San Juan de Capistrano

Trip Start Oct 15, 2006
Trip End Jan 01, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Thursday, November 8, 2007

  San Juan de Capistrano.

My name is San Juan de Capistrano.  Please do not confuse me with my younger cousin in California. He has the swallows returning every year. I don't.

The Spanish government gave birth to me in July, 1716 in present day Nacogdoches county in Texas.  I was established to provide a Spanish presence to ward off the French insurgency nearby.  I was given the name of  San Jose de los Nazonis, because I was to be a town for the Nazonis tribe.  Battles with the French and the unwillingness of the natives to come to the town led to the demise of the mission and a move to the hospitable banks of the San Antonio River. 
Missions San Antonio and San Jose were already established there.  

When I came to the area in 1731, I had to change my name to San Juan,  named for the Franciscan preacher who was canonized recently in 1734.  This was the first of many sacrifices I had to make for my sons and daughters from the family groups of Venado, Teloja, Orejon, and Pamaques.    Apache raiding parties killed two of my daughters in 1736, because the governor, Carlos Benitas Franquis de Lugo, left only one soldier to defend my sons and daughters.  To add insult to injury, the good priest, Father Juan Recio de Leon, and the notary of the Villa de San Fernando complained to governor Lugo that my sons and daughters were being mistreated by the missionaries.  They claimed to be overworked, underfed, and poorly clothed.  The real reason was that the good citizens of the villa wanted free labor, a.k.a. slaves.  How dare those hypocritical bums.  A subsequent trial exonerated the Franciscans, who argued that as long as the natives remained under their protection, they would never be treated as slaves, but as equal Spanish citizens.  Thank you Carlos Casteneda for recording this story in your book "Our Catholic Heritage in Texas".

Many of my sons and daughters became disobedient to the orders of the Franciscans and left the mission, leaving only twenty-three residents.  During this time too an outbreak of smallpox and measles ran rampage through the mission.  My sons and daughters knew about the necessity of isolation when disease raised its ugly head. Many also left to flee this epidemic.

Despite these troubled beginnings my sons and daughters learned to become good Spanish citizens.  They built an acequia, grannery, church, homes, and work structures.  By 1762 we had over 1,00 head of cattle, 3,500 sheep for shearing their wool, and 100 saddle horses.

In 1772 the Franciscans took one of their many inventories of the missions.  At that time my sons and daughters numbered 202 from twelve different tribes.  The marriage registry showed numerous nuptials between my children and those of Espada, whose fields were directly across the river from my fields.  Also on the inventory (you don't mind if I boast a little) showed 75 lbs. of good chocolate, 75 lbs or ordinary chocolate, 20 lbs of indigo (a blue dye), and 8 oz. of saffron (the most expensive spice in the world).  This is not bad for a town barely forty years old.


This was the high point for my brothers and sisters.  By 1789 the numbers of my children dropped to merely fifty-eight.  Construction on a new church featuring an octagonal sacristy halted after over 3,000 pesos were invested with the labor of my children.  The foundation of this church can be seen today.  Many of my children are buried within its walls, making it a holy place to be revered.

By 1794 we were combined with Espada.  The fledging Mexican government decided to close our doors permanently in 1823, giving land grants, suertes, to the forty-two people (ten famlies) still residing at San Juan.  My sons and daughters had now become good Mexican citizens, tending the fields and ranches, while living in new homes built from the stones of the walls of the town.  Only the church buildings remained intact under the auspices of the diocese of San Antonio.

My sons and daughters still live today.  Germans, Poles, and other immigrant groups of people moved into the area.  In the mid 1800s the town's name was changes to Bergs Mill in honor of the family who operated a combination saw and grist mill on the San Antonio River.  The parish name remained San Juan de Capistrano.

Today my sons and daughters thrive within the San Juan community.  On any given Sunday they hold bake sales, dinners, and other festivities after the Masses.  San Juan even has its own mission church, St. Ann, located on Southton Road.  Sad to say that adversity still exists even today.  A thief stole three precious statues from my church.  They have never been recovered.  I hope and pray that the person or persons in their possession will some day have the heart to return them to their home.

Come and visit my town.  The National Park Service ha restored my Convento, where exhibits will depict the evolution of my community.  Take a walk down the Yanaguana Nature Trail to the old San Antonio River.  As you walk, think how difficult my sons and daughters lived to forge a living from hunting and gathering their food, especially in times of drought.  Look for wildlife: snakes, caterpillars, turtles, fish, damsel flies, and many species of birds.  Watch out, however.  Some of these animals can and will harm you.  Respect their home and their space.

My sons and daughters welcome you to celebrate with them their heritage and their community.
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