In 1750, there was little to suggest that Presidio La Bahía had been a project over 60 years in the making.
Since 1689, the Spanish had stumbled and fumbled up and down a small patch of Texas coastal grasslands and had more death and debt to show for it than anything else. Three different locations and six commanding officers later, one probably had to wonder, “What is the point?”
The answer would depend upon who you asked. To a missionary, it was the lost souls of native tribes. To a soldier, it was his duty to God, king and country. And to the King of Spain it was wealth. To be more specific, it was cattle.
Fertile soil and plentiful water made the lands surrounding the presidio ideal for agriculture. But the steep banks of the San Antonio River made farming and irrigation in the traditional sense virtually impossible.
Just as agrarian societies had done for thousands of years, the Spanish presidio-mission system relied on irrigation canals. These canals, called acequias, were a network of waterways and dams that allowed the flow of water from a river or aquifer to the fields. Though the odds were not in their favor, the settlers still put forth their best effort in cultivating the land the old fashioned way.
It was to no avail. The inability to successfully irrigate the land was indeed a setback. But not all was lost, for the same soil and river that was so vital to crops was equally vital to livestock.
While some parts of Spain’s new empire had gold, and others had silver, Presidio La Bahía had cattle and livestock. From a very early period cattle had far outnumbered the soldiers and settlers. They were used to being outnumbered since their early encounters with the many native tribes, which by this point included the Karankawa, Lipan, Apache, Comanche and numerous subtribes. But as the Spanish began to recognize the value of their cattle, so too did their counterparts.
The checklist for success at Presidio La Bahía was slowly but surely growing longer by the 1760’s. In cattle and livestock, they had discovered vast potential wealth and power. But it wasn’t going to come easy. There were many concerns and questions yet to be answered. Corrals and fences had to be built. Trails had to be established. A market had to be set. And a way to establish ownership of cattle was imperative. The next few years at Presidio La Bahía would usher in the modern-day cattle culture.