Why would a First American (I like that term better than Indian or “Native American”) choose to give up his way of life, his food preferences, his clothing style, his language, his religion and indeed his freedom to live in a mission?
The Alamo is just one of five Spanish missions in the San Antonio area. After the Alamo, as we were “destination driving” and did not have as much time as usual, we chose just to visit the “Queen of the Missions,” Mission San José y Miquel de Aguayo. In 1777, Father Morfi wrote that “…in point of beauty, plan, and strength…there is not a presidio…that can compare with it.”
Founded in 1720, the mission had a beautiful large church with a convent to house the monks and 84 two-room apartments with communal cooking ovens for the locals. At its peak, there were 350 First Americans living there.
Strict discipline was the order of the day. Everyone in the mission had daily religious instruction and attended church three times a day. The men and boys worked in fields or at various trades. Some tended livestock. The women and girls prepared food, did housework, carded wool and fished. Everyone helped at harvest time.
In the evening, they could relax and entertain themselves until dark before retiring to raised buffalo-hide beds.
The local First Americans, a culture often referred to as Coahuitecans, were hunter gatherers living in small nomadic groups constantly moving in search of food. They wore skins and hides if it was cool and hunted for bison, deer and rabbits. Their main sources of food, however, were fruits, nuts, beans, roots and seeds. It might have been a good diet for today’s vegan, but it was desperation that drove the Coahuitecans to it.
It was not the prospect of learning to farm, learning a trade or having more food, however, that drove the Coahuitecans into the mission. It was the newcomers to the area, not Spanish or other Caucasians but those pesky Apaches, who insisted on killing them and stealing what little they had. First Americans were the victims of more than just Europeans. The Apaches had been driven off the plains by other tribes.
As seen above, Father Morfi said there was not a presidio that could compare with it. A 1720s presidio was a fort. There are thick walls with round watch towers at each corner. Mounted guards patrolled outside those walls.
So it was for security that the Coahuitecans gave up their culture and became ancestors of some of today’s Hispanic Americans. There is no modern group called Coahuitecans.
Click on photos to enlarge.