Tejano History

San Francisco De La Espada Mission

Tejanos |

       SAN FRANCISCO DE LA ESPADA MISSION. The Espada community of San Antonio has the unique distinction of participating in the oldest continually operating irrigation system in the United States. In 1731 Father Pedro Muñoz of the College of Santa Cruz de Querétaro made a contract with the Pacaos Indians stating that they would be the owners of San Francisco de la Espada Mission, one of the early Spanish missions on the San Antonio River. The aqueduct, friary, and sacristy were completed in 1745. It was at least nine years before any other permanent structure was built. A small chapel was completed in 1756, but the roof caved in, and it had to be torn down by 1777. The stone Indian quarters and the granary were the most permanent structures in the compound. The lower section between the arches of the aqueduct became detached from the foundation but stood, because they were covered with a crust of lime that solidified. A similar process apparently occurred to help cement the Espada dam as well. The mission compound met the San Antonio River at its northern end. A fence needed only to be built along the west side of the southern fields, as the compound and Minita Creek provided boundaries at the northern and southern end, and the San Antonio River formed the eastern boundary. A conflict between the Indians and local settlers in 1736 and a smallpox and measles epidemic greatly reduced the number of occupants in Espada mission. Ironically, the priests at the missions may have contributed to the spread of disease as they visited every village, going from one to another almost on a daily schedule, in an attempt to administer last rites. Father Muñoz was replaced by Father Ignacio Ysasmendi in 1736. Father Ysasmendi died in 1739 during the smallpox and measles epidemic. In 1745 Father Francisco Xavier Ortiz came from Querétaro, Mexico, to inspect all the Queretaran missions north of the Río Bravo (Rio Grande). In his report the mission Espada was reported to have irrigated fields in which vegetables and cotton grew. That year eight bushels of corn were planted, yielding 1,600 bushels, and the harvest included cotton, melon, and pumpkins. Eighty-one horses were used by the Indian cowboys, and each year surplus foods were sold at the presidio for supplies.


Full article on the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas Online

   Courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association.