The Bidai and the Blue Nun

Item File PhotoRobin Montgomery of the Walker County Historical Commission greets the crowd at the Texas Independence Day and Gen. Sam Houston birthday celebration at Oakwood Cemetery last year. 

The year was 1690. Across the realm of the Caddo Indians and reaching into later Walker County, excitement reigned. The reason: the Spanish were coming to minister to the Caddo and their allies. Peaking the Indians’ interest had been a young woman, a nun, whom, the Indians insisted, had walked among them. The nun confirmed the Indians’ claim, with proofs. However, she had never left her convent in Spain! What could have prepared the Caddo to believe in this miracle of bilocation? The most plausible answer lies with the Bidai (Bee Dye) Tribe.

Stretching between the Brazos and Trinity Rivers and bounded on the north by the Old San Antonio Road, the primary sphere of the Bidai included the present Walker County. Though the Caddo were aggregated mostly east of the Trinity, the Bidai were their kinsmen and allies. Furthermore, the impact of the Bidai stretched to the heart of the Caddo domain, for the Caddo, themselves, asserted that the Bidai were the builders of the great “Caddo” mounds of East Texas.

It was the Bidai Shaman who influenced the Caddo to embrace bi-location. The Caddo believed that the Bidai could appear at Caddo campfires in the form of owls and either cure the sick or cast evil spells.

The Spanish established a base in present El Paso in 1682. The next year some Jumano Indians came from the east asking for Christian missionaries to their people. Surprised, the Spanish authorities inquired as to how the Indians learned about the Christian religion. The Jumanos responded that a Lady in Blue, a Franciscan nun, had walked among them, teaching them in their own language. The Jumano pointed the Spanish to the land of the Caddo.

Responding, the Franciscans eventually converted about 60,000 Texas Indians. Before the missionary work of the Franciscans reached the heartland of the Caddo, however, word of a French fort off Matagorda Bay prompted authorities in Mexico City to send military expeditions to that area. By the time a Spanish Expedition found the French establishment, in 1689. the French leader, Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle, had been killed by his own men, near the Navasota River.

With the Spanish Expedition which found the French fort was a Franciscan priest, Father Damian Massanet. Happening upon the scene was a band of Caddos, who requested that the priest come to their land. “Why?”, asked the priest. “Because,” replied the Caddo leader, a woman in blue had kindled their interest in Christianity years before. The tribe longed for further ministering. It was this request which led Father Massanet and Christian Missionaries finally to the heart of Caddo Territory the next year, 1690, to establish Mission San Francisco de Las Tejas. Tejas thus became the Spanish name for Texas.

Did the Lady in Blue really accomplish these great miracles? The King of Spain, Phillip IV, for one, believed so. He exchanged some 600 letters with the nun in question, Maria Agreda. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church also came to believe it, after years of exhaustive research.

Truth or not, the result was the same. Belief in the story brought a multitude of Indians of Texas into the Christian faith. The story also motivated the Spanish to establish a major road called the Bahia Road (or Trail) in part through the heart of later Walker County.

Dr. Robin Montgomery is the chairman of the Walker County Historical Commission.