Jim Corbin let me play in the dirt when I took my Texas history
graduate students to San
Augustine to observe his class' summer "dig."
was to find, then investigate the remains of the "lost" Nuestra
Senora de los Dolores de los Ais Mission. They did so, and opened
another window into Spanish doings in East
de los Dolores de los Ais was one of six missions established in
1717 by the Spanish as a sign post to potential French competitors
that Texas was off limits. Presidio
Los Adaes, located nearer the French settlement of Natchitoches,
was regarded briefly as the capital of Spanish Texas.
faltered soon after they were founded but were reestablished in
1722. Those farthest from the French were removed to San
Antonio by 1730 and the Peace of Paris of 1763 eliminated the
French threat to Spanish Texas.
Even while it
existed, the mission was not a huge success. Corbin's diggers found
broken French pottery, evidence that mission folk violated prohibitions
against any interaction with Natchitoches. Records do not testify
to a religious "great awakening" generated by missionaries among
the Caddo; indeed, mostly the Indians were indifferent to the Spanish
and their Christianity, except when it came to accepting and expecting
presents from them, and often they were negative about Spanish presidio
When the French
went away, and Spaniards did not realize how rapidly the English-become-American
neighbors would advance westward to replace them as competitors
for Texas, so they simply moved all Spaniards in western Louisiana
and eastern Texas to San
Antonio. Mission Dolores and other remaining missions were abandoned,
and in time lost. Corbin has located Dolores in San
Augustine, but no one knows the exact location of Nuestra Senora
del Pilar de Nacogdoches.
Augustine, with help from federal and state tax dollars, have
built an interpretive center near the site of Mission Dolores, and
a recreation vehicle facility across the road so visitors can learn
about the mission and stay the night. I don't think they let you
dig around, though.
allowed me to dig I didn't find anything but dirt but I don't think
I harmed anything.
All Things Historical
4-9, 2001 column
Published by permission.
(Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association
and author or editor of over 20 books on Texas)