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part_t8.jpg (1539 bytes)lthough the Spanish explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca passed through Texas in the sixteenth century, possibly in the vi-cinity of the present location of Mason County, it would take another two hundred years before the Spanish would make their influence felt in the Lomeria, or Hill Country. In the 1700’s several missions—Concepcion, San Jose, San Juan Capistrano and La Espada—were established in San Antonio . These missions soon became sanctuaries of the Lipan Apache, who were bitter enemies of the Comanche to the north.miranda.jpg (13819 bytes)

The Spanish during this period were increasingly concerned about incursions into Texas by the French, who were supplying arms to the Comanche. In an effort to expand control of what the Spanish considered their territory to the north, they sent expeditionary forces into the Hill Country in search of a suitable site for a mission which was expected to serve several purposes. Apart from establishing an outpost in this unknown frontier, it would be the primary mission for converting the Lipan Apache to Christianity. The mission, with its Apache warriors, would also be a buffer against Comanche attacks further south, particularly on the settlement in San Antonio.

The area had been know as the Apacheria; however, the Comanche were rapidly claiming it as their own. In June 1753 an expedition was sent in search of a location for the proposed mission. Led by Lieutenant Juan Galvan from the Presidio de San Antonio de Bejar, the regions around the Pedernales and Llano Rivers were explored with disappointing results. Finally, along the San Saba River they found what they had been seeking; fertile soil, timber and abundant water.

The cautious Spanish sent another expedition to confirm the recommendation of Galvan. That expedition returned with even more intriguing information. Their Indian guides spoke of the Cerro del Almagre, or Hill of Red Ochre. Suddenly rumors abounded in San Antonio regarding the potential for gold and silver mines in the region.

Inspired by rumor, ten men with Lipan guides sought to locate the fabled Cerro del Almagre and their fortunes. But fortune turned against them when their guides deserted the expedition to join other Apache on an assault against the Comanche. The Apache were to rendezvous at a landmark called La Rodilla, or The Knee. In Enchanted Rock Country, Robert S. Weddle (1979), states: "in the account of the episode, however, occurs the only mention yet found in Spanish documents of a landmark that might be interpreted to mean Enchanted Rock…’The Knee’…seems a fair description of the prominent feature."

On February 17, 1756, under orders from the governor of Texas, Jacinto de Barrios y Jauregui, Bernardo de Miranda y Flores departed San Antonio with twenty-three men with instructions to locate Cerro del Almagre. Eight days later, having endured torrential rains, flooded rivers, and rocky terrain, they arrived at the Almagre. Camping on Honey Creek, the expedition discovered a red ochre hill on Riley Mountain near the present-day Llano. Within the hill Miranda claimed to have found a tremendous stratum of silver-bearing ore.

"The mines which are in the Cerro del Almagre," Miranda reported, "are so numerous that I guarantee to give every settler in the province of Texas a full claim…The principal vein is more than two varas in width and in its westward lead appears to be of immeasurable thickness... I commanded that the work be continued on the cave of almagre, to which I gave the name and commanded that it be called San Jose del Alcazar. I also commanded that on the following day six soldiers be furnished to explore for a long distance off to the west, as it was not feasible to continue the march to examine the other places, because most of the soldiers were now nearly on foot with the horses tired and footsore, and of those who accompanied me there was no one who was able to serve as a guide to discover the other Almagre Grande...

"Leaving [the camp of San Miguel] toward the west, there are mineral veins again, although they are much scarcer than at San Joseph del Alcazar. I saw these for most to the ten leagues that I traveled until sighting the high hill they call Santiago."

Roderick Patten suggests in his article "Miranda’s Inspection of Los Almagres: His Journal, Report and Petition," (1970) that Cerro de Santiago could well have been Enchanted Rock. Indeed its name comes as close in spirit to describing Enchanted Rock as La Rodilla does in describing its appearance.

We have no record, written or otherwise, for any Indian designation of Enchanted Rock. During the historic period most Native Americans spoke Spanish as a second language. Cerro de Santiago is Spanish for Hill of the Sacred One. Ending with an "o" makes "the sacred one" masculine, thus we can say, the "sacred man." Among Native Americans anything sacred is said to have, or be, medicine. Thus, if we were to conjecture on the Indian name for Enchanted Rock we could surmise it was Hill of the Medicine Man, or Medicine Man Hill.

From a hill virtually due west of the Almagre (currently on Ranch Road 114) looking due south Enchanted Rock makes a unique and impressive sight.

Miranda returned to San Antonio three weeks later with ore samples which proved promising, but skeptical officials and subsequent events worked against Miranda’s discovery. Although the mine was never reopened by the Spanish, it gave birth to numerous legends of lost Spanish mines in the Central Mineral Region which persist to this day.

In 1756, the Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba was established on the banks of the San Saba River under the leadership of Father Alonso Giraldo de Terreros. Three miles upstream the Presidio de San Luis de las Amarillas was built to provide protection for the mission. But, as Robert S. Weddle points out in The San Saba Mission (1964), "While this placement reduced the likelihood of military meddling in mission affairs, it rendered impossible defense of the mission in case of attack."

The presidio was under the command of colonel Don Diego Ortiz Parrilla, who considered the location of the mission ill-advised and almost immediately requested it be moved to the Rio de las Chanas (Llano River), where the fabled Cerro del Almagre would be close at hand. Parrilla’s garrison was, at the time, the largest in Texas, with almost four hundred inhabitants, including women and children. Because the mission and its presidio was essentially Comanche territory, and because the Spanish were allies of the Apache, hostility was inevitable.

The mission was beset by problems too numerous to detail here. Perhaps Father Terreros said it all: "All Hell is joined together to impede this enterprise." Although the Apache had encouraged the establishment of a mission, they never lived up to their end of the bargain. Two months after the mission was founded, three thousand Apache arrived there but refused to stay. The Apache were on a mission of their own—enroute to either a buffalo hunt or a campaign against the Comanche, depending upon which chief one listened to. After receiving gifts from the Spanish, they departed returning a few days later with buffalo meat for the missionaries. But the Apache left again almost immediately. It seems certain they knew that the enterprise, well inside Comanche territory, was doomed. But if it provided the pretext for an all-out conflict between the Spanish and the Comanche, so much the better; why fight an enemy when you can induce a superior force to take up the task? To further that end, the gifts the Apache accepted from the Spanish missionaries were left here and there on the trail in a effort to implicate the Spanish in the raids.

Seven months after being visited by the Spanish, Santa Cruz de San Saba was attacked by approximately two thousand Indians, many armed with French rifles. The Comanche, in association with the Tejas, Tonkawa, Bidai, and others, burned the mission to the ground. A few survivors escaped to the presidio, and after a brief siege the Indians abandoned the field of battle.

In 1766, Marquis de Rubi, the inspector general for King Charles III of Spain, was sent to Mexico to report on the condition and viability of the entire Spanish frontier. With the Spanish acquisition of Louisiana, the French threat to the Spanish claims on Texas ceased to exist. According to Rubi, the presidio on the San Saba defended an "imaginary frontier", and its men and material should be put to better use. The presidio was abandoned in 1768.

Despite Rubi’s assessment, the frontier was real enough, as was the Comanche’s ability to claim it for over a century. But the numerous legends of lost Spanish mines would prove irresistible to future settlers on the frontier and those legends would be Spain’s most enduring legacy in the Lomeria, or Hill Country.

Even today, Enchanted Rock, Packsaddle Mountain, Riley Mountain, and the San Saba Mission inspire stories of lost treasure and abandoned mines. In effect, Rubi’s imaginary frontier became the frontier for the imagination.


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(c) 1999   Ira Kennedy   All rights reserved