Presidio de San Luis de las Amarillas was founded in April 1757 to protect the Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá, established at the same time for the conversion of the Eastern Apaches. The Presidio (fort) and Mission were also intended to promote Spain's presence in the area and to help deter potential French territorial claims. The Mission was located about three miles downstream from the Presidio on the opposite (south) bank of the San Sabá River. Both structures were originally constructed of logs.
Although the Apaches frequented the Mission, they never entered into it to stay. By befriending the Apaches, however, the Spaniards gained their enemies. On March 16, 1758, the allied northern tribes (principally Comanche and Wichita) some 2,000 strong destroyed the Mission, killing two of the three priests and at least six other Spaniards. The Presidio sent a small relief force to the Mission, but the soldiers were driven back.
The attack represented the first armed conflict between Europeans and Comanches in Texas. It was also the first time the Spaniards had confronted large numbers of Indians with firearms, acquired in trade with the French. The Mission was never rebuilt.
More than a year after the destruction of the Mission, Colonel Diego Ortiz Parrilla, Presidio commander, led a force of 600 Spanish militiamen
and Indian auxiliaries in a campaign to punish the natives responsible for the attack. He was repulsed with heavy losses at the Taovaya (Wichita) village on the Red River near present-day Spanish Fort and subsequently was relieved of command. Parrilla's successor, Captain Felipe de Rábago y Terán, replaced the log stockade with the stone compound, a portion of which was replicated as a Texas Centennial project begun in 1936. The original rectangular structure measured some 300 to 360 feet long, had walls ranging from 6 to 20 feet high, contained upwards of 50 rooms, and had towers in the corners for defense.
During the years that followed there were numerous attacks against both the Presidio and residents in the area. Rábago continued to occupy the post - "an island in a sea of Indian hostility - until June 1768, when he abandoned it without authority. It was reoccupied briefly in 1770 by Manuel Antonio de Oca, then permanently abandoned to the ravages of time.
In the next century, as Anglo settlers began to arrive in the area, the Presidio buildings occasionally served as a temporary home and as a refuge during Indian raids. The walls of the compound were used to contain longhorn cattle - descendants of those left behind by the Spaniards - for drives up the Western Trail to the Kansas railheads.
Traces of the Spaniards'
irrigation ditch are still seen on the south side of the San Saba River. It is believed that the Spaniards may have used this ditch to float stones on rafts to the site for Presidio construction. The ditch was opened in 1879 to channel water to Otto Kordzik's gristmill just above present Menard.
This painting, titled "The Destruction of the Mission San Sabáa in the Province of Texas and the Martyrdom of the Fathers Alonso Giraldo de Torreros, Joseph Santiesteban," was painted by an unknown artist about 1763. The painting was commissioned by the Romero de Terreros family. Romero de Torreros was a cousin of Father Alonso Giraldo de Terreros and provided the financial backing for the founding and operation of the Mission. The painting is considered one of the oldest works from the Spanish Colonial period in Texas and was allegedly based on the eyewitness account of the only surviving priest, Father Miguel Molina.
This conceptual painting of the Presidio de San Luis de las Amarillas was executed by John Warren Hunter in 1927. Mr. Hunter also wrote and published a booklet, The Rise and Fall of the Mission San Saba, in 1905. The painting is on display in the Menardville Museum.
Partial reconstruction of the Presidio was carried out through a WPA
grant as a Texas Centennial project begun in 1936. The project included the reconstruction of a chapel with adjacent rooms, along with a portion of the walls and one of the towers. This photograph by Noah H. Rose shows some of the participants in the May 8, 1937, dedication ceremony that included a pageant portraying the destruction of Mission San Sabá.