Francisco Hidalgo, the most patient and persistent advocate of missions among the Indians of East Texas, was born in Spain in 1659. Circumstantial evidence suggests that he was orphaned early. At the age of fifteen he received the religious habit of the Franciscans. After ordination he joined twenty-three of his brethren, who crossed the Atlantic in 1683 to help found the missionary College of Santa Cruz de Querétaro. At that time, Hidalgo was a twenty-four-year-old priest.
By 1684 he and other priests of the College of Santa Cruz had begun preaching in the villages that surrounded Querétaro. In 1688 he and two companions left for missionary work in the environs of Saltillo, Villa de la Monclova, and a mining camp known as Boca de Leones. At that time the Spanish had undertaken searches by land and sea for an elusive French colony planted somewhere on the northern Gulf Coast. La Salle's Texas Settlement was discovered in 1689, and missions were founded among the Tejas Indians the following year, but Hidalgo did not enter Texas on that occasion.
Hidalgo was with the expedition of Domingo Terán de los Ríos in 1691, and he remained in East Texas until San Francisco de los Tejas Mission was abandoned in 1693. Thereafter, he became a determined advocate of renewed missionary efforts among the Caddo Indians. In 1698 his college again sent him northward, and he participated in the founding of new missions, including San Juan Bautista, begun on January 1, 1700.
Frustrated for more than a decade in his efforts to expand missionary activities beyond the Rio Grande, in 1711 Hidalgo dispatched a letter to the French governor of Louisiana. In it he asked for assistance in reestablishing missions in East Texas. The letter prompted Antoine de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, to send Louis Juchereau de St. Denis to Texas. The Canadian-born adventurer traveled to the site of Natchitoches, Louisiana, and thence to San Juan Bautista, where he arrived in July 1714. Hidalgo's letter, coupled with the appearance of St. Denis, led to the permanent European occupation of Texas in 1716.
The first of the new missions set up in East Texas was Nuestro Padre San Francisco de los Tejas, with Francisco Hidalgo appropriately placed in charge as its minister. He remained at the mission until East Texas was abandoned by the Spanish during the Chicken War of 1719. Hidalgo took up residence at San Antonio de Valero Mission in San Antonio and remained there until 1725, when he resigned and asked permission to preach among the Apaches. When his petition was denied, Hidalgo retired to San Juan Bautista. He died there in September 1726 at the age of sixty-seven.