City Archaeologist Discusses San Antonio’s First Mission

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Open and concealed carry of handguns is allowed at the Alamo, owned by the state, and in Alamo Plaza, owned by the City. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Open and concealed carry of handguns is allowed at the Alamo, owned by the state, and in Alamo Plaza, owned by the City.

San Antonio’s first mission was probably founded on a hill near the present-day Christopher Columbus Italian Society, City Archaeologist Kay Hindes told a group of 60 history lovers in the society hall Wednesday afternoon.

Fr. Pedro de Mezquía, a missionary in Coahuila, kept a diary of his expedition to the area in 1718, said Hindes.  He wrote that Mission San Antonio de Valero (later to become the Alamo) was founded near San Pedro Springs, half a league from a high ground. According to a 2015 study commissioned by the San Antonio River Authority,  the Italian Society building is within 15 meters of this site.

Historians like Father Marion Habig have postulated that area adjacent to the Little Chapel of Miracles was the first site of Mission San Antonio. Hindes believes there are two reasons for this.

“There is a statue within the chapel that is reported to have come from the mission site,” Hindes told The Rivard Report. “And the family has long asserted that it’s been the site as well. But there’s been no archaeology to support that.”

The late Anne Fox, who often worked with the Center for Archaeological Research, postulated that the mission was located near the Christopher Columbus Italian Society, a theory that Hindes supports.

“I believe the Italian church (the San Francesco di Paola Church by Columbus Park) was the probable site of the original Mission,” Hindes said. “We have three great lines of information that tend to support that.”

The distance from the presidio matches the archival research.

“Father Mezquía stated in 1718 that Mission San Antonio was half a league from the presidio,” Hindes said. “We know that the original presidio was by the San Pedro Springs, so the distance is accurate.”

Archeologists have also found historic artifacts in the area, including “nails, pieces of lead, glass, and pottery from the Spanish colonial era,” Hindes said.

Around 1719, the mission was moved to a second location on the east bank of the San Antonio River.

“Jake Ivey of the National Park Service believes it was in La Villita,” Hindes said. “Another researcher, I believe it was Charles Ramsdell, postulated it was at the site of St. Joseph Catholic Church which is surrounded by Rivercenter Mall.”

Archeologists have confirmed that Father Antonio de Olivares moved the mission to its present-day site in 1724, but they continue to search for artifactual materials for proof of the original site.

“Sherds of Puebla polychrome, San Luis polychrome, or ceramics that are not found on sites in Texas after 1725 would constitute such proof,” Hindes said.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) discussed his experiences working with the Italian Society before he was elected to city office. As an architect, he was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Little Italy, an area near Columbus Park that was a thriving Italian neighborhood in the 1800s.

City Councilman Roberto C. Treviño (right) visits with an archeologist near the IH-35 and IH-10 interchange. Photo courtesy the Office of Historic Preservation.

City Councilman Roberto C. Treviño (right) visits with an archeologist near the IH-35 and IH-10 interchange. Photo courtesy the Office of Historic Preservation.

“The park is very much a part of the history and tradition of this area,” said Treviño. “Cities with incredible histories have these great layers. That’s what we have here today.”

Treviño recalled a meeting with Hindes over the planting of grape vines, olive trees and other Italian flora.

“We were planting Italian cypress and here comes Kay Hindes,” he said, adding that Hindes worked with Frank Monaco, board chairman of the Christopher Columbus Italian Society. “She came back and said, ‘I think I found something big. I think I found the original site of Mission San Antonio de Valero.’”

Hindes was able to recall that day as well.

“I walked around behind the building and I started seeing this wrought metal,” she said. “There were little sherds of ceramic. I was so excited, I just sat down.”

Small sherds means they object had a lot of movement she said. One of her most exciting finds was three halves of glass trade beads. “Two of the halves fit together,” she said.

There were between 3,000 and 5,000 people who camped between the San Pedro Creek and the San Antonio River in the early 1700s, Hindes said. “The Native Americans petitioned Father Olivares to establish a mission.”

The first missions in Texas were in Nacogdoches, she said, so San Antonio was sort of the half-way point from other settlements in Mexico.

“The Spanish were typically so smart about their locations,” she said. “This (area adjacent to the Italian Society) was near a water source but above the flood line.”

Hindes said she would like to come back next year for more research, and to  possibly uncover more sites.

The City of San Antonio will continue their celebration of local heritage and history during Preservation Month this May.  To learn more about coming historic events or daily activities, click here.

 

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

 

Top Image: People gather in front of The Alamo despite the rain.  Photo by Scott Ball

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