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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings


Location: Victoria County, head of Lavaca Bay, west bank of Garcitas Creek, about 10 miles east of Placedo.

This site commemorates the first French attempt to colonize the gulf coast, which created special Spanish interest in Texas. In 1685, La Salle, intending to plant a colony near the mouth of the Mississippi, led 400 colonists and soldiers instead into present Texas, where he founded Fort St. Louis on Lavaca Bay, an inlet of Matagorda Bay. A month later, he moved it to a new location 5 miles above the mouth of Garcitas Creek. A temporary wooden structure, it served as a base for his exploration of the surrounding country.

Hunger and Indian attacks disheartened the colonists, and the venture was a failure from the beginning. La Salle, after reconnoitering to the south and west, started north, hoping to reach Fort St. Louis in Illinois country, but mutineers murdered him. Two years later, Indians attacked the fort and wiped out most of the remaining Frenchmen. The survivors were captured 3 months later by the Spanish expedition of Capt. Alonso de Leó&n, which had been sent to investigate reports of French encroachment in Texas. De León burned the fort to the ground.

The failure of La Salle's colony ended French attempts to colonize Texas. The French established themselves at the mouth of the Mississippi and continued to threaten Texas along the Louisiana frontier, but they never again seriously contested Spain's hold on Texas. In 1722, the Spanish built the mission of Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zuñiga and the presidio of Nuestra Señora de Loreto near the site of Fort St. Louis, but abandoned them 4 years later.

Pinpointed by the late Prof. Herbert Eugene Bolton, the site has been accepted by most historians and substantially confirmed by archeological investigation. Positive proof of authenticity may never be obtained. On private ranch property, the site is marked on the surface only by traces of ancient walls constructed of adobe.


Location: Goliad County, on U.S. 77A-183, just south of Goliad.

In the 18th century, the Goliad vicinity was known as La Bahía del Espíritu Santo. One of the oldest municipalities in Texas, La Bahía has its origins in the Spanish response to French advances into Texas beginning in 1685. In 1722, the Spanish founded the mission of Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zuñiga and the presidio of Nuestra Señora de Loreto on Matagorda Bay near the abandoned site of La Salle's Fort St. Louis. They were commonly called the mission and presidio of La Bahía (The Bay). The settlement retained this name even after it moved inland, first to a site on the Guadalupe River, and in 1749 to its present location on the San Antonio River. The new mission and presidio attracted Spanish ranchers and farmers to the area, and a sizable colony soon grew up.

Espíritu Santo Mission
Espíritu Santo Mission, near Goliad, Texas, was a part of the Spanish settlement La Bahía, which reached its peak during the last half of the 18th century.

La Bahía reached its peak of influence during the last half of the 18th century, when hundreds of converted Indians farmed surrounding fields and tended huge herds of cattle. By 1790, however, Franciscan missionary activity in Texas began to ebb. Within a few years, La Bahía's prosperity faded and the mission Indians fled. The missions were secularized and the Franciscans returned to Mexico. In 1829, the Congress of Coahuila and Texas declared La Bahía a town and its name was changed to Goliad. A few years later, it was the site of the Goliad Massacre, during the Texas Revolution.

Espíritu Santo Mission, authentically restored under the supervision of the National Park Service, is an imposing example of 18th-century mission architecture; it resembles San Xavier del Bac, in Arizona, and San Juan Capistrano, in California. It is the central feature of Goliad State Park, which also contains a small museum illustrating Spanish colonial history. To the east, on a hill overlooking the San Antonio River, are the chapel and crumbling compound walls of La Bahía presidio. The chapel is still in use as a Catholic parish church. The compound is now being excavated and stabilized under private auspices, in cooperation with the Catholic Church, with a view toward future restoration.

West of Goliad are the ruins of the mission of Nuestra Señora del Rosario de los Cujanes. Twenty-nine miles south of Goliad, at the town of Refugio, is the site of the mission of Nuestra Señora del Refugio. La Bahía presidio also protected these two missions.

La Bahía Presidio
Crumbling walls and chapel of La Bahía Presidio, Texas. It is now being accurately restored.
National Historic Landmark National Park Service SAN ANTONIO

Location: Bexar County.

In 1718, San Antonio de Bexar was founded as part of a Spanish effort to forestall French designs on Texas. Destined to become the most important Spanish settlement in Texas, it was the capital during the latter part of Spanish rule. When it was founded, a new mission, San Antonio de Valero—which later became known as the Alamo—was established nearby. This mission carried out the first successful missionary effort in Texas. San Antonio was the political, religious, military, and population center of the Spanish province.

The rich heritage of the city has been largely preserved through the efforts of the San Antonio Conservation Society, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the Roman Catholic Church, the Texas State Parks Board, and the city of San Antonio. As a result, San Antonio has retained an old-world atmosphere equaled by few American cities and expressed by a wealth of significant historic sites and buildings.

The most famous historic site in Texas is the Alamo, which is eligible for the Registry of National Historic Landmarks (relating primarily to the Texas Revolution), originally known as San Antonio de Valero Mission. First of the five Franciscan missions at San Antonio, San Antonio de Valero prospered for nearly a century. At one time, members of scores of different tribes were enrolled as neophytes. Another significant mission in San Antonio, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, is commemorated by the San José National Historic Site.

NHL Designation: 12/19/60

The Alamo
The Alamo, the most famous historic site in Texas, was originally San Antonio de Valero Mission. (Courtesy, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.)

South from the central city are the other three San Antonio missions, relocated in 1731 on the San Antonio River following abandonment of the east Texas missions: Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuna, San Francisco de la Espada, and San Juan Capistrano. During the middle of the 18th century, all five missions were extremely active. They were self-sufficient communities, islands of civilization in the surrounding wilderness. The Franciscans, in addition to indoctrinating Indian neophytes in the Christian religion, trained them in trades, and taught them the Spanish language.

Though the missions eventually failed, were secularized, and then abandoned, their remains are tangible evidence of Spanish colonial policy. Some are still used for special religious observances. The city of San Antonio plans a "Mission Parkway" to make the missions more accessible to visitors and students.

Chapel of San Francisco de la Espada Mission
Chapel of San Francisco de la Espada Mission, south of San Antonio.

On November 10, 1978, these three missions, as well as the San José Mission, and Espada Aqueduct (see below), became part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

The Spanish Governors Palace on Plaza de las Armas was the residence and headquarters of 18th-century Spanish Governors and Vice-Governors of Texas. Over the entrance arch are the Hapsburg arms, and the date 1749 is carved on the keystone. A Spanish map, however, shows that the palace occupied the same location as early as 1722. When Spanish sovereignty ended, it passed into private hands and was neglected. In 1929, the city of San Antonio purchased it to avert complete ruin. The present structure is an outstanding and authentic restoration. Of plastered adobe, it consists of 10 rooms, furnished with Spanish furniture. A patio in the rear, which features cobbled walks, fountain, and well, is planted with native flowers and shrubs. The palace is operated as a public museum.

Spanish Governors Palace
Spanish Governors Palace, in San Antonio, was the residence and headquarters of 18th-century Spanish Governors and Vice-Governors of Texas. It has been restored and now serves as a museum.

Another important site, which illustrates the techniques of 18th-century mission agriculture, is the Espada Aqueduct, a Registered National Historic Landmark (relating primarily to agricultural development). Once part of an integrated irrigation system that served the five missions in the area, it is the best preserved section and is still functioning. Franciscans built the dam, aqueduct, and acequia during the period 1731-45. The most spectacular of the associated structures is the graceful, double-span aqueduct over Piedro Arroyo. The site, on Espada Road, is maintained as a park by the San Antonio Conservation Society.

Many other sites in San Antonio are associated with the Spanish period, including the restored historic district "La Villita."

Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuna
Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuna Mission—one of five 18th-century Franciscan missions in the San Antonio area.

Location: Houston County, about 3 miles northwest of Weches.

This mission, the first established by Franciscans in Texas, was originally built on the west bank of the Neches River during a Spanish colonization expedition led by Alonso de León into east Texas in 1690 to discourage French encroachment. The Spanish abandoned the mission in 1693 because the Tejas Indians were uncooperative.

In 1716, the mission was reestablished at another site 8 miles away, but on the east bank of the river. It was one of seven set up by the Franciscans, again to counter a French threat, during a second expedition, led by Domingo Ramón. In 1719, the French invaded east Texas from Louisiana and forced the Spanish to again abandon the mission and retreat to San Antonio.

Two years later, after the French withdrew, the mission was again reestablished in the same location and renamed San Francisco de los Neches by Father Felix de Espinosa, who was a member of the Aguayo expedition. When the Spanish abandoned nearby Dolores presidio, the Neches mission was moved farther inland to the site of Austin and later to San Antonio.

The exact locations of the various mission sites are not known. A one-room log chapel has been constructed by the State in Davy Crockett National Forest on the approximate site of the first mission.


Location: Menard County. Mission site, at the southern edge of Menard; presidio site, on Tex. 29, about 3 miles northwest of Menard.

San Sabá de la Santa Cruz Mission represents a disastrous Franciscan attempt to convert the Lipan Apache Indians. Established in 1757 by Fray Alonso Giraldo de Terreros on the south bank of the San Saba River, it was protected by the San Luís de las Amarillas Presidio, just north of the river. The mission failed to convert the Apaches, whose only interest in it was hope of obtaining Spanish aid against their Comanche enemies. In 1758, the Comanches and their allies set fire to it; only three inhabitants survived.

In 1757, the Spanish founded this presidio, San Luís de las Amarillas, to protect nearby San Saba Mission. In 1758, Comanches destroyed the mission, and, in 1769, the Spanish abandoned the presidio. The presidio has been partially restored.

Although the presidio was maintained until 1769, the mission was never rebuilt. No remains of the mission are extant, but the presidio has been partially restored on the original foundations. The State of Texas is considering a proposal that the present San Saba Historic Park, containing the ruins of the restored presidio, be connected by a scenic drive to the nearby frontier post, Fort McKavett, and redesignated the San Saba River State Historic Park.


Location: Montague County, both sides of Red River, near village of Spanish Fort.

An important village of the Taovayas, a hand of the Wichitas, was located at this site in the latter half of the 17th and most of the 18th centuries. The Wichitas were known as early as the time of Coronado, but the first known reference to the Taovayas was made in 1719 by Bernard de la Harpe, a French trader, who encountered them on the Canadian River in present Oklahoma. They were among the tribes who in 1758 destroyed San Sabá Mission; this resulted in Diego Ortiz Parilla's retaliatory expedition the following year. The Taovaya village—protected by a stockade and moat, armed with French guns, and displaying a French flag—repulsed the Spaniards. A smallpox epidemic in 1812 decimated the village, and the survivors joined other groups of Wichitas. The site is located in privately owned cottonfields, and few surface remains are apparent. In 1936, the Texas Centennial Commission erected a marker near the site.

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005