HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT & DEMOGRAPHICS
Located in east central San Saba County, San Saba was settled in 1854 and named for its location on the San Saba River. It became the county seat in 1856. By 1884, the town had four churches, two schools, a sawmill and a gristmill, a bank, a paper, and a population of 800. A post office was established by 1857. The Lancet was being published by 1896, when population had risen to 1,200. Population decreased to 889 in 1904, but one hundred businesses and a population of 2,240 were reported in 1933. A shipping point for cattle, sheep, wool, pecans, cotton, and turkeys, San Saba was an incorporated town with a population of 2,927 in 1940 and of 3,390 in 1950. The Federal census of 1980 revealed a population of 2,847.
The San Saba area was thickly populated by prehistoric man. It is evidenced by the many artifacts unearthed by archaeological workers during the past 75 years or more in many sections along the San Saba, Colorado, and other nearby streams.
Most numerous of early day Indians known to have inhabited Central West Texas were the Comanches, the Lipans, Cherokees, Wacos, Caddoes, and Kickapoos. Indications were that they used the streams of San Saba County as favorite camping grounds prior to and with the coming of the white man in this region.
Probably the first Spaniard to cross the area of present San Saba County was Juan Antonio Bustillo y Zevallos, who is thought to have marched an expeditionary force along the San Saba River to encounter the Apache in present Menard County. On Holy Saturday (Santo Sabado) in 1755, a small band of Spaniards, including a priest and a number of soldiers, seeking a site for a mission and presidio, requested by the Lipan Apache Indians came upon a clear, spring-fed stream at a point near the site of the present city of Menard in Central Texas. They selected that as the site for the mission. The mission was established there in 1757, and it was named San Saba Mission in memory of the day on which the site was discovered. From that mission has come the name for the San Saba River, San Saba County, and the City of San Saba. Jose Mares also is supposed to have crossed the area in 1788 on his expedition from San Antonio to Santa Fe, but the region remained Indian country until the first Anglo- Americans began surveying land there in 1839.
The first community in the county, located on the west side of the Richland Creek, was recorded on June 22, 1847, as “County Seat” although the county had not then been created. Other settlements known as Bolts Settlement, Sulphur Springs, and Rochester had come into being before the county was created from Bexar County on February 1, 1856.
The first county election, held on May 3, 1856, designated Rowe’s Lane as the county seat, but a special election on July 19 moved the seat of government to the present site of San Saba, which was opened for settlement on October 7, 1856. The first courthouse was completed in 1857; it was replaced by a stone structure in 1871. The first post office in the county was also established in 1857, and the city was incorporated in 1910.
Successful cattle drives from Texas to Abilene, Kansas, began in 1848. This greatly stimulated the raising of cattle in Texas, and caused many people to turn westward to find large areas of suitable grazing land. Scores of prospectors visited the San Saba area during 1853 and 1854. Many of them filed on land and returned in 1855 and 1856. Many herds of cattle were driven into the area; one herd of 5,000 was driven in from Bastrop and Travis counties. In 1856, the first cattle brand was recorded in San Saba County. Following the Civil War and the Reconstruction Period, the industry grew immensely; and trail driving became an important factor in the economy of San Saba County and the City of San Saba.
In the early l870’s, Edmond E. Risien, an amateur horticulturist, arrived in the county from England. He found a light-colored, thin-shelled pecan which he named San Saba. At the confluence of the Colorado and San Saba rivers, he set out an orchard of 600 trees, using this nut as seed. He waited 12-14 years for the trees to bear. Then, by a process of cross-pollination and selection, he gave the industry such varieties as Onliwon, Squirrels Delight, San Saba Improved, and Western Schley. One large pecan orchard of several thousand acres in an adjoining state has 607 of this Western Schley planted. Thus, San Saba claims the title “Pecan Capital of the World”.
Pecans are indigenous to the county and have been a cash crop since as early as 1857. Possibly some of the trees were growing here when Columbus came to America. In 1919 the county produced 3.5 million pounds. Some 60 carloads were shipped out. No other state in the union produced one-half that many in 1919. Normal production for the county is two to five million pounds. Possibly 75% are natives.
Sheep were first brought into the area about 1870. Austin provided a market for both wool and mutton, and the sheep industry thrived and developed rapidly.
On March 11, 1875, with the chartering of the Fleming San Saba Irrigation Company, a system of first class canals, beginning opposite the mouth of Brady’s Creek on the south side of the San Saba River and extending east to the town of San Saba, opened up an era of farm irrigation in the county. About 1,400 acres were under irrigation in 1940.
Cultivation of the soil began during the early settlement of the county. The soils in the low grounds along the stream valleys are generally fertile. However, rainfall frequently is insufficient during the growing season to produce satisfactory crops consistently, and the bad drought of 1953-1956, along with the general drift of population from farms to cities, a1most obliterated growing of certain hitherto important crops in the San Saba area, except where water for irrigation was available. The principal crops that have been grown in San Saba County are hay, wheat, oats, grain sorghums, peanuts, pecans, and fruits.
Remaining definitely agricultural, the county is predominantly a ranching area with wool and mohair the chief sources of farm income. Beef cattle, horses, hogs, mules, and poultry are raised as well as sheep and goats.
Three major setbacks occurred in the development of San Saba and San Saba County. They were the “Mob Rule” that prevailed in San Saba County during the latter part of the nineteenth century; the devastating flood of July, 1938, and the disastrous drought of 1953 to 1956.
The “Mob Rule” was an unusual development, according to a report carried in the San Saba County Centennial Souvenir Program of 1956. Lawlessness began to get out of hand in the San Saba area in the 1880’s and an anti-mob organization was formed by citizens to combat it. After a while, factions developed in this organization and by 1896, the factions had lost sight of the original purpose of the organization, and were almost at open war with each other. The Texas Rangers were sent into the area to quell the trouble. Later, one of the rangers reported that the “Mob Rule” in San Saba County cost the lives of forty-three men.
The great flood on the San Saba River in July 1938 was the greatest flood on record of this river. The highest crest was 45 feet above flood stage on Saturday, July 23. A second crest came the following day, but was two or three feet lower than Saturday’s crest. Reports and pictures in the Dallas Morning News, The Saba News and Star, and the Wichita Falls Record News show that in the City of San Saba, flood waters from the river spread through a great part of the business district and around the courthouse and spread over more than one-third of the City. At least thirty homes were washed away, and more than 300 residents were cared for by other residents and by the Red Cross when they were driven from their homes. The highway bridge across the river on the road to Brownwood was washed away, and residents of the area north of the river were cut off from the City. The communities of Harkeyville, Richland Springs, Pecan Grove, and Bend were also heavy sufferers. Damage was heavy along the larger streams all across San Saba County. Many homes were destroyed and residents of many others were driven out by the rising water. The heroic efforts by more fortunate citizens averted the drowning of many persons trapped in their homes. Crops were destroyed, livestock and poultry drowned, floors of homes and business establishments were covered with mud; furniture, equipment, and household goods were washed away or ruined. Estimate of damage ran from $100,000 to $500,000 in San Saba and from $1,000,000 to $3,000,000 in San Saba County.
Perhaps the worst economic disaster ever suffered in the City of San Saba, San Saba County, and the surrounding area was the prolonged drought of 1953, 1954, 1955, and 1956. The total rainfall recorded at the San Saba weather station for that four-year period was 63.08 inches, or an average of 15.77 inches per year, and of that 63.08 inches, 10.12 inches occurred during May and June of 1955.
SAN SABA MASONIC COLLEGE
San Saba Masonic College was established at San Saba, Texas, in 1860 and chartered on December 11, 1863. Donated to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1879, it was re-chartered on May 25, 1885, under the name of San Saba College. The church discontinued the school after 1886, but it reappeared briefly in the 1890’s as a nonsectarian college with George H. Hagan as principal in 1892. Several diplomas and degrees were awarded during its operation.
Bibliography: Alice Gray Upchurch, “A Sketch of San Saba County, Texas”, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, L (1946—1947). Alma Ward Hamrick, The Call of the San Saba: A History of San Saba County (1941).
Texas Almanac (1947, 1980) Daniel C. Pfannstiel, Long-Range County Program, 1977.
SAN SABA PRESIDIO
Presidio de San Saba was the popular name for the presidio of San Luis de las Amarillas established in April, 1757, as a protection for the mission of San Saba de la Santa Cruz, established to serve the Lipan Apache on the San Saba River. The presidio was located on the river one mile northwest of present Menard. The first commander was Diego Ortiz Parrilla, who headed an initial complement of one hundred men composed chiefly of troops from the abandoned San Francisco Xavier Presidio. In 1758, the presidio had four hundred persons in residence, including wives and children of the soldiers. The Comanche attack on San Saba de Ia Santa Cruz Mission in March, 1758 was followed by an attack on the presidio, but the presidio was successful in defending itself.
The name of the presidio was changed in March, 1761, to Real Presidio de San Saba. From 1762 on Captain Felipe Rabago y Teran, who replaced Parrilla, sustained almost continuous warfare with the Comanche and other northern Indian tribes whose raids were made chiefly in pursuit of the Apache. The depredations were especially bad in 1764 and Rabago y Teran received aid for a time, but by 1767, the Indian raids had become a daily occurrence and the horse herd of the presidio was sent to Coahuila for safety. Rabago y Teran appealed for help and fifty men were sent from Coahuila but were shortly recalled because of Indian troubles in that area.
When Marquis de Rubi made his inspection in 1767, Rabago y Teran urged abandonment of the fort because of the uncertainty of its ability to hold out. In 1767, the families at San Saba were moved to San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz Mission, and in June, 1768, Rabago y Teran abandoned San Saba without permission and retreated to San Lorenzo after severe raids there and the threat of other attacks. He was reprimanded for his action but was not ordered to return. The garrison remained at the mission until early 1769, when it was removed to San Fernando de Austria, south of the Rio Grande.
SAN SABA DE LA SANTA CRUZ MISSION
San Saba de la Santa Cruz Mission was established in April, 1757, through the efforts of Fray Alonso Giraldo de Terreros of the college of Santa Cruz de Queretaro, and his cousin, Pedro Romero de Qerreros, a wealthy Mexican miner and philanthropist. The mission was located on the south bank of the San Saba River a short distance from the ford of Santa Cruz near the present town of Menard.
Bibliography: H. E. Bolton, “Texas in the Middle Eighteenth Century” (1915). C.E. Castaneda, “Our Catholic Heritage”, III-IV (1938- 1942).
Known as the Pecan Capital of the World and located on the northern edge of the Edwards Plateau on the middle course of the Colorado River and near the geographic center of the State, the county contains 1,122 square miles and a 1980 census of 5,84l people. Consisting primarily of rolling, wooded hills, the county is bisected by the San Saba River with the Colorado River running along its northern and eastern borders. The economy of the area is chiefly agriculturally based on cattle, sheep, goat, swine, and turkey raising in addition to a pecan production of two to five million pounds annually. The county is also a major producer of building stone and is known throughout the State as a leading hunting area.
Most of the county is located in the geographic area known as the Llano Basin; a small portion of the northern section of the county is in the West Cross Timbers. The terrain is rolling but in some areas is quite rugged. Ranching is the major occupation in the rougher areas, while farming is a leading activity in the valleys of the Colorado and San Saba rivers. Soils are alluvial in the valleys, with some sandy soils and sandy loams, while the uplands have a greater concentration of black and gray soils. Elevation ranges from 1,100 feet to 1,800 feet; the City of San Saba is 1,200 feet above sea level. Rainfall averages 28.22 inches annually.
Average mean minimum temperature in January is 34 degrees and average mean temperature in July is 96 degrees. Average first frost is November 14th, and average last frost is April 1st.
San Saba Peak, located in south central Mills County about seven miles south of the town of Goldthwaite, has an elevation of 1,712 feet.
The San Saba River rises in eastern Schleicher County in three head streams known as North Valley Prong, Middle Valley Prong, and Terrett Draw. The three streams unite to form the San Saba River near Fort MeKavett in western Menard County. From that point the river flows east northeast approximately one hundred miles through central Menard, northwestern Mason, southeastern MeCulloch, and central San Saba counties to join the Colorado River eight miles northeast of the town of San Saba in eastern San Saba County. The stream drains an area of 3,150 square miles. The river is historically significant as the location of the mission of San Saba de la Santa Cruz and the San Saba Presidio.