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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

Nuestra Senora
de los Dolores de los Ais Mission

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald, PhD

Archeologist Jim Corbin let me play in the dirt when I took my Texas history graduate students to San Augustine to observe his class' summer "dig."

Their "mission" was to find, then investigate the remains of the "lost" Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de los Ais Mission. They did so, and opened another window into Spanish doings in East Texas.

Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de los Ais was one of six missions established in 1717 by the Spanish as a sign post to potential French competitors that Texas was off limits. Presidio Los Adaes, located nearer the French settlement of Natchitoches, was regarded briefly as the capital of Spanish Texas.

The missions faltered soon after they were founded but were reestablished in 1722. Those farthest from the French were removed to San Antonio by 1730 and the Peace of Paris of 1763 eliminated the French threat to Spanish Texas.

Even while it existed, the mission was not a huge success. Corbin's diggers found broken French pottery, evidence that mission folk violated prohibitions against any interaction with Natchitoches. Records do not testify to a religious "great awakening" generated by missionaries among the Caddo; indeed, mostly the Indians were indifferent to the Spanish and their Christianity, except when it came to accepting and expecting presents from them, and often they were negative about Spanish presidio garrisons.

When the French went away, and Spaniards did not realize how rapidly the English-become-American neighbors would advance westward to replace them as competitors for Texas, so they simply moved all Spaniards in western Louisiana and eastern Texas to San Antonio. Mission Dolores and other remaining missions were abandoned, and in time lost. Corbin has located Dolores in San Augustine, but no one knows the exact location of Nuestra Senora del Pilar de Nacogdoches.

The citizens of San Augustine, with help from federal and state tax dollars, have built an interpretive center near the site of Mission Dolores, and a recreation vehicle facility across the road so visitors can learn about the mission and stay the night. I don't think they let you dig around, though.

When Corbin allowed me to dig I didn't find anything but dirt but I don't think I harmed anything.


All Things Historical March 4-9, 2001 column
Published by permission.
(Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association and author or editor of over 20 books on Texas)


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