My Blog

September 20, 2018

Making the Magic: The Spanish Missions Tour

History can be an inspiration. In 1779, Bernardo de Gálvez set off in the teeth of a hurricane to defeat the British at Baton Rouge. He did it again in 1780 , surprising and beating the British at Mobile to help win the American Revolution. I wonder what his soldiers did for rain gear.

Just because there was a Tropical Storm brewing in the Gulf and headed right for South Texas, did that mean we would cancel our very first Spanish Missions tour of the season? Certainly not!  If Bernardo could do it, so could we. And our stalwart passengers agreed. I hauled out every piece of rain gear we had. Two hooded rain jackets, three long, bright yellow rain slickers, four sturdy water-proof black coats and five large umbrellas.

At least this time I didn’t have to make do with big black garbage bags slit open at the top and sides for head and armholes. This time I was ready.

I picked up the “Great White” a fifteen-passenger van from the wonderful young men, Derrick and Johnathan, at #EnterpriseSpring. A minivan would just not have worked. The big white 15-passenger van was perfect. Plenty of room to spread out and lots of room for luggage.

The night before, the six of us, two new widows, two long-time widows and two of us leaving husbands behind, met at the #Farmhouse for an introductory dinner. #RoadScholars taught me that. Introduce people early. What I didn’t do, but will from now on, was provide a Power Point lecture on Texas history as a basis for understanding the tour. I do it for the #RoadScholars and it helps.

Two of the group were sisters. Two were sisters-in-law. And two knew each other from long acquaintance. Three teachers, two business women, and a nationally renown fiber artist. An excellent group and an auspicious beginning.

We set off in the rain, cozy and dry inside the Great White. At Victoria, we were welcomed by the #VictoriaConventionandVisitorsBureau with a sign out front that read “Tour Bus Parking Here.” Kristen and Bridgette had made it specially for us and we were thrilled.

Inside, out of the now-constant drizzle, they greeted us warmly. Each of us received goody bags with all sorts of useful and practical surprises. We were given maps of the town and explanations for the driving tour.

Victoria really was where Texas History Begins. Thanks to its cattle background, it was at one time the richest town in Texas, with the most millionaires. Magnificent homes in a dozen different architectural styles grace every street. They are a testament to the wealth of this now quieter but lovely town. We got to see most of them as we took the driving tour.

De León Plaza, named for the founder Martín de León and his wife Patricia de la Garza, is now the site of the County Courthouse.  The elegant St. Mary’s Church sits on land donated to the church by Doña Patricia. The Street of the Ten Friends is named for the Anglos and Mexicans who united to make the town a success, fighting off Comanche, protecting their cattle and horse herds and eventually fighting for Texas Independence. All of the history detailed in De León: A Tejano Family History, the book included in the goody bag I gave our guests.

The #PumpHouse is one of Victoria’s premier eateries. A restored hundred-year-old pumping station, it provides some of the best food anywhere, all set in an atmosphere of old-world elegance. The hostess had our table ready for us in the special dining room and treated us like royalty.

After the delicious lunch, we wended our way to the #MuseumoftheCoastalBend. Again, greeted by the lovely ladies who work as the Curator of Collections and the Curator of Education, we were given a private and personal guided tour of the museum. Small but beautifully displayed, the museum focuses on the early natives of the area and the French settlement of Fort St. Louis on nearby Matagorda Bay.

Off to Goliad in the increasing rain. Checked into the #AntlersInn, a small but historic hotel in this now tiny, but still vibrant community. Dinner at the Empresario Restaurant where we were greeted by the ancient owner and his wife, and a stop at the next-door bakery for slices of cherry pie and apple pie for dessert, and breakfast, too.

Goliad is all too often left off mission tours, since tourists focus on the five missions nearer San Antonio. Goliad, however, offers the three elements of all Spanish settlements: the villa or town, the presidio or fort, and the mission church for the natives.

A newly completed Visitor’s Center is a restoration of a Spanish home. It represents what a typical home in the villa would have been like. During the 1930s. the building was a CCC camp used for the restoration of the Presidio or fort on the hill nearby. The Presidio, properly called Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía, has its own small museum and a film on the importance of Goliad to the Texas Revolution.

From the presidio, we took a short side trip to visit the new museum called El Alamito. Estella Zermeño is a 9th generation Texan going back to Manuel Becerra who escorted Stephen F. Austin across Texas. She has collected materials from hundreds of local families and has displayed it in a quaint and lovely museum. With an amazing ability to remember names and dates, she explained all the items. As a treat, she gave us coffee, cake and cookies in her own home.

Across the river is the beautifully restored, gleaming white Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga. It is under the care of the National Park Service. Dodging between raindrops, a volunteer Ranger gave us the 2 p.m. History tour, including the chapel where Fannin’s men were housed before their execution. In the past, I have brought students there for the reenactment and the actors do a great job of moaning and begging for water. We’ll have to bring a tour for that one of these days.

Finally, off to San Antonio. Nice to be cozy and dry inside “the Great White” as we forged our way through the pounding rain. The Tropical Storm had followed us up into Goliad but was skirting San Antonio. We had plenty of opportunity to use the rain gear and the umbrellas.

We should have stopped for dinner before checking into the Menger Hotel. And we should have gotten to town earlier to have time to walk the Riverwalk. But walking isn’t always a comfortable option for some of us with aching knees and bad sciatica. And construction barriers on the River walk prevented us from reaching our reservation at the Bella on the River. Live and learn.

Sushi? For Dinner? Some of our crew were horrified at the idea of sushi, but it was right across the street and convenient. It was a new experience and our hesitant guests did find plenty of good food to eat. Along with tequila cocktails containing a concoction of crushed strawberries, watermelon and mint!

As the rain picked up, we Ubered back to the Menger. We spent the evening watching Robert De Niro in The Mission. An emotional movie, it describes the destruction of the Jesuit Guaraní missions above the Iguazú Falls in southern Brazil and northern Paraguay. Fortunately, that kind of slaughter did not take place in Texas. I think we’ll leave that movie out in the future.

Sunday morning, the Menger offers a magnificent buffet, second only, I hear, to the Gálvez Hotel in Galveston. We’ll have to try that one on a Galveston tour. Mimosas or champagne, breakfast or lunch, everything that anyone could desire and plenty of time for a leisurely meal. Satiated and overly replete, we headed off to the mission of San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, a National Heritage site, for their famous Mariachi Mass.

After touring the Mill where the local residents of early San Antonio ground their corn, we entered the three hundred-year-old church. The Mass, in English, included a homilie calling for unity and acceptance of others. An important and useful lesson.

One last stop at the National Park Service Welcome Center. A few last mementos from the gift shop. Then the movie “Gente de Razón” People of Reason. An emotional and moving history of the early natives and their adjustment to the arrival of the Spanish. At the end, a little girl asks her mother if all the early people are gone. Her mother tells her to look in the mirror.

Like our beautiful Estella Zermeño, a descendant of the Karankawa, the people of South Texas still retain their culture and remember their history. And it’s a sight worth seeing and a place worth visiting. We’ll go again in December. You can sign up at www.historictoursoftexas.com. Come join us.

 

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About Caroline Castillo Crimm

Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!