Texas Adventure Week Seven: San Antonio Missions

I didn’t update last week because we took a “mini-vacation” to San Antonio and visited four of the missions in the area: San Jose, Espada, San Juan, and Concepcion, along with the Acequia Espada, a water system that supplied water to the missions and crops. We started at the visitor center at San Jose and took the trail, skipping only the last stop, the Alamo. The kids were all tired and we’ve been there several times before. We’ll visit it again before long!

Mission San Jose is the largest and is known as the “Queen of the Missions”. It was founded in 1719. It was the best restored and preserved of the four we visited. The kids were excited to see the famous “Rose Window” that we recently read about in The Lady in the Blue Cloak: Legends from the Texas Missions. There were lots of outbuildings to explore…it took us a while to get through it all! The Indian quarters, granary, workshop, and mill were all really interesting to see. I think the highlight here, though, was the mill. It’s the oldest mill in Texas and still operates!

Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo
Original plaster on the outside of the church.
The famous “Rose Window”
Water flowing into the mill.
Looking down into the lower part of the mill.
The mill house from the front.
Inside the mill house…we watched it grind grain!

Next we visited the Acequia Espada, the oldest Spanish aqueduct in the United States. It was built between 1731-1745 and is still functioning and being used by farmers today!

The aqueduct crossing an arroyo.
Acequia Espada

The second mission we visited was Mission Espada, established in 1731. It was bustling with activity as the local parish members prepared for a Maundy Thursday service. Franciscan monks were busily unloading Easter lilies from vehicles. The small church and sacristy are beautiful. Even though the outbuildings weren’t as well preserved or restored as at San Jose, we were able to tell what was what based on the layout and recognize what was left of  the living quarters, granary, etc.

Mission San Francisco de la Espada
Sitting inside an 18th century hearth.

Our next stop was Mission San Juan. The tiny church here is badly in need of repair and the grounds weren’t as well preserved as the others, but it was unique and had it’s interesting points, including a Native American burial area where many of the inhabitants were buried. It also boasted a large current population…of fire ants!

Mission San Juan Capistrano
One of several cracks being monitored

Our last stop was Mission Concepcion. The church and convento are large, beautiful, and very well preserved but it’s in a much more populated area and the surrounding grounds and outbuildings are gone. The standout feature here was the well-preserved original frescoes in several areas. I think it was the most beautiful of the four.

Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisma Concepcion
Original frescoes at Concepcion
More original frescoes
More original frescoes

It was a great trip! The kids enjoyed putting actual locations to the descriptions of mission life we’ve read recently. Seeing the buildings, grounds, and artifacts made it all more concrete. It was easy to visualize the day to day activities that went on while standing where they actually happened! We wrapped up our two day trip with a day at Sea World to relax. Next week we’ll continue with the colonization of Texas and the beginnings of the Revolution.

Don’t miss the first six updates in this series:


Texas Adventure Week Six: Colonization-Stephen F. Austin & Don Martin de Leon

Our Texas Adventure has been pretty low-key this week. We briefly discussed Mexico’s war for independence from Spain and spent the rest of the week learning about the empresarios who began settling Texas. We focused on two in particular: Stephen F. Austin and Martin de Leon. 

Stephen F. Austin is probably the most well-known empresario, both because of the size of his colony and his later role in the Texas Revolution. His colony, known as the Old Three Hundred, was the largest and most successful colony in the region. He worked tirelessly for the rights of the Texas colonists, even spending time in a Mexican prison for his efforts. I’m hoping to visit the historical site at San Felipe in the near future.

click to enlarge

We also chose to focus on Martin de Leon because his colony included the area where we live. He founded and lived in our city and is buried here. His colony was the only predominantly Mexican colony in Texas and his cattle brand was the first registered brand in the state. We really enjoyed reading about him in Martin De Leon: Tejano Empresario, a brief biography I found. It’s been fun to read about the history behind familiar landmarks and locations that we see on a daily basis.

Some of the resources we’ve used this week:
US map
Texas map

Next week we’ll take a break to prepare for Easter, but we’re also planning to visit a few more missions. Hopefully I’ll have some good pictures to share with you two weeks from now! We’ll spend a little more time on the colonization of Texas and then move into the Texas Revolution.

Don’t miss the first five updates in this series:

Texas Adventure Week Five: Presidio La Bahia & Mission Espiritu Santo

I’ve been pretty quiet here on the blog for the last week or so. My husband has had time off so we’ve been focused on getting some things done around the house and having some family time as my two littlest both celebrated their birthdays! Needless to say, schoolwork’s been pretty light. But we have continued reading about the Spanish colonization effort and missions.

Presidio La Bahia

We also took our first “field trip” to Goliad to visit Presidio La Bahia and Mission Espiritu Santo. La Bahia is of course most famous for the events that occurred there during the Texas Revolution, which we haven’t quite gotten to yet, but since it’s less than thirty minutes from our house, it was a logical choice to visit to see in person a presidio and mission like we’ve been reading about.

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day for our outing! The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the bluebonnets and other wildflowers are all in full bloom. We visited the presidio first, then took lunch to the state park and had a picnic. After we ate, we walked up to the mission and checked it out. Next we took a short trip over to the Fannin Memorial Monument and burial ground, and we couldn’t resist driving down to the town square to see the beautiful Goliad County Courthouse and Hanging Tree on our way out of town! On the road home we stopped by the Fannin Battle Ground.

Mission Espiritu Santo

The last time we visited was when the Dancer (now almost thirteen) was a toddler, so it’s been awhile! I learned some things I didn’t know…or had forgotten…like the fact that La Bahia is the oldest standing fort west of the Mississippi and also the only completely restored presidio in the country. The kids had a great time! They were fascinated. There was a re-enactor on site to speak to a field trip group that had come right before us and we were able to have a nice long chat with him and see all the items he had on display up close. Both the presidio and the mission had extensive artifact collections and great displays on what life living there was like.

Sections of the original wall along with the
restored walls at the mission

We purchased a DVD called Presidio La Bahia: It’s Place in the History of Texas that’s a longer version of the short video presented at the site. It was really full of great information, and the kids were super excited to see the re-enactor we spent time with playing a prominent role in the movie! It showed footage of the excavations at the Fort St. Louis site, which was also the first site of La Bahia, which was neat since even though it’s so near us, we can’t visit it because it’s on private property. The presidio was later moved to a second location in Mission Valley, only about ten minutes from us, and finally to it’s present location in Goliad.

We also discussed the various ghost stories and legends surrounding the presidio, using a book I have called Ghosts along the Texas Coast. A security guard I worked with at a bank years ago has his story in the book, which made it even more interesting to the kids.

Here are a few more photos from our day:

Captain’s Quarters at La Bahia

At the door of Our Lady of Loreto Chapel at La Bahia

What’s left of an original door at Our Lady of Loreto

An original bell at Our Lady of Loreto
At the smithy!

The chapel at Mission Espiritu Santo

A priest’s living quarters at the mission
A vat used for making beer
Fannin Monument & burial site
Wildflowers at the burial site
The “Hanging Tree”
Fannin Battleground

Some of the resources we’ve used this week:
US map
Texas map

Presidio La Bahia website
Texas Beyond History Mission Espiritu Santo page
Ghosts Along the Texas Coast

All in all a great week! Next week we’ll continue learning about the colonization of Texas, including the first Anglo-American settlers, and discuss the Mexican war for independence from Spain.

Don’t miss the first four updates in this series:

Linked with Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Texas Adventure Week Four: The Missions Era & Spanish Colonization (In Our Classroom)

We’re now four weeks into our Texas Adventure. After wrapping up our week on the LaSalle expedition, we took a few days off last week. This week we focused on the Spanish colonization of Texas, beginning with the establishment of missions throughout the region.

Although La Salle’s expedition was a failure, it rekindled Spain’s interest in the area and spurred them to stake their claim on Texas in order to keep the French out. They began to establish missions and settlements, working to convert the Indians and often also using them as labor to cultivate the land.

Mission San Jose, San Antonio 

We read about the struggles, hardships, and adventures encountered by the padres, soldiers, and earliest settlers as they dealt with hostile Indians and isolation from civilization. We also enjoyed reading about some of the interesting legends that have sprung up around the missions, such as the Lady in Blue. The various legends are a fun addition and really fascinating. They made for some great conversation about where the stories originated and how much of each was truth or fiction.

Presidio La Bahia, Goliad 

As we read about the various Spanish missions, I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between their missionary efforts to the Native Americans and the work of another missionary we recently studied, Saint Patrick. Patrick was able to evangelize a large number of the Irish tribes whereas the Spanish missions were ultimately a failure. We had some great discussions contrasting the two and looking at what the Spanish did both right and wrong.

Some of the resources we’ve used this week:
Texas map
US map

We’re planning to visit several of the missions that are still in existence in the very near future! Next week we’ll continue learning about the colonization of Texas, including the war for Mexican independence and the first Anglo-American settlers. 

Don’t miss the first three updates in this series:
What’s going on in your classroom this week?

Linked with Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Texas Adventure Week Three: Earliest Explorers-La Salle (In Our Classroom)

We’ve had a great third week on our Texas Adventure, a literature-based Texas history unit I’ve put together using books I’ve been collecting for the last year or so.

This week we focused on the first appearance of the French in Texas with an expedition by Robert La Salle. La Salle was an accomplished explorer. He was the first to explore all the way down the Mississippi, from the Great Lakes into Louisiana. He’d gone back to France and obtained permission from the king to establish a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi in the hopes of getting a foothold in the Gulf of Mexico, which was controlled by Spain at the time. In 1684 the expedition set out.

map courtesy www.texasbeyondhistory.net

Unfortunately, coming through the Gulf he overshot and completely missed the Mississippi, ending up in Matagorda Bay, Texas, which is only about 25 miles from where we live, in January 1685. His supply ship, the L’Aimable, sank attempting to come through Pass Cavallo into the bay. The warship that had escorted him returned to France, leaving him with only his small ship, La Belle, which had been a personal gift from the king. Convinced that the Mississippi wasn’t far, La Salle established a crude settlement on Garcitas Creek, named Fort St. Louis after the king, and began making expeditions up the coast, looking for something familiar. Months later, La Belle, anchored in the bay, ran aground on a sandbar during a sudden storm and sank.

Unrest grew among the settlers as time went on. They’d lost the majority of their supplies in the two shipwrecks, were plagued by the unfriendly Karankawa Indians, over half of them had died, and the expeditions had found no signs of the Mississippi. Eventually, in the spring of 1687, La Salle was murdered by a group of conspirators on one of his expeditions in search of the Mississippi. A small band of his men finally made it to the Mississippi and made their way back up to Canada and then to France, intending to send a rescue party back for the settlers at Fort St. Louis. But, in December 1688 or January 1689, the Karankawas ambushed and killed all the settlers at Fort St. Louis, taking the few children with them back to their camps. Months later, Spanish soldiers discovered what remained of the settlement.

Although the entire expedition was a failure, it’s important because it renewed Spain’s interest in Texas and was a catalyst for their establishment of missions throughout the state. They’d ignored the area for the last 150 years, after expeditions in search of gold and treasure had failed to yield anything, but they didn’t want anyone else to move in.

In recent years, the excavations at Fort St. Louis and of the La Belle have been a big deal locally. The La Belle, excavated in the mid/late 90’s, has proved to be one of the most important shipwrecks ever excavated. The kids are particularly fascinated not only because it’s local, but because their dad grew up sailing and fishing on that bay, passing right over the shipwreck who knows how many times! It was initially discovered when a shrimper who was an acquaintance of his family, pulled a cannon up in his net. The cannon tumbled back into the bay, but a couple of men who were certified divers (and friends of the family), contacted the authorites, went back out, and tried to locate it. Thus the excavation began!

Some of the resources we’ve used this week:
Texas map
US map
Raising La Belle
Journey to La Salle’s Settlement (Mr. Barrington’s Mysterious Trunk)
Learn about . . . Texas Indians (Learn about Texas)
Story of Texas (Four Volumes in One)
Story of Texas: A History Picture Book
An Educational Read & Color Book of Texas

Texas Beyond History’s Fort St. Louis page
Texas Beyond History’s La Belle shipwreck page
The Admiral’s Blog (some cool photos of the ship undergoing the preservation process here)
NOVA: Voyage of Doom website (this site accompanies the documentary by the same name. I’ve searched for a copy or place to watch it online in vain…if you know where I can get it, please let me know!)

Raising La BelleWe’ve had a blast reading about the ship’s excavation and the events surrounding Fort St. Louis! We’ve particularly enjoyed Raising La Belle by Mark Mitchell. The book alternates between chapters detailing the excavation and narrating the story of the ill-fated expedition, with many maps, drawings, and black and white photographs included.

Journey to La Salle's Settlement (Mr. Barrington's Mysterious Trunk)Journey to La Salle’s Settlement by Melodie Cuate has been another hit. This is part of a fiction series in which three modern day kids are swept back in time by their history teacher’s magic trunk to various places and events in Texas history. To make it back to the present, they must collect a list of various objects to put into the trunk. My kids have loved this one and are looking forward to the rest of the series!

I also can’t stress enough what a fantastic resource the Texas Beyond History website is! It’s a wealth of information, photos, and any and everything else related to Texas history.

We’ll probably be taking a break next week, then we’ll pick back up with the era of the Spanish missions, as they moved back into Texas in reaction to the French attempt at colonization. I also have several possible field trips in the works, so watch for reports and photos from those before too long!

Don’t miss the first two updates:

In other subjects…

Our other subjects are continuing to click along nicely! Karate Kid learned about prepositions. Peanut’s new All About Reading program came in and I’m hoping to get it set up and ready to start in the next few days. In the meantime, we’ve worked a little bit on the two free downloadable activity booklets that go with it. I scheduled a fairly light week for the Dancer as she prepared to leave for an annual dance competition with her ballet company. She leaves today and will be gone for five days.

I’m planning a minimal schedule for the rest of us next week since the Dancer will be gone for the first half and because it’s spring break for all the area schools. I’m looking forward to a week of no extracurricular activities and a light schedule! I may or may not update next week, but watch for the next installment of Texas Adventures the week after!

How is schoolwork going in your house?

Linked with Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Texas Adventure Week Two: Earliest Explorers-Cabeza de Vaca (In Our Classroom)

This was our second week working through a literature-based Texas History unit. As I explained last week, none of the prepackaged curriculums were quite what I was looking for, so I’ve been collecting books and putting together my own.

The first week we covered Texas in ancient times and what we know about the native people before any Europeans showed up. This week we spent time learning about Cabeza de Vaca and his companions, the first Europeans to set foot on Texan soil. Decades before the settlers arrived at Jamestown or the Mayflower sailed, this handful of Spaniards was wandering along the Texas coast and collecting pecans along the Guadalupe river, mere minutes from where we live.

Cabeza de Vaca’s route
Map courtesy www.texasbeyondhistory.net

Shipwrecked in Florida, they were attempting to make it to Tampico, a settlement in New Spain (Mexico) when a storm blew them off course and stranded them on Galveston Island. Weak from hunger and exposure and near death, they were rescued by Karankawa Indians. Cabeza de Vaca eventually became a trader, spending several years traveling between the tribes of the southern coastal plains. Later, he and three other survivors traveled across Texas and down the west coast of Mexico, earning a widespread reputation among the local people as healers along the way, and eventually making it to Mexico City. It’s amazing that they survived!

It’s a fascinating story not only because it’s a truly incredible tale of survival, but because his account gives us the most complete picture of the land and people in Texas before the Europeans arrived available. Before he was stranded in Texas, Cabeza de Vaca’s attitude toward the native people was the same as any other conquistador, but after nearly 8 years among them, his view was profoundly changed. He realized that they were human beings worthy of respect, and he did his best to advocate for them for the rest of his life, which ended up costing him dearly.

The Wreck of the 300
map courtesy www.texasbeyondhistory.net

We went over the six flags that have flown over Texas. Can you name them? (Spanish, French, Mexican, Republic of Texas, United States, Confederate)

We continued learning about different Native American tribes living in Texas at the time, and also briefly read about the Wreck of the 300, when three Spanish galleons laden with treasure went down just off Padre Island. We used to frequent a remote beach that’s literally right where the shipwrecks are…gold doubloons have been known to occasionally wash up on the beach in that spot!

The Karate Kid is really fascinated by these stories. He loves this kind of stuff, and the fact that they took place in locations that are close by and familiar to him makes it even more interesting!

Some of the resources we’ve used this week:
Texas map
US map
We Asked for Nothing: The Remarkable Journey of Cabeza de Vaca (Great Explorers)
On the Texas Trail of Cabeza De Vaca
Learn about . . . Texas Indians (Learn about Texas)
Texas (Eyewitness Books)
Story of Texas (Four Volumes in One)
Story of Texas: A History Picture Book
An Educational Read & Color Book of Texas

Texas Beyond History website

We Asked for Nothing: The Remarkable Journey of Cabeza de Vaca (Great Explorers)We especially enjoyed We Asked for Nothing. It does an excellent, thorough job of retelling Cabeza de Vaca’s story, with gorgeous full-page illustrations and quotes from La Relacion, his account of his travels. On the Texas Trail of Cabeza De Vaca was fun too, as the author traveled along the route taken by de Vaca, with lots of neat photos and information about how they used clues from  La Relacion to find different locations.

Next week we’ll focus on the La Salle expedition, Fort St. Louis, and the La Belle shipwreck, which are both within 20-30 minutes of us. Fort St. Louis was not only the first permanent settlement in Texas, it was also the earliest European settlement on the entire Gulf Coast, from Pensacola to Tampico, Mexico. 

I’m planning a field trip or two in the near future also, and should have some fun photos to share…

In other subjects…

We’re rolling along really well in all our other subjects! The Dancer has a short week coming up as she attends an out of town dance competition and the rest of us will probably have a light schedule too. I’ve ordered and am eagerly awaiting the brand new All About Reading program for Peanut. We’ve downloaded the two free activity booklets to use while we wait for it to come in. We’ve loved All About Spelling so much this year for both Karate Kid and Peanut that I’m really looking forward to the reading program!

What’s been going on in your classroom this week?

Linked with Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.