Mission San Clemente – the First Texas Mission

Founded: 1632 (for about 6 months)

Re-Established: 1684

Status:  Nothing significant remains; the exact location has been lost

Location:  Exact location unknown, but in the vicinity of San Angelo

Mission San Clemente is known as the first Spanish mission in Texas, although there were actually two different missions built on the same location, more than 50 years apart.

The Spanish Franciscans visited the area for a short time in 1629, and promised the local Jumano Indians that they would return. In 1632, the friars built a mission located near the confluence of the Concho River and the Colorado River, which was then known as the Río San Clemente. The mission was constructed of logs, and operated for only 6 months; during that time, 2-3,000 Indians were baptized.

San-Clemente-Mission-MarkerIn 1684, another mission was built near the same site by Juan Dominguez de Mendoza and Fray Nicolas Lopez.  The lower floor of the log structure was a chapel, and the upper floor was an lookout post.

The exact location is not known, and there are several different historical markers in the area claiming to mark the site of the mission.  One, placed by the Texas Historical Survey Committee, stands on a post on the east side of highway 83 about 7 miles from Ballinger.

The mission was abandoned due to the presence of hostile Apache Indians.  The missionaries wanted to return to the area, but by 1685, the Spanish government had decided to focus its efforts on East Texas, in order to forestall efforts by France to colonize the area.

Historical Marker Text

The first mission known to have been established in Texas east of the Pecos River, San Clemente was a hastily built, two-room structure located on a hill about 17 miles south of present Ballinger. (Some historians place the site farther south, near Junction.) Although earlier than the great Spanish mission movement, this was one of the first (1684) in Texas and was founded by Juan Dominguez de Mendoza and Fray Nicolas Lopez. Named for the San Clemente River (actually the Colorado), the mission was founded at the request of the Jumano Indians, who desired Christianity and the friendship of the Spanish. The buildings was probably constructed of logs, its lower story serving as a chapel and its upper story as a lookout post. Though they stayed only from March 15 to May 1, awaiting envoys from 48 tribes (bands), the Spaniards baptized many of their several thousand Indian allies. Finally, being attacked by hostile Apaches, Mendoza returned with his men to El Paso six months after he had left. Although Mendoza did not know it, French explorer La Salle had landed on the Gulf Coast, 1684. This fact, plus Mendoza’s report of seeing a French flag among the Indians quickly led to other Spanish expeditions being sent to chart the Texas wilderness. (1968)