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Map of catholic missions in texas

Map of Catholic Missions in Texas
Map of Spanish Missions in Texas used with permission from "The Atlas of Texas," Bureau of Business Research, The University of Texas at Austin, 1976.

Teachers can also emphasize how Spanish imperialism and missionary efforts moved in relation to other colonial empires, often working against and alongside French imperialism. Showing a map of the different empires working throughout the Americas can help students visualize how colonial boundaries compare with today’s national boundaries. After years away from eastern Texas and the Tejas tribe, Spanish missionaries desired to reestablish missions in the area. Unable to receive adequate help from the Spanish, they sought out the French who, wanting to trade with the Spanish colonials, sent the notable Louis Juchereau de St. Denis in 1714, a Canadian officer and trader skilled in Native American languages. St. Denis helped to establish missions in eastern Texas; however, due to lack of supplies and discontent among the natives, these missions struggled and were eventually abandoned in 1719 as missionaries retreated to San Antonio.

Texas missions san josé and concepcion

Mission san josé

San Jose

Mission concepcion

Sketches of Mission San José and Mission Concepcion from John Russell Bartlett's Personal Narrative

The relocation toward southern Texas is an important movement for teachers to point out because it highlights a religious and colonial empire that spans today’s national borders. Hoping to establish a way-station between the Rio Grande and the eastern Texas missions much in need of supplies and support, missionaries founded San Antonio de Valero in 1718. San Antonio de Valero, which later became the site of the Alamo, began as a humble structure of mud, brush, and straw. With the eventual success of San Antonio de Valero, missions San Jose and San Miguel were established nearby in 1720.

John Russell Bartlett’s Personal narrative of explorations&incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora, and Chihuahua, volume 1 recalls another aspect of this history. This narrative provides details about the structure of the San Antonio missions in the 19 th century, noting how many missions had fallen into decay or been damaged during the Mexican-American War. His narrative offers a way to discuss these missions from their foundation in colonial Spanish America to their status after the Mexican-American War. He writes of one mission, “The whole town is in ruins, and presents a scene of desolation, which to an American is at once novel and interesting” (27). Using his narrative as a way to contextualize the early colonization of the American southwest calls students to consider how the missions and Spanish colonialism constructed a border history that extends from the period of Spanish colonialism, through the Mexican-American War, to the immigration disputes of the 21 st century.

Mission san josé and mission concepción

Mission san josé

Mission San Jose

Mission concepción

Mission Concepcion
Missions San José and Mission Concepción in San Antonio, TX 2010.

Today, the San Antonio missions are part of a series of historical mission sites along the San Antonio National Parkway, including the Alamo, Mission San Jose (1720), Mission Concepcion (1731), Mission San Juan Capistrano (1731), and Mission Espada (1731). Barlett visited the Alamo, Mission San Jose, Mission Concepcion, and Mission San Juan Capistrano, noting their decay and ruin. These missions were restored throughout the 20 th century and commemorate an essential aspect of Spanish imperialism. Teachers could ask students to find contemporary photos of these sketches and compare the more current images with Bartlett’s sketches and descriptions. Students could also research how these missions function today as sites that memorialize Spanish colonialism while continuing to serve current religious and cultural communities throughout Texas and its Mexican-American border.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the relationship between the Spanish Catholic missions and the growth of Spanish empire?
  2. Consider both the initial transatlantic movement of Spanish religious and political energies as well as the establishment of missions in Texas and Mexico. Try creating a map that shows how Spanish Catholicism moved into and across the U.S. What do you think this says about Spanish colonialism?
  3. How did Spain’s interaction with France impact the establishment of the missions? Take, for example, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis as a figure who worked within both empires.
  4. What does the growth of missions in southern Texas illustrate about the Mexican-American borderlands?
  5. Compare the Catholic religious network in Texas with other religious colonial communities, such as the New England Puritans. How are they different and similar?
  6. How are the missions of San Antonio part of a living history?


Bolton, Herbert E. “The Mission as a Frontier Institution in the Spanish-American Colonies.” The American Historical Review 23.1 (1917): 42-61.

Chipman, Donald E. Spanish Texas, 1519-1821 . Austin: U of Texas P, 1992.

Jackson, Robert H. Missions and the Frontiers of Spanish America . Scottsdale: Pentacle, 2005.

Mason, Herbert Molloy, Jr. Southern Living: Missions of Texas . Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor House, 1974.

Rivera, Luis N. A Violent Evangelism: The Political and religious Conquest of the Americas . Louisville: Westminster, John Know P, 1992.

Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. Brief Edition. New Haven: Yale UP, 2009.

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Source:  OpenStax, The mexican-american borderlands culture and history. OpenStax CNX. Aug 05, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11327/1.4
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