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MISSION TEJAS

by Bob Bowman

"Mission San Francisco de los Tejas was the first Catholic mission established in East Texas..."

Bob Bowman
This year marks the 270th anniversary of the removal of a Spanish outpost which led to the civilization of East Texas and the origin of word Texas.

Mission San Francisco de los Tejas was the first Catholic mission established in East Texas in 1690, but 41 years later -- after a series of ups and downs -- the mission was moved to San Antonio when Spain withdrew its military support from the mission.

If the original mission were still standing today, few buildings could challenge it as Texas' oldest landmark. Even the Alamo wasn't built until 1718.
MIssion San Francisco de los Tejas  Historical Marker
Mission Tejas Historical Marker
Photo courtesy Dana Goolsby, 2011
Click on photo for large image
In 1690 Franciscan priests, accompanied by soldiers, came to what is now Houston County and established a small mission on San Pedro Creek, a few miles west of the Neches River.

The mission had religious and political motives. The priests sought to bring Christianity to the forest-dwelling Indians and to secure Spain's domination over the vast territory that would become Texas. The presence of the mission reminded France, which occupied the territory of Louisiana across the Sabine River, that Texas belonged to Spain.

The Nabedache Indians the priests encountered in East Texas were peaceful agrarians whose fields yielded corn, melons, and beans. The Indians welcomed the priests and readily celebrated the Catholic rites. A long-standing legend says the name Texas came from the Indians' word for welcome, Tejas. But in three years the relationship between the Spanish and the Nabedache had soured. The Indians blamed the priests for bringing sickness to their tribe and became hostile. The Spanish were forced to return to Spain and burned the mission as they left.

In 1716 another Spanish expedition came to East Texas and reestablished the mission, this time on the east bank of the Neches River. But it was abandoned again in 1719, rebuilt again in 1721, and finally abandoned for good in 1731 when the mission was relocated to San Antonio and renamed San Francisco de la Espada.
Texas - Mission Espada

Mission Espada in San Antonio
Photo courtesy Sam Fenstermacher

By this time Spanish expeditions were more commonplace in East Texas, leading to a well-traveled route from the Sabine River to San Antonio, a trail known today as El Camino Real or the King's Highway. The route ran near the Tejas mission.

In 1935 as Texas prepared to celebrate the centennial of its 1836 revolution from Mexico, the state founded Mission Tejas Historical Park and workers for the Civilian Conservation Corps built a log church to commemorate the original mission.
Mission Tejas State Park

Mission Tejas State Park
Photo courtesy Dana Goolsby, October 2010

The builders based their site selection near the Weches community on the discovery of an old cannon believed to have been buried by the Spanish in the late 1690s.

While the building is not a true replica of the first mission, it is a fitting tribute to the early Spanish religious heritage of East Texas and the earliest efforts to civilize the region's Indians.




August 12-18, 2001 Column
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