Old Socorro Mission
The historic settlements of the lower valley of El Paso date to the Spanish Colonial era of the 17th century. Following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 thousands of refugees fled south. Four new communities were eventually established, down river from El Paso del Norte (present-day Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua). The first Socorro mission was a Franciscan mission for Piro Indians in the area of present-day Socorro, New Mexico. Following the revolt and the retreat south, a second Socorro mission was founded on October 13, 1680 and named Santa Maria de Socorro del Sur.[i]
The original site of this mission was temporary and has never been located. By 1684, it was moved and a small temporary church was built. By 1691 a permanent mission church had been constructed on the site. It was made of adobe, covered by a roof supported by vigas or wooden ceiling beams, and dedicated as Nuestra Senora de la Limpia Concepcion de los Piros de Socorro del Sur, the name of the church, the mission, and the community. A Piro pueblo was located about six hundred feet northeast of the site. Although some residence returned north after New Mexico was re-conquered in the 1690s, this permanent mission settlement remained and was inhabited by Spaniards, Piro, Tano, and Jemez Indians.[ii] By the 1760s there were 182 Indians and 424 Spaniards living on mission lands, including residents of the nearby Hacienda Tiburcios.[iii]
Image caption: Historic photo of present Mission Socorro church. south and east facades, rear wing visible
To view historic images of the present-day Mission Socorro church please search at the Library of Congress Site
Documentary evidence suggests that the mission church at this site was in use until 1740. After being destroyed by flood waters, a new location was chosen approximately 0.7 miles northwest and two more churches were eventually constructed. The last was destroyed by a flood after 1829 when the main channel of the Rio Grande ran north of its present course, close to the path of Interstate 10. After the 1829 flood the main channel shifted southwest, close to its present location. The flood destroyed the church along with the priest=s residence and many adobe homes. Church objects and decorative ceiling beams were salvaged and were eventually used to build the present Socorro Mission church in 1843.[iv] Although long , partial remains of the 1691 structure were still visible in the early 20th century and were recalled by local residents in the 1980s.[v]
The original Socorro mission site was located and excavated in 1981 by Dr. Rex E. Gerald, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Centennial Museum at the University of Texas at El Paso. Using a variety of historical and anecdotal sources Gerald searched the area about one-half mile southeast of the present-day church and identified the remains of a structure that appeared to fit the general description of a mission. Surveys were conducted in 1981, 1982, and 1983 near the intersection of Buford Road and Nichols Road in Socorro.[vi] The remains of massive walls, too large for houses, were uncovered. The church appeared to be a cruciform-style structure with a convent on the northside. Plaster, pottery, and assorted artifacts were discovered that fit the time frame and style of the colonial Spanish era objects were believed to date from the 1680s matching the historical record and the location coincided with anecdotal 19th century references to the old mission site. No religions articles or wooden artifacts were discovered, probably because they were salvaged and used in the construction of later churches.[vii] Sporadic excavations continued at the site until 1991.
The Old Socorro Mission Archaeological Site (EPCM 31:106:7:23) is a State Archaeological Landmark (41EP532) and is the oldest known and located mission site in the state of Texas. Today it lies buried in a cotton field south of Buford Road on property owned by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ledesma.[viii]
[i] Anne E. Hughes, The Beginnings of Spanish Settlement in the El Paso District, University of California Publications in History I (April 1914), 327-28.
[ii] Rex E. Gerald, The Old Socorro Mission Site Test Excavations-1981-83, The Artifact 26 (No. 3), 1.
[iii] Harry W. Skip Clark, comp., Studies, Construction, Restoration, and Archaeological Investigations at the Socorro Mission Complex, Socorro, El Paso County, Texas, (unpublished report 1994), 4; Ernest J. Burrus, S.J., ASocorro, Texas: An Historical Account, (unpublished paper, n.d.), 5-7; AAn Historical Outline of the Socorro Mission, Password XXIX (Fall 1984), 147.
[iv] David O. Brown, Timothy B. Graves, John A. Peterson, and Mark Willis, El Paso County Lower Valley Water District Authority Phase II Water Supply and Wastewater Project Archaeological Testing (El Paso, TX 1995), 44.
[vii] Thomas H. Rowland, The Search for the Old Socorro Mission, (M.A. thesis, Univ. of Texas at El Paso, 1984), 39, 44, 45, 56-7; Mardith K. Schuetz, The Archaeology of Mission Socorro,@ (unpublished paper, n.d.), 14-15.
Old Socorro Mission References Cited:
Brown, David O., Timothy B. Graves, John A. Peterson, and Mark Willis. El Paso County Lower Valley Water District Authority Phase II Water Supply and Wastewater Project Archaeological Testing. El Paso, TX: Archaeological Research Inc., 1995.
Burrus, Ernest J. An Historical Outline of the Socorro Mission. Password XXIX (Fall 1984), 145-50.
_______. Socorro, Texas: An Historical Account.Unpublished paper. Southwest Collections, El Paso Public Library, El Paso, TX, n.d.
Clark, Harry W., comp. Studies, Construction, Restoration, and Archaeological Investigations at the Socorro Mission Complex, Socorro, El Paso County, Texas. unpublished paper, 1994.
Evans, Consuelo Therese. An Analysis of Burials from the Old Socorro Mission, Socorro, Texas. M.A. thesis, New Mexico State University, 1988.
Gerald, Rex E. The Old Socorro Mission Site Test Excavations-1981-83. The Artifact 28 (No. 3), 1-29.
Hughes, Anne E. The Beginnings of Spanish Settlement in the El Paso District. University of California Publications in History I (April 1914), 295-391.
Morrow, Herbert. The Old Socorro Mission Site. unpublished notes, 2002.
Rowland, Thomas. The Search for the Old Socorro Mission. M.A. thesis, Univ. of Texas at El Paso, 1984.
Schuetz, Mardith K. The Archaeology of Mission Socorro. Unpublished paper. n.d.