Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga: A Frontier Mission in South Texas

Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga: A Frontier Mission in South Texas

Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga: A Frontier Mission in South Texas

Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga: A Frontier Mission in South Texas

Synopsis

In the early part of the eighteenth century, the Spanish colonial mission Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga was relocated from far south Texas to a site along the Guadalupe River in Mission Valley, Victoria County. This mission, along with a handful of others in south Texas, was established by the Spaniards in an effort to Christianize and civilize the local Native American tribes in the hopes that they would become loyal Spanish citizens who would protect this new frontier from foreign incursions. With written historical records scarce for Espíritu Santo, Tamra Walter relies heavily on material culture recovered at this site through a series of recent archaeological investigations to present a compelling portrait of the Franciscan mission system. By examining findings from the entire mission site, including the compound, irrigation system, quarry, and kiln, she focuses on questions that are rarely, if ever, answered through historical records alone: What was daily life at the mission like? What effect did the mission routine have on the traditional lifeways of the mission Indians? How were both the Indians and the colonizers changed by their frontier experiences, and what does this say about the missionization process? Walter goes beyond simple descriptions of artefacts and mission architecture to address the role these elements played in the lives of the mission residents, demonstrating how archaeology is able to address issues that are not typically addressed by historians. In doing so, she presents an accurate portrait of life in South Texas at this time. This study of Mission Espíritu Santo will serve as a model for research at similar early colonial sites in Texas and elsewhere.

Excerpt

Having been trained as a prehistoric archaeologist, I had never had much interest in the archaeology of the Spanish missions—even though I spent a month in summer 1966 as a crew member on the first team to conduct archaeology at the Alamo. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, while teaching at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I gained a great deal of exposure to Spanish colonial archaeology through projects by the Center for Archaeological Research and largely through the efforts of Anne A. Fox and Jack D. Eaton. This gave rise to a continuing interest in the material culture of the Native Americans of the missions, and how data on that culture might be used to evaluate their transition into Spanish life. Most of the time, our excavation projects were very specific and limited exploration to test pits. While we were able, for example, to trench the front wall of the Alamo right next to its main entrance and to do test excavations at Espada to locate its bastion, we had no opportunity to look at a broader view of mission layout.

However, in 1976–1977, Eaton, Fox, and I, along with Fred Valdez Jr. and R. E. W. Adams (who had procured the grants), carried out excavations at Missions San Bernardo and San Juan Bautista at Guerrero, Coahuila, Mexico. These were the Gateway missions that Robert Weddle covered so extensively in his book San Juan Bautista: Gateway to Spanish Texas, published by the University of Texas Press in 1968. Though we had specific goals in our research program at the Gateway missions, most of these centered on the lives and activities of the Indian groups who lived at these missions, as reflected in architecture. But to understand the context of the Mission Indian occupations we needed to know a great deal more about the layout of the missions, as plans of these complexes never surfaced in the Spanish Colonial archives.

We were able to locate and identify many buildings and assess building functions at both missions. This was made possible through judicious testing and through Jack Eaton’s unnerving accuracy in predicting where the corners of buildings (and rooms within them) would be found! Unfortunately . . .

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