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The Cemeteries at San Juan Mission


The Mission of San Juan Capistrano in Texas had its Texas beginnings in 1716. It was then called San Jose de los Nazonis. The King of Spain, at that time, ruled “la Provincia de los Tejas” or, “the province of the Tejas”. The Tejas (originally pronounced “tay-shaz”) were a group of allied Native American tribes in what is now East Texas. In an effort to Christianize the them, the friars were sent to minister to the members of the Nazoni and Nadaco tribes. The mission was moved to the San Antonio area in 1731 and the name was changed to San Juan de Capistrano because of the proximity of San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo.On March 5, 1731, four days before the arrival of the Canary islanders in San Antonio, the representatives of the Spanish government designated the mission areas along the San Antonio River as Pueblos for the benefit and use of the indigeneous People. At San Juan, the chiefs of the Venado and Tilijae tribes (or clans) went through the formalities of claiming the land with the assistance of Captain Juan Antonio Peres de Almazan.

According to Corner’s book: “The record of titles (which as will be seen, is a simple narrative of the action of each party) was then filed in the archives of San Fernando de Bexar, and a certified copy furnished to each Mission. It will be observed in the foregoing abstract of the transfer, that the title was assumed to be in the King of Spain, and that the transfer was to the Indians, and not to the priests, who by their vows could own no worldy estate.”

The pueblos were legal entities under Spanish law and the residents of the pueblos were, as a result, subject to the sanctions and the benefits of such designation.
The pueblos also operated as Indian Missions under the administration and guidance of the appointed ministers of the Catholic Church. For the San Juan Pueblo in 1731, Fray Joseph de Urtado was assigned as minister.
The concept of the mission system was that the Native People could be brought into the Spanish way of life. Of course, the Spanish had experience at this - they had employed the same strategy in Central and Southern Mexico for nearly two hundred years prior to 1731.

The belief of the Spanish government was that the indigenous People could be taught skills such as farming, stock-raising, weaving, etc., and, also could be converted to the Christian religion. Ideally, it was thought, the dominant culture would be able to move the indigenous into the Spanish tax-paying society and into the Christian religion in about ten years.

The San Juan Pueblo was established under Spanish rules and regulations for the establishment of pueblos. This meant that the church should be established on the East side of the area designated for such pueblos. Each pueblo also needed to have a cemetery.

The immediate area around the present buildings at San Juan has been populated more or less constantly for probably thousands of years. Why? Because it was near a substantial river, and in addition, it is located at a crossing point, or ford. When the acequia, or irrigation canal, was constructed after arrival of the Spanish government, it created a further incentive for the population to remain in the area because irrigation helped to assure consistent agricultural benefit. But because of secularization, revolutions, wars, and because of changes in governments and laws, the number of residents of San Juan varied throughout its existence as a pueblo.

By 1745, the priests had baptized 515 individuals and 214 had received the sacraments before Christian burial. There were 163 persons in 41 families living at San Juan . In 1762, there were a total of 847 baptisms with 645 Christian burials .
The burial grounds were in the plaza of the mission, some also were buried in the old church and, later, others were buried in the present church. The mission churches at all the missions were used as burial grounds. The perimeter of the original cemetery at San Juan, however, is not precisely known.

In 1794, the missions were partially secularized. Some of the mission lands were distributed to the Indians and the Church’s influence in the day-to-day activities of the Natives declined.

In 1823, the mission system completly ended in accordance with a decree from the new Mexican Republic and, in accordance, the priests no longer administered the missions. The Mexican government then sold or made grants of the surrounding mission lands to those citizens requesting farmland. A sizeable population would remain at San Juan.

The priests at San Jose met the pastoral needs of the San Juan residents after 1811. However, burials in the mission church area continued long after secularization. Records of those burials were kept by the Church in the sacramental records. The records of San Juan Capistrano for baptisms, marriages and burials prior to 1811, unfortunately, have been lost. Sacramental records for the San Juan residents, after 1811, were kept at San Jose.

The record-keeping after 1811 was sketchy and incomplete. From 1812 to 1856, the author can only identify sixteen individuals from San Juan in the San Jose or other burial records. When one considers the size of the census populations and the high rate of infant mortality during this period, it has to be assumed that there were many unrecorded burials.

The following is a list of dates, individuals and notations in the burial records kept at San Jose and San Fernando for individuals from San Juan.
According to John Ogden Leal, the last entry in the San Jose register was in 1824. After that time, the records were kept at San Fernando (now in downtown San Antonio).
Identified San Juan burials are shown here through 1856 – those likely to have taken place within the current mission grounds.

San Juan Burials

San Jose and San Fernando Sacramental Records

03/02/1812 Juares, Jose Antonio (marido de Teresa Aleman)(Husband of Teresa Aleman)
03/10/1813 Esparza, Jose Antonio (Aquien dieron la muerte los indios barbaros) (Killed by the enemy Indians)
12/28/1815 Menchaca, Dionicia (viuda de Jose Diaz y “hija de la mision de San Juan Capistrano”).(widow of Jose Diaz and native of the Mission of San Juan)
02/29/1816 Dias, Juan Jose (en el cementerio de esta Yglesia” , parvulo de nueve dias de nacido , hijo de Santiago Diaz y Josefa Gutierres, vecinos de San Juan Capistrano.)
(in the cemetery of this church, the nine-day old infant of Santiago Diaz and Josefa Gutierres, residents of San Juan Capistrano)
02/03/1818 Dias, Jose Maria (microfilm illegible) – “2 days old, legitimate son of Santiago Dias and Maria Josefa Ximenes(sic) (Leal)
02/06/1818 Calvillo, Antonia microfilm illegible – “a widow of Vicente Hernandez, who is buried at mission San Juan.” (Leal)
05/13/1819 Dias, Juana microfilm illegible - "legitimate daughter of Santiago Dias and Josefa Gutierres." (Leal)
11/08/1819 Perez, Maria Petra viuda de Joaquin Juarez, ambos Yndios "en la yglesia de la Mision de San Juan Capistrano" (widow of Joaquin Juarez, both Indian, in the church of San Juan Capistrano)
01/16/1820 Herrera, Rita "Spanish, married to Jose Gil, died at the age of 59 years old, and is buried at mission San Juan Capistrano." (Leal)
01/15/1821 Gonzales, Guadalupe "30 years old, married to Juan de Acosta. She is buried at mission San Juan Capistrano." (Leal)
11/09/1823 Gutierres, Felix

En nuebe de Noviembre de mil ochocientos viente tres, yo el imfirmiscripto Ministro de esta Mision de
San Juan Capistrano di sepultura ecclesiastica al cuerpo de Felix Gutierres que murio de fullido a los sesenta y cuatro anos de edad. Casado de primeras nupcias con Barbara ________.
Recibio los sto.s sacramentos de penitencia y extrema uncion.

(On the ninth of November, of 1823, I, the Minister of this mission, San Juan Capistrano, gave a Catholic burial to the body of Felix Gutierres who died of
fullido at the age of seventy-four. he was married to Barbara ________ . He received the Holy Sacraments and Extreme Unction.)
Note: Felix Gutierres was married to Babara Torres

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