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St. Denis and the Spanish Missions

Context for this Lesson


Focus Question: Who was St. Denis and how did he influence the development of the Spanish Missions in Texas?

Materials: story sentences, narrative, digital camera


Explore: Narrative Pantomime 

1. “Find your own space in the room.”

2.” I am going to read you a story and you are going to pantomime the action as I read it. Remember, pantomime means to silently act out the action. Also remember that you are actors in this activity and that you always need to have control of your body and remain in your own space.”

3. “I will know you are ready to begin when you are standing in neutral.”

4. Narrative: When he got the letter, Governor Cadillac called upon me to go find Father Hidalgo. I set off to find him. I entered into the piney woods, where I met more Indians. Twenty-five men and I crossed the Sabine River headed West, deeper and deeper into Spanish territory—all along the way, trading with the Indians. Knives, guns, and beads, were traded for livestock and furs.

After months of travel, we reached the Rio Grande. Even though the Spanish had ordered their troops to shoot anyone who crossed the river, I knew what I had to do. I forged ahead. On the horizon, I could see the fort at San Juan Batista. As we approached, the soldiers looked nervous and uncertain. Who were we? What did we want? In my best Spanish, I asked to see the commandant. They granted my request.

Two years before, the viceroy of Mexico had ordered all foreigners to be stopped. The commandant,Captain Don Diego Ramon had his men arrest me. Luckily, for a Frenchman, I had excellent Spanish-speaking skills and charmed the commandant. Though technically a prisoner, I was allowed to roam freely around the fort. As the days passed, I dined with Captain Ramon, talking to him about trade between our outposts, telling him stories of my travels, and showing off my sense of humor. I also fell in love with his granddaughter.

She was engaged to be married to a high-ranking Spanishman in Mexico. However, she did not want to marry him, she was in love with me. This made the Spanish official angry and he reported my presence at the fort. Within days, 25 soldiers came and placed me in chains and took me off to Mexico City. I again used my charm and convinced the Spanish officials that I wanted to marry and become a Spanish subject. Not only did they set me free, but they put me second in command of 65 soldiers being sent to East Texas to reestablish Spanish power there.

We met with French officials and set up several missions in the area to reclaim the land. San Miguel de Los Adaes was established not far from where I had begun my journey so long before.

Within two years, a war broke out between France and Spain in Europe. The French sent seven of my countrymen to report on the Los Adaes mission. When they arrived, they found the gates opened. They rode in and captured the entire mission. In the process, they raided the mission’s chicken house. The lieutenant of the troops attempted to attach the chickens to his horse, but all their flapping and squawking caused the horse to bolt and knock the soldier to the ground. The Spanish missionaries were able to escape. The Spanish feared an invasion of East Texas that never came, and no future French invasions troubled Spanish territory in Texas.

Explore: Human Image Timeline

Break class into groups.

“Each group is going to receive a line from the story. The group will create a frozen image using all of their members to represent the line from the story. Remember that not everybody has to portray a person. You can also use your body to represent places, things, and ideas. Other groups will not know which line you have, so think about how to best communicate your line in one frozen image. Consider: who are the characters? What is the location? What is the action that is taking place? How can you use your body and facial expressions to communicate more than one piece of information? You will have about 5 mins to create these images and then you are going to share them with the class who will try to read the image and pull out the information you are trying to convey. Then you will read your line and we will see how well we did.”

When finished each group will come up in front of the class and recreate their image for the class. Take a photo of the image with a digital camera and have the students reflect.


Describe: What is happening? What do you see?

Analyze: What makes you think that? Who are the characters? Where do you think they are and what are they doing? What is their relationship?

Reflect What is the story of this picture in one sentence? Have presenting group read their assigned sentence How does this compare to our interpretation? Were we missing anything? Where does this fit into the sequence of our larger story?


Follow-Up Activity: Sequencing the images
Print the photos. Have the students arrange them in a flipbook or post them on the classroom wall with the original descriptions.