5.28.2008,11:27 AM
Fort McKavett: Clash of Cultures

Changes came in waves. In the late 1500's to mid-1700's Spanish priests were sent into southern Texas to establish missions for the Indians and convert them to Christianity and 'civilization'. By the 1670's the Apaches were pushed south off the southern Great Plains by invading Comanche. The last of the tribes indigenous to Texas moved south into modern northern Mexico, died of disease, were assimilated or annihilated. Spanish forts were built in the mid-1700's to protect soldiers, their families and the priests. On their heels followed other Europeans and the new Americans. But interests of the surrogate Texas Indians, the Spanish and Euro-Americans didn't agree. So began the clash of cultures.

Spanish presence in the land that would become Texas were tides of militarism, political manipulation and religious spiritual quests. Native peoples were commodities to work in mines and fields, souls to collect and convert, and buffers for the growing waves of European traders and homesteaders. Peoples were often sandwiched in the middle of similar or conflicting interests, including the Spanish themselves. Before and during the Republic's fight for independence from Mexico, tribes escaping colonization in the eastern seaboard and from the central and northern plains vied for position. Nor would it be the last time.

As Europeans and the new Americans swarmed the west with similar interests -land, game, minerals, and new homesteads- the new Republic of Texas and the US government built forts at the edges of the frontier. Infantry and cavalry played mediator between Indians striving to remain on their traditional hunting territory and settlers emigrating west to establish homesteads. The common interest was land and its resources: game, water, trees, food plants and minerals. The differences between the two were attitudes of ownership and how they lived on the land. One was rooted in communal use and ownership, and preservation of its resources; the other in individual ownership of land as a commodity and overuse of its resources. Despite the similarities of the two cultures, the major difference manifested in land. Thus the clash of cultures began in earnest.

Texas Hill Country was, and remains today, rich in land resources and history. In contrast to the stark flat emptiness of the El Llano Estacado to the north, the Edwards Plateau and Balcones Escarpment along its southern rim are still considered 'Paradise': abundant creeks and flowing rivers, plentiful game and nut-bearing trees, and a variety of plant life for food, campfires and shelter. Both Indians and settlers treasured the area.

The Hill Country remains a mecca for hunters, bike riders, canoeists and other recreationers. Meanwhile, pockets of living history remind us that we aren't the first ones to enjoy that land. Many lived and died to protect their property and its resources, their cultures and history still echoing in its places and people.

Within thirty miles in Texas Hill County are remnants of foregone eras: early indigenous peoples, nomadic Plains Indians, Europeans from the East and South, and the new Americans rushing in a new state and union. An old Spanish mission and two forts, nearly side by side on the San Saba River, shared similar intent: to protect settlers and emigrants encroaching onto traditional hunting grounds of Indians on the Edwards Plateau.

The Presidio San Luis de las Amarilla (later known as Fort San Saba or San Saba Presidio) was built in 1757 to protect the mission Santa Cruz de San Saba that was four miles downstream on the San Saba River. The region at that time was located in a war zone between the Lipan Apache and the marauding Comanche, both pushed southward from the central Great Plains by environmental and political change. A year later the mission was attacked and burned by approximately 200 Comanche, Wichita and Tonkawa Indians. With the constantly marauding Comanche gaining hold of the Plateau, the San Saba presidio was abandoned in 1772.

The two Spanish strongholds preceded camps and forts built later by the new emigrants: the new Americans. Yet they too dealt with conflicts of interest for over the next hundred years. Today's remains of these places enriche our understanding of a time gone by and the people that fought for and died on many sides of the clash for this land and its resources. During my weekend in Junction, I visited two of these historic places: Fort McKavett and the San Saba Presidio.

The more of these places I visit, and the more I learn, both my understanding and questioning grow, often dispelling many of the perpetuating
myths for over a hundred years. If only I could talk to the ghosts around these places and hear their stories in their own words and voices.

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posted by Macrobe
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