By Nov. 11, 1749 construction of Presidio La Bahía at Santa Dorotea was in the works.
Situated atop a hill at the highest point in the region, it offered a birds-eye view of the plush San Antonio River valley below. For centuries, this had been the location from which native tribes would disseminate smoke signals to fellow tribesman in the area.
Though quite Spartan in terms of amenities, and with a garrison of only twenty-nine men, the presidio was the most imposing, formidable structure within a hundred miles in any direction. The only thing standing between the coastline and the rest of Spanish Texas was Presidio La Bahía.
The list of responsibilities of the soldiers was as extensive as it was dangerous. For the generations born of La Bahía there would be much pain, death and sorrow. But there would also be remarkable growth, innovation and the birth of new and lasting cultures and traditions.
Fresh water, wild game, timber, fertile land and livestock were all necessary for success. But of immediate importance was shelter strong enough to withstand the harshest South Texas weather and/or a series of fierce attacks from any number of enemies.
Captain Manuel Ramirez de la Piszena, the newly appointed commander, also believed that the fate of Presidio La Bahía depended in great part upon the building of a civilian settlement around the fort. In order to achieve this, the groundwork for a proper, permanent settlement had to be laid.
Within the first four months, great strides were made in this direction. A Feb. 1, 1750 inspection report revealed that the construction of a single barrack for unmarried soldiers, forty jacales, or small huts of wood and earth for married soldiers and their families, and a multi-room stone dwelling for the commanding officer, his family and servants had all been completed. Due to a lack of skilled workers, Capt. Ramirez had to bring in trained masonry workers from Mexico to build his home. Such a luxury was paid out of the Captain’s own pocket. His home also served to protect settlers in emergencies.
A quaint chapel of oak wood was constructed, and covered by a thatched roof. All of the dwellings were held together with a plaster-like mixture of mud and hay or moss, which also served as a natural fire retardant.
For protection, the presidio maintained a sizable armament consisting of six eight-pound cannon, two mounted swivel guns, seven arrobas (approximately 175 pounds) of powder, four boxes of shells, one pair of iron cuffs (handcuffs) and a single drum, likely used for marching, ceremonies and field parade. In addition each soldier had six to seven remounts (fresh horses).
The geographic isolation of the presidio in addition to duties that often carried soldiers as far away as Mexico City made the issue of having fresh horses all the more important. Inspection reports and degrees on a map admittedly are not the most stimulating of topics. But we sometimes become so enthralled in the “high points” of history that we forget people were ordinary human beings like the rest of us.
Between all of the exploration, discoveries, battles and revolutions, wealth and fame, love and death and all that makes a great book or movie, we can lose sight of the fact that it’s everything that happened in between that made those events possible.