Region III Quarterly

Volume 2 - No. 3

July, 1940


By Roland E. Beard,
Senior Foreman Archaeologist.

An 18th century frontier picture is being recaptured, in restoration of the Mission Espiritu Santo, near Goliad, Texas. The project, which has been under way for 5 years, is being carried out by a company of Civilian Conservation Corps veteran enrollees, working under supervision of the National Park Service. The areas immediately surrounding the mission are of interest not only as the scene of important military struggles but as a Spanish Colonial townsite. A rare opportunity is afforded for preserving the remains of three important phases of Spanish colonial life: military, religious, and civic.

The procedure followed in the restoration work, briefly, was first to determine the ground plan of a building. Details of the building, such as position of doors, windows, floor level, types of floor, plaster and color decoration, door and window decoration, and hardware, were then determined from the excavation work as completely as possible. A search was made of all available records for a description of the particular building. A drawing was then made of the building. Details not revealed in excavating or given by records, but clearly apparent to architects, were filled in according to precedent of the time. These precedents are supported by more than 1,200 photographs of mission buildings of the Southwest and of Mexico. Archaeological evidence and historical description were at all times given precedence. The Spanish type furniture that has been placed in the restored buildings was made by the CCC.

Mission Espiritu Santo

This portion of the coastal country of Texas has been of historical interest since the settlement of the French colony by LaSalle. In 1685 LaSalle attempted to establish a colony and built Fort Saint Louis, under the French flag, on Garcitas Creek, approximately four miles from where that stream empties into Lavaca Bay. The Spanish had claimed the land west of the Sabine River since the De Sota and Coronado expeditions of more than a century earlier. Learning of the French activities in Texas, the Spanish sent an expedition under the direction of De Leon, with instructions to destroy the French fort and to drive the Frenchmen from Texas. When De Leon located the fort in 1689 the hostile Indians and internal strife had already accomplished the task he had set out to do.

A few decades later French aggression west of the Sabine River, in the eastern part of Texas, again incited the Spanish to defensive action. In 1722 the Marquis de Aguayo established a presidio called Nuestra Senora de Loreto on the exact site of Fort Saint Louis. A short distance from this presidio, on the opposite side of the river, a mission was built and named Mission Espiritu Santa de Zuniga. The presidio and mission remained there until 1726, when they were moved to a site on the Guadalupe River, twelve miles above the present city of Victoria. Although only 30 miles from the original location, the Indians were less hostile, the farming conditions better, and a more desirable site was secured for the buildings. Stone buildings were constructed and an attempt was made to dam the river. Irrigation canals were dug for the wide fertile valley. Many old stone walls and traces of canals may still be found. They are protected from relic-hunters by the present land owners. In 1749 the presidio and mission were moved to the San Antonio River, and finally located a mile south of the present town of Goliad. The latter location of Presidio La Bahia (Nuestra Senora de Loreto) and Mission Espiritu Santa (de Zuniga) placed them in the bounds of the Spanish colony of Nuevo Santander.

Jose de Escandon, the Colonial Governor of Nuevo Santander, exercised a rigid policy toward subduing the Indians. Because Father Juan Joseph Gonzales, principal missionary at Mission Espiritu Santo, failed to accomplish the purpose of the Governor, an effort was made to move the Karankawa tribes to San Antonio. A controversy arose which resulted in the establishment in 1754 of another mission, Nuestra Senora del Rosario, four miles to the west of Mission Espiritu Santo on the San Antonio River. Thus the early settlement of Goliad was made up of civilian population, Presidio La Bahia, Mission Espiritu Santo, and Mission Rosario. Presidio La Bahia had a garrison of approximately 300 soldiers. Mission Espiritu Santo administered to some 300 Indians of the Aranama, Tamique, Piquane, and Manos de Perro tribes. Mission Rosario administered to some 400 Indians of the Coxane, Guapite, Carancaguase, and Copane tribes. The civilian population was made up of traders and adventurers who were normally found nearby. There is little doubt as to the importance exercised by that settlement in the economic and social development of Texas. Although the climate was dry for a long period of the year, an attempt was made to grow grain and vegetables during the wet season. The good grass of the broad rolling plains which extended almost to the river banks, afforded ample forage for stock and cattle raising. Ranching became the chief industry of the mission. In two decades after the establishment of Mission Espiritu Santo on the San Antonio River "the herds of cattle numbered more than 15,000 branded animals, and there was a considerably larger number running wild and unbranded."

During the first 20 years on the San Antonio River the two missions and the presidio showed continued progress. From 1750 to 1770 conditions for raising cattle were favorable, and the hostile tribes of Indians were roaming elsewhere. Cooperation from the presidio commanders and aid from the Spanish government were sufficient and the missions prospered. Following 1770 the pendulum began to swing in the other direction. The mission priests and the captains of the presidio became unfriendly and quarrelsome among themselves; each incident at either the presidio or the mission resulted in "passing the buck." The Indians, tiring of the restricted life at the mission, would wander away to the seacoast in small bands for long periods of the year, and the herds were left unattended. In the name of His Majesty, the King of Spain, the presidio commander laid claim to all unbranded stock. Citizens, army captains, soldiers, end Indians began a general "grab" of all unbranded stock. Marauding bands of Lipan and of Comanche Indians drove away or killed many cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. By 1784 the chapel of Mission Espiritu Santo was in such a poor state of repair that it was abandoned for religious services. Money for the upkeep of the mission was slow in arriving, if at all. The padres pleaded in vain for aid in the task of trying to Christianize the Indians and in carrying on other work of the mission. In 1794 Mission Espiritu Santo and Mission Rosario were officially abandoned. The Fathers, however, continued to administer to the spiritual needs of the Indians for more than a decade longer at Mission Espiritu Santo. The Indians of Mission Rosario were moved to the Mission of Refugio.

For two decades following the turn of the century Spain was involved in European trouble to such an extent that her colonies in the western hemisphere were neglected. Louisiana had fallen into Spanish possession and the French were no longer a threat from that direction. Discontent grew, and was cultivated, among the colonies. Many colonies seized the opportunity for attaining independence. "Liberators" began to appear in Texas as early as 1812. La Bahia, being an important military objective, was the scene of four engagements. Gutierrez and Magee, on the Texans' side, engaged the Spanish under Salcedo, in 1812. Colonel Perry, supposedly for the Texans, was defeated by the Spanish under De La Hoz near La Bahia in 1817. In 1821 Dr. James Long unsuccessfully sought to set up an independent Republic of Texas and made La Bahia the first objective in that, his second campaign. The battle of greatest importance took place in 1836. In the early part of that year a group of approximately 350 Texans, under Colonel Fannin, was defeated, taken prisoner, and executed. An appropriate monument now marks their common grave.

The historical facts and importance of the town of La Bahia, and the civilian population around the old Presidio La Bahia, have received far less attention from historians than have the military and religious sides of the picture. The town consisted of soldiers' families, traders, frontiersmen of questionable past, and adventurous ranchmen. The peak of its population, estimated in various documents as from 800 to 2,500, was reached before the Texas Revolution. The foundations of many stone houses, and the crumbling walls of a few, still border the dim street lines. Records, however, show that most of the houses were of wood and adobe. One of the sites is by legend the birthplace of General Ignacio Zaragoza, who led the Mexicans against the French in 1862, liberating Mexico from the invaders. Census and property records date back to 1791. Archaeological work has revealed that necessary tools of the time, such as guns, powder measures, knives, dishes, spurs, etc., were often of the best quality, tastefully decorated.

Since the end of the Texas Revolution the history of Goliad and the adjacent area is the history of any small Texas town. During the days of the Republic a new settlement was formed a mile to the north of Old Goliad (La Bahia) where the Anglo-American population laid out a townsite, to which most of the Mexican population moved. In 1933 the only remains of the mission ware the four quadrangle walls, a room approximately 15 by 15 feet of one stone building, and a portion of the wall of the same building. All the other buildings and portions of the walls of the quadrangle had been reduced below ground level by treasure hunters and by people with the rock-gardene complex. The prior owner stated, after the area had become a state historical park, that his father sold the rocks of the old buildings, even to the foundations.

The local park board, with the aid of the federal government, made a start in 1935 in the preservation of the site by erecting a building on the remaining visible foundations. The portions of the original building, mentioned before, were incorporated, intact, with this building. When the National Park Service, with a company of Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees, took over the work in 1935, means were made available to approach the problem from the research angle. A careful excavation was made of the entire area. Complete records were made of progress of the work and of old foundation lines and artifacts. Photographs were made of all important finds and of progress and methods of excavation. Historians searched records of the library of the University of Texas, the Bexar Archives in San Antonio, private library documents, and the records in Mexico City and in the old churches of Mexico.

The only building, or group of rooms, left standing a century ago was described by a traveler who stopped at the mission in the early part of the 19th century. Two rooms of this group of rooms were still standing, and used as a barn within the memory of living men. The plan of some buildings was sufficient to identify them as to original use. Documents have been found giving the relative position of most of the buildings, as well as their size. Thus one by one the structures were identified. When the excavations were completed and records pieced together, the story of the occupation of the site unfolded. Wooden structures of Espiritu Santo enclosed by a roughly built, double-welled, wooden stockade approximately 100 varas square were first built. Later as the mission prospered and time allowed, the wooden buildings began to be replaced by more permanent stone structures. The first stone structures were in alignment with the wooden stockade walls. While the wooden buildings were being replaced by stone construction a new plan was initiated whereby the quadrangle walls enclosing the buildings would run north and south, east and west. Stone walls of buildings already completed were left in alignment with the old wooden stockade walls. Walls of buildings constructed later were skewed around to run north, south, east and west, in alignment with the newer stone quadrangle walls.

When at its height of prosperity the mission was "in the form of a quadrangle, with its corresponding protecting walls entirely enclosing it (the whole mission). Adjoining (these walls) are houses, or living quarters, for the Indians, which are similar to those of the other missions, and are made of stone. Some have flat roofs, (flat roofs of mud and brush), and others with roofs of grass or straw. The house for the priest, with corresponding rooms and offices of the community, and the church and sacristy adjacent to it are all made of stone and mortar."

The Mission Rosario, although under different management, was closely associated with Mission Espiritu Santo, and a record of its rise and decline closely parallels that of Mission Espiritu Santo. The Mission Rosario buildings were of stone, large and well constructed. Since practically no archaeological work has been done there, little can be said concerning the ground plan of buildings and cultural remains. As early as 1830 the only remains of Mission Espiritu Santo were "six rooms of stone almost in ruin, without any doors. They are used as a house for the Padre: living room, zaguan (granary), and a patio with a stone wall. All was about 20 varas long and 15 varas wide. A stone wall in a square around the whole fabrics (the entire establishment)." In 1850 the largest of these rooms had been repaired and was used as a dwelling. Most of the stone of the crumbled ruins was used for the construction of Aranama College, 200 feet eastward from the quadrangle of the mission. The only building then remaining was renovated and used by the college, which ceased operation in 1861. This building was used from 1861 until about 1920 as a residence and as a hay barn. After 1920 it fell into complete ruin.

A cross-section of the various phases of life at Espiritu Santo Mission was pieced together from the excavations. Industrial life of the mission hinged around ranching, as suggested by tons of cattle bones covering the ares at the occupation level of the mission period. Hundreds of flint hide-dressing tools, bone awls, flint knives, several dozen steel knives, Spanish bridle bits, and Spanish-type spurs, were found. Features of domestic life included fire-pits lined with baked clay, large tile-lined ovens, crude Indian pottery in profusion, and decorated Spanish pottery of the 18th century. Hammered copper kettles, copper ornaments of various uses, including finger rings, bracelets, anulets, and pendants, were unearthed. Quantities of beads and a few crucifixes were found associated with many of the seventy-five human skeletons discovered and removed. Some of these articles are significant because of their scarcity. A human tooth pendant was of interest, there being only two known to be on record in the state; and also the baked clay whistles, rare Indian artifacts in this part of Texas.

map of Region III park units
National Park Service Areas in Region III.
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Date: 17-Nov-2005