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"The Destruction of Mission San Sabá in the Province of Texas and the Martyrdom of the Fathers Alonso de Terreros, Joseph Santiesteban," the first painting by a professional artist of a historical scene in Texas. Painted in 1762, four years after the event, on commission from mining magnate Pedro Romero de Terreros, cousin of the martyred priest and sponsor of the mission.
"The Destruction of Mission San Sabá in the Province of Texas and the Martyrdom of the Fathers Alonso de Terreros, Joseph Santiesteban," the first painting by a professional artist of a historical scene in Texas. Painted in 1765, about six years after the event, on commission from mining magnate Pedro Romero de Terreros, cousin of the martyred priest and sponsor of the mission. The artist is believed, on stylistic grounds, to have been Jose de Paez (the mural is not signed).
Musket balls found in the vicinity of the church at Mission San Sabá were Spaniards were surrounded by 2000 Wichita, Comanche, and Caddo warriors.
Musket balls found in the vicinity of the church at Mission San Sabá where Spaniards were surrounded by 2000 Wichita, Comanche, and Caddo warriors.

Burned and shattered, the abandoned Mission San Sabá passed into history and legend.

Aerial view of Presidio San Sabá (formally, Presidio San Luis de las Amarillas) near Menard, Texas. The presidio was partially and badly rebuilt in 1936. Today the deteriorating ruins are surrounded by a golf course. Fortunately, a broad coalition of Menard's citizens are undertaking an ambitious restoration program aimed at preserving the site and accurately reconstructing enough of the fort to give visitors a keen sense of its past.
Aerial view of Presidio San Sabá (formally, Presidio San Luis de las Amarillas) near Menard, Texas. The presidio was partially (and badly) rebuilt in 1936. Today the deteriorating ruins are surrounded by a golf course. Fortunately, a broad coalition of Menard's citizens are undertaking an ambitious restoration program aimed at preserving the site and accurately reconstructing enough of the fort to give visitors a keen sense of its past. Photo by Jay Kothmann.
Father Alonso de Terreros, head of the mission and cousin of "the illustrious Knight don Pedro Terreros of the order of Calatrava" as the wealthy silver magnate who commissioned the painting had himself refered to in the central text panel between the priests.
Father Alonso de Terreros, head of the mission and cousin of "the illustrious Knight don Pedro Terreros of the order of Calatrava," as the wealthy silver magnate who commissioned the painting had himself referred to in the central text panel between the priests.

On the morning of March 16, 1758, Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá, a small, hastily constructed compound enclosed by a wooden palisade, was surrounded by 2000 hostile Indians including Wichita, Comanche, and Caddo warriors. The three Spanish priests in residence tried to placate the allied native force with gifts and offers of safe passage to the nearby Presidio, but the palisade was soon overcome and Father Terreros, the mission leader, was killed along with several others. A small group of people who survived the attack took refuge in the church, the mission's largest structure. Meanwhile, the palisade and several buildings were set on fire as the Indians sacked the place and began celebrating victory. Sporadic fighting continued as the Indians fired their French muskets at the church and tried to gain entry.

Four miles upstream, the 30 soldiers at the Presidio San Sabá heard the terrible din, saw the smoke from the fires, and were soon surrounded themselves. While they were able to keep the Indians at bay, the soldiers could not come to the rescue of the mission—two-thirds of the garrison was away on various forays. As night fell, the victorious allied natives roasted several slaughtered oxen and feasted a short distance from the beleaguered missionaries. While the victorious Indians were feasting, the survivors led by Juan Leal, escaped the burning church under cover of darkness and made their way to the Presidio, many of them badly wounded. The arrival of additional reinforcements (returning soldiers) at the Presidio the next day apparently saved the garrison from a similar fate as that of the mission.

Burned and shattered, the abandoned Mission San Sabá passed into history and legend, illustrated by the famous mural shown above. Presidio San Sabá was strengthened and manned for another decade because of its strategic role in Spanish mining operations nearby, but then it, too, was abandoned as the Spanish frontier retreated southward. The ruins of the presidio remained as highly visible reminders of the Spanish presence. But the remnants of the sacked mission, never substantial to begin with, dwindled. Picked over time and again by souvenir hunters, it disappeared as a known place shortly after 1900. Historians and archeologists began trying to relocate Mission San Sabá in the mid-1960s, but it was not until 1993 that the search met success.

This exhibit tells the story of the rediscovery of Mission San Sabá and the archeological investigations that followed. While some of the history of the place and the period is presented here (see Spanish Motives), there are many excellent historical accounts that give more of the details (see Credits & Sources). The story of Mission San Sabá and its rediscovery presents fascinating lessons in how events are viewed by history as well as the interplay between history, archeology, and luck.

The archeologist who narrates the remainder of this exhibit is Dr. Grant D. Hall, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Texas Tech University. Born and raised in Texas, Hall has carried out numerous archeological investigations in the coastal plains, south and central Texas, and the Maya Lowlands. Since 1990, he has taught at Texas Tech and involved his undergraduate and graduate students in an ambitious regional research program centered on the San Sabá River valley. Every summer a Texas Tech field school is held in the region, usually at localities between Menard and San Sabá, Texas. The students always get a good basic training in archeological field methods as well as the chance to help uncover San Sabá history and prehistory.

Today Hall is joined at Texas Tech by Dr. Tamra Walter, a specialist in historical archeology. They and their students are excavating Presidio San Sabá to reveal more of its history and obtain the evidence needed for a historically accurate reconstruction. They enjoy the strong support of the people and civic leaders of Menard who hope to make the Presidio a focal point for tourism and history.

"The Destruction of Mission San Sabá"

The famous mural was painted in Mexico City, perhaps in 1765, about 6 years after the mission was destroyed. The painting was commissioned by Don Pedro Romero de Terreros, cousin of one of the first priests killed in the attack. Terreros had made a fortune in mining down in Mexico and put up the money to finance the Mission San Sabá. Though the artist was never in central Texas, he was advised by eyewitnesses as to the appearance of the mission and the details of the Indian attack. A careful examination reveals that the mural tells the story of the attack, including the fates of the two priests who were killed. The blue shields beside each priest contain their biographical sketches.

Archeological findings at the mission confirm that the mural is fairly accurate. The houses, church, and stockade were built of wooden posts and poles. The roofs were thatch. This building technique is known as wattle-and-daub in English. In Spanish, the method is known as jacal (pronounced HAH-call), and it is still in use in Mexico and other Latin American countries. In addition to the mural and verbal descriptions of how the mission looked, we have fired clay daub and post stains uncovered at the site to provide further evidence of the size and configuration of the mission compound and the methods used in its construction.

The mural is thought to be the earliest painting by a professional artist depicting an historical scene in Texas. It is still in the possession of Terreros family descendants in Mexico. The family shipped the mural to the United States for sale in the early 1990s. Controversy ensued and the Mexican government claimed the mural as national patrimony. It was returned to Mexico.


Remnant of burned post that once formed part of the mission walls.
Remnant of burned post that once formed part of the mission walls.

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As night fell, the victorious allied natives roasted several slaughtered oxen and feasted a short distance from the beleaguered missionaries.

Historical Marker at Presidio San Sabá.
Historical Marker at Presidio San Sabá.
Dr. Grant D. Hall, leader of the archeological investigations at Mission San Sabá and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Texas Tech University. Here he poses at the ruins of Presidio San Sabá along with several of his graduate students.
Dr. Grant D. Hall, leader of the archeological investigations at Mission San Sabá. Here he poses at the ruins of Presidio San Sabá along with several of his students. Photo by Mark Mamawal, Texas Tech Univeristy.
The priests in the mural are depicted in gruesome detail showing the manner of their death. The blue shields beside each priest contain their biographical sketches.
The priests in the mural are depicted in gruesome detail showing the manner of their death. The blue shields beside each priest contain their biographical sketches.