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The Americas 60.4 (2004) 617-627

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The Destruction of the San Sabá Apache Mission:

A Discussion of the Casualties*

Madrid, Spain

The Lipan Apache mission on the banks of the San Sabá River was located on the northern boundary of Coahuila, New Spain, in the center of today's state of Texas. On March 16, 1758, Norteño tribes, allied with the Comanches, attacked and destroyed the mission, demonstrating their hostility to what they saw as the Spaniards' unjust support of their traditional enemy, the Apaches. The destruction of the mission contributed to the failure of the most far-reaching attempt by the Spanish Crown and the Franciscan Order to settle the Apaches in Texas. The Spanish believed that the mission was the only means to ensure a peaceful settlement of central Texas native tribes and simultaneously to check French illegal arms trade in the northern borderlands. Once the Lipan Apaches were pacified, the reasoning went, definitive settlement of all the Norteño tribes and their allies would follow. These settlements of pacified tribes would also provide the much-desired direct link between Spanish settlements in Texas and those of New Mexico.1

The mission project for the Apache, in preparation for a decade, only came to fruition in 1756. In an unprecedented gesture never to be repeated during the viceregal era, Pedro Romero de Terreros, merchant and miner in Querétaro and Pachuca (Mexico), offered viceroy Marquis de las Amarillas financing for the entire plan to establish missions in Apache territory.2 The viceroy and the gentleman agreed on the project, following guidelines probably offered by the philanthropist's cousin, the experienced Franciscan [End Page 617] missionary Fray Alonso Giraldo de Terreros. At that time, Father Terreros was the first and only founder of a missionary establishment for Apache tribes prowling about the Rio Grande missions; this was the short-lived mission of San Lorenzo founded in 1754. As Director of the San Sabá Apache mission, Father Terreros found martyrdom, together with a number of other Spaniards. Historians have arrived at no consensus on exactly how many casualties resulted from the siege and destruction of the mission. Over the years, different witnesses and scholars have identified varying numbers of victims.

The main witness to the tragedy was the only surviving missionary, Fray Miguel Molina, who had been wounded. Records of Father Molina's testimony, given on March 22, 1758, at the nearby San Luís de las Amarillas presidio, may be found in archives in Mexico City, Seville, and at the Archivo del Colegio Apostólico de Querétaro in Celaya, Mexico.3 Father Molina reported that Fathers Terreros and José Santiesteban were dead, although the body of the latter had not been found by the time the testimony was taken. In addition, Father Molina identified three soldiers among the dead: José García, Lorenzo de Ayala and Enrique Gutierrez. The witness said that Jose Vázquez, Andrés Villareal and mayordomo Juan Antonio Gutierrez had been wounded, although Gutierrez's death was known from at least March 19. The missionary did not mention his own wounds, although he did recount the minor injuries sustained by the servant and mission guard, Juan Leal, as a result of a beating that had occurred in the very first moments of the attack. Therefore Father Molina recorded only five deaths and three people wounded during the destruction of the San Sabá River mission.

A second nearly contemporaneous account came from Father Manuel Arroyo, a friar dwelling at Colegio Apostólico de San Fernando in Mexico at the time of the tragedy. Although Father Arroyo was not a direct witness to the massacre, he drafted a long poem a few months after the attack. The poem's long title may be abridged as "La Relación." The manuscript describing the mission's siege and destruction, found in the Biblioteca Nacional de España,4 must be considered as a reliable source of information on the tragic event, since it provides...


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