Mission Nuestra Señora de Dolores de los Ais San Augustine, Texas Coordinates: 31.525341,-94.112762 #TravelSpanishMissions Discover Our Shared Heritage Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary
Located today in San Augustine, Texas, Mission Nuestra Señora de Dolores de los Ais, often called Mission Dolores, was one of the easternmost missions of Spanish Texas and a stop on the El Camino Real de los Tejas. Founded in the 1720s to convert the Ais Indians, the mission was active for a little over fifty years before being discontinued and the site was soon covered by pine forest, its location lost to memory. The search for the site began in the 20th century, and archeologists rediscovered the site in 1976. It has been excavated and extensively studied since then. In 2011 the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is along the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail, which extends across Texas into Louisiana.
Very little is known about the Ais and much of what is known comes from sources other than the Ais themselves, like European traders, Spanish priests, and archeologists. Based on existing evidence the Ais were a relatively small group that spoke a Caddo dialect and had connections with Hasinai groups. Caddo-speaking peoples, to whom the Ais belonged, lived throughout what is today east Texas and west Louisiana and were part of distinct communities who shared similar language dialects and some ways of life. Groups were interconnected through marriage and lived in family farmsteads and villages. Caddo often grew corn, beans, and squash and gathered wild foods. According to European historical sources the Ais distinguished themselves from other groups by distinct hair styles, facial decorations and their dialect. Like many groups in the region the Ais were impacted by epidemic European diseases and the vying of the French and Spanish for influence in the region.
The Spanish were interested in the establishing a mission as a stop on the El Camino Real de los Texas, the main artery of trade and information in Spanish Texas, and as a way of curbing French influence in the region. The native peoples, including the Ais and the nearby Adaes, played the two European powers off of each other, trading with both and staying at the missions only as long as they were useful. Most Ais lived outside the mission, caring for their own gardens and visiting to help with the mission cattle ranch and fields, where corn, figs, garlic, and onions were grown. Although cattle were likely the main source of meat, archeological evidence suggests that native animals like deer, fish, and reptiles like turtles were also on the supper table. Those meals were likely served in bowls shaped in a Spanish form that were made locally by the Ais, an intriguing example of the entanglements of cultures and the creation of new ways of doing things as a result of people living and working together.
At the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 -- the struggle between the French and the British for control of eastern North America -- the French ceded their territory west of the Mississippi to the Spanish, who were their allies in the conflict. This move effectively prevented the British from controlling the entire Mississippi River corridor but it also alleviated the pressure on the Spanish to secure their eastern borders against the French. The end result was the abandonment of small settlements, like Mission Dolores de los Ais in 1773. The Spanish officials, priests, and settlers were recalled to San Antonio. Secular settlers attempted to move back into the area and settled near what is today Nacogdoches, Texas, about 35 miles from Mission Dolores. Throughout the early 1800s a large influx of Anglo settlers came into the area around Mission Dolores, establishing the town of San Augustine in 1833. The Ais were drastically impacted by these incursions. In 1859, they, with other Caddo groups, were forced by the U.S. government out of the region and were moved north to what is today Oklahoma. There they became a part of the federally recognized Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.
What you can see today
Although the structure is gone, extensive historical and archeological investigations have revived the memory of the mission and made it a landmark in east Texas. Recent archeological research located the site on a hill next to Ayish Bayou within the present city limits of San Augustine. Investigations have revealed everyday life at Mission Dolores. Cow and ox bones, common in the excavated trash pits, give clues on butchering techniques and preferred cuts of meat. Gun flints, broken knife blades, and horse trappings were probably associated with the soldier guards living at the mission. Pieces of broken Indian-made pottery were plentiful. It would appear that the inhabitants relied heavily on locally made tools and goods. For more information, visit the Texas Beyond History Mission Dolores site here. Visitors to Mission Dolores will find a museum, visitor's center, walking trail, archeology lab, and recreational vehicle park at the site. The museum has an introductory video, numerous panel exhibits, and examples of a wide variety of the artifacts recovered during the archeological investigations. The walking trail makes a loop from the Visitor's Center to the RV Park.
Plan Your Visit
Mission Dolores is on the National Register of Historic Places and is along the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail. The Mission Dolores and El Camino Real de los Tejas Travel Information Center is located at 701 S. Broadway St. just south of San Augustine, TX. The Mission Dolores Museum is at the same location. The site is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. For further information call the Travel Information Center at 936- 275-1108 or the Mission Dolores Museum at 936-275-3815, or visit the Texas Beyond History Mission Dolores siteTexas Beyond History Mission Doloreswebsite or the El Camino Real de los Tejas website.