Fort, Jose Villarreal,by
and the Sundial in San Ygnacio
weathered sundial positioned on top of the arched entrance to the old family fort
at San Ygnacio
tells more than the time – it tells a story. |
1851 sundial placed by Jose Villareal|
| Don Jesus Trevino
built the first segment of the rambling stone residence that came to be called
El fuerte (the fort) when he settled on the Rio Grande in 1830. It became a place
of protection for his family and the few other hardy inhabitants of the village
as well as a hub for Trevino’s cattle ranch. |
El fuerte’s thick stone walls
enabled Trevino and his family to stay relatively comfortable in the seemingly
relentless summer heat, but blistering temperature amounted to mere inconvenience
compared with the depredations of the Comanches and Lipan Apaches. Both tribes
raided along the Rio Grande and even deeper into Mexico,
sweeping south in the early fall to collect scalps and capture livestock and children.
make his safe house even more safe, Trevino later added a pair of rounded structures
with gunports – troneras – to the structure. Next came what is now known as the
casa larga, or long house.
Eventually, Trevino’s fort covered a full block.
Its walls are eight feet high and two-and-a-half feet thick. Living quarters lined
those walls, with a large courtyard in the center.
Marked above one entrance
is the date “May 1 de 1875.” Above the door to one of the large bedrooms is the
date 1854. Carved on a hand-hewn rafter in the living room, still perfectly preserved,
is the date “Octumbre 2 de 1851.”
That’s the year Jose Villarreal
brought his family to settle in San
Ygnacio. Born in Guerro, Tamaulipas, he made his living as a blacksmith. He
forged the metal rod that penetrates El fuerte’s sundial like an arrow, a symbolism
particularly apt considering what had happened to him as a teenager.
he was 13, Villarreal and his cousin Cosme Martinez were working in their family’s
field near the old Spanish colonial town of Revilla (downriver from future San
Ygnacio) when a band of Comanches captured the boys.
would never see their families and friends again unless they could get away from
the Indians, the two boys bided their time waiting for the right moment to escape.
When that moment came, they successfully slipped away from their captives.
by the North Star, they made their way through the wilderness of Northern Mexico
toward the Rio Grande. After much suffering, they reached Palafa, a small community
between Laredo and
Eagle Pass. Relatives
there nursed the boys back to health. A few weeks later, after they had recovered
from their ordeal, they were reunited with their parents.
Though he could
forge horseshoes and other metal objects, Villarreal became known for his mathematical
prowess. He also studied the stars, learning to recognize the various constellations.
Three decades after his escape from the Indians, Villarreal came to San
Ygnacio. Soon the blacksmith decided to do something to pay tribute to the
heavenly body that had guided his cousin and him to freedom.
mathematical and metallurgical skills, Villarreal fashioned a carefully calibrated
sundial and adjusted it by aligning it with the North Star.
an angle on a stone pedestal, the sundial shows time on its south side during
the summer and on its north side in the winter. For about 15 days out of the year,
when the sun hovers directly overhead, time literally stands still on the dial.
Villarreal set the dial to the time in Mexico City, nearly 800 miles to the south.
Today, the zig zag lines of the time zones cause the dial to be 36 minutes fast
– that much plus an hour fast during Daylight Savings Time.
began marking time the same year that the long house went up. La casa larga, like
the earlier section of El fuerte, also had slits in its walls so that anyone standing
inside could fire a rifle at any attackers. Trevino built the long house for his
daughter Juliana and her husband, Don Blas Maria Uribe.
While he built
El fuerte as a place to stand and fight if necessary, Trevino had these words
carved into stone: “En paz y liberated obremos.” (Let us work in peace and freedom.)
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" December
8, 2010 column
Books by Mike Cox - Order Now|| |