SAN MARCOS DE NEVE
SAN MARCOS DE NEVE. San Marcos de Neve was a small Spanish villa (1808–1812) of approximately eighty-two persons located at the junction of the Camino Real and the San Marcos River. The Spanish government authorized the founding of San Marcos de Neve shortly after the United States's purchase of Louisiana in an effort to halt Anglo expansion, arrest contraband trade from the United States, and promote a ranching economy within Texas.
The population of San Marcos de Neve consisted almost entirely of persons born in New Spain. After receiving approval and funding from Gov. Manuel Antonio Cordero y Bustamante, a number of families from Refugio in Nuevo Santander departed for the San Marcos River on the Camino Real in December 1807. Led by Spaniard Felipe Roque de Portilla, these families arrived at the future site of the villa on January 6, 1808, and quickly set about building homes and a central plaza. They were joined shortly thereafter by a small contingent of soldiers from San Antonio under Juan Ygnacio de Arrambide, who issued thirteen town lots to residents in April 1808. By the following year, a number of additional families had joined the original settlers.
The people of San Marcos de Neve made their living primarily by raising livestock, with the vast majority of workers in an 1809 census listing herder or stockman as their profession. The ranchers raised cattle, horses, oxen, burros, and other forms of livestock for personal use and export. Although only one person on the 1809 census listed his profession as carpenter, it is possible that other residents of the villa had a skilled trade, but considered it secondary to their primary profession.
From the founding of San Marcos de Neve to its eventual abandonment in 1812, the settlement faced a litany of problems. On June 5, 1808, just a few months after the villa's founding, the settlement was overcome by a flood that washed through its plaza and destroyed a number of citizens' homes. Although settlers made preparations to rebuild the settlement on higher ground, they apparently never followed through with the idea. This same year, an almost complete crop failure forced residents to depend on their cattle herds. In 1809 settlers at San Marcos de Neve complained that Tonkawa attacks on the villa were so frequent that it was almost impossible to cultivate their land.
On July 27, 1812, a combined group of Comanche and Tawakoni Indians invaded San Marcos de Neve and ran off with some 205 horses. The small detachment of soldiers in the villa was powerless to stop the attack and unable to pursue the raiding Indians. Making matters worse for the civilians at San Marcos, a number of Comanches reported to Spanish officials in San Antonio that the attack was only a small part of a larger, multi-tribe effort to make war on the Spanish. Fearing that foreigners had been inciting natives, then Texas Gov. Manuel María de Salcedo recalled the soldiers of San Marcos in order to defend San Antonio. With no one left to guard against Indian raids, the people of San Marcos abandoned their homes, never to return. It appears that most of the settlers returned to Mexico.
Shortly after the abandonment of San Marcos, the commandant general of the Eastern Internal Provinces, Joaquín de Arredondo, ordered a massive fort built in the area to defend Spanish settlements against Indian raids. Workers quickly abandoned the project, however, because Comanches attacked them every time they went to chop wood for its construction.
In 1995 an archeological team under Nancy Kenmotsu located the remains of San Marcos de Neve in Hays County. Kenmotsu's inspection—and subsequent investigations in 1997 and 1998—found that although the villa contained a plaza, most of San Marcos's residents lived outside the town's center. Archeologists speculate that this could either be due to the villa's ranching focus or to residents rebuilding their homes on higher ground after the 1808 flood. In any case, the settlement pattern made it more difficult to defend against Indian attacks like the one that led to the villa's abandonment in 1812. A historical marker in Hays County designates the location of the former Spanish colony.
Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Mattie Austin Hatcher, The Opening of Texas to Foreign Settlement, 1801–1821 (University of Texas Bulletin, 2714, 1927). Christopher E. Horrell, "Archeological Investigations at the Spanish Colonial Villa de San Marcos de Neve," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 70 (1999).