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Image Image Image Was it teenage curiosity that brought a young man named of John Wright, his little sister, Mary Wright, and his Nephew John Paul Beck, to the place they have always gone to find arrowheads, next to tree they knew didn’t look like the others in the woods on their farm. What made John, turn at that right moment to see something catch his eye and begin to dig, in the soft earth near the old San Antonio river bed, and make a discovery that changed his life for the summer, and his thirst to further his knowledge of the history of the land his parents owned. The discovery of a Spanish spur, parts of an old coffee grinder, and the odd tree that didn’t belong amongst the other native trees in these parts, became questions that he thought his father Charles “Buck” Wright could answer or his mother Margret Wright who has lived in McFaddin most of her life, though they both had heard the stories of the possibility that their property was once part of one of two missions built by the Spanish. Acting on behalf of his son, Charles ”Buck” Wright went to talk to a friend of his who put him in touch with a historian at Victoria College. The Victoria Advocate noticed the story with interest. Hence an Article written originally February 7, 1965 under Digging in the Past: Lost Missions Defy Searchers. Granted it wasn’t the lost mission they hoped for, but what was learned was just as exciting. To share in the experiences and the knowledge I grew up hearing the many tells and stories of my father’s youth growing up in McFaddin Texas, this is one of my favorites.

Digging into the past: Lost Missions Defy Searchers Originally written Victoria Advocate February 7,1965 By: Pat Witte Advocate staff writer Somewhere in the marshes along the lower reaches of the Guadalupe River, roughly within the triangle formed by McFaddin, Tivoli, and Long Mott, are the remains of two early Spanish missions. Apparently, their exact locations have been lost to this era, but the search for the ruins continues, and new evidence is helping to narrow that search. Both sites were early locations for the Mission Nuestra Senora del Refugio, the last of the Spanish missions in Texas and the same one, which was eventually moved to its final location in today’s City of Refugio. The quest for the two earlier sites, however, ends in nebulous mist of historical data, much of it fragmentary and inaccurate, and obscured by the gray curtain of 172 years, the length of time that passed since the original mission was founded. A researcher studying the evidence is led into many blind alleys and historical pitfalls, and many helpful starts end in failure. Others are not so fruitless. The photographs on this page, for example, were taken on an expedition to a site in the southern part of Victoria County, in the hopes that one of the mission locations had finally determined. The findings demonstrate fairly conclusively that the site was not one of the mission locations, but they could prove to be something almost equally important. Among the items uncovered at the site were a Spanish military spur, of a type to be in use from 1800 to 1836; fragments of pottery, believed to be of imported European design and from generally the same era; a single brick fragment, typical of the sand brick use for building purposes in that era; and a wealth of Indian artifacts, including a spear head, cutting and scrapping tools, and shells of a type often used by the coastal tribes as eating utensils. The evidence has led Roland E. Beard of Victoria College; a noted authority in South in South Texas on historical archeology, to believe that the site was the site was the headquarters for the old San Carlos Ranch, one of the earliest settlements in the area. The Indian artifacts, Beard feels, indicated that it was used as an annual campsite by nomadic tribe even before Carlos de la Garza established the ranch around 1824. The site is 2 miles south of McFaddin, on C.B. Wright farm, on a high bluff bank overlooking the Old San Antonio River bed. If the assumptions are accurate, it would be the same Carlos de la Garza who aided and quartered Santa Anna’s army on its march through Texas and the same Carlos de la Garza who sought and obtained clear title to his ranch from legislature of Coahuila and Texas on October 28,1834. A trip to the archives building of the Texas State Library in Austin turned up de la Garza’s written request for title, it stated: “ I Carlos de la Garza, native and citizen of Goliad, married, and of Mexican origin, appear before your presence in the best form of the law, and to me fitting, and say: That having held in good faith for a period of more than nine years a part of land situated on the left margin of the San Antonio River at Milpitas Crossing Where since that time I have established a farm and cattle ranch; and at present lacking the title of ownership thereof; I apply to you that you may be pleased to adjudicate to me one league of land as settler, and additional one-fourth league for my son, Rafael, on the lands indicated; obligating myself to settle and cultivate them according to requirements of the colonization laws.” De le Garza’s request for a league amounted to 4,428.4 acres. Attesting to the fact that he was one of the first settlers in this area is his description of the ranch. “ It is bound on the north by vacant lands, on the west in the same manner; on south by the foresaid (San Antonio) River; and on the east by vacant land.” Under the colonization laws of impresarios of that era, a settler could purchase up to almost 50,000 acres of land, for about $4 per “ labor,” a labor being 177 acres. Although the discovery of the ranch headquarters is considered significant, the quest for the old mission sites is the still the major objective. Part of the problem involved in the search stems from the lack of information available to researchers. Much of the information that is available is inaccurate, and contradictions in the old documents and maps, as well as in recent articles and books, are all part of the game. One map in the archives Building, dated 1839, left blank a vast area of South Texas, omitting all settlements, river and other landmarks with this statement: “Of this section of country very little is known.” Another map, dated 1829, marked a spot near the mouth of the Guadalupe River as “Mission Vieja” (Old Mission). This is very probably the original site of the Refugio mission, but the author of the map failed to distinguish Green Lake from Mission Bay, and the rest of that area is so crudely drawn that one feels that the location as a reference point on the map is practically worthless. One modern researcher, in his preface to a history of the Refugio Mission, summed up the problem in this manner. “ So little has been known about the history of this mission, however, that even the date of its founding has usually been erroneously given, while practically no details whatever have been available in regard to the circumstances which led to its establishment.” He explains that his purpose in writing the article is to clear away the confusion and miss-information about the mission. Embarking upon noble cause, he then proceeds to muddy the waters even more. What, then is known definitely about the mission? The best sources believe that in May of 1791 the Rev. Joseph Francisco Mariano Garza selected a tentative location at the junction of the San Antonio and Guadalupe Rivers, which he named Nuestra Senora del Refugio. The purpose of the mission was to convert the unruly Kawakawa Indians, who were just as much as a problem to the Spanish as any of the tribes in Texas. Including the fierce Comanche’s. William E. Dunn in his article in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly says that in October of 1791 Father Garza “ made another trip along the coast. He again visited the place that he called Refugio, being met there by almost 200 Indians of the tribe in question, led by the Chiefs Fresada Pinta and Llano Grande. The natives now asked that a mission be built for them, and promised to make it their permanent home. “ If you build a mission at the mouth of Guadalupe River, said one of the chiefs to Garza, the whole coast is yours.” But apparently Father Garza decided against the site at the mouth of the river, and instead selected the location near the confluence of the San Antonio River. This site became to be called Cayo del Refugio, or Islet of Refugio. Interestingly, a tiny creek called the Cay, pronounced and sometimes spelled Ki, empties into the Guadalupe near McFaddin only a short distance upstream from its confluence with the San Antonio River. The mission is described as consisting of “ six small wooden buildings, thatched with grass and straw,” a corral for cattle, la large frame shed, which served as a storehouse, and a stockade enclosing the entire settlement. This would indicate that locating the site should be fairly simple matter, but it doesn’t work out that way. For one thing, apparently no stone was used in the construction of the settlement, and if the buildings were made entirely of wood, little evidence would remain today. If any evidence would remain today, if any at all, it would probably be from six to twelve inches below the surface, and would be buried a little deeper with each succeeding layer of sediment deposited by the river floods and the natural rain of matter and decaying vegetation upon the surface of the earth. Even determining the exact location of the juncture of the two rivers 172 years ago would pose a problem. Both rivers are continually changing courses, cutting new channels through the soft and yielding earth in an effort to more quickly reach their destiny with the sea. Dunn tells that it was “situated on the low ground near the coast and surrounded by stagnant lagoons and infested by constant swarms of huge mosquitoes.” This would indicate that the site is very near the mouth of the Guadalupe, possibly the site other sources say existed on the eastern shores of Mission Bay, near the present town of Long Mott. But throughout his writings Dunn maintains that the first site is “ squarely at the junction” of the two rivers,” some eight miles from the coast.” Dunn, however, leaves unanswered the question posed at the spot on the map called “ Mission Vieja,” which clearly farther to the east. At any rate, the petition for the removal of the mission was submitted in September 1794, because f the unhealthy location and the site was abandoned on January 10,1795. It is believed that the next location was the missions final one, at the site where James Power and James Heweston established their Irish colony and around which the town of Refugio was to grow. Other sources, however, hold at least one other site was used, on the west bank of the Guadalupe, perhaps near the present town of Tivoli. The variations go on and on. It is hoped that one day the truth will be known. Perhaps one more aged and yellow document will be uncovered to shed new light through the misty curtain. Perhaps one more farmer will see a strange object partially imbedded in a tangle of soil and vegetation, and will stop and examine it. It is a story not yet completed or ended. Perhaps one day it will be, but not yet.