Texas Tales: Rules, rules, rules.
From preschoolers to office workers to prison inmates, all Texans have to abide by various rules, not to mention state and federal statutes. That’s not news, but it may be comforting for anyone feeling unduly controlled to know that Texans have faced rules and regulations for centuries.
The first formal rule-makers in Texas were the Spanish, who not only conquered the New World, they blazed the trail for all future promulgators of bureaucratic do’s and don’ts in what would become the Lone Star State.
Around 1760, a now-unknown Franciscan priest at the Apostolic College for Missionaries in Queretaro, Mexico set down rules for Texas missionaries. The rules, laden with advice, were “meant for a missionary who has never been in charge of a mission and is all alone and does not know whom to consult for advice.” More than two centuries later, Father Benedict Leutenegger translated and annotated those rules. The Old Spanish Mission Historical Research Library in San Antonio published Leutenegger’s work in 1976 as “Guidelines For A Texas Mission.”
As the history-minded priest pointed out in his introduction, Spain established its first mission in Texas in 1632. Though frequently abandoning or moving missions, by the time the Spanish lost control of their territory to the new Republic of Mexico in 1824, the Catholic Church had operated a total of 37 missions in Texas.
At Mission Concepcion in San Antonio, during the 1760s the missionary and his staff had some 200 Indians in their charge.
“Dealings and communications between the Indians and the Spaniards are not only allowed but are commanded,” the rules declared. “Nonetheless, the missionary must expel from the mission those Spaniards who come only to take from the Indians all that they can, gambling with them and exchanging trifles for utensils and participating in evil. This cannot be tolerated.”
Indeed, if a missionary asked someone who had been taking advantage of the Indians to leave the mission and that person returned, the offender would be “tied to a stake and whipped. Thus they learn by experience.”
While most of the mission rules concerned the way in which religious ritual would be observed, the missionaries had dozens of rules regulating practically every aspect of Indian life, including how much food they received and when, the clothing they wore, the work they were required to do and their freedom of movement.
Women were both protected and discriminated against. Under Rule No. 21, “The missionary can change the cook when he wants to or alternate cooks by weeks or months, always selecting a man for the job. The employment of women could lead to disorder with single men in the kitchen.”
An exception to Rule No. 21: “Each week the fiscal [one of the mission’s staffers] appoints a woman who is to make tortillas for the missionary.”
Another rule covered barbers, who practiced medicine along with their tonsorial skills. “The barber who shaves the missionary is paid as agreed upon,” another rule stated. “An agreement on payment is made for any bleedings or incisions that he is called upon to perform….He may be paid for each job, if the missionary so wishes.”
Some of the rules come across as arbitrary: “During the fiestas at the presidios, it is inexcusable to give permission to the women and children to go and see the bulls. On this day they are given a sum of money to buy what they want.”
Despite Indian women occasionally having the opportunity to shop, from a modern perspective it is easy to see why the Indians might not cotton to Christian conversion. Judging from all the rules, the missions were not operated much differently than today’s minimum security prisons: The Indian inmates had to do most of the work to sustain the mission but if they behaved, they could get occasional rewards. The Spanish may have thought they were doing native Texans a favor by introducing them to their religion and culture, but today the mission system does not seem all that far removed from slavery.
“The submission of inferiors to the superior and subjects to the prelate is indispensable,” another rule reminded the missionaries. “Without it…all would end up in confusion and disorder. The missionary must so conduct himself toward the Indians so that all will show him respect, submission, and obedience. He must punish the disobedient, the rebellious, and the arrogant without losing his usual gentleness, affability, and prudence in governing.”
Not surprisingly, not all the Indians exposed to mission life opted to stick around: “From time to time the missionary should journey to the coast and bring back the fugitives, who regularly leave the mission trying at the same time to gain some recruits, if possible, so that more conversions are realized and the mission does not come to an end because of lack of natives.”
And that rule illustrates the fundamental rule of any bureaucracy, then or now — perpetuate the status quo or suffer budget cuts and shutdowns.
Texas Tales by: Mike Cox