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Spanish Artifacts Unearthed at Mission Tejas State Park
WECHES, Texas — A decision by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 2003 to purchase 291 additional acres of East Texas hardwood bottomlands and pine forest to add to 368-acre Mission Tejas State Park about 20 miles east of Crockett has begun paying dividends.
Spanish artifacts dating to the late 17th century, including musket balls, trade beads and part of a spur, were excavated recently by an Austin archeological firm at three different sites in the new park section. TPWD archeologist Todd McMakin reported those findings to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission at its January meeting.
The artifacts, McMakin says, represent tangible evidence of a Spanish presence in connection with a Nabedache Caddo village mentioned in the historical accounts of early Spanish explorers visiting the province of Texas. Historical accounts of Spanish missionaries and soldiers who visited east Texas at the turn of the 17th century mentioned the existence of a large Indian village on San Pedro Creek just upstream from its confluence with the Neches River.
“It’s always been thought that a Spanish mission might have been located in or near the state park property, but we haven’t talked much about the Europeans’ association with the Caddos other than to tell how the Spanish were driven out by the Indians,” McMakin says. “Now, the new discoveries give us this tie between nearby Caddoan Mounds, where the early Caddos lived, and the later Caddos, who lived in this large Nabedache village.”
McMakin, who coordinates TPWD’s East Texas Cultural Resources Program, explains that Caddo ceramics found in 1994 during excavations conducted by Stephen F. Austin University in the older portion of Mission Tejas State Park provided evidence that the Nabedache Village may have been partially located within the park. That discovery piqued the interest of the TPW Commssion several years ago, especially Commissioner Philip Montgomery, who championed the purchase of the additional acreage.
“The interpretation that’s currently at the park will remain,” McMakin says, “but we hope to add more interpretive signage when funds become available. We may place signs along the trail overlooking the flood plain describing the large Caddo village and enhance interpretation, adding the tie-in to Caddoan Mounds and use a timeline mentioning the earlier Caddos, the Spanish who came to the area and what occurred after their arrival.”
TPWD operates Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site, just up State Highway 21 from Mission Tejas. The site was home to the Early Caddos, who built the temple mounds between A.D. 700 and A.D. 1300. The extensive ceremonial center marks the southwestern-most outpost of the sophisticated Great Mound Builder culture that covered North America’s eastern woodlands for 2,500 years.
In 1934, the federal Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a commemorative log structure replicating the first Spanish mission in Texas — San Francisco de los Tejas — established in 1690 by Spanish soldiers and missionaries sent to convert the local Native Americans to Christianity. Over the next few ill-fated years, a succession of epidemics, droughts, floods and increasing Indian hostilities led to the Spanish abandonment of Mission Tejas.
The original park site was operated by the Texas Forest Service which deeded the property to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1957. Mission Tejas State Park fronts State Highway 21, which roughly parallels the route of historic El Camino Real. A small portion of the Old San Antonio Road also exists within park boundaries. The old roads served as a major artery during Spanish colonial times for travel into Texas from Mexico and Louisiana.
Mission Tejas State Park ( 936-687-2394) is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Monday. Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site (936-858-3218) is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
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