6.08.2008,5:14 PM
Presidio San Saba: a tale of two missions

Real San Saba de Presidio
N 30.92265

W 099.80206

After I left Fort McKavett the GPS led me to US 190 east and towards the town of Menard where another buried gem was located. I watched for the usual roadside square brown sign indicating a historical marker ahead, but arrived at junction US 83 in the town proper without seeing one. Turning around, I backtracked to Hwy 190 again heading west. A sign was posted on the north side of the highway barely a mile from US 83. Another mile west, I turned south on graveled County Golf Course Road.

A right turn at the end of the road intersected a golf course and there I found the ruins of the Presidio. The only visible standing walls are an arched stone facade and turret. Tall grasses and weeds hid most of the remaining ruins at various stages of decay. I parked the truck in the shade, drank half a bottle of water, gathered the crutches and the camera. I was the only person there and the site looked neglected.

I stood for awhile in the shade of the big tree and reviewed what I knew about the fort's history. I was told it was the oldest remaining ruins of Spanish occupation west of San Antonio, and to miss a visit while in the area would be a 'crime'. Well, there I was, with little to look at. Yet in the quiet of the afternoon, I suspected history would recreate itself for me.

The Presidio was built by the Spanish to support and protect the Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba three miles down the river. The mission was built on the south bank by Franciscan missionaries in 1757 to collect and convert Lipan Apaches to Christianity. It was humanitarian driven; the Lipans were consistently pelted by Comanches raiding from the the northern Plains and conversion equated with salvation to the Spanish. Several Lipan bands took refuge in or near missions only to succumb to European diseases for which they had no immunity. Those that survived the epidemics became token Christians if it assured them protection and food. But few Indians really took the European religions to heart. Regardless, they often became enemies of their own Apache brethren.

Religious conversion was not the only goal of the Spanish. Aligning the Indians with the Spanish would serve as a buffer against French incursion into territory coveted by Spain. Indians in what would later be called Texas were often pawns between powers vieing for land and power. At times, these same powers were played against each other by the more powerful Indian tribes.

The presidio housed several hundred Spanish -military, their families, servants, and support craftsmen- whereas only two dozen or more lived in the mission. Frequent raids by the northern Indians kept them all on constant alert. A war party
of two thousand northern Indians, mostly Comanche and Wichita, sacked and burned the mission in March of 1758.* The few survivors fled to the protection of the fort and the mission was never rebuilt.

The presidio continued to serve as the northern most stronghold of the Spanish into Comanche country unitl officially abandoned in 1772. Although it provided protection for traders and military, it out-survived the mission because of legendary silver mines (especially the Los Almagres mine) in the nearby area. A shaft dug by a Spanish garrison in a Llano county hill provided some ore that was smelted at the presidio. However, the mine was never officially opened and its location was lost, feeding legends that later fueled treasure seeker hunts.


The presdio covered many acres reaching to the banks of the San Saba River. Only a small portion of the original boundary remains today, now surrounded by a golf course. The visible walls are not original stone, but remnants of attempts by the Texas Centennial Commission to reconstruct a portion of the stockade. The northwest wall of the presidio was rebuilt in 1936 and 1937 by a hired crew to resemble a portion of the original fort. However, just as the original walls succumbed to time, so did these. Few of the reconstructed walls stand today; rather, new ruins lay over the old.


Towering over me was a round stone turret with small windows that may have served as gun ports or simply lookouts. The wall on one side had collapsed long ago with cactus, thistle and vines reclaiming what once had resided deep in the earth.




Inside the boundaries of fallen walls and peeking up through tall grass were lines of stone where inner walls once stood. Several trees now grew to dominate over the ground.
In one corner a jungle of succulents partially hid a stone doorway that teetered like a hunched old man ready to fall down.


The arched entry is the landmark for the historic presidio. Two tall hewed stones at the base of each side are the only remnants of the original structures and reveal their history with carved names of visitors to the fort including that of famed Jim Bouie (the correct spelling of his last name, rather than "Bowie").


In a corner of the arched facade and its 90 degree stone wall is a small natural garden of succulents, including a group of large agave (Agave americana). Because of my penchant for blue-gray plants, this agave is a favorite subject to photograph not only because of the color (blue-gray to green-silver) and sheen but its texture and form.



I lost sense of time as I hobbled around the stones, weeds and shrubs. I nearly stumbled over the historical marker that lay prone in amongst tall grass at the SE corner. After pushing back some of the grass I photographed the memory of the presidio cast in old bronze and set into pink granite. I thought it ironic that it too should lie in state, soon to disappear in grass and weeds just as the stone walls tumbled and lay to rest on the ground.

Leaving the ghosts of the inner fortress, exiting through the arch, I turned around for one last view and chuckled at the incongruity of golf carts and white polo-shirted men hitting their little white balls across a neatly manicured green. I wondered what Spanish soldiers and Comanche Indians would think of this scene. Maybe they watch it invisibly and chuckle like I did.

As I slowly lurched back to the truck, tired from the long day of living in history and thirsty to the bone, I was suddenly surrounded by three golf carts and their American-Hispanic drivers. They sat in their carts, watching me as I stowed my crutches and camera, heaving myself onto the seat with one leg. I had no idea what was going through their minds; no words were spoken, their suntanned faces revealed nothing, and their white collars that stood starched and glaring blended in with the whiteness of their carts and pails of little white balls.

Sitting in the truck swigging on my bottle of water, I looked at each of them, nodded and started the engine. Backing out from under the tree, I bid the dead Spaniards, Apaches and Comanches adieu and headed back to the highway and south to Junction. As I reached Menerd and drove over the San Saba River, I gazed with envy at the free-flowing water, towering majestic pecan trees and green grass that carpeted the sides of the river. I pondered about if I would kill to keep this territory my own, or share it equitably with others. If I were living back then.

I'll never know.


For a thorough exposition of the mission -past history and rediscovery- visit the web pages of the Texas Beyond History website.

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posted by Macrobe
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