forced the Franciscans to abandon the mission. The missionaries wanted to return to the area, but with the arrival of the La Salle Expedition on the Texas coast in 1685, the Spanish government decided to concentrate its energies on East Texas.

East Texas Missions

Efforts were turned to East Texas in 1690. The missionaries traveled along El Camino Real, the highway through Central Texas, toward Louisiana. Deep into the Piney Woods, just west of the Neches River, they founded San Francisco de los Tejas. Recent research places the site on San Pedro Creek, east of present-day Augusta, and a few miles west of Mission Tejas State Park, which is near Weches in Houston County. The park has a representation of a log chapel that was built in 1934.

A few months after San Francisco de los Tejas was started, Santísima Nombre de María was established closer to the Neches River. There is a historical marker in Houston County four miles east of Weches on Texas 21. In 1692, a flood destroyed Santísma Nombre de María and the friars returned to San Francisco de los Tejas, which, in turn, was abandoned in 1693 because of sickness and hostile Indians.

More Missions at La Junta

From 1700 until 1713, the War of Spanish Succession created turmoil in Spain and frustrated developments in Mexico, but — after the Bourbon king won the struggle with the Hapsburgs — in 1715, more missions were established around Presidio. San Cristóbal was located near the present-day town of Redford, and Santa María de la Redonda de los Cíbolos was located near what is now Shafter in Presidio County. The missions were partially abandoned during periods of Indian hostilities and then re-established. Cíbolos Mission finally was abandoned around 1726 and San Cristóbal around 1775, and both fell into ruin.

These two missions are mentioned in a state historical marker at the site of Fort Leaton, one mile southeast of Presidio. Also mentioned are other missions at La Junta, including San Antonio de los Puliques (sometimes referred to as San José de los Puliques) and San Pedro Alcantara. Whether these missions were east or west of the Rio Grande is not known for sure. In any case, all the missions on the Texas side had ceased to function by 1795.

Return to East Texas

Nuestro Padre San Francisco de los Tejas was re-established on the west bank of the Neches River in 1716 as the successor to the Mission Tejas, the mission that had been abandoned in 1693. In 1721, the mission was moved to the east bank of the river in what is now Cherokee County and renamed San Francisco de los Neches. The site was about seven miles west of the present-day town of Alto. There is a state historical marker on Texas 21.

Also in 1716, three missions were founded in Nacogdoches County: Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Nacogdoches, Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hasinai and San José de los Nazonis. In San Augustine County in January 1717, the Franciscans founded Nuestra Señora de Dolores de los Ais.

Mission Concepción de los Hasinai was located near Douglass, and there is a state historical marker about seven miles south of the town off FM 225.

San José de los Nazonis was in northwest Nacogdoches County. The Texas Department of Transportation has placed a marker about two miles north of the town of Cushing.

In 1719, French incursions from Louisiana caused all the East Texas missions to be temporarily vacated, but they were restored in 1721. While the three missions operated by the Querétero Franciscan college (San Francisco, Concepión, and San José) were removed to Austin in 1730 (see following), Missions Dolores and Guadalupe remained in East Texas until they were abandoned in 1773. Today, there are state historical markers in Nacogdoches and San Augustine commemorating the two missions.

The Alamo

San Antonio de Valero Mission was established May 1, 1718, as the Spanish created the Presidio of San Antonio de Béxar and the attached civil settlement, which is present-day San Antonio. The community was to be a way-station on the journey from the Rio Grande to the East Texas missions.

After three moves from its original location west of San Pedro Creek, the San Antonio mission was placed at its present site in 1724. The earliest buildings do not survive. The parts that exist today were begun in 1727 when the stone convento was built. The existing chapel, the Alamo Shrine, was begun during the 1750s.

Protecting walls were constructed around the mission because it had to provide for its own defense, since the Spanish administration never completed the presidio. The mission was secularized in 1793, meaning it ceased to be a mission and its services passed to the parish of San Fernando de Béxar, just across the San Antonio River.

In 1803, the old mission buildings housed a company of Spanish soldiers from Álamo de Parras, Coahuila, Mexico, and, from that association, it may have acquired the name, Alamo. Other sources say the name comes from a grove of cottonwoods (álamo in Spanish) growing near the site.

San José

San José y San Miguel de Aguayo was established in San Antonio in 1720. Father Antonio Margil de Jesús, president of the Zacatecas Francisican college, initiated the plans in 1719 after the French incursion had caused the East Texas missions to be temporarily vacated. Like so many missions, San José was at various sites: first, on the east side of the San Antonio River, and finally, in 1739, at its present site on the west side of the river.

The friary was begun in the 1740s. Construction on the present church structure began in 1768, about the same time that the mission was enclosed in protective walls because of hostile Apaches.

The mission was secularized in 1824 and placed under the care of San Fernando Church. Through the following years, the mission buildings deteriorated, including the collapse of the roof, dome and bell tower. In 1933, major restoration began as a collaboration between local church and civic preservationists and the federal Work Projects Administration (WPA) and Civil Works Administration (click for photo). Since 1978, Mission San José has been part of the San Antonio National Historical Park.

A few miles upriver, San Francisco Xavier de Nájara was established in 1722. This mission lasted only four years before it was merged with San Antonio de Valero.

Goliad

Nuestra Señora de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga was founded in 1722 on the Bay of the Holy Spirit (La Bahía del Espíritu Santo), now called Matagorda Bay and Lavaca Bay. The site was across Garcitas Creek from the ruins of La Salle’s Fort St. Louis. Although retaining its common name, La Bahía, the mission moved inland, away from the bay, in 1726 to a site near present-day Mission Valley on the Guadalupe River.

Then, in 1749, Espíritu Santo was moved to the north bank of the San Antonio River near Goliad. Despite repeated orders to turn the church over to secular (diocesan) priests, there were still two Franciscan priests taking care of the settlers in Goliad in 1830, when Mission Espíritu Santo became one of the last missions to be secularized.

Deterioration of the physical building occurred over time, until restoration began in the 1930s with Civilian Conservation Corps labor. More reconstruction occurred in the 1960s, so that today the replica mission looks much as it did in 1749 (click for photo). Across the San Antonio River, within sight of the mission, is Presidio La Bahía. The presidio chapel has been virtually intact since 1749 (click for photo).

The earlier locations of La Bahía are noted by state historical markers. The first site is mentioned in the marker at FM 444 and US 59 in Victoria County, which says, “Thirteen miles southeast of Inez is located the site of Fort St. Louis . . . [and] Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo.”

Also, some 10 miles north of Victoria off Lower Mission Valley Road is a marker for the second location of the mission. In Victoria’s Riverside City Park, there is a state historical marker for a ranch of the mission called Tonkawa Bank.

Austin

The Spanish authorities decided in 1729 to abolish the presidio, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Tejas, which protected the East Texas missions. The presidio near present-day Douglass was unnecessary, the government said, because of the peaceful demeanor of the Indians. Also influencing the decision was the need for the royal administration to cut expenses. The missionaries of the Franciscan college of Querétero protested the decision, but to no avail.

As a result, the friars decided in July 1730 to remove their three missions, La Purísima Concepción, San Francisco de los Neches and San José de los Nazonis, to a site on the Colorado River, near Barton Springs in present-day Austin.

This site had been suggested by viceregal authorities, but the friars found it undesirable, and within months they petitioned to remove the three missions once again, this time to the San Antonio River. A state historical maker at Barton Springs briefly mentions the experiment; “During 1730–1731, Spanish friars located three missions here.”

San Antonio Relocations

By spring of 1731, the three Querétero missions were relocated to San Antonio, with name changes.

La Purísima Concepción de los Hasiani was situated near what had been San Francisco Xavier de Nájara and became La Purísima Concepción de Acuña, commonly referred to simply as Mission Concepción.

San Francisco de los Neches, a legacy of the original 1690 San Francisco de los Tejas, was relocated at a site farther south along the San Antonio River and renamed San Francisco de la Espada.

Situated between this new Mission Espada and the older Mission San José (y San Miguel), the East Texas mission San José de los Nazonis became San Juan Capistrano.

Today, along a nine-mile stretch in south San Antonio, these three missions, along with Mission San José and the Alamo Shrine, provide the most extensive concentration of mission architecture in the United States.

Mission Concepción’s stone church was completed in 1755 and remains much as it was then (click for photo). The mission was merged with San José in 1815, and by 1819, church services were no longer held there. In 1835, during the Texas Revolution, some of the buildings were damaged in the Battle of Concepción.

In the 1850s, the Marianist religious order acquired title to the mission, and after repairs, the church was reopened for services in 1861. The Marianists deeded the mission back to the bishop of San Antonio in 1911. Today, the virtually unrestored church survives, along with some other buildings.

The small chapel at Mission Espada was completed in 1756, but — after the roof collapsed — by 1777 only the façade and the rear wall remained standing. Although officially secularized in 1794, the Franciscans did not give up the mission until 1824. Beginning in 1858, the chapel was rebuilt by the pastor, Francis Bouchu, a diocesan priest who had been a bricklayer and stonemason. He also restored the convent, which served as his residence (click for photo). The Indian quarters and granary remain as they were built in 1745.

San Juan Capistrano was the least developed of the missions in San Antonio and the large church was never completed. The mission was secularized in 1794. What survives today are 1756 buildings, which were also restored by Father Bouchu, including the chapel (click for photo), friary and granary. In the 1930s and 1960s, further repairs were conducted.

In 1978, all three missions became part of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, along with Mission San José. Operation of the park began after a 1982 legal opinion by the U.S. Department of Justice that allows the National Park Service to manage the park, while the Archdiocese of San Antonio continues to use the missions as churches.

In addition to the buildings, the elaborate system of dams and acequias (irrigation ditches) built by the Spanish missionaries in the 1740s are preserved and still provide irrigation to farmlands in the area. The system includes an aqueduct over Piedras Creek.

In 1995, a ranch outpost of Mission Espada, called Rancho de las Cabras, was added to the national historical park. It is in Wilson County off Texas 97 near Floresville.

San Xavier Missions

Milam County was the site of three missions along the San Gabriel River. The river originally had been named the San Xavier in 1716. (One source says that on his 1828 map, Stephen F. Austin mistakenly labeled the river “San Javriel,” a name that evolved into the present one.)

In 1745, a group of Indians approached the missionaries in San Antonio to ask that missions be established in their area. The immediate result was the temporary mission of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores del Río de San Xavier, which was served by one missionary friar.

In February 1748, it was succeeded by the first official mission, San Francisco Xavier de Horcasitas, located on the south bank of the river. This was followed late in that year by the establishment of San Ildefonso, and, early in 1749, the mission Nuestra Señora de la Candaleria. All three were clustered near a presidio, San Francisco Xavier de Gigedo.

Conflict between the missionaries and the military authorities, especially over the soldiers’ mistreatment of the Indians, caused the missionary work to suffer, and, at one time, the entire presidio garrison was excommunicated by the missionary chaplain. The continual harassment of the Indians caused the atmosphere to become hostile, such that in 1752, one missionary and a civilian were killed by unknown assailants. Finally, in 1755, the three missions were removed to the San Marcos River.

Various ceramics and glass objects, as well as indications of adobe walls have been discovered in the San Xavier Mission Complex Archeological District. Here, eight miles west of Rockdale on FM 908, there is also a state historical marker for San Francisco Xavier.

On the north side of the river, six miles east of San Gabriel on FM 487, there is a marker for San Ildefonso. Closer to San Gabriel, also on FM 487, is a state historical marker for Candelaria Mission.

San Marcos, New Braunfels

In August 1755, the San Xavier missions were relocated to the San Marcos River near the present-day city of San Marcos. In the year spent there, some 1,000 Apaches joined the missions. However, by 1756, plans were made to establish a mission farther west in Central Texas to reach more of the Apaches. The Indians of San Xavier were transferred to the San Antonio missions, and the property was earmarked for the planned Central Texas mission, Santa Cruz de San Sabá.

One tribe of Indians, the Mayeyes, persuaded the Franciscans to keep a mission in the New Braunfels area. So San Francisco Xavier mission was re-established on the Guadalupe River in late 1756 at present-day New Braunfels. Some accounts say it was renamed Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. The mission was abandoned in March 1758.

A state historical marker at San Marcos Springs commemorates the San Xavier mission there, and another in New Braunfels marks the site of the Guadalupe mission.

Second Goliad Mission

Disputes between the various Karankawa tribes and the other Indians at Mission Espíritu Santo necessitated the creation of another mission in 1754. Nuestra Señora del Rosario was established in November of that year on the San Antonio River four miles west of Goliad.

There were periods when the mission was abandoned, only to be reopened. By 1789 the mission had developed a ranch with 50,000 head of cattle. Rosario was combined with the mission in Refugio in 1807 and was finally secularized in 1831.

There is a 1936 state historical marker off US 59. Various artifacts have been found among the ruins at the site, which is not open to the public. Among the items found was a mural that is on display at Goliad State Park.

Southeast Texas

To counter the influence of the French in southeast Texas, the Spanish authorities established Nuestra Señora de la Luz del Orcoquisac mission in 1756 on the Trinity River in Chambers County.

This mission and its accompanying presidio, San Agustín de Ahumada, have been described as “two of the most misfortune-ridden outposts of Spain in Texas.” Illness, insects and conflict between the missionaries and soldiers plagued the effort. When Spain acquired Louisiana in 1763, ending the French threat, the Spanish administration no longer was interested in the area. In addition, supplies were hard to get because the site was so isolated from the settled parts of Texas. In 1771, most of the garrison left. One missionary stayed at the request of the Orcoquisacs, but he too left a few months later.

In 1936, a state historical marker was placed on the west bank of the Trinity River, but excavations in the 1960s established the site instead on the east bank of the Trinity, near Lake Miller. Outside the post office in Wallisville is a 1970 state marker commemorating the mission.

San Saba River

The Apaches, who had long been hostile to the missions, became the focus of a new evangelizing effort into west-central Texas in 1757. The Franciscans had been interested in such an effort since 1725 and finally received government support following reports of mineral deposits in the area

The remnants of the San Xavier missions, which had existed first in Milam County, were now pooled to establish Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission on the San Saba River in present-day Menard County.

The Apaches never congregated at the mission. A group of 3,000 camped briefly near the mission in June 1757 but moved on to hunting grounds, leaving only two members of their tribe. They were the only Apaches at the mission when 2,000 members of other tribes, including Comanches and Wichitas, attacked the mission on March 16, 1758.

The garrison of Presidio de San Luis de las Amarillas was four miles away across the river, not close enough to be of immediate help. When soldiers did arrive at the smoldering mission ruins the next day, they found two priests and six others massacred.

The presidio was rebuilt of stone in 1761 and held on for another decade of bloody conflict. It was abandoned in 1770 and officially closed in 1772.

In 1993, the site of Santa Cruz de San Sabá mission was discovered on private property about three miles east of Menard. There is a 1936 state historical marker on FM 2092 commemorating the mission. Also in 1936, there was an attempt to rebuild the presidio, just west of Menard (click for photo).

Nueces River

After the destruction of Santa Cruz de San Sabá mission, other sites for evangelizing the eastern Apaches were selected to the south. These missions were to be under the protection of the Presidio de San Luis de las Amarillas, or Presidio de San Sabá, as it came to be called.

In January 1762, San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz was established on the upper Nueces River. About 12 miles down the river, another mission, Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria del Cañon, was begun in the following month. It took its name from its predecessor that had been among the San Xavier missions.

Again, the Apaches showed they were not interested in settling in the missions, which were not where the viceregal authorities had wanted them located anyway. They wanted new missions to the west of the presidio as way-stations between Texas and New Mexico. Because the two missions were never very successful in converting the area tribes, they were essentially abandoned by 1767, although formal closure did not come until 1771.

The site of San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz has been excavated on the north edge of Camp Wood in Real County. There is a state historical marker commemorating Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria in the town of Montell in northwestern Uvalde County.

Refugio

The last mission to be established in Texas was Nuestra Señora del Refugio on Feb. 4, 1793. The Karankawa Indians had deserted the two missions in the Goliad area but said they would come to a mission closer to their home area on the coast.

The Indians helped choose the site of the new mission in an area known as El Paraje del Refugio, “Place of Refuge,” on Goff Bayou in present-day Calhoun County. However, Indian attacks caused the mission to be moved in 1794 farther inland to Mosquitos Creek. In 1795, the mission moved to its final site at the present-day town of Refugio. After frequent attacks from non-mission Indians and ongoing internal conflicts, the mission was gradually abandoned until, in January 1830, it was officially closed.

In the early 1830s, when Irish colonists arrived, the town was named for the mission and the settlers occupied some of the old buildings. From March 12–15, 1836, the mission church served as a fortress for the Texans at the Battle of Refugio.

By 1859, the mission ruins were described as still the most distinguishing feature of the town. Today, only traces of the foundation of the mission can be found under the present parish church of Our Lady of Refuge. There are no visible remains at the two earlier sites.

Lower Rio Grande Valley

In 1749, in a major colonizing effort along the Rio Grande, four towns were founded on the south bank of the river in Mexico: Reynosa, Camargo, Mier and Revilla (now Guerrero). Some time later, the missions in these settlements all established outposts on the Texas side when some of the settlers began to move across the river. These outposts were visitas and took their names from those missions. A visita was a kind of country chapel that was visited by the priests for Mass or to administer sacraments.

One of these visitas was in Zapata County. It was an outpost of the Mission San Francisco Solano de Ampuero that was in the Mexican town of Revilla. Called Mission Revilla a Visita, it is commemorated with a state historical marker in the present-day city of Zapata at the courthouse plaza.

Also in Zapata County was the ranch settlement of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, established in 1750, about 11 miles north of San Ygnacio. Today, the site is referred to as Dolores Hacienda. Although a state historical marker put up by the Texas Centennial Commission in 1936 says there was a mission there, later research indicates there was only a small chapel for religious services provided by priests from Revilla.

In 1755, another ranch settlement was founded on the east bank of the river at Laredo. Until 1760, when it received its first resident secular priest, Franciscan friars from the Revilla mission visited Laredo on occasion to minister to the settlers.

The Mexican city of Mier was the site of the mission La Purísima Concepción, and across the river in present-day Starr County was Mission Mier a Visita, begun sometime in the mid-1750s. There is a state historical marker on US 83, 3.5 miles west of Roma. At the same time, another visita was established from San Agustin de Laredo mission in Camargo, Mexico. There is a state historical marker 2.5 miles west of Rio Grande City on US 83.

Farther south in Hidalgo County a visita was established in the mid-1750s from the mission San Joaquín del Monte in Reynosa. A marker in McAllen Park in Hidalgo commemorates the visita.

— written by Robert Plocheck, associate editor, for the Texas Almanac 2006–2007.

 

SOURCES

Ashford, Gerald. Spanish Texas: Yesterday and Today, Jenkins Publishing Co., Austin and New York, 1971.

Bannon, John Francis. The Spanish Borderlands

Frontier 1513–1821, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1974.

Castañeda, Carlos E. Our Catholic Heritage in Texas 1519–1936, Von Boeckmann-Jones Company, Austin, 1936.

Chipman, Donald E. Spanish Texas 1519–1821, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1992.

Habig, Marion A. O.F.M. Spanish Texas Pilgrimage: The Old Franciscan Missions and Other Spanish Settlements of Texas 1632–1821, Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1990.

Hickerson, Nancy Parrott. The Jumanos: Hunters and Traders of the South Plains, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1994.

Simons, Helen and Cathryn A. Hoyt, eds. Hispanic Texas: A Historical Guide, University of Texas Press, 1992. “The Spanish Missions in Texas” by Robert S. Weddle.

Sonnichsen, C.L., Pass of the North I-II, Texas Western Press, El Paso, 1968.

Stephens, A. Ray and William Holmes, Historical Atlas of Texas, University of Oklahoma Press, 1989. “Spanish Missions.”

New Handbook of Texas, Texas State Historical Association, 1996, various.

Journal of Texas Catholic History and Culture, Texas Catholic Historical Society, 1992. “The Legacy of Columbus: Spanish Mission Policy in Texas” by Félix D. Almaráz Jr. “Before They Crossed the Great River: Cultural Background of the Spanish Franciscans in Texas” by Kieran McCarty O.F.M.

Diocese of El Paso, online.

Mission Trail Association, El Paso, online.

National Park Service, Washington, D.C., online.

Texas Historical Commission, Austin, online.

Texas Parks & Wildlife, Austin, online.

 

Texas Almanac

Texas Almanac