to the Hill Country
town of Menard
who see the ruins of the old presidio, San Luis de las Amarillas,
just outside of town, right next to the golf course, can be excused
for thinking that's the site of the old San Cruz de Saba mission.
They're close, but wrong.
For one thing, that's actually the crumbling ruins of an attempted
reconstruction of the original presidio. The mission (long
gone) was a few miles away, its former location noted now with a historical
marker on Ranch Road 2092.
|Site of Mission
Santa Cruz de San Saba Centennial Marker
About 3 miles E of Menard
on FM 2092
Photo Courtesy Barclay
Gibson, February 2010
| The San Saba
mission came first but only by a year. The Spanish built the mission
in April of 1757. They built the presidio a year later to protect
the mission, nestled as it was deep in the heart of what was then
Apache country. The Spanish worried constantly in those days about
Apaches, and about the French who they always suspected of trespassing
in New Spain as a possible prelude to a New France.
One of the biggest blunders the Spanish made in Texas- and they made
several-was misunderstanding their true enemies. They should have
been suspicious when hundreds of Apaches trekked to San
Antonio in 1749 to denounce their savage ways and become willing
subjects of New Spain. The Spanish viewed this as the very definition
of an answered prayer, and so they rushed to build a mission in Apache
country to house, protect and Christianize their newest converts.
One dissenter was Spanish governor Jacinto de Barrios y Jauregui,
who suspected the Apaches would feign loyalty to any flag that protected
them from the Comanches, but the apparent mass conversion-and persistent
rumors of silver and other valuable mineral deposits in the area-overshadowed
any piddling bureaucratic concern.
The San Saba mission opened for business in April of 1757 but the
Apaches stayed away in droves. Not long after, Col. Diego Ortiz Parilla
and 100 soldiers took charge of the San Saba presidio. Parilla, experienced
in the ways of the frontier, shared the governor's cynicism toward
the Apaches. He noted in a letter to the viceroy that a few Apaches
showed up every so often, promising to be good and demanding gifts-everything
from horses and cattle to ribbons and beads-then wandered away, never
to be seen again.
Parilla soldiered on, oblivious to the real reason the Apaches had
been acting so out-of-character.
He and everybody else at the mission and presidio found out on March
16, 1758, when about 2,000 mounted Comanches and their allies showed
up outside the gates of the mission, resplendent in war paint, feathers
and full battle regalia. Here was the living, breathing reason the
Apaches had tried to appear loyal and accommodating to the Spanish.
The sight of the Comanche war party so baffled the priests that they
ordered the soldiers to hold their fire. Padre Alonso Giraldo de Terreos
"seemed hypnotized by the barbaric splendor of the savages, who were
painted black and red-war paint, though the Spanish did not recognize
it-and wore impressive headgear of buffalo horns, deer antlers, and
eagle plumes," historian T.R. Fehrenbach wrote in his history of Texas.
The Comanches, dressed to kill, murdered two priests and six others,
then burned the mission.
Many of Parilla's soldiers were occupied with other business, and
the few soldiers left at the presidio were no match for a couple thousand
marauding Comanches. Parilla and the soldiers hid out in the presidio
while the warriors reduced the mission to ruins, beheading and eviscerating
the victims in the process.
In response, Parilla gathered 600 soldiers, the largest force the
Spanish ever mustered in colonial Texas, along with some Apaches who
had nothing better to do, and went looking for the perpetrators. They
went all the way to the Red River where, unfortunately, they found
"What happened next might have been one of the greatest slaughters
in the history of the American West, except for the fact that Parilla's
forces almost immediately turned tail and ran," S.C. Gwynne wrote
in Empire of the Summer Moon. "Retreat turned into panic, and
panic turned into headlong flight."
Parilla shouldered official blame for the Spanish defeat at the hands
of a bunch of heathen savages, and the Spanish got out of the mission
building and Comanche fighting business for good.
That left little doubt about who controlled Texas, and it wasn't the
Spanish, Apaches or the French. This was Comanche territory now, and
would remain so for the better part of another century.