Presidio San Luis de las Amarillas (popularly known as San Sabá Presidio), one mile from Menard on the north bank of the San Saba River, was established in April 1757 as a support for the Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission to the eastern (Lipan) Apaches. The presidio and its accompanying mission were the first place that Europeans in Texas came into conflict with the Comanche Indians and found that Plains Indians, mounted on Spanish horses and armed with French guns, constituted a fighting force superior to that of the Spanish colonials. The Indian menace eventually led to the Spanish withdrawal from Texas and the establishment of the new line of defense along the Rio Grande.
Raids on San Antonio and other Spanish settlements by eastern Indian tribes, including the Apaches and their allies, convinced Spanish authorities of the need to establish a mission and presidio for the Indians. Pedro de Rábago y Terán, commander of the San Xavier Presidio, was sent to explore the San Saba River country in 1754 to look for suitable locations for a presidio-mission complex. After his return to San Xavier he urged removal of the San Xavier complex to the San Saba River. The mission was moved temporarily to the San Marcos River near San Antonio and Rábago died soon afterward. Diego Ortiz Parrilla, named to succeed Rábago y Terán, received instructions on September 1, 1756, to transfer the San Xavier garrison to the San Saba River and to recruit an additional fifty men in San Antonio and the Mexican provinces. The San Sabá presidio thus became the largest in Texas. While a jurisdictional question was being debated over whether the mission lay within the boundaries of Texas or Coahuila, the new post remained under the viceroy. The matter was finally settled in favor of Texas.
The mission to the Apaches on the San Saba River was personally funded and supported by Pedro Romero de Terreros, whose cousin, Father Alonso Giraldo de Terreros, was put in charge. The presidio, which was to protect the mission, was government funded. In April 1757 the missionaries destined for the mission under Giraldo de Terreros, mission president, arrived on the San Sabá site. Arguments occurred between Giraldo de Terreros and Ortiz Parrilla, with the commandant arguing for abandonment of the projected mission. The mission fathers prevailed, and building began on timber structures for the presidio and the mission, to be called Santa Cruz de San Sabá, in May 1757. The presidio, located on the north side of the river, was about four miles from the mission, which was on the south side. In January and February of the following year small raids and theft of the presidial horse herd by northern Indians, enemies of the mission Apaches, gave warnings of an impending attack. Shelter at the presidio was offered to the missionaries and their staff, but it was refused. The attack by 2,000 Comanches and their allies came on March 16, 1758. Two priests and six other persons were killed, although about twenty-seven managed to escape to the presidio when Ortiz Parrilla sent a detail of men to the mission after dark. Ortiz Parrilla, with the garrison of the presidio, reduced from 100 men to approximately thirty, gathered the almost 300 civilians into the fort, but the Indians did not attack the presidio.
In the fall of 1759 Ortiz Parrilla led a large force into northern Texas to punish the northern tribes for the massacre. At the fortified Taovaya village on the Red River, near the site of present-day Spanish Fort, he was defeated. He maintained that the French were providing assistance to the Indians. He was forced to return to Mexico City, where he was relieved of his command; Capt. Manuel Rodríguez of San Juan Bautista took charge on the San Saba for almost a year. By 1760 Rodríguez was replaced by the nephew of Pedro de Rábago y Terán, Felipe de Rábago y Terán, who had been absolved of charges made against him eight years earlier when he was commander at San Xavier. Rábago y Terán replaced the timber buildings with stone; a quadrangle fort with four corner bastions was built and a moat was dug. In 1761 he called the fort Real Presidio de San Sabá. He also explored west as far as the Pecos River, hoping to find a trail to New Mexico, and founded two new missions for the Apaches on the upper Nueces River.
During the years that followed, Comanches continually harassed the presidio and mission. Supply trains were cut off and livestock taken. The Marqués de Rubí's inspection of the presidio on July 27, 1767, found conditions deplorable, the worst in the provinces. Nevertheless, Rábago y Terán was refused permission to remove the presidio to the upper Nueces River near Mission San Lorenzo. Nicolás de Lafora, Rubí's engineer, drew a plan of the presidio. Rubí recommended that the presidio either be abolished or moved to the Rio Grande, which he considered to be the actual frontier as part of a new defense line. Conditions became worse during 1768, with increasing Indian raids, food shortages, and a severe epidemic. Rábago y Terán, without permission, ordered the presidio abandoned early in June, and the entire garrison and their families moved to Mission San Lorenzo on the Nueces, where they arrived on June 22, 1768. Rábago y Terán was severely reprimanded for the abandonment and for his failure to burn or raze the buildings, and he eventually was removed from command. Rábago y Terán, who was replaced by Capt. Manuel Antonio de Oca y Alemán on April 1, 1769, is believed to have died en route to Mexico City. Oca withdrew from the Nueces in June 1771, transferring the soldiers to various presidios in San Antonio and Coahuila to fill manpower shortages. It was not until 1772 that a royal decree officially abandoned the fort on the San Sabá River.
In the ensuing years there were visitors at the abandoned presidio, including Governor Juan de Ugalde of Coahuila in 1789 and Francisco Amangual in 1808. Some left their names scratched in the gate: Padilla 1810, Cos 1829, Bowie 1831, Moore 1840. Ferdinand von Roemer visited the site in 1847, and his description served as a guide for rebuilding part of the structure in 1936. The modern road to the ruins of the presidio leaves Highway 29 west of Menard. Limited archeological reconnaissance and testing have been done at the site of the presidio. A. T. Jackson and A. M. Woolsey made a surface survey in 1934 and collected artifacts which are at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory in Austin. In 1967 the State Building Commission with Dessamae Lorrain and Kathleen Gilmore performed limited testing. The artifacts are at Southern Methodist University. Jack Ivey in 1981 and Daniel Fox in 1983 did limited testing. Artifacts consist of aboriginal flint scrapers and projectile points, aboriginal pottery, Spanish colonial ceramics, gun flints, and metal. The facility is currently owned by Menard County and known as Presidio de San Sabá Historical Site.
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Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann–Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). William E. Dunn, "The Apache Mission on the San Saba River: Its Founding and Failure," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 17 (April 1914). Kathleen Gilmore, A Documentary and Archaeological Investigation of Presidio de San Luis de las Amarillas and Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá (Austin: State Building Commission, 1967). Paul D. Nathan, trans., and Lesley Byrd Simpson, ed., The San Sabá Papers (San Francisco: Howell, 1959). Ernest Wallace and David M. Vigness, eds., Documents of Texas History (Austin: Steck, 1963). Robert S. Weddle, The San Sabá Mission (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964).
Missions, Presidios, and Camps
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Kathleen Kirk Gilmore,
“San Luis de las Amarillas Presidio,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 17, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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