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Spanish priests launch "peace offensive"


On this day in 1791, Fray José Francisco Garza found the Karankawa crossing to Matagorda Island, where the natives had kept horses stolen from the Spanish. Garza’s discovery marked the high point in the “peace offensive” launched by Garza and fellow Franciscan priest Manuel Julio de Silva. For decades the Spanish had attempted to missionize the Karankawas in order to subdue the hostile group and gain a foothold on the Texas Coast. Garza’s access to Matagorda Island, then known as Toboso Island, which the Indians had used as a refuge, led to renewed interest in establishing a mission in the area. His associate Silva proposed the construction of a complex for the Karankawas at the mouth of the Guadalupe River as part of an ambitious plan to convert all Indians between the Mississippi and the Rio Grande. Construction began on Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mission, but ultimately the region proved to be unhealthful, and the mission site was relocated twice to settle eventually near the present town of Refugio. The Karankawas maintained their nomadic and hostile ways until American colonization and warfare rendered the tribe virtually extinct in the mid-nineteenth century.

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