(Fort of San Sabá)
In 1732 the governor of Spanish Texas named the nearby river "San Sabá," perhaps after St. Sabbás, a sixth-century monk. In 1757, soldiers built the Presidio San Luis de las Amarillas out of wood. By 1764, stone replaced wood and the site was unofficially called Presidio de San Sabá by the new commander. It measured approximately 348 feet by 324 feet, with towers on northwest and southeast corners. Our knowledge about the presidio comes from archaeological excavations, historical documents, and maps prepared by Spanish military officials in 1767.
Lining the inside of the presidio were some fifty rooms. These included soldiers' quarters, storerooms, blacksmith shops, kitchens and armories. A corral for cattle was built along the west wall; another corral to the south was used for horses.
Few Original Stones Remain
After the presidio was abandoned, it quickly fell into ruin. By 1905 much of the stone used by the Spaniards over a hundred years earlier had been hauled off to build houses, fences, and various structures around Menard, including the stone wall around the town's cemetery and the original town courthouse. In 1937 the Texas Centennial Commission rebuilt part of the northwest portion of the presidio, but it too deteriorated. In 2011, the ruins of the Presidio de San Sabá were
partially reconstructed with stone found on the site. This reconstruction effort was built on historic footings and wall sections located through many years of archaeological investigations and historical research. The reconstructed ruins of the entire perimeter walls of the 1764 presidio are what you see today.
The large carved stones to either side of the arch entry are believed to still be in their original location. Over the last two hundred plus years, many visitors left their names scratched in the gate. Notice the letters "BOUIE". It is known the Jim Bowie and his men were in the area in 1831 searching for treasure, and he or one of his men may have scratched his name in this stone. Spanish documents have changed the spelling to correspond with their alphabet. Jim Bowie was killed at the Alamo in San Antonio in 1836.
"I rode south-west five miles to river San Saba...Here are the crumbling ruins of a mighty edifice of carved stone; and the remains of a net-work of irrigation ditches, extending miles along the river, tell of a former population, enlightened, prosperous, and multitudinous. This was a colony of farmers, miners and evangelists, established by the devoted Franciscan Fathers..."
From The Coming Empire by Colonel Nathaniel Alston Taylor, 1877
(Upper Left Graphic Caption)
of San Sabá river area map showing the presidio. Drawing by Joseph de Urrutia. Image courtesy of Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas, Austin.
(Middle Left Graphic Caption)
Artists' conception of the presidio as it looked circa 1767. Drawing by James Ivey from La Tierra, 1981 8(4). Courtesy of the Southern Texas Archaeological Association.
(Lower Left Graphic Caption)
Map of the presidio drawn by Joseph de Urrutia in 1767. Redrawn and translated from Moorhead 1975.
(Lower Right Image Caption)
Original Presidio Stone. An archaeology student traces the name "Bouie," carved in one of the original presidio stones. Photograph by Grant D. Hall.