Research Discoveries: Our incredibly documented past

by Byron Brown, author of Spanish Missions of Texas


While writing the book, ‘Spanish Missions of Texas,’ I was struck by two facts that are seemingly incongruous but are, in reality, completely and inexorably connected.


The first was that, as I began to do the necessary research for this book, I was nearly overwhelmed by the enormity of information already written on the subject. That this particular grouping of sources had, within itself, yet another subset was, uh, concerning. The ‘Memorial’ of Fr. Benavides, the memoirs of both Bernal Díaz del Castillo (the biographer of Cortés’ Mexican conquests) and Mary Maverick (an early Anglo settler in the San Antonio region) and the incredible ‘Crónica’ of Fr. Espinosa all hold the most extraordinary and exciting stories about the earliest colonization efforts within Texas. That there are several more sources from this same era quoted in the book is just a testament to the enormity of the available material. Nevertheless, each and every tale is told earnestly and oftentimes in heart-wrenching detail. From the fantastic meanderings of Cabeza de Vaca to the horrific religious practices of the Aztec priests described by Bernal Diaz, each of these early biographers seemed to understand that their accountings would not only withstand the test of time but become indispensable, historical accounts of their lives. That we have persons from both from our relatively recent and current eras, who continue to document and possess a predilection for this period of Texas history, is marvelous.


Accordingly, as I read the works of somewhat more contemporary historians and writers such as Castañeda, Bolton or Habig, I was amazed at not only the integrity of their writing but also the depth and scope of their research. Each of these, (and, there are many others) after years of intense study, compiled and created books and theses that bring into clear focus the histories of these Spanish missions.


The second factor that I encountered while writing ‘Spanish Missions of Texas’ was that those persons who are still actively researching and analyzing the antique along with current data, i,.e., the more recent archaeological studies, the cataloging of newly discovered artifacts and the conservation thereof and the recent and ongoing restoration efforts, are doing so with the same energy and passion as those who actually lived during the time of the missions’ founding. From the park rangers at La Bahía in Goliad, the docents at the missions of El Paso and the library staff in the special archives collection at the University of Texas at El Paso, the catholic diocese offices and clergy in San Antonio to the incredible facilities at the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory in Austin, I was, and am still, amazed with and forever indebted to all of these people and their various organizations for their generosity and willingness to share their resources with me.


It occurred to me early on in the writing of this book that all of these separate individuals and entities have been working in tandem throughout the history of Texas. From the often desperate and severe beginnings centuries ago to the meticulously guided conservation and restoration efforts of today, everyone involved has been straining toward the same vision - the fulfillment of a dream.