Saturday, 19 December 2009

on the frontier

Up until the sixteenth century, the Coahuiltecan native American peoples lived a nomadic, subsistence life in the semi-arid regions of what is now southern Texas. But all this was soon to change, for two reasons.

  1. The Coahuiltecans were not a powerful people. The land and climate would not support large groups, and they were often victims of raids from their northern neighbours, the Apache and Comanche people.
  2. Colonists from three European nations, the Spanish in Mexico to the south, the French in Louisiana to the east and the British in the United States to the north were all vying for supremacy and ownership of lands in the area. In the early 18th century, the Spanish, both government and the Catholic church, moved northwards into Texas and set up a number of missions. By the middle of the century, five missions were well established along the San Antonio River.

Mission Concepción, south of San Antonio, the oldest unrestored church building in the US.

The walls of Mission Concepción compound. Native Americans and soldiers lived in the quarters built into the walls.

Because of the pressure of the raids, many of the Coahuiltecans decided to accept the protection and stability offered by the missions and the Spanish army. They moved into the missions behind protective walls, received food and religious instruction and learned farming and other skills. The missions flourished for a time, but declined in the early nineteenth century as the native Americans succumbed to European diseases. Finally, in 1836, Texans of mostly British heritage fought the Spanish/Mexican army and, despite defeat at the Alamo (one of the five missions which had been converted into a garrison), drove the Spanish from Texas. Texas became an independent nation for a short time, and then joined the United States.

The granary at Mission Concepción

I am not a Catholic, and I do not support European colonialism by any of the three nations involved. But visiting the harsh environment in the dry summer heat makes me admire the commitment of the Spanish monks who established the missions. Some of the descendents of the Coahuiltecans still live in the area today.

Desert plants give an indication of the arid climate.

Walkway at Mission Concepción

The partially ruined Mission San Juan

Mission Espada church and priest's quarters - with the current priest in black out the front.

Inside the Mission Espada church

The Mission San Antonio de Valero, now the Alamo, and virtually a sacred American site.

Read more about the San Antonio Missions here, here and here, and the battle of the Alamo.

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