Day Trip to Presidio de San Saba, Menard, TX
This is part of my A Trip in Time series. In this episode, I’m taking a day trip to Presidio de San Saba in Menard, Texas, because I like to focus on appreciating the present by exploring the past. All photos by Elizabeth Winn
History is full of surprises, upsets, and sudden turns on the path. One such historical surprise is that, despite a meteoric and successful campaign to colonize the Americas, Spain did not become the next world power after the decline of the Roman Empire. And amazingly, over 250 years after they arrived on the Gulf Coast, evidence of their presence exists only if one looks for it.
Long before Texas became a republic, Spain claimed this part of the country (Texas) as part of their colonization efforts to control the western world and its rich resources. They weren’t fazed by the fact that others occupied this land; although the various Native American tribes who had lived in these lands for centuries were formidable warriors, the Spaniards had the plans and military might to take whatever they wanted.
Presidios were garrisons or military bases built and staffed by Spain to facilitate the takeover of North America. They provided oases of safety for travelers and merchants who would camp or build residences nearby. Soldiers would build their residences just outside the walls. Traveling merchants came through to sell their wares, local farmers would sell their produce, and adventurers chasing the promise of rumored silver in the area sought safety from the marauding bands of Comanche and Wichita Indians.
Presidio San Luis de las Amarillas—later renamed Presidio de San Saba—was a wooden fortification founded in April of 1757 near present-day Menard, Texas. The endeavor was headed by Don Diego Ortiz Parilla, the son of “distinguished nobility” from Spain.
The Franciscan mission Santa Cruz de San Saba was established at the same time just a few miles downstream. The presence of both the mission and the presidio reinforced Spain’s claim to the territory. Spain had just concluded a treaty with the Lipan Apache to strengthen their defenses against mutual enemies. The Spanish hoped that by introducing the natives to Christianity, they would be more cooperative with the Spanish presence and control.
Eleven months later, on March 16, 1758, over two thousand Comanche and Wichita warriors attacked the mission. Although the presidio sent soldiers to defend the mission, the native warriors fought them off. They destroyed the church and killed two of its three priests and six mission residents.
Troops were mustered from the presidio about a year afterward to hunt down and punish the warriors responsible for the attack. Although over six hundred soldiers took on the task, the native tribes once again prevailed. After an unsuccessful four-hour battle, Ortiz Parilla retreated with his troops. He was later removed from command.
By 1760, Felipe de Rabago y Teran took command of the neglected presidio and replaced its wooden structures with stone. But even with these structural reinforcements and fresh troops, the fort was plagued by constant raids. Horses and livestock were stolen, food was stolen, and a 1767 inspection found the conditions at the fort “deplorable, the worst in the provinces.” Smallpox outbreaks added to the losses and misery of this outpost.
In 1768, Rabago y Teran, without permission, ordered the presidio abandoned. He moved his entire garrison and their families some 150 miles south to the Franciscan mission San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz on the Nueces River.
Although a new commander and troops were sent to the presidio, in 1772 the San Saba site was officially abandoned by royal decree.
Historical sites like this one can make an excellent field trip and study project for students, whether in public or home school.
Perhaps your child can write about the location from the perspective of being a child of a person assigned to the post, or a child of someone providing goods or services to the post residents. How would they have entertained themselves with no electronic devices? Would they hunt lizards, swim in the river, fish, look for bird nests, play sports, or read? Would they need to help mom stir a big pot of beans, hang the laundry on a line to dry, feed the chickens, and weed the garden? What would school have been like?
With no electricity (and therefore no air conditioning), no running water, and only wood fires to heat and cook with, how might people have coped with temperature extremes? The only way to experience music was to make it yourself or be with someone else who was singing or playing an instrument. Thought experiments like these can help today’s kids see how different life has been for others in the past, and can help them understand that until comparatively recently, comfort and convenience were not part of life. And maybe, with enough imagination, kids might be helped to build appreciation for the options and comforts they have in their own life. I know this worked for me! I visited this site in June, and the temperatures have already reached the hundreds a few times in Texas this year. I definitely came away grateful to have air conditioning in my life.
Thanks for reading about my day trip to Presidio de San Saba in Menard, Texas. For more historical blogs, check out the Trip in Time Blog Archives
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