A Moveable Fort

Presidio la Bahia, Goliad, Texas ~ 1910

The woman couldn’t have been more pleasant, or more accommodating. On the other hand, it was our fourth conversation, and it felt as though we were becoming friends. It wouldn’t have surprised me if we’d begun swapping recipes.

The first time we talked, it was because of a travel tip I’d discovered online after a post-Christmas trip from San Antonio to Port O’Connor. Alamo Plaza and the River Walk had been more frantic than festive, and I was in the mood to dawdle: taking time to stop in Panna Maria, the oldest Silesian settlement in the United States, and, farther south, at Goliad’s Presidio La Bahía and Mission Espíritu Santo, where I first saw an Agave americana decorated as a Christmas tree.

By the time I reached Goliad, the day had turned cloudy and damp, with occasional fits of rain. Driving up the hill for a desultory look around the fort, I decided against going inside. Previous visits had taught me something of its history and its importance for Texas generally, so I pulled away: thinking, as I did, that a springtime trip would be nice, especially after the flowers began to bloom.

On that day after Christmas, what I didn’t know — what I couldn’t have known — was that my next visit would take place sooner, be far different, and provide significantly more enjoyment than I ever could have imagined.

Early in January, while roaming the wilds of the internet, I stumbled across a post describing a family’s encounter with ghosts during an overnight stay at Presidio La Bahía. “Surely,” I thought, “you can’t just book a room there. It’s a fort, not the Hilton.”  As it turned out, I was only half right; the Quarters at the Presidio had multiple ratings on TripAdvisor. After pondering for a day, I called La Bahía.

Seemingly eager to chat, the volunteer who answered my call provided some details. The portion of the fort available for guests originally had served as the Presidio’s officers’ quarters. During a major restoration in the 1960s, builders incorporated a two-bedroom apartment to serve as a rectory for the chapel’s priests. Now, with the space no longer used by the diocese, anyone could rent the suite.

When I asked about cost, the figure quoted for a night was a bit pricey, but no more so than for hotels on San Antonio’s River Walk, or any number of high-end Texas resorts. “Why not?” I thought. “It’s a fort, not the Hilton.” Overcome by the thought of hobnobbing with the spirits of Colonel Fannin and his massacred men, I booked two nights in March, at the very beginning of wildflower season. Then, things became complicated.

Not long after I made my reservation, cataract surgery was added to my to-do list. Since the surgery dates conflicted with my time at the Presidio, I called to explain the situation, and reschedule my visit. I happened to reach the same volunteer, and we arranged for dates that seemed well beyond any recovery period.

When pre-surgery complications required another rescheduling, she said, “No problem. The Presidio’s not going anywhere.”

After circumstances forced yet another (and final) rescheduling, I apologized for causing so much trouble. I swear if we’d been talking in person, she would have patted my hand and said, “Now, don’t you worry.” As it was, she laughed, and said, “You’d better get those eyes fixed before you come. We’d hate for you to miss anything.”

Then, she paused. “Besides,” she said, “you’ll be here in a few weeks. It took the Presidio a whole lot longer than that to get here.”

Indeed, it did. Several decades lay between the establishment of the Spanish fort and mission on Garcitas Creek and its re-establishment in Goliad: decades of events, complicated by multiple locations and confusing names.

Today, the fort is known as Presidio La Bahía, or simply La Bahía (“The Bay”), but those names have nothing to do with its current location on the San Antonio River. Constructed by the Spanish in 1720 or 1721 on the site of René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle’s failed Fort St. Louis, the original Presidio took its name from La Bahía del Espíritu Santo: “The Bay of the Holy Spirit.” Today, we call those waters Lavaca and Matagorda bays, and know them as the home of Indianola: the hurricane-destroyed port of entry for so many mid-1800s immigrants, and just a few camels.

Across Garcitas Creek from Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo, the mission known as Nuestra Señora de la Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga was established: honoring both the Virgin Mary and Báltasar de Zúñiga, Viceroy of New Spain. People referred to the fort as Presidio La Bahía, and to the mission as La Bahía.

In short, La Bahía could refer to the bay; to the mission; to the fort; or (after its final move) to the settlement that grew up around the fort. By 1829, the confusion may have been too much, even for residents of the area. The name of the settlement was changed from La Bahía to Goliad: an anagram of the name of Father Hidalgo, the priest who initiated the Mexican fight for independence from Spain. Even so, if you travel to Goliad today, you still may hear someone refer to the town as “La Bahía.”

Goliad County Map, showing La Bahia ~ 1920

In the beginning — which is to say, in 1720 — Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, governor and captain general of the provinces of Coahuila and Texas, received a commission from Báltasar de Zúñiga to reoccupy East Texas missions and presidios abandoned during the French invasion of 1719.

Journals kept during Aguayo’s expedition chronicled construction of the first Presidio La Bahía, directly over the ruins of Fort St. Louis:

Shortly before March 16, 1722, Aguayo sent fifty of the best soldiers, selected from the battalion, under Gabriel Costales to Espíritu Santo. Because of the scarcity of horses, he himself could not go until the 16th, when with forty men, accompanied by Doctor Codallos y Eabal, Captains Thomas Zuburia,, Miguel Zilon y Portugal, Manuel de Herrera, and Pedro Oribe, he began his march for that place.
In the latter part of the journey, they came to two good-sized streams, evidently the Garcitas and Arenosa. Crossing these, the expedition turned southeast three leagues, and arrived at the ”presidio of Nuestra Señora de Loreto,” March 24, 1722.
Apparently it was considered already founded by the garrison. [On April 4, 1721, forty soldiers under the command of Captain José Domingo Ramón, had arrived at Fort St. Louis to begin preparing for the building of fortifications.]

Juan Antonio de la Peña also kept a record of the expedition. According to his account:

On the sixth of April [1722] his lordship began to draw the lines for the presidio on the site where the French, under command of M. de la Salle, had occupied it from 1684 to 1690. 
The hole in which the artillery had been buried and in which the powder had been burnt is within the lines of the new fort, and can still be seen. On opening the ditch, in order to lay the foundation of the fortification, nails, pieces of gun locks, and fragments of other things used by the French were found. The foundation for the fort is to be in the shape of an octagon.

The Spanish plan map depicted three concentric rows of buildings surrounded by a complex, sixteen point star-shaped palisade wall, a moat, four bastions, and a tower.

Nuestra Señora del Loreto Presdio de La Bahía, drawn by the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, 1722.
Courtesy Bryan (James Perry) Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin

For years, historians and archaeologists debated the authenticity of the map and journal entries.

The elaborate design seemed grandiose, given the presidio’s remote location. They wondered whether the elaborate fortification actually had ever been constructed, or if the map had been simply a propaganda ruse to deceive hostile governments about Spanish strength in the area.

Finally, in 1999, after multiple field investigations and ongoing archival work, an investigation was launched at the site of the original Presidio la Bahía by the Texas Historical Commission. The details of the two-and-a-half year search are fascinating, and the results were remarkable:

Archeological work confirmed that the presidio had been built according to the elaborate plan drawn by the Marqués de Aguayo, and had been garrisoned with soldiers to guard against the return of the French.
Traces of the Karankawa were found throughout the site as well… Distribution of native artifacts strongly suggested that the Indians had not only traded with the French but lived just outside—if not within—the walls of the presidio during the time of the Spanish.
Project archeologist Jeff Durst notes that the unusual length of time spent excavating allowed for continual reassessment of findings in the field.
“We had different interpretations of what we were seeing as we went along, changing about every three weeks as we made new discoveries. We looked for the Spanish palisade wall trench for about a year before we found it. We had begun to think that the Spanish map of the presidio with the 16-sided wall was just propaganda put out at the time. Had it not been for that extra length of time we spent in the field, we might never have found it.”
Months of excavation [brought] no success, until a series of rains ironically broke both an area drought and the archeologists’ ‘dry holes.’ Moisture from the rains made subtle contrasts in the soil horizons more visible, enabling crew members to detect a dark, linear soil discoloration in one of the excavation units. 
On closer inspection, the darker area proved to be a series of post molds.  More digging revealed additional sections of the original Spanish setting trench and the discovery that the palisade had, indeed, followed the exact 16-point star shown on the map.
Aerial view of the excavation site near the end of investigations, with Garcitas Creek at the bottom.
The 16-point-star-shaped Spanish presidio has been outlined with plastic tape. (Photo courtesy THC)

Due to conflicts with local Karankawa Indians, conflicts exacerbated by the unfortunate actions of Captain Ramón, the Garcitas Greek site was abandoned in 1726. The mission and presidio were moved to a location (or locations — opinions differ) on the Guadalupe River, near present-day Victoria and Mission Valley. Finally, in 1747, the mission was moved to its current location on the north bank of the San Antonio River, and Presidio La Bahía was established on the south bank.

(Click image and scroll for a larger version and more detail)
First site of Presidio la Bahía; approximate first location of Mission Espíritu Santo
Second site of Mission Espíritu Santo
Third site of Mission Espíritu Santo; second site of Presidio la Bahía
Final site, Mission Espíritu Santo & Presidio la Bahía

By 1749, the compound included several small wooden buildings and approximately 40 simple grass huts. As the community grew, permanent stone structures took shape, including a quadrangular defensive wall, rounded bastions for mounted cannons, officers’ quarters, storehouses, workshops, an arsenal, and an impressive chapel.

Over the years, La Bahía prospered and declined; alternated between Spanish and Mexican control; saw the death of many, and the birth of the Texas Republic. In the 1850s, a single individual, Judge Pryor Lea, owned the presidio and used the chapel as a residence.

The property was returned to the Catholic Diocese in 1853, but its deterioration continued until 1963, when restoration efforts were begun under the auspices of the Kathryn Stoner O’Connor Foundation, architect Raiford Stripling, and archaeologist Roland Beard. While portions of the original presidio remained, including its beautiful chapel, a long process of discovery and evaluation was necessary to replicate what had been destroyed. Finally, on October 8, 1967, an official dedication took place. A year later, Lady Bird Johnson came to Goliad to unveil the plaque designating the Presidio as a national historic landmark.

Lady Bird Johnson and architect Raiford Stripling at the 1968 ceremonies

In 1968, what Kathryn Stoner O’Connor, Lady Bird Johnson, and Raiford Stripling didn’t know — couldn’t have known — was that, one day, guest quarters would replace officers’ quarters, and an assortment of ghost hunters, history buffs, soldiers’ descendants, and just plain folks would arrive at Presidio La Bahía to spend time, appreciate their work, and listen for the voices of the past.

After laughing over the complexities of my own journey to the fort, the friendly volunteer — as delightful in person as she’d been over the phone — gave me the key, and led me out to the parking area. Pointing north, she said, “There’s your door. The back door opens to the Quadrangle and the Chapel. If you’ve got any questions, come by before five. After that, no one will be around.” Then, she grinned. “Except you, of course.”

“Of course,” I said, and headed toward the door.

(Click image to enlarge)
to be continued…
As always, comments are welcome.

103 thoughts on “A Moveable Fort

    1. Actually, I’d hope that it’s already been at least a little interesting, Martha! Part of my own interest is rooted in the fact that I lived and worked almost on top of the Garcitas Creek site for several years, and didn’t know a thing about it.

      Everyone knew about La Salle, of course, and knew where the Spanish shipyard had been. Now and then, people would pull artifacts out of their fields. But the real work — and the real surprises — didn’t come until well after I’d moved on, so much of what’s been discovered there is new to me, too.

      When I was looking at the aerial view of the fort, all I could think was, “After the archaeologists finish up, they ought to turn it into a native plant sanctuary.”

    1. She was nice, Kayti — and she certainly knew her history. The museum that’s part of the Presidio now isn’t at all slick, but it’s very well done, and there are enough interpretive placards here and there to help sort out a few of the “what happened, where?” questions.

      After my first, post-eye-surgery visit, I purchased a book by Kathryn O’Connor that’s filled with history and restoration details. As with the site of Fort St. Louis, the fortuitous discovery of documents and drawings helped to confirm that they had, in fact, “gotten it right.” It’s a beautiful place — I’ll share some of that in the next post.

  1. A great story, and so well told. Those lovely personal bits and pieces of cataracts and conversations with the volunteer. What a great job the investigators did with the outline by tape.
    Did you hear any voices?
    Perfect punctuations as well. I so envy your artistry.

    1. Thanks, Gerard. I’m glad you enjoyed it. If you look at the larger aerial view of the fort that I linked, it shows long, parallel trenches, also outlined in tape. One thing they were searching for was a cemetery some believed to exist, but as far as I know, they found only the remains of three French settlers.

      Perfect punctuation? I’m not sure about that, but I try. At least I found the misspelling in the first hour or so after posting. I always let a piece “rest” for a while, and give it another once-over before I publish, but I still can miss things.

      Did I hear voices? You’ll just have to wait for the next post or two. How’s that for a tease?

  2. Great story. Can’t wait to read the ending. Texas has so many wonderful historical sites it’s easy to fall in love with the state and its rich stories.

    1. Honestly, Jean — I am laughing. You can’t wait to read the ending? I can’t wait to write the ending. I think Beatrix Potter may have been right: “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” I guess I’d better figure it out.

      In some ways, Texas is like a palimpsest. Stories are written, and written over, and written over again: until only a bit of the earliest tales remain. But they’re there, ready to be retrieved. All we need is a bit of the archaeologists’ patience.

  3. You and my father would have had much to talk about. He’s an architect and went into historical preservation of monuments. There’s so much Spanish history in Texas, I keep on forgetting that, yet I didn’t have enough interest in architecture to pursue it.

    We have a church which was constructed from 1532 by the Dominican Order as part of their Saint Aquinas monastery. It was renamed by the Jesuits who took over the monastery in 1865.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_José_Church

    Well, Old San Juan has already been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. However, I personally do not enjoy going there because the Spanish colonial architecture made the streets very narrow, the cobblestones are actually dangerous because people can trip on them, and there’s just not enough greenery in the city because the architecture is so compacted that it doesn’t allow much of anything to grow, and most Spanish houses were built with very few windows, so they can look like dungeons, I’m not kidding.

    1. The church is beautiful. I’ll show some photos of Our Lady of Loreto chapel later; there are similarities between it and your San José church.

      I think the blue cobblestones are lovely, and I must admit narrow streets, colorful buildings, and window boxes have their appeal for me. I like New Orleans’ French Quarter, for example. Of course, many such places also have gardens hidden away behind the gates, which provide a little breathing room.

      Raiford Stripling worked on several significant projects in Texas beyond Presidio La Bahia and Mission Espiritu Santo, including the French Legation in Austin, Ashton Villa in Galveston, and Independence Hall at Washington-on-the-Brazos. I wish people today were more committed to preservation of the old, the beautiful, and the significant, and less committed to strip shopping centers.

        1. It is in sad shape. I’m glad they’re getting some funding. I was especially interested in the mention of frescoes with maritime themes. I hope they’re able to restore those. The Loreto Chapel at the Presidio has cactus and a rattlesnake, instead.

    1. What a journey, indeed. While the amusement park bills itself as “Six Flags Over Texas,” at Goliad, they have nine flags displayed in front of the Presidio. It’s a nice way of representing the complexity of the history there, and even that was a bit of a surprise to me. I knew eight of the flags, but the solid green one — the first Republic of Texas flag — was new. Of course, it was only used for a year, so there’s that.

  4. Your description of the archaeological dig revealing the actual plan of the presidio reminds me of the short time I spent on a dig at Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. It was a delightful place where the hitching posts outside a bar were not there for show.

    We worked all day to document the layout of the fort – but just before sunset when the sun was at a low angle, it all appeared outlined in shadow. I suppose it would be too easy to simply snap a photo of that and be done with it – but there were other interesting things to be found.

    1. And those “other things” often can lead to other “other things.” At Fort St. Louis, it was a handful of green-glazed pottery shards that helped lead to the French.

      Beyond that, I’m absolutely intrigued by the inter-relationship of archival and field work. We pride ourselves on our emails, tweets and texts, but they’re ephemeral. They aren’t here today, gone tomorrow. They’re here one second, and gone forever. The journals, diaries, diagrams and maps that people were keeping in Texas in the 1500s and 1600s still are providing helpful clues for today’s researchers. It’s something to ponder.

      Your mention of taking a photo reminds me of an exchange I had with a friend a few months ago. I was hand-copying a document, and she said, “Why not just take a picture of it with your camera?”
      Apart from the fact that I’d still have to transcribe it, there was something about hand-copying that felt right. Maybe I was channeling my inner medieval scribe.

  5. Thank you for that trip back in time. Just so happens, I am working (again) on my book of local history during these slower winter months.
    Not five minutes ago, I was in the year 1835.

    1. Don’t let the batteries in your transporter run low. We’d hate for you to get stuck in a previous century.

      Seriously — to engage with history is one of he most satisfying things I know. There are cracked doors everywhere, just waiting to be opened. I know you enjoy it, too.

      1. My uncle told me I was born in the wrong century but I disagree. I love my hot tap water on demand, LP gas stove and Freezer full of food w/o having had to chop my ice from the river in the dead of winter.

        1. And I’ll add air conditioning to the list. I was driving an un-air-conditioned car when I moved to Houston, and believe me: being stuck in traffic on a freeway with no AC is not something to be desired.

  6. I would not be feeling too cozy there by myself. Sounds eerie! But I’ll join you for the rest of the story. Until I know more, I will be so cozy here in my recliner. Wake me when you have finished.

    1. From what I’ve read, some people found the most eerie aspect of their stay to be the absence of television, radio, wi-fi, and broadband. That strange sound you hear? That’s what the old folks used to call “silence.”

      Actually, I think you’ll be surprised at how cozy the place is. At least, it met my standards for coziness.

  7. Hoo boy. I like this story a lot. Can’t wait for the next post. There is so much Texas history. There must be thousands and thousands of stories to be un-earthed about the early days of Texas. And you stayed alone in that place, at night?

    1. You’re exactly right about the stories that surround us, Yvonne. Just one example: as I was working on this post, I ran across the story of the second mission site. Just as cannons found at the Keeran Ranch helped lead to the first Presidio site, John and Judy Clegg’s Espiritu Santo Ranch was rich with ruins and clues about the mission. They worked for years with those trying to sort out the history, and have received an assortment of awards and recognition.

      Even more interesting was their willingness to pick up an old hotel from the bayshore at Seadrift, just north of Indianola and Port O’Connor, and give it new life in Mission Valley. Expect more about that, too.

      I was alone for my two-night stay. It was wonderful.

  8. It seems that history teaching/classes are on the decline in the US as well as in NZ. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/06/business/trans-pacific-partnership-trade-deal-is-reached.html I am sure there would be more interest if students had a chance to learn and explore with you, Linda. We can’t have a good relationship with the present without an understanding of our history. This weekend is a big one for New Zealand; Waitangi Day. We are still trying to negotiate our past and present, so that we can all have a decent future.

    1. I’m wondering if you might inadvertently have added the wrong link, Gallivanta. The TPPT is interesting, but I couldn’t find anything in the article about history or its teaching.

      In any event, your points about the importance of history are on target. As I watch students at various colleges and universities (and the general population at large) demand a “cleansing” of U.S. history, it disturbs me more than I can say — at least, more than I can say without sputtering a bit. The echoes of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and ISIS’s destruction of ages-old sites are there.

      I found this interesting series on Waitangi Day. As so often happens, both meanings of “negotiate” come into play: to try to reach an agreement or compromise by discussion with others, or to find a way over or through an obstacle or difficult path. Here’s to successful negotiations of every sort.

      1. I don’t know which article Gallivanta intended to link to, but one from the New York Times in 1985—three decades ago!—made the same point:

        http://www.nytimes.com/1985/11/17/magazine/decline-and-fall-of-teaching-history.html?pagewanted=all

        The author of the article noted, for example: “On the college lecture circuit this past year, I visited some 30 campuses, ranging from large public universities to small private liberal-arts colleges. Repeatedly, I was astonished by questions from able students about the most elementary facts of American history. At one urban Minnesota university, none of the 30 students in a course on ethnic relations had ever heard of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, which held racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.”

        Eve and I got to attend the Waitangi Day festivities in Waitangi itself last year.

        1. That’s an excellent article. Reading it, I found myself variously angry, sad, and frustrated, because too much is familiar.

          I thought the discussion of social scientists vs. historians was good. From 8th-12th grades, we studied American history, world history, Western Civilization, Iowa history, civics, social studies, and geography. Clearly, that wasn’t the case in 1985, and it certainly isn’t the way things are done today.

          It’s not bad to find myself sharing the opinion of someone like Henry Steele Commager. I’d forgotten about him, but I enjoyed reading his comment that,”History is a story, and if history forgets or neglects to tell a story, it will inevitably forfeit much of its appeal and much of its authority as well.”

          That’s quite a photo from Waitangi Day. Knowing you were in Waitangi, I went exploring, and found this photo from the 1940 celebration there. And I think it’s possible that I found a video of the performance you saw. This is from Waitangi in 2015. Comparing the body art and costumes to those in your photo, I’m pretty sure it’s the same group.

          1. Even way back then in 1985 I’d already been wrestling as a teacher with the inadequacies of American education for over a decade. As you noted, things have gotten worse since 1985.

            How good of you to have found the very Waitangi Day performance we attended. From the dynamism in the video you can see why that’s the champion New Zealand group. That video was just one of a bunch of numbers the group performed.

          1. Here’s a link which may help. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/76578090/Prime-Minister-John-Key-will-not-be-attending-Waitangi-this-year Very briefly, some influential Maori trustees, who are against the TPPA signing, decided they wouldn’t invite our PM to the Marae on Waitangi Day, in protest over the signing. Later the decision seemed to change to, yes, the PM is invited but he may not speak about political items, especially the TPPA. Now it seems that John Key has decided he won’t go to Waitangi at all. It is my understanding that some people, including some Maori, believe the TPPA is not compatible with the Treaty of Waitangi, and if implemented will undermine the treaty provisions that Maori have worked so hard to establish. Some Maori believe they will lose their sovereignty all over again.

        1. That Atlantic article seems to illustrate certain difficulties highlighted in the NYTimes article Steve linked: particularly the ongoing tension between history and social studies. Of course, today we have other dynamics are play that are perhaps even more damaging.

          I see there are fears the TPPA will undermine or invalidate the Waitanga treaty. Has there been any firm resolution?

          1. Not yet. And this current Government is very stubborn and unmoved by protests, so unless there is a change at the next election (unlikely!), I imagine this Govt will barge on with its view that the TPPA is a very good deal for all NZers.

            1. I just read the article, but got side-tracked by figuring out the meaning “Te Tii marae.” I’ve got that, now, so I’ll give it another read tomorrow. Thanks so much.

            2. You haven’t side-tracked anything at all. As I recall, there were certain difficulties with treaties during the formation of Texas, too. And, since I know almost nothing about NZ, it’s interesting to get a bit of a look into your history, too.

      1. Very splendid. I have been following the Color Our Collections for a few days. A great idea. I had no idea that the Presidio La Bahia was featured, though, because there was so much to look at in the collections, my head began to spin..

    1. I think you’ll enjoy it, Becca. And, yes: all is well. I had my six-month checkup in early January, and still was seeing 20/20, with no clouding or other problems with the lenses they implanted. Even now, I’ll see something occasionally and think, “Back in the day, I couldn’t have seen that.” It’s wonderful.

  9. Glad to hear your cataract surgery is giving you 20/20! My wife had it this fall, and is doing quite well, although she is astounded by the brightness, and sometimes finds night driving a bit much. I too am looking forward to the rest of the story. I love the aerial photo. These forts are and were incredible, especially given that there was no diesel horsepower to move around the stones etc. Such adventurers – although not always by choice…

    1. The brightness was a problem for me, at first. In fact, for two or three weeks, I had to wear sunglasses to use the computer — the screen was that much too bright. After about three months, I didn’t notice it any more.

      There’s something that amazes me as much as the engineering and the stone-toting. It’s the way people of those earlier centuries traveled, communicated, and generally stayed aware of what was happening — not only in the neighborhood, but in the larger world.
      They collaborated over long distances, and accomplished so much. I’ve been reading some of the correspondence of naturalists who were collecting in Texas in the 1800s — to say it’s interesting is an understatement.

      You’re right that adventures don’t always happen by choice, but that raises the question: does a true adventure ever happen by choice?

  10. Actually I think Lady Bird would be very pleased (and would love your idea of sanctuary for native plants – loved the aerial image! History is so much more clear with technology available now. Good job trying to explain all the history /reasons for the Presidio and Texas – it’s complicated and people don’t realize.)

    “No problem. The Presidio’s not going anywhere.” Great response to your need to reschedule. People can be fun. She was right. The eyes need to work so you don’t miss anything during the visit. …and we can’t wait to find out what you saw and what went bump in the night. Money well spent!

    1. Complicated? Oh, my gosh. Now that the archaeologists have done their work, it’s easy enough to figure out the first site at Fort St. Louis, and the final site in Goliad, but the Victoria/Mission Valley years are still confusing to me. It seems as though the mission got to Victoria first, and then moved to Mission Valley, where the presidio caught up with it. But I’ll need more time to sort that, since not everyone seems to agree.

      I’d forgotten until I saw that photo how much I liked Lady Bird. She did so much for the state. I still never have been to the Wildflower Center in Austin. The website itself is so impressive — I’m sure the place is, too.

      I’m pondering going to the living history reenactment of the massacre the first weekend in April. I’ve heard wonderful reports, and it certainly seems like it would be worthwhile.

  11. You have the best adventures, Linda, and I can’t wait to read the rest! I think I need to get out and start making some of my own adventures. Heavens, there are certainly many places here that are worth investigating. I need to set a goal, maybe one per quarter?

    You are certainly more brave than I, but you have inspired me to GO! Thank you.
    ~L

    1. I’m convinced that every “place” has stories and adventures waiting, Lynda. All we need to do is look around and see what’s interesting, what piques our curiosity. Chuck Close was talking about artistic creation when he said this:

      “All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you, and something else that you reject will push you in another direction.”

      I’ll bet you’ve experienced that with quilting, but I’d be willing to paraphrase it like this:

      “All the best adventures come out of the process; they come out of the getting up and going itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying dream up a great adventure, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just go, something will happen, and something else will happen, and something else you see will push you in another direction.”

      I say go for it.

      1. Thank you for this. I had been looking here: http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/Alabama1.html and trying to decide where to go first. I think I need to get a map and just stick a pin in it. ;) My thoughts to make at least one journey per quarter were strictly monetary, and, well, you know me… I have to work myself up for a trip to anywhere. If I get started I will get used to just going. I want to go, therefore I will go.

        1. The Ghost of Hugging Molly surely does look interesting. That’s really a nice site. So many of our natural or historical areas are either free or very low-cost, and that’s a help, too. I’m trying to put in as many hours at work as I can now, so that I can take some time in the spring. I’ve missed the earlier wildflowers for two years — I don’t want to miss them again this year.

  12. Doggone it, Linda, how dare you leave me in the middle of this fascinating story?!? I’ve just got to know whether you found any ghosts, as well as how your surgery turned out (I’m assuming the latter is fine as you’re able to travel and all!) You didn’t say, and I’ve never heard of a “guard cat,” but did Dixie accompany you so you wouldn’t be totally alone in that big fort??

    1. All’s well on the eye surgery front, Debbie. Thanks for asking. When I had my six-month checkup, I was seeing with 20/20 vision, and the lenses they implanted are clear. Really tiny print can be a problem, but I don’t usually need to read that, anyway. I can thread a needle, and that’s good enough for me.

      There’s no way I’d take Dixie Rose on a trip to anywhere. I’d have to spend all my time keeping track of her, making sure she didn’t get outdoors, and so on. She doesn’t travel well, either — her only travel has been trips to the vet or hurricane evacuations, so I can’t blame her not liking the car.

      No, I go off and do my thing, and she sulks under the bed until I get back. I have a kitty sitter who makes sure she has the necessities. She’s a one-person cat, so boarding wouldn’t work. We have our routine: I leave, she gets mad and pouts, I come home, she gets over it, and we’re friends until the next time. So it goes.

  13. Well that was quite a history lesson, Linda. Once upon a time I thought being an archeologist would be great fun. But then I decided I wouldn’t have the patience required. Luck and a great deal of sifting are required. But it would be thrilling to find things of real and historical value.

    Having had a couple of ‘ghost’ experiences, I look forward to hearing if you meet up with any. On another note, I am preparing to drive my 1989 bike route around North America. I was reading the Texas part of my journal the other day. Texas is big when you cross it in a vehicle, it is enormous on my bike! –Curt

    1. I see you as an anthropologist rather than an archaeologist, Curt. Now that I’ve said that, I realize something I’ve never seen before: your thing is tribes, and it matters not where those tribes are located. The bush, the playa, the wilds of Marin County — it’s all good.

      I didn’t know until the day I checked into La Bahia that it has quite a reputation among ghost hunters. There are several Texas sites that are said to be haunted — and of course, there’s old Brit Bailey, wandering the prairie looking for his hootch. Maybe you’ll scare up a ghost on your trip — even if it’s only the ghost of a bicyclist past.

      1. I confess to being interested in different cultures, Linda. Maybe Margaret Mead got under my skin in college. Or maybe it was the National Geographic magazines my grandfather kept around his house. But I think I prefer to be on the outside looking in than the inside looking out. I lack the bonding capacity and suspension of belief needed to accept the tribal belief system, whatever it happens to be— whether its Burner or Kpelle or UC Berkeley Alumni.
        As for ghosts, I think they are good for business. If an old place doesn’t have two or three wandering around, they have to create them.
        I met a gal looking for hootch but that was across the border in Louisiana. –Curt

  14. Lady Bird Johnson was quite a lady. She received an honorary degree at a graduation I attended for my daughter at SMU in 1996. She beautified the highway between Dallas and San Antonio with those sweet bluebonnets.
    Your story has all the elements of any good narrative. You have created the tension to draw in your readers for the second installment.

    And as one reader noted below, you are living your life…which is to be commended. So many people just watch their lives go by…

    1. I never had the pleasure of meeting Lady Bird, but I know people who did, and each in their own way say she was a remarkably gracious woman. Her legacy is unquestioned, particularly in terms of the nation’s beautification. And she was a lady, in the best sense of the word.

      I appreciate your comments about the story itself. I became so involved with it that I didn’t grasp what I’d done until I’d finished writing, and stepped back for a look. If you’d asked me, I would have said I didn’t know how to create suspense. Now, I’m going to have to figure out how to resolve it.

      As for living life, I’ve always like this, from Annie Dillard:

      “Go up into the gaps. If you can find them: they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

  15. My commenting function thingy is having hiccups (or nothing at all).
    I still enjoy whatever you write here – even those poems!

    1. Hiccups or no hiccups, it’s still great to see you, Ken. Now that my weather info comes from other sources, I just don’t get over to your spot in the blog-world as much as I used to.I told Bug and Sandi I was resolved to visit more often — a new year’s resolution, if you will — but here it is the first week in February. I’d better get cracking, if I’m going to keep it.

      Thanks for the good words — the poems send their regards, and asked me to tell you they were happy to be included.

  16. In a way, this is part of the “family history” of our state. I find it distressing how people can live in a place and be oblivious to its contextual history.. Awaiting with interest your next post.

    1. “Family history” is a great way to put it, WOL. Actually, when you and your mom were staying in your own “old home place,” I thought about some of the similarities between your trip and mine.

      Remember those timelines we used to make in school? They were detailed, complex, and stretched over long periods of time: the Renaissance years, or ancient Greece, or the opening of the American West. We’d study them, then try and fit other events into their proper places. Now? A timeline is what Twitter and Facebook have, and it’s as ephemeral as smoke. Yes, you can save and capture a snippet here or there, but from my very limiited experience, it’s almost purely “now,,” and purely without context.

      It seems ironic to me that so many of the same people who live in fear of dementia create for themselves a related sort of dementia, by their refusal of history. It’s interesting to ponder.

  17. I ‘ditto’ all the comments, and find your readers’ contributions as fascinating as your originating post. I am ‘triple liking’ this adventure back in time.

    1. Thanks so much, Sammy — a “triple like” must be the blogging equivalent of a triple double in basketball. I appreciate it, so much.

      It looks as though this will turn into a three-post series. As I suspect you’ve found with your own research, one thing leads to another, and another, and multiple others. But of course, that’s part of the fun.

  18. These histories are always so interesting with just enough background to inform and pique but not so much to overwhelm. And, of course, the “to be continued”… did its job. How nice that you met up with such an accommodating representative.
    Awaiting the eerie details. :-)

    1. I’m glad to hear you say that, about not feeling overwhelmed. As I researched this, I was fairly well overwhelmed, and the extra two days it took for me to get it up was due almost entirely to the need to select, winnow, prune, set aside for another time. One of the great benefits of doing a piece like this online is the possibility of linking to primary sources, so people who want more details can find them, and others don’t get overwhelmed or bored.

      Breaking a big subject into smaller chunks is one good reason for “to be continued.” Of course, in this case, the phrase did a bit more than that. Even I can’t wait for the next installment.

  19. Oh, my!! What a cliffhanger.

    This reminds me of the discovery at Jamestown, Virginia. During excavation, physical evidence of cannibalism was discovered. Cut marks on the skull and skeleton of a 14-year-old girl indicated that her flesh and brain were removed. For consumption? Probably. I haven’t heard any ghost stories, but you never know. I’ll have to do a search.

    How very neat that you spent the night there. Can’t wait to hear part two.

    1. I remember that discovery. I took a look to see if there had been any followup, and discovered that there was, just last year. There are so many mysteries, and so much left to be discovered. I think part of the fascination of archaeology is that every question can’t be answered — like the ones about the silver box in that article.

      It was neat to spend the night — two nights, actually. And then, over Thanksgiving, a friend and I went back. A place like that can’t be taken in just in a day, and when there’s a chance to settle in and really explore, who wouldn’t?

      1. Thanks for the link. Very interesting. It makes me want to visit again in the spring. It’s been many years since I’ve toured Jamestown.

  20. What a fascinating trip that must have been. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story. The idea that you can stay inside a fort like that is pretty amazing. But… alone! I don’t know if I could do it…. I’d have too many fears of accidents in the night, haha.

    1. It is a rare opportunity, Alex. Since the Presidio is private, all of the proceeds from overnight stays go to the maintenance of the place. It’s a win/win situation, in that sense. And, because only one space that sleeps four is available for rental, you’ve not overrun with people, as you would be at even a small resort or bed and breakfast.

      I had to smile at your slight ambivalence about staying the night alone. At first, I wondered how that could be, given the number of monsters you’ve dealt with. Then I thought, maybe that’s the answer. I don’t spend any time at all thinking about monsters — maybe a lack of imagination helped me be comfortable there.

      1. Oh yes… I have an overactive imagination. When I’m alone in a house, I usually have music playing, just so I don’t have to hear the pipes and floorboards expanding. ;)

    1. Look at that: another new word. I had to look up “eldritch,” and of course it’s Scots, from around 1500. When I went to the Wiktionary page, I noticed a sound clip along with the text. Such a disappointment to find the clip was for the pronunciation of the word, and not a sample of the scream. Apparently the wikis don’t have everything.

  21. Even before I’d scrolled down to read about doubts on the authenticity of the drawing, I was thinking how very ambitious and elaborate the plan. I also enjoyed hearing about your circuitous journey to La Bahía. Sounds like you are well on your way to having a friend there.

    1. It was a fort for the ages, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, the Spanish met up with some unpleasant characters in the members of the Cocos, Cujanos, and Copanes tribes, members of the Karankawa group. I’ll spare you their habits, except to say they had “their ways,” which included eating skunks and using skunk musk and bear grease to keep mosquitos away. Perhaps we’ve found the solution for the Zika virus — or not.

      It was a trip worth waiting for, certainly. And it was the perfect trip for someone with “new eyes.” There still were flowers, and perfect weather: and it was good to just get away after the long, drawn-out process of getting the surgery done. It did become a bit wearing after a while.

  22. It’s awesome that visitors are able to stay at the fort. I can hardly wait to hear more. If I ever get to that area, it sounds like something I might enjoy.

    1. You would enjoy it, Sheryl. Since there’s a basic kitchen there, including a stove with an oven that heats accurately, I can see you concocting an 18th century meal and blogging about it. What fun that would be — although you might have to get one of the locals to provide the venison.

  23. Except you and the ghost perhaps? Such a meaty, in-depth post, my friend! I had to read in two sittings! The historical info is fascinating as are the drawings and photos but I really love the story the best of how you heard about it, pursued it, connected with the volunteer and finally landed! Can’t wait to hear more about inside — and your view! Not to mention the rest of the story!

    1. Good things come to those who wait, as the old saying goes. It certainly was worth the wait, Jeanie — and worth going back, as a friend and I did over Thanksgiving. I couldn’t help thinking how amazed Fannin and his men would have been by the coffee maker, microwave, and refrigerator. They probably wouldn’t have minded the central air and heat, either. On the other hand, if I’d been in their situation, the 3′ thick walls would have been more useful than a coffee maker.

      I have to find a way to make room for Mrs. Kathryn O’Connor, too. She was the moving force behind the restoration, and from what I’ve read, she was a fairly forceful person. Some of the accounts I’ve read of her conversations with the architect are completely amusing. but if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have had such a remarkable trip.

      1. Sometimes it takes a force of nature — whether hurricane or powerful woman — to make something happen for the good in the end! Sounds like that’s Kathryn O’Connor. I can see why you returned.

  24. Finally, a chance to sit, read, and savor this remarkable piece of history. And in a bit of “reverse history” I started at part 2 . . . now returning there to re-read and comment further . . .

    1. And I thank you for it. Even when pieces are linked by subject matter, I try to allow each to stand on its own, so anyone just stopping by doesn’t feel like they’re missing essential details. Learning how to do that is (ahem) akin to learning how to link chapters in a book.

    1. You’re right, Melissa. Sometimes that line is curved, sometimes it reverses, and sometimes it seems broken. But, whatever form it takes, it’s wonderful fun to follow it. I’m glad you’re following along.

  25. Ghosts, mysteries, physical encounters of the pleasant kind, all “punctuated” with the kind of research that unearths intriguing things-what more could one ask for in a history piece? Another lovely history post, Linda. Well done!

    Looking forward to reading part 2.

    1. How kind you are! I’m deep into the third part now, and having a wonderful time — learning a few things myself as I go along. I always did like puzzles as a kid, and in many ways posts like this are just like putting together a good jigsaw. The pieces are there, or at least mostly there, and as one gets fitted to another, the picture begins to emerge.

      I suspect that’s part of the pleasure many people take in genealogy, too. It’s just a different sort of history, but the methods are much the same, and the surprises just as delightful.

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