San Juan Bautista: Mother of Texas Missions
ROBERT S. WEDDLE*
T UCKED AWAY OUT OF THE MAIN STREAM OF THE TWENTIETH
century, thirty-five miles down the Rio, Grande from Eagle Pass,
Texas, is the tiny village of Guerrero, Coahuila, where decaying
buildings of stone and adobe testify to a colorful past. Almost forgot-
ten, but for the old mission church still standing outside the village,
is the vital role this community played in colonial history. Here
was the mission settlement of San Juan Bautista del Rio Grande,
gateway to Spanish Texas and parent of missions, both in Texas and
From 1700 to 1716 San Juan Bautista was the most advanced out-
post on the northeastern frontier of New Spain. From 1716 until the
early part of the next century it served as the mother of missions-
though the parent, in many instances, came to be outshone by its
offspring. Encompassing both religious and military arms of the
Spanish colonization effort-both missions and presidio-the settle-
ment, after 1772, gave greater emphasis to the sword than to the
cross. This change was brought about by the intractable nature of the
advancing plains Indians, the Apaches and the Comanches, and by
the role of Presidio del Rio Grande as a link in the chain of fortifica-
tions formed along the river under the King's New Regulation.'
Through all its various roles and many functions, the settlement was
witness to the passing processions of history until the final closing of
the gateway following the Mexican War. The way station at the gate-
way received travelers from both directions: bearers of sword and
*Mr. Weddle, production manager of the University of Texas Press, is the author of
The San Sabd Mission: Spanish Pivot in Texas.
1The name San Juan Bautista was applied first to a specific mission. Later, when a
garrison was placed to protect the Mission San Juan, it was known as Presidio de San
Juan Bautista before it became, in later years, Presidio del Rio Grande. With the
presidio and two other missions established at the site, the entire settlement came to be
known as San Juan Bautista. This article deals in summary with but one phase of a
more complete study by the writer, "San Juan Bautista: Gateway to Spanish Texas,"
which is soon to. be published by the University of Texas Press, Austin.
s"Reglamento e instrucci6n para los presidios que se han de formar en la linea de
frontera de la Nueva Espafia. Resuelto por el Rey Nuestro Sefior en c6dula de 10o de
Setiembre de 1772," printed in both Spanish and English in Sidney B. Brinckerhoff and
Odie B. Faulk, Lancers for the King: A Study of the Frontier Military System of Northern
New Spain, with a Translation of the Royal Regulations of 1772 (Phoenix, 1965), 11-67.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 71, July 1967 - April, 1968. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117145/. Accessed May 3, 2015.