Just thinking about these little headstones brings a tear to my eye. On our tour of the painted churches in Texas we stopped at St Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina. The church was temporarily closed so we wandered through the large cemetery. The original settlers were from Moravia, part of what was Czechoslovakia. In the past, stillborn babies or those who lived just a few days, were usually placed in unmarked graves. Sometimes they were added to the grave of the most recently buried stranger or put in a mass grave for stillborn babies. The congregation of this church have created beautiful little headstones for their ancestor’s babies.
The hand-painted church is small but so pretty. When I gazed at the celestial scene above the altar, I thought that the stars represented all the little souls above. Rest in peace, Otilia, Joseph, Valentine, Carolina, Anton, Felix, Dominic and Wilomena. Sweet dreams to all those little ones who visited earth so briefly.
This is the third location of what was also called the Aranama Mission or Mission La Bahia, established in 1722 in Goliad, Texas. Previous missions were at Matagorda and Lavaca Bay then named La Bahía del Espíritu Santo (The Bay of the Holy Spirit), on the south west coast of Texas on the Gulf. On our involuntary vacation trip, we visited the town of Goliad first and then went to see the Mission itself, a short distance away on the banks of the San Antonio River.
The intention of the third location was to settle in a place that the native people, the Aranama, would be willing to stay and work, as well as establish territory to defeat the French, in particular. At its peak there were 40,000 head of cattle at the Mission making it the largest ranch in the area and run by the Franciscan order. I often wonder what the indigenous people thought – did Missions make their lives easier or was it just stolen land? They would have offered protection against some of the more warlike Tribes and a regular supply of food albeit with forced conversion to Catholicism.
One of my Irish cousins is a Missionary nun. For many years she worked in Africa. When she was older they moved her to a poverty stricken housing estate in Glasgow, Scotland. I was curious as to how she adapted but she loved it! Most people who meet me make assumptions based on my Scottish accent and seem to think I lived a fabulous life (in a castle?). Many people my age immigrated from Scotland to other countries to achieve a better life.
The building itself fell into disrepair over the years and was reconstructed as part of the New Deal in the 1930’s. From visiting other Missions in Mexico and California, it seems authentic to me. I was enchanted by the simplicity of the church and the pastoral lands surrounding it.
Mission Nuestra Senora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga is a bit of a mouthful, as was my Spanish given name – Katherine Louise Dellinger de Ortega. My ancestors settled in Spanish Missions from central Mexico up to San Francisco. When I was in McAllen, the Mexican American receptionist commented on my Scottish accent and I said, “You won’t believe what my maiden name was!” After the reveal she said, “Well, that is a brown name!” I was so happy that she recognized my Mestizo heritage despite my Caucasian appearance – few people do.
Our next stop on the Involuntary Vacation was one that excited us both. Goliad is a town steeped in the history of Texas invasion and independence. It was first settled by Spanish conquistadores in 1749. This mission, Presidio La Bahia, is a short distance from the current town on the banks of the San Antonio river and it was built on the site of an existing Aranama village. It was renamed Goliad, an anagram of Father Hidalgo who was a hero of the Mexican war of independence (from Spain) in 1821.
In 1835 the first Texas declaration of Independence was signed on the altar of the Presidio chapel. Texas is the only mainland state that was an independent nation before joining the USA. That is why the Texas flag may fly at the same level as the US flag. The revolutionaries were a mixture of Tejano and white settlers. In 1836, Colonel Fannin, of the Texas Revolutionary Army, and 341 of his soldiers surrendered in the battle of Coleto Creek. The next day they were shot by the Mexican army outside the walls of the Presidio. This was the Goliad Massacre.
In 1836 General Sam Houston, the Governor of the Texas Republic, granted some land to the settlers where the current courthouse and market square are located. My father and his grandfather, one of the early settlers in Texas, had the middle name Houston to honor the General. I am highly amused when people ask me about my Scottish heritage because of my accent…(I have no Scottish roots but long Texan ones).
There is a Hanging Tree on the north lawn of the courthouse. There is a rather sad history of excessive violence and ruthlessness for a period which was ended by the Texas Rangers. Perhaps the turbulent history of the settlement led to part of this. When the early settlers returned from fighting in the battle for Texas independence some of their farms had been ransacked. It is conveniently forgotten that all this land belonged to indigenous people before any of the settlers arrived. There is very little knowledge of the Aranama Tribe. It was believed they were farmers and after the Spanish invasion some moved north and the last survivors were likely absorbed into the Hispanic population.
References Texas State Historical Association and the City of Goliad