Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, also known as Aranama Mission or Mission La Bahia, was a Catholic mission established by the Spanish in 1722.
The mission was first built on Matagorda Bay near La Salle’s Fort Saint Louis. The purpose of the mission, along with its military fortress, Presidio La Bahia, was to secure the Texas coastline from the French and to Christianize the native Karankawa Indians. The Franciscan priests also tried to gather the local Coco, Copane, and Cujane Indians. However, the Spanish were unable to attract the natives to stay at the mission and due to violence with the Spanish soldiers, it was relocated only four years later to a location on the Guadalupe River near present-day Victoria, Texas.
This time, the Franciscan priests worked to convert the Tamique and Aranama Indians in Mission Valley. Dams and stone acequias were built to carry water from the river to the mission. A ranching outpost was also built of mortar and stone at Tonkawa Bank, on the river about 12 miles below. A presidio was also built. The establishment prospered for 26 years, producing enough grain and hay to trade with other Spanish settlements. It was at this time that the foundation for cattle and horse ranching started. Although prosperous, Spanish officials recommended moving the mission to secure the area between Bexar and East Texas from the encroachment of the French and English.
Mission La Bahia moved in 1749 to its present site in Goliad, Texas on the San Antonio River. The mission and its fortress, Presidio La Bahia, were strategically located on opposite banks of the river to protect the Camino La Bahia, a major Spanish trade route to the north and east.
Temporary “jacales” (thatched-roofed huts) for Indian homes were built of log and clay (waddle and daub), and stone and mortar outer defensive walls and interior buildings were also constructed, which included the priests’ rooms, a granary, workrooms and a forge. Construction continued until 1758.
Supervised by Franciscan priests, the women spun wool for clothing, made clay pots used for storage and cooking, harvested grain, fruit and vegetables, and ground corn into meal. The men worked with cattle, farmed and assisted with construction of the mission and presidio. Ranching became the main occupation at Espï¿½ritu Santo, with thousands of wild long-horned cattle and horses roaming the mission lands. Over time, the mission became renowned for its livestock and regularly traded with other settlements. During the American Revolution, mission vaqueros herded thousands of heads of cattle to Louisiana in support of the American struggle for independence. At the height of production in 1778, the mission owned some 40,000 head of free-roaming cattle.
This mission found success educating and serving the tribes of the Aranama, Piguique, Manos de Perro, Tamique, Tawakoni, and Tonkawa. But, it also proved destructive for the tribes’ traditional way of life. In return for food, shelter and protection from more aggressive tribes, they agreed to live in the mission and follow its discipline and religion, which resulted in the gradual erosion and eventual destruction of their traditional tribal culture.
The mission remained in service until Mexican Independence in 1821. However, two Franciscans refused to leave and remained as parish priests. By the 1830’s most of the Christianized Indians had left and the mission which was facing opposition from raiding Apache and Comanche. These conditions coupled with a lack of money and political turmoil in Texas, forced the mission to close in 1830.
With most Indians having already left, the premium lands of the mission were acquired by the local Mexican and American colonists. The mission itself became part of the City of Goliad and the old mission’s stones were allowed to be removed and used for local construction. The city leased the site between 1848 and 1856, first for a Baptist school and then a Presbyterian school, but the building gradually fell into ruin.
The mission ruins became part of the newly created Goliad State Park in 1931. In 1933, the Civil Works Administration with funds provided by the Works Progress Administration, began reconstruction of the stone chapel and granary, which were completed in 1941. Additional construction in the 1960s and 1980s brought the mission back its 1749 appearance. During the 1970s, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department rehabilitated the chapel and built exhibits in the restored granary.
The mission was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and is currently part of a state park operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The park also contains General Ignacio Zaragoza’s Birthplace, Plaza and Amphitheater, which are located near Presidio La Bahia. General Zaragoza assumed command of the rag-tag Mexican Army and welded it into a staunch fighting force, which met and defeated the French on May 5, 1862, in the Battle of Puebla, against Napoleon III’s invading army (now celebrated as Cinco de Mayo in both the U.S. and Mexico).
Mission Espiritu Santo is located in Goliad State Historical Park south of Goliad on U.S. Hwy. 183.
Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser, December, 2016.