Getting Fortified

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In the clear, brittle light of that summer afternoon, the simple lines and time-worn stones of Presidio la Bahía seemed to exemplify the classic Spanish fort: strong; stalwart; impenetrable; beautiful.

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Even softened by the glow of approaching evening, its limestone walls appeared equally secure: though warmer, and more inviting.

Curious, already warmed by the welcome I’d received from a fort volunteer, and eager to explore the place I’d call home for three days, I unlocked the door. Heavy and resistant, it required a second push before it fully opened. Cypress? I wondered. Not cedar. Maybe mesquite.  

Stepping into the room, I stopped: surprised by streaks of sunlight spread across the floor. Seeing curtains drawn across the single, small window, I turned, seeking the light’s source. Much to my amusement, I found it: streaming through my fort’s strong, stalwart, impenetrable door.

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Maybe Leonard Cohen’s right, I thought. Maybe there is a crack in everything. Whether light alone would filter through those cracks was yet to be determined.

Given the fort’s age and history, an occasional chip or crack hardly is surprising. The oldest fort west of the Mississippi, the only fully restored Spanish presidio in the United States, and the only Texas historical site restored to its 1836 appearance, La Bahía has had quite a run.

From its establishment on the banks of the San Antonio river in 1749; through the years leading to Mexican independence in 1821; and up to its role in the signing of the declaration of Texas independence in 1836, Presidio La Bahía has seen more battles than any site in Texas. In the process, the settlement surrounding the fort was decimated. By 1836, little remained.

After incorporating in 1840, the city of Goliad claimed both the presidio and its mission. In that same year, thanks to a joint resolution of the Texas House and Senate granting Goliad formal title rights to the buildings and land, property disputes and governmental decisions replaced military action as a cause of destruction. Caveats notwithstanding, an 1847 Goliad city council resolution declared open season on rocks:

 Be it further inacted [sic], that the citizens residing in the town tract of Goliad shall have the right to take and carry away any loose rocks that may be found within the Mission wall, so that in removing said rock no injury shall be done to the building and the walls enclosing the same. 

That word of permission to cart away stone seems to have been interpreted fairly liberally. The Presidio provided its own share of building materials, until Judge Pryor Lea, a railroad promoter, arrived in Goliad and transformed the Presidio chapel into his private residence.

Still, the damage had been done. John Russell Bartlett, a United States Boundary Commissioner who kept a detailed journal of his travels through the Southwest, visited Judge Lea at his chapel home, and observed:

Around the church are some twenty or more ruined buildings of stone, with nothing but their walls standing. One of these extends about 150 feet southward, and appears, from its small apartments, to have been constructed for barracks. Its walls, like those of the church, are very massive.
A high wall seems once to have surrounded the church, but much of it lies now prostrate. The other buildings, which are detached and of various dimensions, were chiefly used as dwellings. The whole town is in ruins, and presents a scene of desolation.

Needless to say, many who worshipped at Our Lady of Loreto were less than pleased when Judge Lea moved into their chapel. After some negotiation, the presidio and chapel finally were returned to the Catholic church. On November 27, 1853, Bishop J. M. Odin, the first Catholic Bishop of Galveston, purchased the property on behalf of the church, for $1,000.

Through it all, Our Lady of Loreto remained relatively intact. The fort, damaged and neglected, continued to deteriorate. Like an old barn, it seemed destined to settle back into the ground from which it had sprung, and to fade even from the memories of those who had known it.

Presidio La Bahia, 1908

Then, Kathryn Stoner O’Connor appeared:  a true conservator, a woman willing to stand against the forces slowly destroying her beloved Presidio la Bahía.

Given the state of the presidio in the 1960s, charitably described as near-total collapse, her mission in life — a historically accurate restoration of the fort to its 1836 appearance — seemed laughable. On the other hand, her plans were the natural extension of a lifetime spent in the heart of Texas history.

When she married Tom O’Connor, she married into a family with deep Texas roots. Her father-in-law, Dennis O’Connor, was the son of Thomas M. O’Connor, an 1819 immigrant from County Wexford, Ireland. Granted 4,428 acres by Mexico, he helped to plat the town of Refugio before undertaking other, quite interesting adventures:

After arriving in Goliad on October 10, 1835, he was among the first to reinforce La Bahía by joining the volunteers commanded by Philip Dimmitt. With John O’Brien, another nephew of Power, he was in charge of the oxcart evacuation of San Patricio, Refugio, and Victoria ordered by Dimmitt [the so-called “Runaway Scrape“].
O’Connor was one of the signers of the Goliad Declaration of Independence and was later a member of R. J. Calder’s company. At age seventeen, he was the youngest man to participate in the battle of San Jacinto.
Kathryn Stoner O’Connor pushing her son, Dennis, in front of the little house on the O’Connor ranch (1907)

 In her introduction to the third edition of Kathryn O’Connor’s Presidio La Bahia 1721-1846, Louise O’Connor writes:

From my earliest recollection, my grandmother, Kathyn Stoner O’Connor, was compiling and collecting material on her beloved Presidio la Bahía and Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga. All the grandchildren knew they had better be able to recite the whole name without error. We were often driven to Goliad with her to see the crumbling old pile of stones.
As children, we all watched Granny rebuild this monument to Texas liberty, and even helped excavate on several trips. I once found a sewing machine bobbin that still contained the red thread that was in it the day it was lost by its owner. I never fail to visit this artifact every time I go to the Presidio.

To achieve her goal, Mrs. O’Connor required at least two things: plenty of money (which she had), and an architect who understood historical restoration.

She found her architect in the person of Raiford Stripling, a Texas-born-and-bred historical specialist who had participated in the 1930s restoration of mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga.

Together with archaeologist Roland Beard, Goliad engineer L.A. Pettus, and Superintendent O.G. Compton, also of Goliad, they set out to excavate the site to the 1836 level.

Raiford Stripling in the midst of his project ~ perhaps checking his to-do list  (Center for Heritage Conservation, Texas A&M University)

As work began, Stripling had in hand this 1836 lithograph, published in New York. Based on a plan drawn by Joseph M. Chadwick, Colonel James Fannin’s topographical engineer and supervisor of fortifications, it purported to show a contemporary view of Fort Defiance, the name given the presidio by Fannin.

 In Restoring Texas, Raiford Stripling’s Life and Architecture, Michael McCullar writes:

Raiford learned that the drawing, a bird’s-eye perspective made by a New York lithographer in 1836 and entitled ‘The Correct View of Fort Defiance,’ was based on a smaller, 6-by-6-inch drawing that Chadwick  sent his mother in his last letter from Goliad [shortly before being killed in the Goliad massacre of March 27, 1836].
The larger lithograph showed a pitched-roofed, Gothic chapel, which meant that the New York lithographer had never seen a Spanish colonial structure.
But the notes on the lithograph were remarkably thorough, describing the uses of various rooms and buildings and indicating how detailed Chadwick’s original drawing — which Raiford thought was probably an annotated plan — must have been.

Fearing inaccuracies in the lithograph, Stripling searched for the original throughout the process of restoration. When Chadwick’s original drawing was found in a Charlottesville, Virginia library, just two weeks before the dedication of the restored Presidio, it validated decisions Stripling had made, such as turning the lithograph’s east-facing chapel to the west.

Ground plan of ‘Fort Defiance, March 2, 1836 ~ Lieut. Joseph M. Chadwick
Click here for a larger image, with annotations

While he had his plan, Stripling had more: particularly, vision, insight, and an unparalleled gift for imaginative reconstruction. Like an unexpected shaft of light breaking through a presidio door, his flashes of insight were legendary. Louise O’Connor recalls:

Stripling believed that buildings had souls, and his philosophies were pure and traditional. He was a man of his word, and at the same time, a truly free soul.
His mantra was “use your eyes.” He did not learn this in school. It was a sensitivity developed and honed on the job. He felt that there was little certainty in preservation architecture. He hung loose, and expected those he workd with and trained to do the same.
He was an imaginative problem solver. “You get a feelin’ for things,” was his explanation of this talent, which he had to the highest degree. I can remember my grandmother saying, “Strip’s got a feelin’. I have to go to La Bahía today and see what it is.”
“Orders from headquarters” ~ Rev. Edward Kircher and Raiford Stripling listen to Kathryn O’Connor make a point (1967)

Reminiscing about the project, Rev. Kircher, the Diocesan representative, writes:

Miss Kate and Mr. Stripling were very respectful of each other. He would go in with preconceived ideas, but he was flexible enough to change. He was a genius, in that he left her feeling she was running the show. This created peace on the job. They would lock horns from time to time, but she always had the last word.

As for Stripling, he took time in 1983, at a symposium held in San Antonio, to offer a tribute to Kate O’Connor, and others like her:

In remarks made prior the symposium, Stripling stepped outside his role as celebrated preservationist to pay a debt he owned to the women of Texas.
They are, he said, the leaders of historic preservation and architectural restoration in Texas, and they constituted the majority of his clients over the years. With tenacity and an independent spirit, and despite unfavorable odds, a number of women, acting individually or collectively, have preserved many historic sites within the state.

As work began, the three acre Presidio site was gridded off into 20′ squares. Trenches established building lines, and aided in the recovery of artifacts: bells, beads, spurs, weapons, arrowheads, pottery shards and household implements. Original building materials were recovered, as well. On April 19, 1964, the San Antonio Express and News reported:

The major emphasis is still along the walls, where a portion of the south wall already has been completed. This includes the port holes and stone facings (each with a round hole for the protruding musket.) These stone facings were all recovered at the site: none is a substitute.
Remnants of the south wall, awaiting reconstruction
Barracks along the south wall today (Click image to enlarge)
A port hole and facing (Click image to enlarge)
Looking toward the south and east walls from the quadrangle grove ~ a perfect place for morning coffee (Click image to enlarge)

Stout walls require doors and gates, and they abound at La Bahia. In one interesting recollection of the restoration process, Fr. Kircher writes:

Miss Kate did not throw money around, and so we saved or made money in many ways during the restoration. We bought two boxcars of cypress, used one and a half boxcar loads, and sold the remaining half for almost enough to pay for most of what we used. All the wood at Presidio La Bahia is cypress.
Looking from the chapel courtyard into the quadrangle (Click image to enlarge)
A mysterious locked door (Click image to enlarge)
The water gate in the north wall allowed access to the river (Click image to enlarge)
A south wall sally port: one door for people, two for carts or horses (Click image to enlarge)
Door and shutter decorations (Click image to enlarge)
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While the Presidio stonework’s primary function was protective, it has its own beauty: due in no small part to the skills of local craftsmen.

After a training period in the desired results, the Latin-American workmen, many of whom are descendants of the early inhabitants of La Bahia, proved very adept in working out their own techniques for handling and placing mortar, stone, and spauls [sic] in the walls. They used their hands to a great extent rather than the modern tools provided.
The southwest bastion, meant for the placement of cannons (Click image to enlarge)
An original cannon, used by Fannin and his men
That same cannon today, pointed west from the northwest bastion (Click to enlarge)
The sentry box on the northwest bastion (Click image to enlarge)
A sentry’s view to the west (Click image to enlarge)

Thanks to other workers, equally skilled in traditional crafts, the interior of La Bahía was restored as beautifully as the exterior.

Workman installing floor tile (photo courtesy Kyle Boyd-Robertson)
Today, its furnishings are simple and appropriate (Click image to enlarge)
No doubt Fannin would have loved the electricity (Click image to enlarge)
In the midst of so much stone, color shines (Click image to enlarge)
A reminder of the spring and summer bounty surrounding the fort ~ and of three-foot-thick walls (Click image to enlarge)
During my November visit, a fire was in order (Click image to enlarge)
Without context, the dining area art could be unnerving (Click image to enlarge)
You can thank Capt. Dimmitt for that arm (Click image to enlarge)

Just as the “Come and Take It” flag recalls Gonzales, the “Bloody Arm” flag is specific to Goliad; it still can be seen in shops and front yards throughout the town. Drawing on Nicholas Fagan’s scrapbook, Kathryn O’Connor provides some context:

“Both of the Fagans were with Dimmitt when he captured La Bahia, and John was one of those of  Capt. Dimmett’s command who signed the Goliad Declaration of Independence  
The Goliad Declaration of Independence, drafted by Ira Ingram, was read to the citizens of Goliad assembled at Nuestra Señora de Loreto Presidio on December 20, 1835. The enacting clause resolved that the former department of Texas ought to be a “free, sovereign, and independent State,” and the signers pledged their lives, fortunes, and honor to sustain the declaration.
Dimmett, needing a flag for the effort, decided to make one. With the help of his men he took a large sheet of white cloth and painted on it a red arm and hand holding a drawn sword  Needing a flagpole to fly it on, Nicholas Fagan went into the woods along the San Antonio River near La Bahia Fort, and cut a sycamore pole to which the flag was secured.
On raising the flag on the pole in the center of the quadrangle of La Bahia, it was greeted by a fusillade of shots from without the walls by the Mexico loyalist citizens of the town of La Bahia.
A view to the west, through a porthole in the east wall (Click image to enlarge)

Today, Dimmitt’s “bloody arm” flag is flown inside the quadrangle, where both the lithograph and personal accounts placed it. However, Chadwick’s sketch shows the flagstaff outside the west wall. Appropriately enough, the United States and Texas flags are flown there now: also from a wooden pole.

While reading about and researching La Bahía’s history and restoration can be fascinating, a stay at the Presidio offers something more: a chance, in Raiford Stripling’s words, to “use our eyes.”

Mornings and evenings, free to wander the grounds in solitude, I sensed the soul of the fort in a way denied most day visitors, and impossible to achieve from a book. The changing light, the sheer beauty of the natural surroundings, a sense of unexpected presence: each cast its own sort of spell.

At sunrise, even the cannons seem peaceful (Click image to enlarge)
No television or wi-fi? Watch the morning clouds (Click image to enlarge)
Late afternoon pastels paint the bedroom window (Click image to enlarge)
The chapel bell tower, dressed in sunset (Click image to enlarge)
Nightfall on the ramparts  (Click image to enlarge)
A perfect, ghostly midnight (Click image to enlarge)
A ghost? or fireplace smoke? (Click image to enlarge)

As for La Bahía ghosts, their stories abound: rattling chains, slamming doors, an ethereal presence on the parade ground. Did I encounter one? Not precisely. But there were those voices…  

(to be continued)
As always, comments are welcome.

94 thoughts on “Getting Fortified

  1. Good job! I didn’t know it was possible to stay there. Okay. Onto the to-do list. Or the to-travel list, or maybe both. I liked your sense of soul in this. Whatever ghosts are or are not, walls hold powerful energy, too.

    Your photos are quite remarkable. Thank you.

    And my goodness, you certainly show the “cracks in everything….”

    1. Janet, you would enjoy it so much. In the next post, I’ll have more about the chapel, itself, which is equally remarkable. And, within only a few miles there’s Coleto Creek battleground, the birthplace of General Zaragoza, who defeated the French at Puebla, the grave of Fannin’s troops and their monument, historical cemeteries — plus a good bit of wonderful countryside.

      I’ll not criticize the Alamo. It’s important, too. But for a variety of reasons, I’ve found Goliad far more interesting and congenial.

  2. Such a beautiful place and area. I love the night photo. I can only imagine the intense stillness and feeling of security inside the three foot walls. And that fire must have felt heavenly.

    SW and western light. A treasure I need to reclaim!

    1. It is a beautiful area. I was intrigued by the difference in my two visits because of the light. In summer, it was blue skies and bright sun. Over Thanksgiving, it was rain, mist, drizzle, fog, and a little more rain for good measure — along with that midnight break in the clouds. You can see how it affected the stone even in these few photos.

      Here’s a view of the fort in November rain. It has yet another “feel” to it.

      Truth be told, I felt as secure wandering at midnight as I did inside the Quarters. There’s nothing like having a glass of wine while perched atop a revolutionary cannon. I wish Fannin had shown up. I would have liked to ask hiim a few questions.

  3. Mrs. O’Connor was clearly a woman of courage and vision. The doors alone are amazing. Your photos are beautiful. The bedrooms are plain but adequate showing that we don’t really need all the plush surroundings we have today. I’m waiting to see if you get any “night time visitors”. I agree with Martha that the feeling of security must have been wonderful.

    1. Around south Texas, the O’Connors are a force to be reckoned with. I don’t mean that in a negative way, at all. It’s only that a combination of cattle, oil, luck, ingenuity, and integrity — combined with a love of Texas and intense devotion to family — gave them pride of place in that area’s culture and society.

      Mrs. O’Connor is someone I wish I’d met. There’s one value she and I share that I know would have helped us hit it off — but you’ll have to wait to hear about that.

      The Quarters were simply furnished, but perfectly comfortable. With AC and heat, hot water, a functional kitchen, nice linens, and a walk-in shower, what more could a person want? If you miss television, you always can go out in the quadrangle, lay down, and look at the stars.

    1. Myra, what a wonderful compliment. Thank you.

      I’ve been struck, again and again, by the importance of individuals in these stories of loss and restoration. While tracing the history of Mission Espiritu Santo, I came across the story of John and Judy Clegg moving the Lafitte Hotel from Seadrift to their Espiritu Santo Ranch.

      Move a burned-out hotel to your property and turn it into a wonderfully restored bit of history? Why not? As my grandpa used to tell me, with a twinkle, anything worth doing, is worth doing.

  4. Those early settlers were brave and individualistic, weren’t they, Linda? What would Texas be like today without them, I wonder.

    I love this continuation to your story and am eager to read part three. I would have loved having morning tea in that quadrangle of trees, and the facilities actually look pretty comfy. Nice to have electricity and a fireplace! I like the south wall with its three doors, too — what an interesting idea, one brought about, I’m sure, by practicality. Such a beautiful midnight photo you’ve captured, too!

    1. They were do-ers, that’s for sure. They had to be. No one else was going to make the trek, herd the cattle, cook the beans, or birth the babies. But they were more than that, Debbie. Reading some of their journals is both a joy and a discouragement. There’s something about finding pioneer men and women more literate and better-informed than many of today’s graduates from our “best” universities that’s deeply disturbing.

      That said, morning coffee under the trees was lovely, and there wasn’t a thing I missed while I was there. It’s an active place, too — far more than a museum. The chapel still is active, with weekly mass and many weddings, and groups of various sorts make use of the grounds.

      If I go back, I’m going to try for good weather and a full moon — but that’s a little way down the road.

  5. Despite differences in color, the curved morning cloud seems loosely to mimic the upraised arm on the flag.

    Kircher is an appropriate name for a diocesan representative. According to one site, the German word has meant ‘a minor official of a church who had charge of the sacristy and its contents’ and also ‘a dweller near the church.’ A Kircher is a Churcher.

    1. I hadn’t noticed the similarity between the cloud and the flag, but you’re right. Your comment reminded me of an aside in Kathryn O’Connor’s book, published in 1966. After describing the flag as “an arm and hand holding aloft a drawn sword,” she adds, parenthetically, “strangely like the Soviet communist emblem of today.” Our place in time certainly does affect the way we interpret the world around us. I didn’t see the hammer and sickle, and, today, I’m not sure how many people would.

      Your point about Kircher’s name is interesting. I know “Thomaskirche” because of its association with Bach, and knew that “kirche” is German for church, but didn’t make the leap to “Kircher” as a related word. I had to keep double-checking his name throughout the process of writing, because I kept wanting to write “Kirchner” — a more familiar name.

    1. It was great fun, Terry, and opened up multiple avenues for exploration — both at the fort itself, and later, through books. I suspect at the time it might not have seemed so rich and colorful to those who were living through it, but who knows what they’ll say about our times, a hundred and fifty years hence?

  6. No doubt the biggest job would have been the re-building of the crumbling walls with all that stone. Before the days of cement the mortar through the ages would have washed out. Look at the re-built walls now. The tuck pointing on every wall, every stone, small and large done with perfection. I am sure many generations from now on will be able to enjoy this monumental work of art.
    Great photos and story, Linda. Thank you for the journey.

    1. After reading your comment, Gerard, I realized I didn’t know for certain how long the restoration process took. It began in 1963, and was completed in 1967. The site was dedicated in 1968. That seems a long time, until the amount of labor involved is considered: not only the rebuilding, but also the excavating, cataloging of artifacts, and so on. Even the research necessary before decision-making would have required much time.

      The good news is that Mrs. O’Connor not only funded the project, she set up a foundation that would continue to fund maintenance and development. Government funding cutbacks aren’t a significant worry — or any worry at all, as far as I can tell.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post — and appreciated the stonemasons’ work.

  7. I am so glad there are people whose passion for history help to restore and preserve places like this. With your love of words and photography you’re the perfect person to take us on a tour.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Judy. The preservation is as important as the restoration, isn’t it?

      One reason I didn’t mind the cost of my little adventure was that proceeds from rentals go into La Bahia’s operating budget. People who don’t have the time or inclination to stay there can contribute directly to the Foundation, but I’d much rather support them with a visit now and then.

      Speaking of tours — on Thanksgiving Day, when the Presidio was closed, there still were people stopping by, hoping for a look. We had great fun inviting them in, giving them a chance to see the Quarters, and then letting them wander the interior grounds. We got to hear some stories of their connections to the place, too, and that was especially enjoyable.

  8. I just loved touring the fort in the early evening, stone all aglow at the golden hour. I was also glad to find myself cozily back at home with the dogs rather than staying there by myself.

    1. You know, Gerry, the first time I stayed there, it wasn’t until the second night that I pondered the absence of a front desk, security guard, or list of emergency numbers. It didn’t seem particularly worrisome. It certainly wasn’t as dangerous as certain parts of Houston at midnight: or high noon, for that matter.

      On the second visit, my friend found a list of phone numbers, and we laughed over one little omission: the area code. It looked like the list had been around since the days when area codes were only a gleam in the phone regulators’ eyes. As it turned out, no calls were necessary.

  9. Some great photos, Linda. I’m not sure I would want the bloody arm over my dining table, however— even with the explanation. I could read good book next to the fireplace and I really liked the morning clouds.

    We owe a great deal to preservationists, often they are all that stand between a treasure and a bulldozer. Fortunately, the era of bulldozing down historical landmarks has slowed way down, even if it hasn’t stopped. –Curt

    1. I can’t believe it, Curt. After all you’ve shown us from Burning Man (I’m thinking of Medusa, here) you’re ambivalent about the bloody arm? That tickles me.

      I have a tale about the symbol, though. On my first day in Goliad, I stopped by the town’s grocery to pick up an item or two. As I walked in the door, there was a far larger banner with the bloody arm just inside the door. It was so big, I stopped in my tracks. A fellow nearby saw me stop; he grinned, and said, “Big ‘un, ain’t it?” Not even thinking, I said, “Shouldn’t that be over the in meat department?” It was a highlight of my visit, and I hadn’t even gotten to the Presidio yet.

      There’s a craft brewery in Goliad that uses a stylized arm as its symbol. I didn’t add the motto that goes along with the flag in the post, since I haven’t been able to source it with any certainty, but the brewery uses it: “I’d rather cut off my right arm, than live under tyranny.”

      1. “I’d rather cut off my right arm, than live under tyranny.” Now that sounds like a good Texan motto. :) Did the person appreciate your meat department joke? “On sale today, arm chops, $15 per pound.” As for Medusa, I am not sure I would want her over my dining table either. Just think if you had all of those mouths to feed! –Curt

        1. He offered up a hearty laugh, so I think all was good. I’m sure they’re used to a variety of responses from the tourists who come through town. As for Medusa: she might have tamed right down with a Bahia black beer and some good Texas barbeque.

  10. What an awesome job you have done in researching, showing and describing the times, places and events and the people who were the movers! Thank goodness for those people and their accomplishments: they have done Texas and the country a big service!

    1. Terry, I’ve really come to respect historians. Sifting, sorting, choosing, assimilating so much information — it can be tricky: first, to lay out the pieces, and then to reassemble them so people find it interesting.

      I’ve come to believe these early Americans need to be held up as models. It’s absolutely a generalization, but it seems to me a primary quality of these settlers, fighters, explorers, and writers is that they were active participants in life, while, as a society, we tend toward passivity. The good news is, we still have a choice.

  11. Oh my Linda. I’m in awe of the detailed photos and an accompanying text. I admire your dedication to Texas history. You are doing an immense amount of research to produce these wonderful posts of Texas history. Great work and it is appreciated.

    1. You know, Yvonne, I’d be doing this even if no one was reading, but it makes me happy that you enjoy the history, too. What I really wish is that I could just scoop you up and take you there for a couple of days. Since that’s not practical, I’ll keep sharing what I brought back with me. It’s a great way for me to keep a record of what I’ve seen, and I’ve learned so much in the process.

      We have so many treasures in this state — I’m sure I’ll not live long enough to see them all, but I’m going to make a run at it.

        1. That’s a good question, Yvonne, that I don’t really know how to answer. What I do know is that, if I’m going fishing for a topic, I’m not going to use a rod and reel. I much prefer a cast net, or even a drag net. Throw it out, pull it in, then sort the good from the bad — or the interesting from the banal.

          Now that I think about it, the phrase “casting a glance” is related to Mr. Stripling’s “use your eyes.” I just look around, to see what’s there. I’m always looking.

    1. It is, Gallivanta. Every restoration’s a treasure — it’s nice to have the Presidio as one of ours.

      When I was in Galveston Saturday night, we passed Ashton Villa: another of Stripling’s restorations. It’s owned by the Galveston Historical Foundation, but I found they’ve closed it to the public, apart from event rentals. It’s rather a different approach, but I suppose they have their reasons.

  12. Such an interesting and lengthy history. I’m certain the stay was inspiring. The thought of no wifi or modern day connections is appealing. It allows one to focus on the things at hand. I especially like the photo of the clouds.

    Looking forward to the next part.

    1. It’s interesting to read through some of the comments on the Presidio’s public Facebook page, or sites like TripAdvisor, and find people saying things like, “There wasn’t tv or wi-fi, but there was still a lot to do. The kids played midnight hide-and-seek, and looked for ghosts in the courtyard.” Some sounded positively amazed that they managed not only to function, but to enjoy it.

      It wasn’t so much of an adjustment for me, since I live without tv and wi-fi anyway. I did leave my laptop at home, and took only my camera, a notebook, and a couple of books. I did stop by the county library a couple of times, and used one of their computers. Then, I browsed the used book sale.

      Isn’t the cloud photo fun? I’m glad you like it.

    1. Our history isn’t as long as yours, Shimon, but it’s amazingly complex, and there are so many discoveries to be made. For example, I knew of the Germans, Silesians, Czechs, and Italians who came to Texas, but I hadn’t a clue that the Spanish had encouraged Irish immigration. There’s always something new to learn.

      It’s very good to see you. Thank you for stopping by.

  13. Reading the first two episodes, there are so many things that struck me, starting with the volunteer whose personal style exemplifies a fine blend of durability and patience. Then there’s this: the birth of US history as often recounted focuses on the original 13 colonies. Meanwhile, the age of this fort and the fight for Texas independence from Mexico offers a different, and for that reason particularly valuable, perspective.

    I also want to add my bravos and bravas to those who had the foresight, determination, and talent to accomplish this remarkable restoration. (I’m reminded of Maine’s Fort Knox, another example of private citizens making something happen that no one else, at the time, knew enough to care about.) Among other great insights to be gained here, Stripling’s combination of careful research and brilliant intuition (you get a feelin’ for things) provide an important, not to mention memorable, lesson about what it means to re-create history.

    Your photographs are brilliant, really setting us inside the fort with you. What a remarkable journey, and I look forward to the next installment.

    1. Ah, Susan. The American revolution. I was going to tuck it into the list of important Presidio events, but it would have led to this and that, and been just too much. Here’s a trimmed-down version.

      Texas became involved in the American Revolution on June 21, 1779, when Spain declared war on Great Britain. Carlos III appointed Bernardo de Gálvez, the governor of Louisiana, to fight the British along the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

      At the time, the missions, especially Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga. had become the center of the nascent Texas cattle industry. Because Galvez and his troops would need a reliable food supply, over 10,000 head of cattle were gathered at Presidio La Bahía, together with several hundred horses, and accompanying vaqueros.They became part of Galvez’s expeditions to East Texas and Louisiana and, essentially, the first Texas cattle drive.

      In the end, all that mission beef helped Gálvez achieve his goals, and go on to help draft the terms of the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Today? The Hotel Galvez in Galveston remains an elegant reminder of Texas’s role in the Revolutionary War — and the Presidio’s. it really is amazing.

      I admire Kathyn O’Connor, and know I would like her. But, I’m fascinated by Stripling. I’ve often used the phase “intuitive planning” when it comes to my own life, and I suspect it’s related to the “feelin’s” he got from time to time. By the time I finish reading the book about him that I ordered, I suspect I’ll know more.

      One thing’s for sure. These posts have helped me to appreciate yours, even more than I have.. Your hours of research and listening show, and I suspect you find it all as satisfying as I do.

      1. Yes, indeed, you’ve got at least another full post’s worth right in this comment. It is fun to follow the twists and turns of any initial lead, isn’t it? As Dr. Seuss said, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

    1. Don’t I remember that Dr. M is involved somehow in historical reenactments? Every year, there is a reenactment of the Goliad Massacre. This year, it’s April 2-3. I’ve not been, but I’ve heard good things about it, and it certainly is another way for people to learn about the fort and its history.

      Was it Pleasant Hill where you stayed? A friend visited there and was ready to try and get signed on as employee, just so she could stay there forever.

      1. Yes – it was Pleasant Hill. Very lovely! Mike doesn’t do reenactments, although his field of study is Civil War & the aftermath, so we’ve seen a few :)

    1. I always enjoy the history you share from your place in the world, Nia. It’s fun to show you a little of ours. I don’t think I could offer you hot salep with cinnamon by the fire, but some hot chocolate or tea? Yes, of course.

  14. How similar is the architecture of this fort to the ones we have here. We have one main one, and two smaller ones. Your images are really nice and I like the compositions very much. You got really good exposures in the interiors, and the nighttime image with the moon is very pleasing.

    1. You’re very kind to compliment my photos, Maria. I’m looking forward to another trip in the future, and the possibility of even better photos.

      I happened across a video of Samuel and Martita Clegg riding at the Presidio that you might enjoy. Sam is a rancher from the area, and the great-nephew of George Clegg, the originator of the American quarter-horse. The story of their move into Spanish equitation is told here. The video beautifully evokes the elegance of one aspect of Spanish colonial culture.

    2. Nice video and very dramatic demonstration! Thank you! It’s great that you also got Spanish horses in the U.S. now. They beautify these historical landmarks you have. Apparently the ones in P.R. were brought by Juan Ponce de León, who colonized P.R., and brought them from Hispaniola (in the 1,500’s) imported from Andalusia, Spain, giving rise to the the pure Puerto Rican bred Paso Fino, and the other called the Colombian Paso Fino, developed in Colombia. The story goes on to say that Cuba, Argentina, and other hispanic countries began the sport of riding these horses, but much later on.

      I still can’t believe you stayed there, and they are forts. I don’t even like Spanish residences, as they rarely used windows. Did you use flash for the interiors? Your pictures came out really nice. Thanks again for that beautiful video.

      1. It was interesting to read about the Paso Fino breeds: They’re beautiful horses. I found this page about Puerto Rican Paso Finos, and about the commitment to keep the breed alive. There are only about 500 in the U.S. today.

        I didn’t use any flash for the interior photos. I gave it a try, but the images seemed much colder, and harsher, than in real life. I finally went to aperture priority, with an ISO of 800 (for the fireplace) and 1600 otherwise. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I just kept taking photos until I had a collection I felt I could use.

        On the other hand, for the photo of the chapel at midnight, I used a setting on the camera called nighttime/handheld. It takes a series of photos and melds them somehow. There was enough ambient light for it to work. It will be fun some time to try it again, with more knowledge about settings — and maybe a tripod.

        1. ISO 800 is really good, and I’ve yet to try the nighttime/handheld, a setting that comes in handy. The ISO of 1600 of this Canon is also really good. They keep on improving it.

          Thanks for the link. I don’t know much about horses, but that many had Spanish and Arabian origins. They sure look so lovely in the video. I read your link too about the American Quarter Horse, but I thought the ones in the videos were Paso Finos because they looked like them! Looking forward to more posts!

          1. I found the answer. I had to search back and find the first bit of the article, which you can read here. The Clegg’s horses are called La Pura Raza Espanol. It seems to me that all of these Spanish breeds are particularly elegant. The long lineage is especially interesting.

  15. It looks beautiful on the inside, and the fireplace looks so inviting. History never sleeps does it? If you of course take the time to find it. The city I live used to be a lumber town, and well of course, it is now much larger than it used to be.

    1. That’s right, Tamara. History is all around us. You’re right that it can take a little effort to find, though, especially where the “tear-down-rebuild” fever has taken over.

      Too many buildings here have been lost, and too much land paved over, all in the name of “progress.” But, I think Curt is right when he observes, in a comment up above, that the pace has slowed. People are beginning to resist the wholesale demolition of so much. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

  16. Absolutely gorgeous restoration. I love the quiet your photos captured, and the intense history associated with the fort. It was kind of cool that a woman facilitated that restoration, and the architect gave her (and others) credit, as well.

    You’ve definitely made me want to have this experience in the future. The dappled light coming in through the cracks in the door made me want to make a reservation today, even though I’m nowhere near the states just yet. :)

    1. It’s a marvel, Alex. There’s not a thing about it that’s kitschy, or slick. Of course there are souvenirs available in the shop, but there are books as well as refrigerator magnets, and the exhibits are well done.

      A whole day could be spent in the museum and chapel, and at the various sites surrounding the fort. I just realized I haven’t even mentioned the Angel of Goliad: Francita Alavez. So many topics; so little time!

      As for those cracks, and the light coming through them? Here’s another Cohen tease: if you’re lucky, you even can ring that bell that still can ring — although you have to go to the mission to do it. It was almost as much fun as raising the bloody arm flag over the fort my last morning there.

  17. Linda,
    Can you imagine constructing such a place or reconstructing it? What an incredible undertaking, and what dedication it must have required. So many historical sites would fade into oblivion without people like Kathryn Stoner O’Connor and Raiford Stripling. Someone has to care enough. I hope that no snakes or other critters made their way through the cracks in your door. I love your tease in that last paragraph. Ha!

    1. Reconstructing a fort isn’t for people who demand instant gratification, that’s for sure. In that respect, it reminds me of varnishing (or your painting). Varnish dries at its own speed. You can slow it down or speed it up a bit by adding solvents, but you’re not going to achieve a fifteen-minute dry time. In the same way, you can only build a stone wall one stone at a time. You can focus, concentrate, develop skills — but it takes the time it takes.

      There are some stories floating around about one, particularly famous mouse, but I think he’d moved on to the great haystack in the sky before I showed up. I thought I might see a palmetto bug or two, but there weren’t any of those, either. Since they keep the grounds immediately around the fort neat and tidy, I wouldn’t expect to see a snake, either. On the other hand, I did gain quite a bit of entertainment from some huge ants who seemed to be excavating new quarters for themselves. Your grands would have loved them, Bella.

    1. All I’ll say now, Anne, is what I said at the end of the post: “not precisely.” La Bahia certainly does have quite a reputation among ghost hunters, but, truly, most of the videos online just weren’t worth linking. Everyone was just a little too excited, if you know what I mean. On the other hand, would I say the place is void of spirits? Not at all. But they’re subtle, reserved. I have found a couple of wonderful stories, from the days before video cameras and social media. Stay tuned.

    1. On the other hand, I stayed there comfortably, but can get a little bit spooked by some of your stories. Do you ever get spooked while you’re writing?

      I thought that cloud was wonderful. The evening of the same day, there were equally great clouds at sunset, but they were quite different. At least one will be in the next post.

  18. Thanks. I especially loved your photographs. The interior images were so very warm, and the sky shots are very moving.

    I also was struck by the architect’s impression that buildings have souls. It is interesting how these sorts of convictions shape the care taken around projects, and seemed to afford him a fitting pliability. Others may name the living quality of a building differently, but I find something appropriate in that description. I will gladly think more about it!

    1. I worried that the post might be a little photo-heavy, but, on the other hand, a combination of words and images seemed the best way to convey a sense of what it was like to stay at La Bahia.

      I just received my copy of McCullar’s book about Stripling today, and can’t wait to dig into it. I flipped a few pages, and smiled at what I found: a guy who once had an office in the old San Augustine jail, who loved working for himself because it gave him time for dove and quail hunting. It seems it was his Scoutmaster who encouraged his love of Texas history. His convictions weren’t adopted late in life, but seem to have emerged, organically, from his East Texas life.

      It occurs to me that the idea of buildings having souls is precisely as reasonable as the thought of boats being living creatures. And we know that’s true.

      1. You can NEVER be too photo heavy for me — and these are spectacular.

        Isn’t it exciting to find something that you love to research? Can’t wait for part three.

        And yes, buildings have souls and boats are living creatures — and cats are both!

  19. Linda, I hope they will pay you to publish this because they should be selling that in the gift shop. The photos are unbelievable — especially the ones of the interiors and the exteriors in that soft light. What incredible skies! The lighting is amazing and you did an excellent job of capturing each image.

    I’m a sucker for restoration and I so admire people who take the ball and run with it and really make the commitment to restore what has historical or aesthetic significance. Good for Miss Kate and all the others.

    And finally, your research is impeccable. Really, I am serious when I say this deserves a much larger (and better paying) audience than your wonderful blog. Please carry on!

    1. It’s truly a wonderful place, Jeanie. When I made my first reservation, my intent was to time my visit to the bloom of early spring wildflowers. That didn’t happen, but there were flowers enough. One day I may do a post about the natural beauty of the area.

      Last weekend, I was Galveston for a performance at the 1894 Grand Opera House. It’s another great restoration — and has survived all the hurricanes. Skim the list of performers, and you’ll find a few your recognize. Who did we see? The Wellington (New Zealand) International Ukulele Orchestra. Great fun.

      I must say — I’ve learned a good bit about how to do research since I started writing these historical posts, but it still can bring on headaches. Even something as simple as the spelling of a name can be in question. But the hardest part? Keeping the topic narrow enough that the word count stays down, and keeping the writing interesting enough that people don’t worry about the word count. It’s a fine line, for sure. I guess that’s why people end up writing books — it’s the only way to get it all in.

      1. I would love the ukulele orchestra. I always try to go to Mighty Uke day here — in fact, one of the major uke stores in the country is right here! I’m going to murder spelling but have you ever heard Jake Shimabakuru play? Dazzles me. I almost bought one but stopped myself figuring I have enough unfinished projects!

        And I still think this series has legs beyond your blog. Just sayin. Again!

        1. I did find Jake (you got the spelling right!) on YouTube, while I was prepping for the concert. You’re right — his performances were dazzling. I never imagined a ukulele could sound like that. Maybe we could combine a ukulele and an agave flute — that would be quite a duo.

  20. Fine work, Linda. Your research and integration of history, along with biography and photography, make this post a lovely lesson in another chapter of Texas history. The fact that you were able to not only visit but become a “hotel” guest, adds to the richness of the presentation.

    1. Thanks, Cheri. I think the visits were the indispensible elements in the mix. We come to know places the same way we come to know people. It takes time: “being there,” as the saying goes.

      I thought of you last night, when Maria and I were discussing the Clegg family and their horses, shown in the video above. While I was looking for more information on their ranch, I discovered they have 200 acres in olives. I’m sure they probably have some quail on their place, too.

  21. Another fine chapter in a wonderfully told history, Linda. I can’t help but express my belief that this and many others deserve to see the light of publication on some level. A series in a major Texas city Sunday supplement or the like. Lots of excellent images as well. Especially the door with rays of sun shining through. And, as noted later in your writing, you discovered what wood the door was made from.
    Awaiting chapter the third.

    1. Leave it to the woodworker to spot the little detail about the cypress — good for you. I almost added a parenthetical remark in the beginning that pointed it out, but I decided to leave the introduction as it was, and see if someone noticed.

      Those cracks really — dare I say it? — cracked me up. They aren’t nearly so noticeable without the sun shining through them, and even in real time, with the sunlight on the floor, they weren’t that dramatic. It’s another neat example of a photo showing things differently than our eyes see them.

      I’m really glad you’re enjoying the series, and the photos. I had my new camera for both trips, but in June, I still was looking for the “on” button half the time. November was better, but I know even more about my little gizmo now, and I suspect I could get some better captures. The nice thing about staying overnight is that you have a chance for sunrise, sunset and night photos that are more difficult or impossible, otherwise. I hope I get another chance to give it a try.

    1. When you get right down to it, history really is only places and people, and the interactions among them through time. At least, that’s the thought that just now popped into my mind! Sometimes the scale is smaller — like the history of an individual or a family — and sometimes it embraces whole nations, but there always are threads to be unraveled, so that understanding can come.

    1. Thanks so much, Syma. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, and thank you, too, for telling me that you did. The door’s a favorite of mine, too. For me, it’s one of the most evocative photos.

  22. Linda, your photography adds so much to your telling of this history! It took me a while to get back and catch up and now I find there is a part three… On to part three!

    1. I was afraid I was adding too many photos, Lynda, but once I’d taken out three or four, I just couldn’t eliminate any more. Sometimes, a combination of words and images helps make a place “live” in way impossible with just one or the other. (It just occurred to me to ask this question: could a movie be considered a perfect joining of words and pictures?)

      I’m so glad you stopped by, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I hope things are a little better, pollen-wise, over your way. The best thing about the drizzle we’re having this morning is that it’s tamping down the pollen a bit.

      1. You can’t have too many photos when the quality is as good as these!

        As regards the moviequestion: It could! However, the problem with movies is that the images are impermanent. With the photos the the viewer has a chance to contemplate the image before moving on.

        We’ve had a bit of rain a few days ago, and we will be having some more tonight through Thurday. I really does help!

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