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The Mission in Its Final Location

The church at Mission Espíritu Santo at its final location in present-day Goliad. Parts of the mission compound have been excavated and reconstructed. The site is now maintained by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Photo by Susan Dial.


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The gently rolling grasslands near the San Antonio River valley were a key factor in selecting the fourth, and final, site for Mission Espíritu Santo. Vast herds of cattle thrived on these mission lands. Enlarge image
The mission compound as it may have appeared in its heyday, with bright white plastered walls painted with fanciful designs. Photo of model at Mission Espíritu Santo State Historic Park, courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Enlarge image
Ruins of the mission at the start of 1933 field work. TARL archives. Enlarge image
One of the quarries from which native laborers extracted stone to build the mission. 1933 photo, TARL archives. Enlarge image
A dapper A. T. Jackson, who conducted the first archeological investigations at Mission Espíritu Santo in 1933, is shown here in a trench at an east Texas site (41FK2). Working for the University of Texas in 1933, Jackson conducted the first excavations at Mission Espíritu Santo. TARL archives. Enlarge image
Digging gets underway in July 1933 at "Aranama Mission," as it was then called by people of the day. TARL archives. Enlarge image
photo of a spanish buttons and jewelry
Ornate Spanish buttons and crucifixes studded with colored glass were among the items uncovered by Jackson in the mound. Likely worn by the friars, such ornaments were rare among the quantities of native-made objects, such as chipped-stone tools and crude pottery. Photo by Monica Trejo. TARL collections. Enlarge image

By 1749, Mission Espíritu Santo had been moved to its fourth and final location on the lower San Antonio River as part of the colonization plan of Nuevo Santander. Situated on a natural rise, the mission compound was within the protective sights of Presidio La Bahía, which had been established on the opposite bank of the river.

Little is known about the circumstances of the move or how the buildings were erected. As was the case at the presidio, the earliest structures probably were temporary buildings including jacales, small huts built of vertical poles or branches, covered in mud or plaster, and topped with thatched roofs.

Records indicate that by 1758, several buildings, including the church and priests' quarters, had been replaced with more-permanent structures made of stone, quarried from a nearby outcropping. Native peoples apparently continued to live in jacales. Ten years later, an inspection tour inspection tour led by Father Gaspar Jose de Solis found most of the remaining wood structures had been replaced.

In his 1768 report, he observed:

Besides the necessary offices and church buildings, the Bahia mission has dwelling-quarters for the religious, the soldiers, and the Indians, and all of these structures are respectable and sufficiently large.

In the succeeding two decades, additional alterations were made which brought the mission together more cohesively. Stone buildings housed living quarters, workshops for weaving and other crafts, storerooms, and the church. Most fronted on an interior courtyard, or plaza, where chores, such as corn grinding, could be carried out. Jacal housing for the native inhabitants was aligned inside a tall stone wall which surrounded the compound. This defensive outer structure, with bastions placed at two corners, helped protect the interior of the mission from attack by hostile Indians such as the Lipan Apache, a continuing concern for residents on the south Texas frontier.

In 1768 Fr. Jose Francisco Lopez reported that the mission buildings were in good condition and that the Indian quarters were made of stone with flat beamed roofs covered with thatch, or straw. There is little information regarding subsequent changes to the buildings.

The overall situation at this mission was much different than that at the earlier locale. Here the operation became much more stable and self-sufficient. There were periods of prosperity. The relatively small cattle herds begun at Mission Valley grew to as many as 40,000 head in the fields near the San Antonio River valley. Introduced to Texas by Spanish expeditions, the cattle adapted well to the south Texas climate. The enormous herds were free-grazing for the most part, although periodically native vaqueros branded those that could be rounded up. The animals were slaughtered by the hundreds to provide food as well as hides and tallow, and these goods were used to trade for merchandise in San Antonio and in Mexico.

Agriculture was not a success, however, over the long run. All efforts to establish an irrigation system failed, and periodic draughts caused numerous crop failures. Frequently, the friars had to turn to the San Antonio missions for corn.

In spite of the relative prosperity of the mission, the Aranama left periodically, for months and years at a time. Disease took a toll on the native population and birth rates were insufficient to replace the numbers. Indian raiders continued their attacks and raids. Changes in Spanish law regarding unbranded cattle cost the mission thousands of its herd, resulting in seasons of hunger and increased hardship. As the mission's fortunes plummeted, there was little to hold the native peoples.

By 1790, the Spanish government was ready to unburden itself from the high cost and administrative burden of the missions. The political landscape had changed, alleviating the need for outposts and settlements on the frontier. Having succeeded in gaining Louisiana from the French, Spain no longer needed Texas to serve as a buffer and instead turned its attention to missions on the west coast.

After 109 years in operation at four different locations the mission finally was closed. An inventory made of the mission in 1830 at the time of secularization noted six rooms within the stone compound, all collapsed. Although much still stood in ruin at the time, the compound then became home to two colleges, Hillyer Female College followed by Aranama College for men. This use continued until the Civil War, when the men left to fight and the structures were used alternately by the southern and northern armies. In 1866, a hurricane dealt a final blow to the structures, and the complex fell into total ruin. Uncontrolled digging and artifact collecting occurred periodically. In 1931, the city and county of Goliad donated the site and adjacent lands for a park, and the move toward restoration of the mission began, with transfer to Texas Parks and Wildlife in 1949.

Archeology at the Mission

The first organized excavations at the Goliad County location (41GD1) were conducted in 1933 by A. T. Jackson, under the direction of James E. Pearce, chairman of the University of Texas Department of Anthropology. Carried out over the course of a month, the work was funded by the Works Progress Administration. Jackson's investigations were not systematic by today's standards and consisted of little more than digging through a large trash heap, which he dubbed "Aranama Mound," located behind the stone perimeter fence of the mission. A trench was excavated to help delineate the stratigraphy of this deposit, but apparently only a verbal summary was made of this effort.

Aside from crude sketch maps, the only remaining record is a summary of finds and a typewritten report Jackson wrote at the conclusion of the project. Sprinkled with observations about the project, the site, and its cultural features, the report chiefly categorizes the thousands of artifacts recovered and is illustrated with photos and drawings.
Download pdf Download Jackson report. (28,177 KB)
p. 77-127

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  • Whereas Jackson's work produced collections relevant to the material culture of the mission residents, the next phase of operations at the mission was focused largely on discerning the layout and architectural features of the mission. During the mid- to late 1930s, laborers from the Civilian Works Administration (CWA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), federal programs devoted to employing out-of-work Americans during the Depression years, engaged in a multi-year effort directed by the National Park Service. The goal of this ambitious project was to reconstruct the mission for the public.

    Led by archeological foreman Roland Beard, CCC workers dug a series of trenches throughout the interior of the compound to identify walls, footings, floors, and foundations. A large number of artifacts also were recovered. Where there were no structural remains, artifacts were used to help establish the nature of the deposits and determine whether they pertained to the Spanish Colonial period.

    Beard traced a number of important aspects in the mission’s early construction history. Significantly, his excavations uncovered post holes and evidence thought to relate to early wooden structures and a surrounding wood-post palisade. Seventy-five human burials also were found inside the area of main buildings and were removed.

    Both Beard and Jackson uncovered material remains which may have pertained to earlier, prehistoric occupations at the site. Unfortunately, there was no clear stratigraphic control through which the deposits could be understood. Some of the more clear indicators of an earlier time, such as Archaic-period dart points, may have been brought into the mission by later peoples and perhaps recycled.

    Efforts by the CWA included restoration of a building thought to have been the chapel. It later was determined to have been the granary originally and was reinterpreted in a subsequent restoration. Four major buildings were reconstructed, and the park was opened to the public. Sometime during the process, vandals dealt a major setback to mission history. The storage building housing much of the collection and excavation records was broken into; a large quantity of artifacts and files were stolen and others destroyed. The remainder of the material was sent to TARL at UT_Austin.

    Mission Espíritu Santo was laid out within a meander loop of the lower San Antonio River, within view of Presidio La Bahia and what was to grow into the villa of La Bahia on the opposite bank. Mission Rosario was established later, to the south. National Park Service map, TARL archives. Enlarge image
    Quarters for the mission Indians changed from jacal structures to more permanent stone housing during the 1760s. Photo of exhibit at Mission Espíritu Santo State Historic Park, courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Enlarge image
    Presidio de la Bahia, shown in 1935, played a critical role in the establishment of the missions and Spanish settlement at the final inland location. Soldiers from the presidio were charged with protecting the friars and native neophytes at both missions as well as helping guard the roads and mission herds. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife. Enlarge image
    Trench in the midden deposit dug by A. T. Jackson shows the stone fence, still standing more than 7-feet- tall, that enclosed the mission. Jackson notes the midden deposit at this point is 46 inches deep, with the fence extending 46 inches above. TARL archives. Enlarge image
    "Summary of Finds" written by A. T. Jackson after completion of his 1933 work at the mission. TARL archives. Enlarge image
    Mission compound, 1936, showing walls and features mapped during investigations by the Civilian Conservation Corps. National Park Service map, TARL archives. Enlarge image
    Page from field notes written in 1936 by Roland Beard, who directed the Civilian Conservation Corps excavations at the mission. Work during this time was focused on locating structural remains and other architectural features preparatory to reconstruction of the mission. TARL archives. Enlarge image
    The mound, measuring roughly 75 by 85 feet and some 11 feet tall, extended up the hill slope. Although some records were kept, the field work was not systematic by today's standards. (Image tinted to improve visibility.) TARL archives. Enlarge image
    Anaqua tree growing next to mission wall, ca. 1933, one of several in the area. The yellow berries from these native trees likely were used as food, as indicated by seeds found in excavations. TARL archives. Enlarge image
    Restoration underway at the mission in 1933. TARL archives. Enlarge image
    Map of archeological work conducted at Mission Espíritu Santo from 1933-2005 denotes the location of "Aranama Mound," excavated by A. T. Jackson, trenching by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and later, more- systematic work reported by Ricklis, Ulrich, and others. (Map from Ulrich, et al. 2005: Fig.1-2). Enlarge image
    Profile of east and south walls of midden tested in 1997. Systematic procedures and stratigraphic control allowed investigators to observe several distinct layers, or lenses, in the midden deposit. These may represent different episodes of trash disposal by the mission residents. Image from Ricklis 2000. Enlarge image
    A quantity of Spanish Colonial construction rubble was found in several midden test units, including this unit which was dug to bedrock. A quantity of mission-related artifacts were found in the midden, including pottery sherds, animal bone, chipped-stone tools, and items of metal and glass. Image from Ricklis 2000. Enlarge image

    Syntheses and Recent Investigations

    In 1959, Maria Allen Mounger, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, completed a two-volume master's thesis on the Goliad site. Entitled Mission Espíritu Santo: An Example of Historic Site Archeology, the impressive report covered the history of the mission, archeological and reconstruction work, and a compilation of pertinent excerpts from Spanish Colonial and later historic documents. Mounger also examined and illustrated many of the artifacts recovered by both Jackson's and Beard's operations, including what remained of the collection that had been housed in the vandalized park storeroom. The latter materials were processed and analyzed by Mounger. As she described it, the study, in itself, was "an archeological salvage operation, complicated by loss of records and theft and loss of specimens."

    Beginning in the 1970s, a variety of park maintenance procedures triggered further archeological investigations. By law, archeological tests for cultural deposits are required before any area on state or federal land can be modified. The Center for Archaeological Research (CAR) at the University of Texas at San Antonio conducted tests prior to TPWD improvements at the mission in 1996 and in 2005.

    In contrast to early work, these and subsequent operations have been conducted systematically, with careful attention to provenience of artifacts, and are guided by specific research questions. Notably, modern archeological work has collected materials disregarded in earlier excavations, such as animal bone, stone chipping debris, and special samples for micro- and macrobotanical analysis. With these materials, more substantive analysis of mission life and native material culture have been performed.

    A research project in 1997 and 1998 led by coastal archeologist Robert Ricklis excavated two midden deposits outside of the mission walls. This work focused on understanding the ethnicity of the native mission inhabitants and tracing cultural and dietary changes based on the material remains. Four of the units excavated abutted a section of the hillside midden dug by Jackson in1933. Within these midden deposits, a series of layers, or lenses, were discerned which likely represented individual episodes of mission trash disposal. Quantities of Spanish Colonial construction rubble also apparently had been dumped in the hillside disposal area.

    Ricklis, author of a recent book on the Karankawa Indians and a ceramic specialist, was also interested in recovering a suitable ceramics sample to compare with material recovered from his testing at nearby Mission Rosario, which served the Karankawa in the late 18th century. He found distinctive differences in the two pottery samples, as discussed further below.

    Analyses of bone from the various recent excavations, including that reported by archeologist Kristi Ulrich of UTSA-CAR, indicated that although the predominant meat consumed at the mission was beef, mission inhabitants also ate a variety of wild game species, including small mammals, deer, reptiles, birds, and freshwater fish. Marks of metal tools on much of the bone indicate the adoption of Spanish tools by the native inhabitants at both missions, although they continued using a variety of chipped-stone tools. Recovery of pecans, mesquite beans, and other wild seeds confirmed that gathering of wild plants persisted during the mission years. Similar evidence had also been recovered during the 1930s excavations. Interestingly, Ricklis found a larger proportion of wild food in the sample collected at Mission Rosario. This evidence, he notes, may indicate the Karankawa were more resistant to control by Spanish missionaries than their Aranama counterparts.

    Cover of UT-Austin M. A. thesis completed by Maria Allen Mounger in 1959. The two-volume thesis includes a detailed history of the mission and classification of artifacts from Jackson's 1933 excavations at "Aranama Mound." TARL library. Enlarge image
    A 2000 report by Robert Ricklis compares cultural remains derived from excavations at missions Espíritu Santo and Rosario at Goliad and underlines the distinctiveness of the native populations as expressed in their pottery. Enlarge image
    photo of jewelry and buttons
    Engraved brass padlock found in the mission excavations. Photo by Monica Trejo. TARL collections. Enlarge image
    Bone-tempered Goliad bowls and sherds from the "Aranama Mound" excavations. The bowl in the center was reconstructed using a white compound to fill large areas where sherds are missing. White specks of bone, added to clay as a tempering agent, are clearly visible on the surface of the recovered sherds. Variations in color can be attributed to different firing conditions-—varying temperatures and oxidation—as well as differences in chemical constituents of local clays. TARL collections. Photos by Susan Dial.
    Large pottery sherds were found in close proximity during Jacskon' s 1933 excavations at the midden. He was able to refit five vessels in the field. TARL archives. Enlarge image
    Native women made Goliad ware vessels by forming long coils of clay, tempered with crushed bone, into the shape of jars or bowls. The coils were then smoothed over with a small pebble or sherd. Enlarge image

    A New Pottery Type: Goliad Ware

    The ubiquitous, bone-tempered pottery found in nearly all south Texas missions was named for the Goliad sites. Goliad Ware is an unglazed, buff- to reddish-colored, bone-tempered pottery made by hand (as opposed to "wheel thrown," or made on a mechanical potter's wheel) and fired over an open fire. Native women added crushed bone to temper local raw clay, then formed long coils of the clay into a variety of shapes. They did little to make the ware appear decorative; rather, the potters produced utilitarian vessels that could be used for cooking or storage, including shallow bowls, jars, and ollas, or water jugs. Asphaltum, a naturally occurring coastal tar, was applied occasionally to mend cracks or in a rare squiggled design. In contrast to this spartan approach, the Karankawa used the black tar to create a variety of designs on their pottery vessels.

    Goliad ware is nearly indistinguishable from the earlier pottery known as Leon Plain, found in Toyah Horizon sites across central and south Texas. Increasingly, researchers believe that the type is identical to, or a slightly later outgrowth of, the Late Prehistoric pottery and that native peoples brought the tradition and technology with them into the mission setting.

    The residents of Espíritu Santo produced and used quantities of the utilitarian pottery. Jackson recovered over 22,000 pieces of Goliad ware. Ricklis found that native-made pottery outnumbered Spanish Colonial pottery by a margin of 19 to 1 at the mission, based on his excavations.

    Goliad ware has been found at each of the San Antonio missions as well as Rancho de las Cabras (the San Juan mission ranch). In contrast, no Goliad sherds have been found at the Gateway missions on the Rio Grande at Guerrero, Mexico. As noted by archeologist Thomas R. Hester, the absence of Goliad ware at the Rio Grande sites likely is due to the greater access to mass-produced Mexican pottery near that location.

    Ullrich's study of the Goliad ceramic sample recovered from UTSA testing found two different groups with markedly different paste attributes. One, the largest sample, had the more common bone temper, whereas a smaller group had a bone-tempered sandy paste. This difference may indicate that native potters were collecting clay from different source areas.

    Comparing pottery samples from both Goliad missions Espíritu Santo and Rosario, Ricklis found distinctive differences in the two pottery types. At Mission Rosario, established chiefly for the Karankawa, native potters produced a type closely linked to coastal Rockport ware (Rockport Plain, Rockport Black on Gray, and other variants). This sandy paste type is frequently decorated with black asphaltum designs. Found in many Late Prehistoric coastal sites, it has been attributed to the Karankawa. The Karankawa potters at Rosario made several innovations to the earlier coastal forms, including different handle shapes, some of which closely resemble those made at Espíritu Santo.

    Artifact Gallery

    Handles and vessel wall sherds recovered by Jackson from "Aranama Mound." In his notes, he speculates that handles were attached to the pot by inserting the ends of the handles (a) into holes in the vessel (c, d) then flattened or "bradded" while still plastic, or wet, then finally rubbed and blended to complete the handle (b) . TARL archives. Enlarge image
    An earthenware ladle, apparently made of typical Goliad paste in a non-traditional form. TARL archives. Enlarge image

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    Native-made ceramic "elbow" pipes excavated from Jackson's "Aranama Mound." Scans by Kristi Ulrich, TARL collections.
    Sherds of blue and white majolica, a lead-glazed decorated pottery from Mexico, are common in Spanish Colonial sites, as are other brightly decorated imported wares. TARL archives. Enlarge image
    Brass ring with blue and transparent settings. Scan by Kristi Ulrich, TARL collections. Enlarge image

    Artifacts from Mission Espíritu Santo express the blend of cultures and transformations that occurred at this Spanish Colonial site over its lengthy history. Many artifacts are European or Mexican: ornate jewelry and religious medallions, brightly colored ceramics, such as Mexican majolicas, French faience, and other imported wares; coins; metal tools and livestock trappings; fragments of copper pots; etc. These items stand out in stark contrast to the less colorful and more simple native-made objects which drew on traditions going back for thousands of years on the South Texas Plains.

    Evidence of traditional native handicrafts— pottery sherds, bone and shell tools and ornaments, and chert tools, in particular— dominates the artifact assemblage. Aranama women made pots and jars of bone-tempered clay (Goliad ware), and men made a variety of chipped-stone tools and weapons, including Guerrero arrow points used in hunting as well as butchering and scraping tools used in butchering and hide processing. Some items show a blending of cultures, such as projectile tips made of metal, and Guerrero-type arrow points made on sherds of bottle glass. Chipped-stone gunflints were made in large quantities for Spanish flintlock guns. Other stone tools, such as stone drills or perforators are absent from the recovered artifacts. Presumably these items were replaced by more-efficient metal tools brought by the Spanish.

    Significantly, all of the more recent archeological operations have determined that intact Spanish Colonial deposits still exist at Espíritu Santo which can provide important data about the people of the mission. Work by archeologists in the future promises to provide additional clues to their stories.


    Brightly colored glass beads were brought by Spanish and other European traders as gifts for native peoples. Scan by Kristi Ulrich, TARL collections. Enlarge image
    Shell ornaments made by mission Indians, following age-old traditions. Top row, pendant and disc beads made of freshwater mussel shells; bottom, marine shell beads. Scans by Kristi Ulrich, TARL collections. Enlarge image
    Expressions of old and new technologies in the mission. Chipped-stone arrow points were made by native knappers even as metal was offered by the Spanish for cutting into thin points. The style of points at left emerged during or just before the mission period. Called Guerrero points, for the missions in northeastern Mexico where they were first identified, these triangular and lanceolate forms have been found at mission sites across the state as well as in open campsites. Scans by Kristi Ulrich, TARL collections. Enlarge to see more examples.

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    Stone tools found at the mission include manos, or handstones, used for grinding corn and other foods (left), possible small chipped-stone scrapers used in hide processing (right, top) and prismatic stone blades used for cutting. The latter tools, in particular, are indicators of a Late Prehistoric technology that was brought into the missions. TARL archives, scans by Kristi Ulrich.

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    Items from the Spanish world found at the mission by Jackson, 1933: a metal military insignia in the shape of a bugle; spur; and sewing thimble. Scans by Kristi Ulrich, TARL collections.
    The interior of the church at Mission Espíritu Santo employs architectural features and styles of religious artistry observed at other mission churches of the time. This building and several others at the mission were completely reconstructed following archeological investigations. Photo by Susan Dial. Enlarge image

    The Mission Today

    Three of the main mission buildings at the Goliad locale have been reconstructed. Subsequent interpretive work, intricate painting, and careful furnishing by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has restored the mission's appearance to that of its heyday—an arresting, brilliantly white structure looming over the south Texas Plains. Now designated Mission Espíritu Santo State Historic Site, the mission is one of several major historic features in Goliad State Park including Presidio La Bahía, the Ignacio Zaragoza Birthplace State Historic Site, Fannin Battleground State Historic Site, the Goliad Historic District, and Mission Rosario State Historic Site.

    The mission during a holiday event, brightened by luminarias. Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Enlarge image