"Ofie of the marvels in the history of the
world is the way in which Spain spread her
culture, her religion, her law and her language
over more than half of the two American continents."
Herbert E. Bolton
In the 16th Century over half the world belonged to Spain.
Following the conquest of Mexico, vast new lands were brought under
the Spanish domain. By 1531, only twenty-seven years after Columbus
had dropped anchor in Panama bay, Spain ruled over present-day
Mexico, Central America, the Carribean, half of South America and a
large part of the United States. Texas was one of the last outposts of Spanish
Early discoveries in the search of a strait to India and the riches of
the East led to the mapping of the state of Texas and the exploration of the
Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Yucatin. In 1519 Alonso de Pinieda, with
a fleet of four ships, sailed the coastland, sketching the first map of
By 1535, with the publication of Cabeza de Vaca's account of his
wanderings over the wilderness, Texas was well-documented. In his book
"Los Naufragios," ("The Shipwrecked Ones"), De Vaca recorded the
first geographic description of the unexplored land, the first information of
Doorway of Espada Mission, one of the few Moorish Arches known to exist
in the Spanish Colonial Southwest. Photograph by Carolyn Peterson.
Cover: The convento or monastery of San Jos6 after restoration. The dome
measures over 30 feet high above the roof.
the numerous Indian tribes of the area, the first account of the flora and
fauna and the first description of the bison, the buffalo.
Over the next one hundred sixty years, Texas slept on, neglected and
unoccupied, serving merely as a buffer between the central government in
Mexico and French claims to the east. Then, in 1685, rumors of La
Salle's Fort St. Louis on Garcitas Creek, near Matagorda Bay, alerted the
Spanish authorities in Mexico to foreign infiltration and rival trade with
Fear of the French swept the viceregal palace in Mexico City.
Acting on the advice of experienced missionaries and explorers, the
Crown took steps to protect its claim to Texas by authorizing a line of
missions, presidios (forts) and townships across the waist of the province.
The line would stretch from the Rio Grande in the south to the eastern
frontier of French Louisiana.
General Alonso de Le6n, a veteran soldier who had already led six
expeditions into Texas, and the pioneer Franciscan Damian Massanet were
instructed to establish the first mission in East Texas. For the expedition
de Le6n requested 400 horses, 150 mules and 200 head of cattle. The missionaries
were to be provided with 12 pack mules, sugar, chocolate, soap,
wine and wax candles, plus bright-colored cotton fabrics, beads and trinkets
for the Indians.
The expedition broke camp at Monclova in March and set out for
East Texas, arriving there two months later. On May 24, 1690 in the middle
of the principal village of the Tejas Indians, in the piney woods, San
Francisco de los Tejas was founded. The soldiers fired three salutes, a
standard with a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe was raised, and Fr.
Massanet was given formal possession of the site. The mission era in
Texas had begun.
One year after the founding of the Mission San Francisco, Massanet
accompanied General Teran de los Rios, the first governor of Texas, back
to the eastern frontier to lay the groundwork for seven more missions.
Several weeks on their way Terin and Massanet arrived at a green
river valley abounding with wild game and rich in native fruit - deer and
turkey, mustang grapes, pecan and peach trees, and a clear, cool river
jumping with fish. The expedition pitched camp nearby an Indian
rancheria on the banks of a fresh water stream. The Indians called the
stream "Yanaguana," "refreshing waters." The explorers, in a Mass of
celebration, re-named it the Rio de San Antonio de Padua in honor of the
13th Century Franciscan Saint Anthony, because it was "his day."
Between 1680 and 1793 thirty-six missions were established in
Texas. Five of these were built along the banks of the San Antonio River,
all within a 12-mile radius of the present city.
Fr. Antonio de San Buenaventura Olivares, one of the first missionaries
to explore Texas, had already expressed a desire to found a mission at
the headwaters of the San Antonio. In a report to his king, he described
the land as "rich in flax, valuable woods, and perhaps in minerals, products
that would be of great value to the commerce of Spain."
Olivares won the approval of the Crown, and on May 1, 1718
founded his Mission San Antonio de Valero, named in honor of the
Through the years, because of flooding by the river, Mission San
Antonio was moved twice from its original location. It is now famous as
Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, the second mission on the
River, was founded in 1720 by Antonio Margil de Jesfs, a saintly Franciscan
who had walked over Texas, Mexico and Central America, and become
a familiar sight to the Indians. And in 1731 three missions that had
been closed in East Texas were moved to the San Antonio River at "an
easy distance from one another."
Constant harassment by hostile Indians, the threat of French encroachment,
floods, epidemics and famine all contributed to the decision
of the Spanish government to abandon the East Texas settlements and to
retreat to safer sites near the Rio Grande.
Bexar County Historical Foundation
Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1983. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45449/. Accessed June 30, 2015.