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Stephen F. Austin State University

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Local archaeologists discover original location of 18th-century mission


After an intensive five-year search, a team of Texas Archeological Stewardship Network (TASN) members and professional archeologists have announced the discovery of the original location of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hainais, later, "de los Tejas," in western Nacogdoches County.

The mission is the oldest yet discovered from 18th-century Spanish Texas, predating the missions and presidio in San Antonio. Additionally, Mission Concepción is the earliest location yet discovered that bears the name "Tejas".

The locality gives a new understanding of the route Spanish missionaries and soldiers took as they ventured into East Texas because it lies between the two previously known routes of El Camino Real de los Tejas. Artifacts from the site are consistent with early 18th-century structures and mission activities. The site is well protected on private land and will be the subject of additional research.

The mission was established in July 1716 by the Domingo Ramón Expedition that was accompanied by the Querétaran Franciscan Father Felix Espinosa and the Zacatecan Fray Antonio Margil de Jesús. The Concepción mission served as the headquarters of the original three College of Querétaro missions in East Texas. It was placed at the village of the principal chief of the Hainai, the lead tribe of the Hasinai Caddo, often known as the "Tejas".

In 1718, Governor Martín de Alarcón dedicated the village that developed around the mission as "Concepción de Agreda" in honor of María de Jesús de Agreda, the "Lady in Blue." Although all of the East Texas missions were briefly abandoned in 1719 due to concern about a French threat, Mission Purísima Concepción was rededicated by the massive Aguayo Expedition in 1721. The newly discovered site fits the Spanish chroniclers' description of being located on a "mesa" about "a half league" east of the Angelina River, near springs flowing to a small marsh.

Mission Concepción was moved briefly to the Austin area around 1730 and finally re-established in San Antonio in 1731 as Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña where it is now an important part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

The discovery team was led by Nacogdoches physicians and TASN members Tom Middlebrook and Morris Jackson; TASN member Mark Walters; archeologist Rodney Bo Nelson; historic archeologist Dr. George Avery of Stephen F. Austin State University; archeologist Jeff Williams, a GIS authority on El Camino Real also from SFA; historian Dr. Matt Babcock of the University of North Texas at Dallas; and Dr. Chester P. Walker of Archaeo-Geophysical Associates in Austin.

Formal announcement of the discovery will be made at the Nov. 4 meeting of the East Texas Archeological Society held at Stephen F. Austin State University.