From pre-schoolers to office workers to prison inmates, all Texans
have to abide by various rules, not to mention state and federal
statutes. That's not news, but it may be comforting for anyone feeling
unduly controlled to know that Texans have faced rules and regulations
The first formal rule-makers in Texas were the Spanish, who not
only conquered the New World, they blazed the trail for all future
promulgators of bureaucratic do's and don'ts in what would become
the Lone Star State.
Around 1760, a now-unknown Franciscan priest at the Apostolic College
for Missionaries in Queretaro, Mexico set down rules for Texas missionaries.
The rules, laden with advice, were "meant for a missionary who has
never been in charge of a mission and is all alone and does not
know whom to consult for advice." More than two centuries later,
Father Benedict Leutenegger translated and annotated those rules.
The Old Spanish Mission Historical Research Library in San
Antonio published Leutenegger's work in 1976 as "Guidelines
For A Texas Mission."
As the history-minded priest pointed out in his introduction, Spain
established its first mission in Texas in 1632. Though frequently
abandoning or moving missions, by the time the Spanish lost control
of their territory to the new Republic of Mexico in 1824, the Catholic
Church had operated a total of 37 missions in Texas.
At Mission Concepcion
in San Antonio, during
the 1760s the missionary and his staff had some 200 Indians in their
"Dealings and communications between the Indians and the Spaniards
are not only allowed but are commanded," the rules declared. "Nonetheless,
the missionary must expel from the mission those Spaniards who come
only to take from the Indians all that they can, gambling with them
and exchanging trifles for utensils and participating in evil. This
cannot be tolerated."
Indeed, if a missionary asked someone who had been taking advantage
of the Indians to leave the mission and that person returned, the
offender would be "tied to a stake and whipped. Thus they learn
of the mission rules concerned the way in which religious ritual
would be observed, the missionaries had dozens of rules regulating
practically every aspect of Indian life, including how much food
they received and when, the clothing they wore, the work they were
required to do and their freedom of movement.
Women were both protected and discriminated against. Under Rule
No. 21, "The missionary can change the cook when he wants to or
alternate cooks by weeks or months, always selecting a man for the
job. The employment of women could lead to disorder with single
men in the kitchen."
An exception to Rule No. 21: "Each week the fiscal [one of the mission's
staffers] appoints a woman who is to make tortillas for the missionary."
Another rule covered barbers, who practiced medicine along with
their tonsorial skills. "The barber who shaves the missionary is
paid as agreed upon," another rule stated. "An agreement on payment
is made for any bleedings or incisions that he is called upon to
perform….He may be paid for each job, if the missionary so wishes."
Some of the rules come across as arbitrary: "During the fiestas
at the presidios, it is inexcusable to give permission to the women
and children to go and see the bulls. On this day they are given
a sum of money to buy what they want."
Despite Indian women occasionally having the opportunity to shop,
from a modern perspective it is easy to see why the Indians might
not cotton to Christian conversion. Judging from all the rules,
the missions were not operated much differently than today's minimum
security prisons: The Indian inmates had to do most of the work
to sustain the mission but if they behaved, they could get occasional
rewards. The Spanish may have thought they were doing native Texans
a favor by introducing them to their religion and culture, but today
the mission system does not seem all that far removed from slavery.
"The submission of inferiors to the superior and subjects to the
prelate is indispensable," another rule reminded the missionaries.
"Without it…all would end up in confusion and disorder. The missionary
must so conduct himself toward the Indians so that all will show
him respect, submission, and obedience. He must punish the disobedient,
the rebellious, and the arrogant without losing his usual gentleness,
affability, and prudence in governing."
Not surprisingly, not all the Indians exposed to mission life opted
to stick around: "From time to time the missionary should journey
to the coast and bring back the fugitives, who regularly leave the
mission trying at the same time to gain some recruits, if possible,
so that more conversions are realized and the mission does not come
to an end because of lack of natives."
And that rule illustrates the fundamental rule of any bureaucracy,
then or now -- perpetuate the status quo or suffer budget cuts and
© Mike Cox
- January 7, 2016 Column
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