There are five Missions on the Historic Mission’s Tour. The purposes of the missions were to occupy the land and to convert the local native Indian population into Spanish subjects. The Missions taught the skills needed in a Spanish village to build housing and develop a self-sustaining community. Those skills the residents learned and practiced are evident today in the buildings of the city of San Antonio. Not only are these Missions an important historical site for the religious but reflect the history of the city itself.
A little known fact about the Spanish Missions is the role they played in giving birth to the Texas cattle industry, the American Cowboy and the Rodeo tradition. They had ranch land that was part of the community where they raised Longhorn cattle, goats and sheep. The animals provided the meat, wool, milk, cheese and leather they needed to survive. The genetics of the Longhorn cattle guaranteed good health, fertility and disease resistance but also had their down side as well, they were ornery and the large horns became a hazard to the men making them dangerous to handle.
Roping and herding skills became very important in order to maintain the cattle population. They were raised on the open range and required many men to bring the herd together. In the spring and fall they branded new calves and drove mature ones to market. These where the first American Cowboys! When the men weren't working the cattle they practiced their roping and herding skills or bronco busting among themselves. Men, being the competitive creatures they are, soon escalated the practice of these skills into competitions to see who were the best, thus rodeos were born. It was estimated that by 1865 there were 3 – 4 million Longhorn cattle in Texas giving birth to the cattle industry.
The Alamo is the first Mission on the tour and located at 300 Alamo Plaza in downtown San Antonio, Texas. It sets on a 4.2 acre site that includes the Long Barrack Museum and a Gift Museum. The Long Barrack and the Chapel are all that remain of the original fort. A museum and library are located in the Long Barrack building containing mementos and relics of the Republic of Texas. It was originally named San Antonio de Valero and was already over 100 years old when the Battle of the Alamo occurred although that is why it serves as an important historic site for most Texans. Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William B. Travis the commander stood and died with others at the Battle of the Alamo as it fell on the morning of March 6, 1836. It was a place where men gave their lives for the freedom God gave them and was entitled to keep making this a Shrine of Texas Liberty and holy ground. This sense of freedom and patriotism still lives in the hearts of Texans today.
Mission Conception is located at 807 Mission Road, San Antonio, Texas. It holds the record of the oldest unrestored stone church in the United States. It was originally founded in 1716 in East Texas but was moved to its present location in 1731 by the Franciscans. The church itself took twenty years to build. There were many fresco's’ painted on its walls both on the outside and the inside of the building. The outside painting have long since faded or washed away but the ones on the inside can still be seen and enjoyed. The stones for the church were quarried on site by the Indians that lived and worked there as stone masons and carpenters.
Mission San Jose’ is located at 6701 San Jose’ Drive, San Antonio, Texas. It is known as “The Queen of the Missions” because it is the largest and most restored of the missions. It was founded by the Spanish Catholic Missionaries on February 23, 1720. It was started in East Texas originally to provide a buffer between the Spanish and French territories. It was later moved south of the Alamo to provide relief for its overcrowded conditions. The original buildings where made from straw, mud and brush allowing them the time to build stone buildings. It housed 350 people and provided for itself with a grist mill and granary.
Mission San Juan is located at 9110 Graf Road, San Antonio, Texas. It was originally founded in 1716 in East Texas and then later moved here in 1731. It consists of a stone church, friary and a granary which were completed in 1756. A larger church was started but never finished due to a dwindling population. The Indians were taught blacksmith skills and to farm. They produced farm implements, leather and cloth. They repaired and expanded existing aqueducts and irrigation canals to water over 3,500 acres between the five missions. They built trade with both Mexico and the French Louisiana territory with the surplus food.
Mission Espada located at 10040 Espada Road, San Antonio, Texas. It is the last mission on the tour and the oldest. It was originally founded as the San Francisco de los Tejas in 1690, was the first mission in Texas and originally located near present-day Welches, Texas. In 1731 it was transferred to the San Antonio River area and renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada. The friary was built in 1745 and the church was finished in 1756. Lime Kilns that are located here are the only ones represented in the state of Texas from the Spanish Colonial time period.
If you get the chance to take the Missions tour, plan ahead and allow plenty of time to explore each Mission as well as the National Park Visitor Center at the Mission San Jose’. It offers exhibits and a short video that will make your visit more meaningful. There is no fee to enter any of the Missions. You will find water fountains and rest rooms at each Mission. There is a lot of walking so wear cool comfortable clothes and shoes. If you have older children you might enjoy taking bikes and traveling the trail or walking if they have lots of energy.