2003 TAS Field School
Excavations at Presidio San Sabá, Menard, Texas
Tamra L. Walter and Grant D. Hall
This summer more than 480 professional and avocational
archaeologists joined forces with Texas Tech during the 2003 TAS Field School.
This year's field school was held at the site of Presidio San Sabá (41MN1) in
Menard, Texas. The fort originally established in 1757 was occupied until
1770. Initially the fort's function was to protect the missionary effort
at San Sabá and to help reduce the number of raids being carried out at San
Antonio. Although Mission San Sabá was destroyed shortly after it was
established, the presidio remained open until 1770 when it was finally
abandoned. Occupied by various groups after its abandonment including
Spaniards, Native Americans, Mestizos and Texans the fort was used for shelter
and penning animals. During the 19th century the town of Menardville was
founded and much of the original presidio stone was taken from the site for
construction town buildings and even the town cemetery wall. In the 1930's
efforts were made to rebuild a portion of the presidio. As a result the
northwest corner of the fort was rebuilt however due to poor construction the
fort collapsed just years after it was built.
This year's excavation focused largely on recovering data from
the plaza inside the walls of the fort. During the TAS field school a
total of sixty-five 2.2 meter units were opened inside the presidio compound
with intact Spanish deposits recovered in the majority of these
excavations. Large quantities of Spanish colonial ceramics,
military-related artifacts and faunal remains (including and entire horse head!)
were recovered during our excavations.
Prior to the TAS excavations, Texas Tech University held three
field schools at the site not including the 2003 Tech Field School.
Finding and exposing original architecture and defining activity area within the
site were primary goals for these previous investigations. Although
sections of what is believed to be the original northwest bastion were uncovered
and several rooms along the inside walls of the fort have been exposed, these
investigated areas constitute only a small portion of the site.
Furthermore, only limited excavations were completed within the presidio plaza/
Given the size of the fort, roughly 348x324 ft, obtaining a good representative
sample from with the walled compound was beyond what a 5-week field school could
achieve in one summer. The TAS, however, provided a work force that could
accomplish in one week what the Tech filed school would have taken years to
Three primary goals were established for the TAS field season at
the presidio. First, we wanted to determine the presence or absence of
intact deposits across the site. Conveniently located on what is today the
Menard golf course, a golf green dominated the southern half of the presidio and
a paved country club road that extends east-west across the fort bisects the
site. Assessing the amount of damage incurred by these modern disturbances
was an important objective for this year's field school. A second major
goal was to recover information regarding the daily activities of the presidio
residents. Exposing and defining features inside the fort walls will be a
crucial part of understanding the daily lives of those who lived at the
presidio. Our final goal was to continue to focus on exposing original
architecture not related to the 1930's reconstruction and also to search for
evidence of the first "temporary" fort (Weddle 1999) built some 5 years before
the stone presidio was erected.
With these goals in mind, the site was divided into seventy 10
meter squares. Within each 10 meter square a 2x2 meter unit was laid out
in the southwest corner. Seventy 2x2 units were established, 65 of which
were actually excavated. The large sample provided by this excavation
strategy is helping to shed light on many of the questions concerning the layout
and preservation of the site but, not surprisingly it is also raising a myriad
of new questions.
To our great surprise many of the units in and around the golf
green yielded intact Spanish deposits containing bone, ceramics, gunflints and a
variety of metal artifacts. Only a few units were devoid of Spanish
materials. Interestingly, parts of the original west and east walls were
uncovered although the east gate entrance continued to elude us. Cobble
pavements were found in several areas strategically placed just outside the
rooms along the inside fort walls. These rooms presumably served as
soldier's quarters and workshops. The pavements probably helped to keep
mud out of the inside of the rooms and served to drain off water. The
remains of what may be a burned post in addition to several post hole features
uncovered just north of the country club road offer some of the first possible
evidence for the original fort. Distinguishing these features from jacal
structures that might have been built after the stone fort was constructed or
from fences or pens put up in the presidio after it was abandoned will require
Excavation units near the south wall of the presidio exposed
additional architectural features. Sections of a very thick wall were
encountered in at least two units in this area. The presence of the wall
suggests that rooms may have been built along the south wall. Maps of the
fort, including Nicolas Lafora's and José Urrutia's (both made in 1767 during a
military inspection of the site), do not show rooms along this wall. The
walls could represent rooms that were added later or they may form part of the
powder magazine. The powder magazine would have been placed away from
living quarters in case of an explosion. Although the maps do not show
rooms along the south wall they do however show a curious singular building in
the southwest corner of the fort, close to where the sections of wall were
uncovered. It is very possible that at one time this building may have
functioned as a powder magazine or arsenal of some type. Obviously, this
area will need to be investigated further during future excavations.
Notably, more than 20 features were identified during this
summers' field school. Comprised primarily of architectural features, daub
concentrations, cobble pavements, ash stains and bone middens, the identified
features were located across the site including the children's units north of
the paved road.
In addition to our excavations, a ground conductivity survey was
completed across the site by Bob Crosser and Dick Gregg. Crosser and Gregg
identified anomalies in front of the main entrance gate along the west wall.
Estimated to be anywhere from 20 to 150 cm below the surface. The
anomalies looked suspiciously like graves. Two 2x2 meter units were
immediately open in the targeted areas. Not surprisingly these anomalies
were found near the end of the field school leaving little time for TAS to
investigate. However, after the TAS field school ended. Tech
continued to work at the site for three more weeks and continued to search for
the anomalies indicated by Crosser and Gregg. No anomalies were
encountered however and both units were discontinued after a depth of more than
1 meter was reached.
According to Lafora's 1767 map, a chapel was located in the
southwest corner of the presidio near the guard house and captain's quarters.
The location of the cemetery however, is not known although presumably it would
not have been too far from the church. The cemetery may have been moved
after the presidio was abandoned and it is possible that little remains of the
camposanto. A few very small fragments of human bone were uncovered just
south of the northwest corner of the presidio in what appears to be a large
refuse midden with profuse amounts of animal bone, ceramics and metal. The
skull of a horse was also found within this feature. Although a complete
analysis is not yet available, a preliminary assessment revealed that only a few
fragments of the lower skeleton of the horse were present.
Tech continued to excavate in this area after TAS participants
returned home. Two additional 2x2 units and a 1x2 unit were opened in
order to obtain a larger sample from the feature. This feature may
represent a cemetery that was moved and then later filled in with trash by other
Europeans and Indians who were known to pass through the area and often times
seek shelter in the abandoned fort. A rigorous analysis of the cultural
materials recovered from the feature will be needed to support this theory.
By far, this midden feature has produced more faunal remains
than any other area or feature within the site. Initial inspection of the
animal bone indicates that deer, cow/bison, sheep/goat, fish and bird are all
represented in the sample. Alana Lynch, a graduate student from the
University of Florida, will be completing the faunal analysis for the site.
At this stage only preliminary statements can be made about the faunal
collection taken from the site. Lynch (personal communication), however,
believes that what we are seeing at the site is a situation where the people
living at the presidio were struggling to maintain their breeding stock while at
the same time prevent starvation. Many of the bones that were recovered
from the site indicate that they were being butchered at a very young age (many
under 1 year). An intensive analysis of the faunal sample is currently
underway and will help to address these issues.
Working alongside the TAS, the Texas Tech field school students
were concentrating on exposing the architectural remains in the southwest corner
and on recovering information from one of the presidio rooms along the north
wall. Nearly 75% of the room in the southwest corner was exposed revealing
a hard-packed dirt floor, two post holes and an exterior cobble pavement.
Curiously, the two postholes are outside the south wall between two walls that
extend southward beyond the room. The purpose of these post holes and
their association with the two extending walls is unknown but they could be
related to an additional bastion that might have been added sometime after 1767
(no bastion is recorded for this corner on the 1767 maps). Large
quantities of daub, faunal remains (including an articulated calf skeleton!),
large pieces of majolica ceramic plates, metal artifacts (e.g., a cross, lead
shot, sprue), gunflints and glass artifacts were all collected from the
excavations in the southwest corner.
In addition to the work accomplished in the field, a tremendous
amount of work was also completed in the lab. Supervised by Joel Butler, a
graduate student from Texas Tech University, TAS participants volunteering in
the lab processed nearly all the artifacts recovered during the field school.
Artifacts were cataloged and washed and labeling was also completed for some of
the artifacts. Given the large amount of cultural materials collected, the
volunteers in the lab are to be commended for all of their hard work and effort.
Please join us again next year!!!
Overall this year's field school was a great success. It
went above and beyond our expectations. The large sample recovered from
the presidio is allowing a much better understanding of this very complex site.
We now have a clearer picture of the site's state of preservation and potential
areas for excavations. Next year we hope to obtain an even larger sample
of the site by concentrating not only inside the compound walls but also outside
the fort. We will continue to work in the southwest corner of the site and
perhaps extend excavations into the southeast corner of the presidio where the
second bastion was located. Also, the intriguing architectural finds along
the south wall of the fort will undoubtedly be a focus for the next TAS field
school. Units that were not opened this year will most likely be excavated
next summer. The golf green will be moved next year so that we may also
investigate this portion of the site more intensively.
We could not have asked for a better field school and both Grant
and I are enormously pleased with the results from this year's excavations.
We would like to thank everyone who attended this year's TAS field school for
all of their hard work and effort and the people of Menard who have supported us
greatly throughout the past four years. We look forward to seeing all of
you again next summer.