The San Gabriel Mission
Written by Phillip Mantor, a Senior in Taylor (Texas) High School
Published in Frontier Times, February 1926
If you go to Rockdale and, from there, nine miles to the northwest along a winding
road, you will see an old white house on top of a small knoll, overlooking a small
patch of woods. In front of the house and slightly to the left might be seen a pile of
stones. Among these stones you might see, if you look well, bones, occasionally an
arrowhead or a few teeth, and other such remains. These are some of the remains of the
old San Gabriel Mission.
In about 1744, Fray Francisco Mariano de los Dolores y Viana, a missionary at what is
now the Alamo in San Antonio, while searching for the Indians, came upon a large
encampment near the junction of what was then called San Xavier River and Arroyo de las
Animas, now the San Gabriel river and Brushy creek respectively. These tribes of
Indians were enemies of the Apaches who camped farther west. Despite the presents and
coaxings of Dolores, they would not go into his mission at San Antonio but promised to
visit it. When visiting San Antonio, they said that they would not go into the mission
there but they would be greatly pleased if the padres would come and establish a
mission for them in their country. After a favorable report from the captain at San
Antonio, the request of the Indians was carried by Father Ortiz to Mexico. When, after
much discussion, the permission of building the mission was granted, in February 1748,
guard of thirty soldiers was ordered to the place under Lieutenant Galvan. Meanwhile
Dolores had established a mission on the San Xavier without permission of the viceroy.
By the time Galvan reached the river there was a small settlement there, which was
working in the order of a small town. In 1748 the three missions were established.
The names of these three were: San Francisco Xavier de Horcasitas, inhabited by the
Mayeyes; San Ildefonso, inhabited by the Bidai; and Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria,
composed mostly of Cocos from down the Colorado. The founding of the last was delayed
by high water. After many Apache raids, a fort was built and fifty soldiers were sent
there. This fort was probably the one which tradition assigns to Kolb’s Hill, although
we have no proof of such a fort. During this time there was a smallpox epidemic and
only the good work of the padres saved the inmates. While the epidemic lasted many of
the Indians were baptized. This was the case usually not long before they died.
The padres had trouble with the Indians also when they went on the warpath. Messengers
from other tribes persuaded them to go on the warpath against the Apaches. Despite the
coaxing by the padres the mission Indians joined them. Whey they returned some weeks
later they settled a few miles from the mission and never re-entered it.
On account of the ill conduct of Rabago, the leading padre of the mission Candelaria,
this mission was deserted. On the eleventh day of May, so the story goes, Father
Canzabal of Mission San Ildefonso, went to Candelaria to spend the day with his
brethren. At dark, as he stood in the door of a tailor by the name of Celvallos,
Father Canzabal was killed by a musket shot. Celvallos stepped to his side to aid him
and he, in turn was killed by an arrow. Although the murders were never explained the
padres believed that the killings were the work of the soldiers.
Bravely laboring, the padres kept the missions working for three more years. There
were now superstitions regarding the place. A ball of fire was seen to rise from the
presidio, pass to the mission where the murders had occurred, circle around it, return
to the presidio and burst into sparks with a loud report. The river dried up and
refused to flow even after rains. So, when another epidemic broke out, the place was
The missions were all in the vicinity of the Kolb Gin, and the one we visited was on
Kolb’s point, a small hill over-looking the creek. Mr. J. M McLeod, who resides there,
has dug up a hand, a knife, a chisel, some bones, and other remains of the old mission.
The stones of which it was constructed have been used by neighboring farmers as the
foundations of their houses. Mr. McLeod says that from what he could see by digging
the building must have been about fifteen by twenty feet. Where the door used to be is
now a stump. The lower part of the mission is washed away.
Another legend about the place I have heard from a Taylor man: He says that the
Mexicans used to live at the site of the mission on the creek. When they were ready to
move they had to dispose of some gold. Knowing no other way, they sewed it up in a
buffalo hide and dumped it into the creek, now Brushy creek.. According to tradition,
the gold has not been found yet, although some of the Mexicans may have recovered it
unknown to the settlers.