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Destruction of the San Saba Mission

2015 January 5

This account of the Destruction of the San Saba Mission is from the Frontier Times January 1925 issue. You can visit the Presidio de San Saba in 2015.

Personal letters written in Spanish, dating back 175 years, and containing interesting historical information in regard to the establishment of the San Saba Mission in Texas were recently brought to light in Mexico City by Dr. Lota Mae Spell, assistant librarian of the Garcia collection of books and manuscripts of the University of Texas. She obtained copies of the letters and is now translating them into English. They give an account of the early hardships encountered by the priests when the San Saba Mission on the San Saba River near the present town of Menard, was founded. They also tell in a personal way the reactions of the founder, Father de Terreros, and give an insight on the early Spanish life among the Indians.

It is expected that when the work is completely translated much valuable information will be added to the history of this early Texas mission.

The letters were discovered by Mrs. Spell last summer while she was in Mexico City. She met the Marquis of San Francisco, a direct descendant of Pedro de Terreros, the financier of the enterprise, and he graciously consented to allow her access to the archives of the family.

While hunting through this great mass of manuscripts, Mrs. Spell found these letters and obtained copies of them for the University. She also obtained a picture of an old oil painting now in the possession of the marquis, which portrays the massacre of the San Saba Mission.

According to the material unearthed from these letters, the money for the founding of the mission was furnished by Don Pedro Romeo de Terreros, Count of Regla, and the founder was Father Fray Giraldo de Terreros, a cousin of the financier. The letters were written by Father  Fray Giraldo de Terreros to the Count of Regla.

The San Saba Mission was founded in 1756 when Father de Terreros was granted a charter by Don Barrios, then viceroy of Texas and Coahuila districts. The purpose was to Christianize the Indians and the money for the first three years expenses was to be furnished by the Count of Regla. A garrison of soldiers was sent to protect the expedition, but on account of a misunderstanding between the priests and the soldiers the fort was built across the San Saba river three miles from the mission.

Work was finished on the mission by the later part of the year. Ground was cleared for crops, a chapel and vestry was built, and the priests’ quarters and stables were completed. From the first the priests had difficulty with the Apaches and they did not desire to embrace the Christian religion. In his letters to his cousin, Father de Terreros laments this fact and speaks of the treachery and general shiftlessness of the Indians.

When spring came there were few converts. Rumors were heard of the Comanches, the northern neighbors of the Apaches being on the warpath and the Apache neophytes prophesied that their enemies would soon be in the San Saba county.

Little attention was given to these rumors by the priests, although the soldiers became alarmed and tried to force the priests to seek the protection of their garrison. This the priests refused to do and in one of his letters, Father de Terreros speaks of the idle fears of the captain.

But the padre’s ignorance of Indian treachery cost him his life. In about two weeks the little mission was awakened by the cry of “Indians,” and rushing to the windows, the priests were able to perceive the whole plain covered with strange Indians, gaily bedecked in war paint and ready for battle.

Father de Terreros attempted to appease their chief with gifts of tobacco and beads, but according to the old accounts, he was shot down in cold blood. A general massacre of the whole mission then followed and only one survivor lived to carry the news of the massacre to the garrison across the river.

The Indians pillaged and burned the buildings, drove off the stock and mutilated the dead bodies of the priests.

In his letters to his cousin, the martyr, Father de Terreros, seemed to forecast the tragic end of the mission as he stated in his last letter that the Indians were not desirous of Christianity but were savage heathen.

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