Mission Espada–or, more properly, Mission San Francisco de la Espada— was the first mission chartered in Texas. It was founded in 1690 as San Francisco de los Tejas with two purposes: to reach the people of the Caddo Confederacy with the gospel, and to provide a Spanish presence in east Texas to guard against French encroachment into Spain’s claim in the New World. That first remote mission–remote and plagued with problems–was unsuccessful. The mission was reestablished in San Antonio on 5 March 1731.
At Espada the Spanish Franciscan missionaries reached out to the Coahuiltecan Indians, teaching them the Spanish language, the Spanish faith, and Spanish culture. The Indians, who had lived a subsistence lifestyle before, learned such “modern” skills as farming and ranching, how to make bricks and tiles and to build with them, how to work metals, and how to spin and weave. On the one hand, the Spaniards kept them safe from starvation (just barely) and from their enemies. On the other hand, the Coahuiltecan were now endangered by strange European diseases for which they had no natural immunity. In the end, theCoahuiltecan embraced their unique version of Christianity, but some believe that they lost their culture just as surely as if they had been conquered by force.