Remember the Alamo. Ok, remember San Saba? Everyone knows the story of the Alamo and the struggle and sacrifice many Texans made in order to create what we know today as the Great State of Texas. The tragic loss of life became the lore of heroes. But very few know about the Mission of San Saba and its tragic demise.
As we begin design on a ranch house in the Hill Country of Texas, we are reminded of the history of that dramatic landscape- not the common knowledge history, but that formative history that helped to forge the state’s bold character. The home, located on top of a hill rest in the heart of what was once known as Comancheria, the land of the Comanche.
Three hundred years ago, Texas was a territory of Spain that was separated from the then young United States by the Louisiana Purchase and from Mexico by the Chihuahuan Desert. It stretched from the Rio Bravo (now, the Rio Grande) to Wyoming. However, the “habitable” zone of this territory was very small; that portion of Texas that felt much like the rest of eastern America, the forested and arable lands that stretched from Dallas diagonally south to San Antonio. West of that land was an unfamiliar and alien world- Comancheria; then populated by vast herds of buffalo and hostile Indians. No one but the brave or fool-hearted ever ventured there.

The massacre at Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá, painted 1765, Joseph Santiesteban

In the 18th century, the Apache Indians invited the Spanish into their territory by feigning the wish for conversion to Christianity. In truth, their only desire was protection from their fierce enemy, the Comanche. In 1758, this enemy showed the Spanish who ruled this godless territory, and with two thousand warriors destroyed the Mission of San Saba and massacred Father Alonso de Terreros along with many of those he wished to protect. The Spanish never ventured north of San Antonio again.


John Coffee “Jack” Hays

The Commanche tribes ruled freely and brutally. It wasn’t until Texas Ranger Samuel Walker  (the real Walker Texas Ranger) with the newly issued Texas Navy repeating revolver he co-invented, known as the Walker Colt revolver, was the ferocity and speed of the Comanche horseman matched. Until then, a Comanche warrior, the world’s finest horseman, could fill the vest of a Ranger with arrows before he could get off a second shot. By 1844 Capt. Jack Hays had finally changed the tide of the hostilities with Walker’s famous gun by going on the offensive. Soon, the Western Hill Country was further pacified with the establishment of Ft. Mason in 1851 & Ft. McKavett in 1852, and the last of the Indian kidnappings happened in 1864 during the McDonald massacre in Harper, Texas.


Fort Mason

Fort McKavett

Today, just a few miles from the gate of Comanche Hill Ranch, the stone general store and the old post office of Harper can still be found. It is still a lonely and beautiful place that feels apart from our world. The hill that the house is to be placed upon captures distant views of the James River Valley and rolling golden colored hills dotted with oaks.


Comanche Hill

But the peaceful scenery that belies this landscape’s torrid history still begs respect. To build on this land is to build upon the legacy of its pioneers and to imbue the stones with a knowing that will touch generations of Texans to come.