Heritage, Volume 6, Number 3, Fall 1988 Page: 11
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Menard. After assessing the possible site locations along the
San Saba, a return trip was made on May 4 to the San Xavier
missions on the San Marcos to collect the remaining 39
soldiers, 1,400 cattle, 700 sheep and various supplies.
Construction subsequently began on a presidio and the
first of the three missions. The original presidio was a log
stockade with mud and straw living quarters, which were later
replaced by stone. The mission associated with the presidio
was located a few miles downstream on the south bank of the
San Saba a short distance from Rabago's Holy Cross Ford. A
log stockade was constructed that enclosed a temporary
church, living quarters for the missionaries, a warehouse for
supplies to be used in the other two missions, and corrals for
the horses and livestock. Fields were cleared along the river,
crops planted, and an irrigation ditch begun. A road connected
the mission with the presidio.
From May 1757 until the following March, the missionaries
were unable to attract the indigenous Apaches to their
mission. Although several thousand camped outside the
mission at various times, none took up residence at the
mission or pursued the Christian religion offered by the friars.
The mission effort at San Saba was recommended for abandonment
after an attack on March 16, 1758, by Comanches,
Tonkawas, Bidais, and Tejas who ransacked and burned the
mission, stole the livestock, and massacred eight of the
inhabitants. The presidio, however, remained in use until
1762 when Rabago and his men proceeded to the upper
Nueces to establish the new mission of San Lorenzo.
Throughout the years various travelers have visited the
remains of the presidio at San Saba and left their mark or
recorded their observations. Among these were Francisco
Amangual in 1808, Lieutenant Juan Padilla in 1810, Martin
Cos in 1829, James Bowie and his men in 1831, Colonel John
Moore and his troops in 1840, and both John 0. Meusebach
and Ferdinand von Roemer in 1847.
An extensive search for documents related to the presidio
and mission complex was conducted by Robert S. Weddle
that resulted in the 1964 publication of his book, The San Sabd
Mission: Spanish Pivot in Texas. Based on his research and an
additional five weeks of documentary research, brief archeological
investigations were conducted in 1967 by Dr. Kathleen
Gilmore, now at the University of North Texas. Those
investigations resulted in the recovery of several eighteenth
century artifacts and exposure of the southern wall of the
presidio. Surface investigations upstream and downstream
from the presidio failed to uncover evidence of the mission
site. Dr. Gilmore recommended removal of the erroneously
reconstructed presidio and suggested extensive excavations
to determine the exact positioning of walls and features.
Additional documentary and archaeological research were
recommended for locating the mission site. The only other
investigations of the site occurred in 1981, when a small
survey was conducted by archaeologists at the University of
Texas at San Antonio, who mapped the presidio and associated
earthworks, but could find no remains of the mission.
Although numerous documents exist describing the mission
effort at San Saba, they are not necessarily oriented
The Presidio de San Luis de
las Amarillas was the largest
presidio ever constructed in
what is present-day Texas.
towards discovery of the mission location. The Texas Historical
Foundation has recently made a commitment to assist
with the search for further documents that may emphasize
physical characteristics of the landscape or physical remains
that may still mark the old mission site and would help to
identify the mission location to modem researchers. Because
the presidio site is known, descriptions of the mission referencing
the presidio are important. For instance, from Robert
S. Weddle's research, it is known that, (1) the mission was a
few miles from the presidio, (2) it was near a ford in the San
Saba where the river runs northward, (3) a road connected
the mission with the presidio, (4) the mission was stockaded,
(5) there were dwellings, a church, a cemetery, a warehouse
and corrals inside the stockade, (6) tile was used during
construction of the buildings as a deterrent to fire, (7) an
irrigation ditch was begun near the mission but never completed,
(8) fields were cleared and crops planted near the
river, (9) French firearms were used by Indians in an attack on
the mission, and (10) the mission was burned by the Indians
and those who were massacred were buried in the church
cemetery. Each of these should provide physical evidence
that can narrow the search for the mission location. Despite
the fact that flooding and movement of the river may have
disturbed the site since its abandonment, subsurface features
such as postmolds from the stockade, and burials in the
cemetery, or the unfinished ditch should remain. Depending
upon the amount of disturbance to the site, roofing tile,
musket balls, gun flints and arrow or lance points may still be
evident. Additional travelers' accounts, such as that of
Roemer, may be found as well. If the location of the mission
can be narrowed through additional document searches, then
archaeological survey and excavation can be undertaken to
confirm its location. Exposing the postmolds from the stockade
will provide confirmation of the mission site, as will
discovery of the cemetery burials associated with the appropriate
chronological markers. Excavations would not attempt
to expose a substantial portion of the site, but would be used
to confirm the location and identify the placement of the
mission, stockade, cemetery and other features or stuctures.
Preliminary research suggests that discovery of the Mission
Santa Cruz de San Saba is still possible. Primary documents
appear to be abundant and information that has
already been summarized from them provides sufficient evidence
to suggest that subsurface remains of the mission may
still be intact.
Shawn B. Carlson is an archaeologist with the Archaeological
Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 6, Number 3, Fall 1988, periodical, 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45436/m1/11/: accessed December 15, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.