The first Spanish mission in East Texas, San Francisco de los Tejas, was begun in May 1690 as a response to the La Salle expedition. The location, according to the most recent research, was on San Pedro Creek just east of the site of present Augusta, a few miles west of the replica in San Francisco de los Tejas State Park. Alonso De León and Fray Damián Massanet, having found the ruins of Fort St. Louis in 1689, encountered Indians of the Hasinai (Tejas) Confederacy and judged them to be suitable subjects for conversion to Christianity. With this information, added to reports of Frenchmen living among the Hasinais, the viceroy Conde de Galve decreed a new expedition headed by De León the following year. With more than a hundred soldiers and four other missionary friars-Massanet, Miguel de Fontcuberta, Francisco Casañas de Jesús María, and Antonio de Bordoy-the expedition left Monclova, Coahuila, in March 1690. It went first to Fort St. Louis and burned the buildings. Proceeding toward the Hasinais, the Spaniards captured two young Frenchmen, Pierre Meunier and Pierre Talon (see TALON CHILDREN), survivors of La Salle's colony. On May 22 they arrived near the Neches River at a valley thickly settled by the Nabedaches, westernmost tribe of the Hasinai Confederacy. The settlement was given the name San Francisco de los Tejas. On May 24 a chapel was built for celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi. In the celebration, which included high Mass, the Spanish flag was raised, and the native chieftain was given a staff with a cross naming him governor, upon his commitment to fostering the instruction of his people in the Catholic faith.
After a search of the area for a suitable mission site, the Spaniards spent May 27–31 building the church and dwellings for the missionaries in the midst of the Nabedache settlement. Father Massanet was given possession of the mission on June 1. The native governor and his people attended a sung Mass, and the new church was blessed. On June 2 De León and Massanet began the return march to Coahuila, leaving behind the other three priests and three soldiers of Massanet's choosing. On reaching Coahuila, De León was relieved of command. Domingo Terán de los Ríos was named governor of Coahuila and Texas, to undertake the following year a new Texas expedition and the founding of additional missions. With Meunier as his interpreter, Terán conducted fifty soldiers, ten priests, and three lay brothers headed by Massanet. He also took herds of cattle and sheep and more than a thousand horses. After the Trinity River crossing the friars hastened on ahead of the main expedition. They reached San Francisco in July 1691 and learned that a second mission, Santísimo Nombre de María, had been founded in their absence. Father Fontcuberta had died the previous February in an epidemic. Terán found the Indians in both missions responding to the friars with growing impudence, more interested in stealing horses than in hearing the Gospel. His march to the settlements of the Kadodacho Indians in November and December 1691 so depleted horses and supplies that the futility of founding additional missions was apparent, even to the friars. So many horses were lost that Terán had to commandeer animals from the missions for his return march. When he departed on January 9, 1692, six disheartened friars went with him. Floods on the Neches destroyed Santísimo Nombre de María Mission the same month.
The difficulty of supplying the missions over such a great distance became evident in the winter of 1693. With word of the severe plight of the missionaries, the viceroy in February ordered Gregorio de Salinas Varona to undertake a relief expedition from Monclova. Salinas reached San Francisco on June 8 and found illness and death rampant among the Indians; one of the missionaries had died. The natives, having come to believe the baptismal waters fatal, blamed the padres and refused to congregate in the missions. The supplies Salinas brought were far short of the need. When he departed six days later, two more of Massanet's friars went with him. Conditions worsened after his departure. The following October the friars buried the cannon and bells, packed the vestments, and set fire to the picket structure of the mission. Stalked by hostile Indians and deserted by four soldiers who chose to remain—including José de Urrutia—they trudged back through the wilderness to reach Monclova on February 17, 1694. Opposing the withdrawal was Fray Francisco Hidalgo, whose plan to bring about a renewal of the missionary effort among the Hasinais finally bore fruit in 1716. Nuestro Padre San Francisco de los Tejas Mission, established that year, was considered the successor of the first Mission San Francisco.