Early Texas Missions and Missionaries


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The History of Texas: Missions and Missionaries

(Previous Section: Spanish Settlement of Texas)

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose, in San Antonio

TEXAS, as a missionary field, was not, in its early settlement, a place to be desired. In some parts, where the precious metals abounded, and fortunes were readily made, the worldly-minded herald of the cross could be somewhat tempted; but, with this exception, it was a vast, unexplored region, but thinly peopled by a strange race of natives, who were ignorant, not, only of the moral code of Europe, but even of the rights of property. As Christianity and civilization must necessarily flourish together, the Indians had to be civilized as well as converted. They were to be taught to love God more than their hunting-grounds; to forgive their enemies, and not to scalp them. These teachings were to be the result of infinite patience, constant prayer, a living faith, an upright walk, and, as God works through instrumentalities, a previous mental cultivation. Who, then, was sufficient for these things? A new country had been occupied. Her vast prairies and woodlands, beautifully blended, lay smiling before the strangers. At that age, the missionary operations, with the exception of the English colonies, were carried on by the Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans, the three principal orders of preachers of the Roman catholic church. These orders, though deriving authority alike from the papal see, were essentially different. The Jesuits were polished, cheerful, and courtly; the Dominicans, as preachers against heretics, were gloomy and fanatical. From the time of St. Dominic, they found dangerous rivals in the Franciscans, with whom they divided the honor of ruling church and state until 1640, when the shrewd and learned followers of De Loyola superseded them in directing the education and politics of the Old World.

The Franciscans

The Franciscans are a religious order founded by St. Francis d'Assisi, in 1208, at Naples. The order was distinguished by absolute poverty and the renunciation of worldly pleasures. Its original object was the care of the spiritual interests of the people, so much neglected by the secular clergy of that age. The founder prohibited his followers from possessing any property, nor were they to make learning and the polite accomplishments their study. The rule of the order, sanctioned by the pope in 1210 and 1223, destined them to beg and to preach. Responsible to no one but the pope, they had many privileges, and their numbers were soon so increased, that they filled thousands of monasteries. The rules of poverty became relaxed, and their convents produced many learned men. The popes Nicholas IV., Alexander V., Sixtus IV. and V., and Clement XIV., were from this order.

The Franciscans became divided into different sects, yet had a common general. The Alcantarines, or those who followed the reforms introduced by Peter of Alcantara, flourished in Spain, and, with the conquerors of Mexico, many of them came over to America, and founded missions and convents. Among others, the convents of Quaretaro and Zacatecas, established early in the seventeenth century, furnished the missionaries destined to introduce to the Native Americans of Texas the knowledge of the true God. These fathers observed strictly the rules laid down by their founder; they went with their feet entirely bare; a coarse woollen frock, with a cord round the waist, to which a rope with a knotted scourge was suspended, formed their common dress. Their monastic vows prohibited them from holding either real or personal property, and also from familiar intercourse with the other sex, and required an entire compliance with the rules of the order and the commands of the superior.

In Texas, in 1715, such men could well keep their vows of poverty and self-denial. But they had before them a work to be performed, which, without hope of future reward, and a strong faith in heaven, none could have the heart to undertake. As beggars, the Indians had nothing to give, and in this avocation far outstripped their ghostly instructors. As preachers, they had almost insuperable difficulties to meet and overcome. They had to learn the language of the natives; to domesticate and civilize them; to teach them the nature of property, its value, and the mode of acquiring it. But, what was most important, the Indian was necessitated to unlearn all that he had previously acquired. His wandering life must cease; he must henceforth have a home, and a place of worship. His manitous, as numerous as the objects around him, must all give place to the idea of one great Manitou--the Creator. His passions must be subdued ; his habits, manners, and his entire nature, changed. " Nothing is more difficult," says Father Marest, " than the conversion of these Indians; it is a miracle of the Lord's mercy. It is necessary first to transform them into men, and afterward to labor to make them Christians."

This work was undertaken in Texas by the patient followers of St. Francis. They had not the liberty of the Jesuits, in not being restrained by the formalities of a tedious recitation of prayers, but, under all circumstances, at oft-recurring times, were bound on their consciences to repeat them. It was an important object to keep the Indians together long enough to make an impression on their minds. But the Indian must be fed; his only means of support was by fishing, and the chase; he knew no other. To maintain him by agriculture, he must labor in the field. Upon such a basis, then, were laid down the rules for the government and instruction of the red man.

The establishments thus formed in Texas were known as presidios, or missions. There was a mission at each presidio; but many missions were without soldiers, at least in any considerable numbers. Each presidio was entitled to a commandant, and the necessary officers for a command of two hundred and fifty men; though, from various circumstances, the number constantly varied, and was generally less. The troops were inferior, badly clothed, idle, and disorderly. The buildings were erected around a square, or plaza de armas, and consisted of the church, dwellings for officers, friars, and soldiers, with storehouses, prisons, etc. The size of the square depended on the population, the strength of the force intended to be stationed there, and also upon the extent of the district dependent on the presidio. Huts were erected at a short distance from the principal edifices, for the converted Indians. The unmarried of either sex were placed in separate huts, and at night locked up by the friars, who carried the keys. They encouraged chastity among the Indians, and punished its violation by public or private whipping, as the offender was a male or a female.

Missions and Presidios

Forts were erected near the presidios, and sometimes the church was fortified. The civil and military authority was united in the commandant, which, in some matters, was subordinate and in others superior to the ecclesiastical power. The principal duty of the military was to repel the invasion of the wild Indians, and to suppress the rebellious spirit of the converts. The Indians were well fed, clothed, and cared for; their labors were not heavy ; and, in these particulars, they could not complain. But they were compelled to perform certain religious ceremonies before they could understand anything of their meaning. Sundry rules were laid down for their every motion, a departure from which was severely punished. It was this tyranny over the minds and bodies of the Indians that enfeebled and wasted them. They were willing to forego the food and raiment of the missions, for the sublime scenery of the vast prairies, the liberty of roaming unmolested over them, and chasing the buffalo and the deer. Freedom, dear to all, is the idol of the Indian. He worships the liberty of nature. When restrained from his loved haunts, he pines, and sickens, and dies. Had the Franciscans, like the Jesuits on the lakes, gone with their flocks on their hunting-excursions, joined them in their feasts, and praised them for their skill in the chase, they would have met with greater success. But the Jesuits possessed a twofold advantage; they had the power of dispensing with tedious and uninteresting prayers and ceremonies; and they also enjoyed the aid of the cheerful, talkative, open-hearted French; while the Franciscans, without such dispensing power, were likewise bound to cooperate with the gloomy, suspicious, and despotic Spaniards. We are not informed respecting the daily round of spiritual and temporal duties performed by the converted Indians of the Franciscan missions, but presume they were not very different from those described by Father Marest as practiced among the Illinois in 1712. " Early in the morning," says he, " we assemble the catechumens at the church, when they have prayers, they receive instruction, and chant some canticles. When they have retired, mass is said, at which all the Christians assist, the men placed on one side and the women on the other; then they have prayers, which are followed by giving them a homily, after which each goes to his labor. We then spend our time in visiting the sick, to give them the necessary remedies, to instruct them, and to console those who are laboring under any affliction. In the afternoon, the catechizing is held, at which all are present, Christians and catechumens, men and children, young and old, and where each, without distinction of rank or age, answers the questions put by the missionary. As these people have no books, and are naturally indolent, they would shortly forget the principles of religion, if the remembrance of them was not recalled by these almost continual instructions. Our visits to their wigwams occupy the rest of the day. In the evening, all assemble again at the church, to listen to the instructions which are given, to have prayers, and to sing some hymns. On Sundays and festivals they add to the ordinary exercises instructions which are given after the vespers. They generally end the day by private meetings, which they hold at their own residences, the men separately from the women; and there they recite the chapelet with alternate choirs, and chant the hymns, until the night is far advanced."

Sioux BraveIf to these duties we add the sacraments and confessions, we need not be surprised that the neophytes sometimes fled from the missions, and resumed the war-whoop and the chase. At the French missions among the Indians, the apostates were won back by persuasion. Not so among the Spaniardsl; the troops at hand pursued them, and, if taken, they were compelled to return—when, in addition to a severe whipping, they were obliged to do penance.

The Franciscan fathers made regular reports of the success of their missions to the superior, and the latter to the general of the order. On these reports depended to a great extent the favor shown the missionaries; hence they were excited to zeal in their efforts to make converts. Not content with the fruits of persuasion and kind treatment, they made forays upon the surrounding tribes. The soldiers performed this duty. The prisoners taken, especially the young, were trained alike in the mysteries of the Roman Catholic Church, and of agriculture. To effect their training, they were divided among the older and more deserving Indians of the mission, who held them in servitude until they were of an age suitable to marry. At the proper time this rite was faithfully performed, and thus there grew up a race of domestic Indians around the missions.

To add to the strength of the missions and the number of the converts, reliable Indians of these establishments were sent out among their wild brethren to bring them in. This was sometimes done by persuasion, and sometimes by deception and force. However, they were brought to the missions, and incorporated among the learners and workmen of the fold.

When we call to mind the fanaticism and ignorance of that age, and the important fact that the Indians who remained long in the missions became greatly attached to their spiritual guides and the form of their worship, we must admit that these pioneers of religion deserved some praise. Their toils and privations evinced their faith--their patience and humility should satisfy the world of their sincerity.

The fate of the aboriginal races of the New World, and even of the Pacific islands, is peculiar. A well-defined instance of any tribe or nation that has been civilized, without a total or partial destruction of its people, can scarcely be produced. This may, to some extent, be attributed to the vices introduced by the friends of the missionaries.

*However objectionable we may consider the Franciscan mode of reducing the Indians, it is perhaps less so than the American plan of depriving them of their lands, and then hunting them down like wild beasts.

Indians Abused by the Peon or Peonage System

As much of the ill success of the missions resulted from the regulations of the Spanish government in regard to the Indians, it may be well that we should refer to them. These regulations for the government and instruction of the natives of Spanish America emanated from the "council of the Indies," and were sent out for observance as laws sanctioned by the king. They were based upon the conclusion of the council that all the people of the New World were marked out by the inferiority of their minds for servitude, whom it would be impossible to instruct or improve, except continually under the eye of a master. Yet, as experience suggested the modification of these regulations, they were so altered from time to time, until 1542, when, by a decree of Charles V., the Indians were restored to a nominal freedom. A tax, however, of one dollar each was levied upon all males between eighteen and fifty years of age, three fourths of which went into the royal treasury, and the other fourth was applied to the payment of the salaries of local officers and parish expenses. They were also subject to a certain vassalage, similar to the former tenure by service in England. This vassalage consisted in the liability of the Indian to labor a certain number of days for his patron or the king in the fields or in the mines; and, although the time was limited in Mexico to six days in the year, yet such was the distance of this degraded people from the head of the government, such the disregard of the laws, and such the cupidity and inhumanity of the patrons and agents of the crown, that the term of service was generally evaded, and the Indians treated with great cruelty. This labor was gratuitous; yet, in the meantime, the Indians became debtors to their patrons, and were compelled to continued service under pretence of payment; hence originated a species of servitude called peonage. The peons increased to such an extent, that the patrons made no objection to the abolition of the system of encomiendas; for labor was so cheap, that it cost little or nothing.

Catholic Abuses of the Native Americans

In addition to the capitation-tax levied from the Indians, they were subject to tithes, marriage-fees, and other payments, drawn from them by the church. Still further, the Indians paid large sums for the bull of Cruzado. This papal bull is published every two years, and grants to the purchaser an absolution for past offences, besides the privilege of eating certain prohibited articles of food during religious fasts. The eloquence and zeal of the monks were employed in the sale of these pardons, and, such was the credulity of the people of Mexico, that few failed to purchase. The price varied from ten dollars to twenty-five cents, according to the condition of the purchaser and the privileges granted.

At the period of which we write, the clergy of New Spain were inferior to that class in Europe, in both morality and intelligence. With the exception of the Jesuits, and the higher functionaries of the church, the entire clergy of Mexico were not only destitute of the virtues necessary to their station, but were in every respect profligate. Some of them, disregarding their vows of poverty, turned merchants; others, forgetting their oaths of chastity, indulged in the grossest licentiousness. It was in vain that the civil authorities attempted to correct these abuses. The clergy held an ignorant and credulous people under their control, and charged the governors with hostility to religion. The church triumphed; and these corruptions continued to increase, until the inhabitants of Mexico ceased to venerate the monastic orders. It was then only that King Ferdinand VI. promulgated his decree prohibiting the regular or monastic clergy from taking charge of the parishes, but limited this right to the secular clergy.

Pope Alexander VI., in 1501, granted to the crown of Spain all the newly-discovered countries in America, on condition that provision should be made for the religious instruction of the natives; and Pope Julius II., three years afterward, conferred on Ferdinand and his successors the right of patronage, and the disposal of all church benefices. These grants of the popes, made at an early day, constituted the king of Spain the head of the church, and gave him the absolute control of its vast revenues. This fact is referred to here, because of the influence it had in the revolutions of Mexico.

Such were the rules and regulations for the government of the Indians, and such their condition, as also that of their spiritual instructors, in 1715. Of course, these regulations could
 not apply to wild Indians (Yndios bravos), but only to the converted Indians (Yndios reducidos. The three classes of the inferior or working clergy consisted of— curates, or parish-priests, in the Spanish settlements; teachers of Christian doctrine, having charge of those districts occupied by the converted Indians; and missionaries, whose duty it was to go to the countries of the wild Indians, and, by persuasion and other means, to bring them under the protection of the government, and impart to them a knowledge of their Creator. The church of New Spain, in other respects, was organized as that of the mother-country, having its archbishops, bishops, deans, etc.

The missionaries, while engaged in converting the wild Indians, were not unmindful of their own comfort and that of the missions. The labor of the natives was employed in agriculture, in raising stock, and in erecting large and convenient edifices, by which means the fathers were not only enabled to live agreeably themselves, but could extend the hospitalities of the missions to travelers and friends.

[Next Section of Texas History: The French and Spanish War]




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