Nuestra Señora de la Luz Mission

By: Robert Wooster

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: August 11, 2020

Nuestra Señora de la Luz Mission was established in 1756 on the east bank of the Trinity River near the site of present-day Wallisville in northern Chambers County. Acting upon the suggestion of Governor Jacinto de Barrios y Jáuregui, the Spanish viceroy, the Marqués de las Amarillas, decreed that the mission and its accompanying presidio, San Agustín de Ahumada, be constructed near the swampy, unhealthful site of a cabin formerly occupied by a French trader, Joseph Blancpain. The mission and presidio complex attempted to prevent further French contact with the Orcoquiza and Bidai Indians and their neighbors. Two friars from the College of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Zacatecas, Bruno Chavira and Marcos Satarain, presided over the mission, which was completed in 1757.

Misfortune plagued the enterprise, known collectively as El Orcoquisac, almost from the beginning. Governor Barrios deemed the two missionaries unfit for their tasks. Before they could be recalled, however, illness forced Father Satarain to remove temporarily to Los Adaes, and Father Chavira died unattended. Father Satarain returned but remained too ill to minister to the Indians and was eventually recalled. Fray José Francisco Caro, who replaced Satarain, found conditions at El Orcoquisac deplorable and recommended that the mission be moved. Caro's vigorous complaints secured him a transfer back to his mission, Los Dolores, and Nuestra Señora de la Luz was left to Fray Francisco de San Miguel, who continued the missionary efforts despite disagreements with soldiers and government officials over proposals to move the mission and presidio to El Atascosa or Los Horconcitos.

Caro's successor, Fray Abad de Jesús y María, took a different view. Although relations between soldiers and the missionaries were strained, Abad reported in November 1759 that the mission occupied the most strategic site in the area. The first temporary building had apparently been replaced by a somewhat more substantial structure built of wood and clay. The Orcoquiza Indians had cooperated with the missionaries during the project's early stages.

Conflicting reports from church and government officials, orders to move Nuestra Señora de la Luz, and a major internal dispute at Presidio San Agustín slowed activity during the early 1760s. On September 4, 1766, a hurricane leveled the Orcoquisac mission and presidio. The presidio was moved slightly to the east of its previous site, and the mission was rebuilt at its original location. According to Fray José Marenti the new structure, covered with shingles and plastered mortar, was about thirty-three feet long and nineteen feet wide. The whitewashed mission had a sacristy, choir, pulpit, raised altar, confessional, and baptistry, with a cemetery and courtyard about forty-eight feet wide.

Although missionaries reported some thirty conversions between 1764 and 1770, the lack of food and supplies, combined with the insects, low terrain, and lack of cooperation with soldiers and area Indians, disrupted missionary efforts. During his inspection tour of the northern provinces, the Marqués de Rubí visited El Orcoquisac in 1767. The inspector pronounced Nuestra Señora de la Luz "an imaginary mission," since the presidio could not protect the coast from French or British invasion nor provide help for Spanish ships wrecked nearby. The acquisition of Louisiana in 1763 by the Spanish and the removal of the French threat left little reason to minister to the small numbers of Orcoquiza and Bidai Indians, although these begged for the continuation of the missions. As part of a general pull-back to the San Antonio-La Bahía area, Rubí recommended that the Spanish base on the Trinity be removed. Father Gaspar José de Solís inspected the Zacatecan missions a few months later but failed even to visit La Luz. Not surprisingly, Capt. Rafael Martínez Pacheco left El Orcoquisac with most of the garrison in February 1771, in response to calls for aid against the Apaches by the governor of Texas, the Barón de Ripperdá. Three soldiers and Fray Ignacio María Laba remained at El Orcoquisac at the Indians' request but abandoned the project within a few weeks, after which, in 1772, Rubí officially recommended that the mission be suppressed.

In 1936 the state of Texas placed a marker on the west side of the Trinity River to denote the general location of the mission and presidio at El Orcoquisac. In 1965 and 1966, however, John V. Clay, supported by archeological excavations, established that the site was instead on the east bank of the Trinity, near Lake Miller. Almost no traces of the Spanish occupation remain.

Herbert Eugene Bolton, Texas in the Middle Eighteenth Century: Studies in Spanish Colonial History and Administration (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1915; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970). Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno Press, 1976). Miriam Partlow, Liberty, Liberty County, and the Atascosito District (Austin: Pemberton, 1974). Curtis D. Tunnell and J. Richard Ambler, Archeological Excavations at Presidio San Agustín de Ahumada (Austin: State Building Commission, 1967).

  • Exploration
  • Missions, Presidios, and Camps
  • Religion
  • Catholic
  • Architecture
  • Missions
  • Presidios
  • Pueblos
Time Periods:
  • Spanish Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert Wooster, “Nuestra Señora de la Luz Mission,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 07, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 11, 2020

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