Mission Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria
Mission Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria – The Texas Historical Marker is located on County Road 428, at the north crest of the San Gabriel valley between Rockdale and Thorndale in Milam County, at latitude N 30.70352° and longitude W 97.14233°
View from Candalaria marker towards Brushy Creek
The third of three San Xavier missions, was founded by the College of Santa Cruz de Querétaro under the leadership of Father Mariano Francisco de los Dolores y Viana. It was on the south bank of the San Gabriel River (then known as the San Xavier River) about five miles from the site of present Rockdale in Milam County.
Although there was constant squabbling between the San Xavier missions and the military force sent to protect them, Mission Candelaria had a particularly unfortunate association with the soldiers. When San Francisco Xavier de Gigedo Presidio was established near the mission in 1751, Father Miguel de Pinilla of Mission Candelaria became the chaplain for the garrison of fifty men. The commander of the presidio, Captain Felipe de Rábago y Terán, decided upon his arrival that the missions were poorly located, and should be moved. Captain Rábago constantly undermined the work of the missionary priests. Before arriving at Candelaria, he was attracted to a woman married to a tailor, Juan José Ceballos. Sources indicate that Juan José Ceballos came to the missions either as a tailor trying to establish a business, or as a soldier under Captain Rábago. Either way, his affair with Ceballos’ wife became a major incident among the mission community.
Juan José Ceballos had discovered his wife’s infidelity with Captain Rábago while travelling to the missions. he protested to Captain Rábago about it, and upon arrival Ceballos was placed in chains and locked away. A new chaplain at Candelaria, Father Pinilla, attempted to intervene, telling Rábago to send the woman and her husband away, back to San Antonio. Captain Rábago in turn punished Juan José Ceballos for the intervention of the priest. On Christmas Eve, 1751, Ceballos escaped from his cell and took sanctuary in Mission Candelaria. The next morning, Captain Rábago violated the sanctuary of the mission’s protection, riding his horse into the chapel to capture Ceballos again. Father Pinilla called for the release of Ceballos and an apology from Captain Rábago. Instead, two days later, Ceballos was dumped on the mission steps without an apology.
The padres of Candelaria wrote to the College of Santa Cruz de Querétaro – their superiors – in January asking for relief from Rábago, listing their grievances and asking that he be recalled to San Antonio. In February the College replied with a vastly different answer than the priests had expected: Father Giraldo was being sent from San Antonio, and would replace Father Mariano as head of the Mission community. Father Pinilla was to be replaced with another new priest, Father Lopez. The new priests were instructed to make peace and be tolerant of the soldiers, and to try to reconcile Ceballos and his wife.
Just before the letter from the College was sent to the Missions, matters seemed to explode. The relationship between the soldiers and priests had worsened; the soldiers were openly wanton with the Indian women, and they were participating in the Indian’s heathen rites. The Indian tribes were alienated from the Spanish by the actions of the soldiers with their women, and also the mistreatment of the men. Eventually the priests had enough of the soldier’s actions, and they issued an Order of Excommunication, excommunicating all of the soldiers in the presidio. The notice was posted on the gate, and the soldiers immediately tore it down and burned it. But the soldiers, in fear of their eternal souls, marched to Father Pinilla and demanded absolution. Father Pinella informed the soldiers that only when they came and asked for absolution humbly would they receive it. Eventually, all but the most corrupt soldiers asked for and received absolution.
A new crisis emerged on the first of May when the garrison severely beat some Coco Indians when they entered the presidio with his weapons. As a result of the beating, the Cocos fled Mission Candelaria. Father Pinilla requested some soldiers attempt to bring the Cocos back, but Captain Rábago replied that he was sick and could not go. Rábago did send four soldiers who returned almost immediately, saying they could not find or follow the trail of the two hundred Coco Indians who left the mission.
Several days after the Cocos left, Father Juan José de Ganzabal and the tailor Juan Ceballos were dining with Father Pinilla at the mission. The door to the mission was open, and sudden gunfire sounded, with one shot striking Juan Ceballos, killing him. Father Pinilla knelt to give Ceballos the last rites, while Father Ganzabal grabbed a candle and ran to the open doorway. He was effectively silhouetted there, and was killed by an arrow that struck him in the chest. Falling, Ganzabal dropped the candle as another shot rang out, but it missed Father Pinilla. Captain Rábago blamed the murders on the missing Coco Indians, but subsequently a single Coco Indian confessed to meeting four soldiers who told him they were going to kill Father Pinilla when he went to fish on Brushy Creek. The Father did not show up to fish, so the soldiers dressed themselves as Indians and attempted to kill him within the mission. The Indian, named Andres, fled to San Antonio where he was arrested and confessed. These incidents raised questions about moving the missions closer to San Antonio.
During the next four years, Mission Candelaria was occupied intermittently by Bidais, Orocoquisas, and Coco Indians. The San Gabriel River location was finally abandoned without official sanction in 1755 after a severe drought and epidemic which struck Indian, soldier and priest alike. On August 16, 1755, the population of Candelaria was moved to another mission on the San Marcos river. The presidio was moved at the same time, and the Spanish missions of Milam County were no more.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Herbert Eugene Bolton, Texas in the Middle Eighteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1915; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970). Kathleen K. Gilmore, The San Xavier Missions: A Study in Historical Site Identification (State Building Commission Report 16, Austin, 1969). Mary Belle Batte, Spanish Missions of Milam County 1746-1756 (Cameron: Milam County Historical Museum, 1999).