History of San Saba
San Saba is a quaint and friendly town of approximately 3,000 people in the northern Hill Country. It was named for the San Saba River, which forms the northernmost link to the massive Colorado River Basin.
San Saba County is steeped in history and tradition. The allure of San Saba includes the majestic, 400 year old Wedding Oak Tree growing on the shoulder of China Creek Rd., about 2.5 miles northwest of the winery. It is the symbolic site of numerous ceremonies and weddings, beginning with Native Americans, continuing with early settlers and enduring to this day.
The earliest inhabitants were the Comanches, Lipan Apaches, Cherokees, Caddoes, Wacos and Kickapoos. Archeological finds along the rivers and streams show the area was attractive to the native population.
The native people’s earliest European contact was with the Spaniards, as in much of Texas. Spain expanded its presence in Texas in the 18th century to counter the influence of the French in Louisiana. As early as 1752, the Spanish explored along the San Saba River to find a place to build a mission in order to convert the Apaches to Christianity. Two more exploratory trips followed, and permission was granted to establish Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba in 1757 in what is now present day Menard County. Its ruins are still located in Mendard.
Clash of People
The Comanches saw the mission as an alliance between the Spanish and their ancestral enemies. Threatened by this alliance, they raised an army of 2,000 warriors to attack the mission on March 16, 1758. They burned the mission and its fort to the ground and killed the Franciscan missionaries, Fathers Alonso de Terreros, and Joseph Santiesteban. The San Saba Mission became the only Spanish mission destroyed by a native attack.
This massacre became the subject of the earliest example of a painting done in Mexico depicting a contemporary historical event. It was painted in 1765 and titled “The Destruction of Mission San Saba in the Province of Texas and the Martyrdom of the Fathers Alonso Giraldo de Terreros, Joseph Santiesteban.” The original resides in Mexico City.
The site is located near the Menard County and San Saba County border and has been undergoing archeological excavations since 1999.
Settled in 1854 by Anglo-American pioneers, San Saba became the county seat in 1856. The present day courthouse, the third structure built, was completed in 1911, the same year the first train arrived in San Saba. The brick and sandstone courthouse was designed by Chamberlin & Co. and built in the Texas Renaissance style, a popular courthouse design around 1900, characterized by a mixture of classic forms and Texas elements such as the iconic Texas star. Photos still survive of the 2nd courthouse and can be seen at the San Saba County Historical Museum in Mill Pond Park.
In 1856, the first cattle brand was recorded in San Saba County. During this time many prospectors moved into the area to find grazing land as the cattle industry grew in Texas and major cattle drives were underway from Texas to Abilene, Kansas. The sheep industry developed around 1870 and grew rapidly when Austin provided a market for wool and mutton.
In 1874, a man arrived on the scene in San Saba who was to change the economy and identity of San Saba forever.
Pecan Capital of the World
When E.E. Risien emigrated to the Texas frontier from Ken County England in 1874 he became fascinated with the large native pecan trees that grew so abundantly along the rivers. He promoted the idea that the early settlers should use the pecan as a commercial crop. Curious about the variety of this native tree, he offered a $5 prize to anyone bringing the best pecan to his cabinet shop.
One person brought in a nut so thin skinned and high in oil content that he asked to be taken to the tree. He bought the land it was on in 1882. This mother tree became Risien’s great horticultural experiment as he developed, propagated and planted numerous varieties of pecans. In 1888 he established the first nursery dedicated solely to the pecan. This curious Englishman who was to become the “Father of the Texas Pecan Industry” never made it to his original destination in California, but spent his life in Texas promoting the pecan and enshrining San Saba as the “Pecan Capital of the World.”