Early History of San Antonio
God has always been interested in South Texas. Long before the Spanish missionaries started to build missions, God was establishing His Name among the native population. As a fifth generation Texan, I was born on the mission field of San Antonio. Every year, our public school teachers would take us on excursions to see the San Antonio missions, and other historical sites. It was ingrained in me that the primary goal of the early explorers was to Christianize Texas.
Later I learned that the explorers actually had three primary goals: Gold, glory, and God, and in that specific order. The early voyagers thought that there were Seven Cities of Cibola filled with gold. They knew about the treasurers of the Aztec empire and the vast wealth of the Incas of Peru. This knowledge fed the legends that the best was somewhere north of Mexico. The Spanish Conquistadors trampled the ground from New Mexico to Louisiana in a vain search for gold and glory. When they returned to Spain in disgrace, the missionaries came to New Spain in search of souls.
The first missions were built after 1690 in East Texas between the Trinity and Red Rivers. While they had moderate success, the native population eventually rejected them, and they had to be moved. Father Damián Massanet accompanied General Alonso De León, governor of the state of Coahuila, to establish the missions. While in East Texas, they met the Hasinai Tribe who greeted them with the word, “tejas,” which meant friend or ally. Some say this is the root word for Texas. In that same year, Mission San Francisco de los Tejas was founded near the Neches River.
On their next trip, Massanet met the Payaya Indians between a creek and a sparkling river in central South Texas. The Payaya said their village was called “Yanaguana,” meaning “refreshing waters.” The area was full of pecan trees that served as the base food crop for the natives. Because it was the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua, Massanet celebrated mass and named the village and the river San Antonio.
In his journal on June 13, 1691, Massanet noted that the Payaya were friendly and accommodating, and seemed to want to learn the Spanish language. Then, he made an amazing observation in that the Payaya had a respectful attitude towards a higher spiritual power, and had even erected a wooden cross in their village before he arrived! Amazing! There is no record of where they got the idea to build a cross in connection with their religious rituals. Could it be that God was preparing them for the message of Salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18)?
Eighteen years later, Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares served as chaplain on an expedition led by Captain Pedro de Aguirre. Father Olivares publicly stated that he had to go to Texas because there are whole tribes of Indians who have never heard the Word of God. On April 5, 1709, they came to the same area explored by Massanet, but they had no record of his previous visit. In an incredible “coincidence,” Olivares again named the river the San Antonio River because Saint Anthony was his patron saint. He then named the creek the San Pedro Creek after the patron saint of Captain Aguirre.
As time passed, San Antonio became the hub of missions and government. In 1718, the first of several mission buildings was completed utilizing the indigenous Payaya labor for the construction as well as for the construction of several bridges. One mission would become quite famous, de San Antonio de Valero or as most people know it now, the Alamo. On February 23, 1836, a Mexican force numbering in the thousands and led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna began a siege of the fort. Though vastly outnumbered, the Alamo’s 200 defenders–commanded by James Bowie and William Travis and including the famed frontiersman Davy Crockett–held out courageously for 13 days before the Mexican invaders finally overpowered them.
From that time forward, San Antonio has grown into the third largest city in the State of Texas. God has blessed the city from its’ conception with His love and mercy. Few cities in the world have the historical base of Godly involvement like San Antonio, and it can still be seen to this day. God cares for all the cities of the earth. The Psalmist David said, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) May we pray for all the people in the cities of Texas.