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Mission Tejas State Park

Soak up 300 years of turbulent history along the King’s Highway.

By Rob McCorkle

The piney woods and fertile flood plain of San Pedro Creek, a few miles upstream from the Neches River and 30 minutes from Crockett, have drawn people — both natives and settlers — for centuries. Mission Tejas State Park encompasses 659 acres of this important property that lies just off one of Texas’ most historic roads — the El Camino Real, or King’s Highway.

This East Texas park’s moniker derives from the first mission established in the province of Texas by the Spanish. The mission was built to head off incursions from the French around the turn of the 17th century. The missionaries who founded the mission took the name from the Caddo Indian word for friend, tejas, that they heard spoken by the neighboring Nabedache, a sub-tribe of the larger Caddo tribe that lived along San Pedro Creek.

Though the park exists primarily as a forest retreat for hikers and campers, its historical components — including a replica of the ancient Spanish mission and the Rice family home — play an important role in helping interpret early Texas history. More important, perhaps, is the fact the state park includes a short segment of El Camino Real, also known as the Old San Antonio Road, which served during Spanish colonial times as a major artery for travel into Texas from Mexico and Louisiana.

Today, State Highway 21, which runs from Nacogdoches to San Marcos, roughly parallels El Camino Real. The U.S. Congress recognized the significance of the historic road, used from 1690 to 1820, by designating a system of trails, including the Texas segment of the Old San Antonio Road, as a National Historic Trail — El Camino Real de los Tejas.

In 1974, TPWD moved one of the oldest structures in Houston County, the Rice family log cabin, from a farm just outside Crockett to the park. Park crews restored the 1828 home that once served immigrants, adventurers and others traveling the Old San Antonio Road. Park visitors can get an up-close look at the home’s log construction, a type of architecture that by 1820 had been imported to Texas by German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th century. The home features a dogtrot, or central open-air passageway, several rooms and a covered front and back porch.

Just down the winding park road, the replica of San Francisco de los Tejas stands in a forest clearing. Nearby, a kiosk with interpretive panels provides insight into the area’s history and the evolution of the first Spanish mission in Texas.

After absorbing a serious dose of Texas history, park visitors can enjoy a variety of recreational pursuits at Mission Tejas State Park.

Popular activities include hiking along more than three miles of marked woodland trails that wind around and through the developed part of the park. There is plenty of room to roam among the towering pines and other hardwoods that dot the picturesque hillsides.

The park is located in Weches in East Texas 21 miles northeast of Crockett on State Highway 21. For more information, call (936) 687-2394 or visit Mission Tejas State Park on the Web.

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