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An Incident of the Texas Frontier in 1735
MALCOLM D. McLEAN
" N o SOAP" is just a figure of speech in Texas today,
but two centuries ago on the Texas frontier it was
a serious matter when the settlers discovered that
their supply had been exhausted. Soap was part of the daily
ration in the royal presidio of San Antonio de Bexar, and the
absence of that article was sufficient grounds for official action.
This fact was vividly illustrated by an incident which occurred
during the early summer of 1735.1
Don Joseph de Vrrutia, captain of the presidio, had ordered
several loads of soap from Saltillo, his base of supplies far away
across the dusty desert and over the purple mountains in north-
ern Mexico, but the creeping, creaking carretas had not yet re-
turned. Meanwhile it would be necessary to find a source nearer
There was another presidio or military post down at La Bahia
near the Gulf Coast. Captain Costales, the commanding officer
there, would no doubt lend him enough soap to supply his sol-
diers until the new shipment arrived. Because of the infirmities
of age Captain Vrrutia himself seldom ventured out of his house,
but his son, Joseph Miguel, could be assigned to make the trip.
Joseph Miguel was delighted. He immediately went to Juan
Banul, a Flemish blacksmith, to borrow some pack harness to
use on the trip. While in the shop he also took a fancy to Banul's
leather jacket and borrowed it likewise to protect himself from
the raw weather while on the journey. It is this jacket, rather
than the soap, which is the primary concern during the rest of
this story, for the journey which it made and the manner in
which it changed hands is a good concrete illustration of how
business was transacted on the Texas frontier.
'This story is taken from official records on file in the Bexar Archives of the
University of Texas Library, expediente of June 1o, 1785. A translation of the
complete expediente is available in the Bexar Archives Translations, Volume VII,
pp. 83-116. Typescript copies are on file in the University of Texas Archives and
in the Bexar County Courthouse.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 53, July 1949 - April, 1950. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101126/. Accessed July 26, 2014.