Digging up the Facts

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Presidio de San Saba

Photo by Terrance Russell
By John Hallowell 

Most of the Texas Hill Country’s recorded history has occurred since the first expedition of German settlers reached New Braunfels in 1845. The German settlements were ultimately successful, and museums in New Braunfels, Fredericksburg and even as far north as Mason are packed full of artifacts and first-person accounts to document their Hill Country adventure.

Because they were ultimately unsuccessful, most people are not so familiar with the Spanish attempts to tame the Hill Country almost one hundred years earlier. Of course, San Antonio and the Camino Real were already established to the south and east of the Texas Hill country, but it was during a major effort to colonize Texas around 1750 that Spain sent its first major expedition into the heart of the hills.

The valley now inhabited by the town of Menard was chosen as the home for a presidio and a mission in 1757. About 300 Spaniards (including 100 soldiers) made the long journey in a convoy of carts and pack animals from central Mexico, through Saltillo and San Antonio to “civilize” the interior of Texas. The presidio was built on the north side of the San Saba River just west of the present-day town; the mission was built about three miles to the east. The Spaniards built an irrigation ditch, and began cultivating the fertile fields.

Presidio de San Saba
Photo by presidiodesansaba.com

Less than a year later, on March 16, 1758, the mission was destroyed by an army of Comanches and allied tribes. The presidio held out, and its original log stockade walls were replaced by solid rock, but Comanches harassed supply lines, destroyed crops and stole livestock, making life miserable for the defenders. Within ten years, the site was abandoned, and an impressive ruin was all that was left of Spain’s ambitious plans; a few adventurous travelers used the old fort as a makeshift corral and campground through the middle of the 19th century. A mural was painted in 1765 to commemorate the mission’s destruction, but the actual site was forgotten by the early 1900s.

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