San Pedro Springs Park, A History

Part 2: 1836-present

By Hector Cardenas

Texas’ Oldest Recreation Area

Mirabeau Lamar

John Coffee Hayes

The period of the Republic of Texas after the battle at San Jacinto continued to be a time of carnage and great apprehension in the San Antonio community. The treaty recognizing the independence of Texas from Mexico that General Santa Anna had concluded was disavowed upon his return to Mexico. Mexico continued sending raids into Texas with the intention of intimidating the populace with intentions of striking San Antonio.

During the administration of the second president of Texas, Mirabeau Lamar (1838・841), John Coffee Hays, better known as Texas Ranger Captain Jack Hays, established his headquarters in San Antonio. It was his leadership and training that his Rangers were equipped with the proper weaponry and skills to fight on horseback. When they were not out scouting they would join local Mexican caballeros and Comanche warriors on the grounds by the springs for races and feats of horsemanship. These matches witnessed by local citizens have left us the earliest recorded use of the area around the springs as a recreation center.

Comanche Warrior

John Crittenden Duval writes in Early Times in Texas (1892),

Drawn up in lines of one side of the arena, and sitting like statues upon their horses, were the Comanche warriors, decked out in their savage finery of paints, feathers and beads, and looking with Indian stoicism upon all that was going on around them. Opposite to them were the Texas Rangers dressed in buckskin hunting shirts, leggings and slouched hats and with pistols and Bowie knives stuck in their belts. The Mexican rancheros, dressed in their steeple crown, broad brimmed sombreros, showy scarfs and slashed trousers, holding gracefully in check the fiery mustangs on which they were mounted.

Duval continues his narrative describing a demonstration of shooting an imaginary foe with both pistols and arrows while hiding under the horse’s neck and numerous other daring acrobatics performed while riding at full gallop. The event concluded with the breaking of several wild horses after which prizes were awarded to the contestants.

Mexican American War

Anticipating war with Mexico, which was officially declared on May 13, 1846, the U.S. sent troops into Texas while the State still flew the Republic Lone Star flag in October, 1845. There were three companies of the 2nd United States Dragoons led by Brevet Colonel William S. Harney. Since there were no quarters in the town proper to accommodate the soldiers, the men pitched their tents near the springs of San Pedro. San Pedro Springs Park thus became the first home of a United States garrison in Texas.

Soon the area became a recruit and training center for hundreds of volunteers from the United States. Brigadier General John E. Wool, Commander of the Army of the Center, trained his troops at San Pedro Springs before joining Zachary Taylor’s command at Saltillo, Mexico. The fortunes of this war proved healthy for San Antonio. It was not a battle field but a supply center and consequently a place of government disbursements that encouraged new commercial ventures and promoted settlement.

After the war, in 1848 San Antonio became the headquarters for the 8th Military Department and the park continued bivouacking the U. S. dragoons. At one time the City offered 100 acres of land around the springs with the stipulation that no digging of rock in the vicinity of the springs be allowed. Fortunately the offer was turned down for the reported cause: “The low land is unhealthy and the open space makes it easy for Indians to attack.” The Army later accepted a parcel of land on the east side of the city which became Fort Sam Houston.

In 1849, Brevet Major General William J. Worth, a well-known national hero of the Mexican war and now serving as commander of the Military Departments of Texas and New Mexico, was stricken with cholera and died in San Antonio. In his memory San Pedro Springs was renamed for a period, “Worth Springs.”

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