San Pedro Springs Park, A History

Part 2: 1836-present

By Hector Cardenas

Park Boundaries Regained 1851

The City of San Antonio obtained a means of re-defining the original Spanish “Ejido” land grant boundaries with the help of older residents and court action against trespassers. In 1851 the Supreme Court affirming the ruling of a trial court and resting the tittle of 46.004 acres of land that continues to this day as San Pedro Springs Park.

Agricultural Fair 1854

The first City and county-wide events took place in September of 1854 at San Pedro Springs. Farmers, stockmen, men in industry, as well as professional men and homemakers, brought the best samples of their labor to compete for prizes. The fair was reported in the newspaper that it was “pronounced by all participants, a happy and successful event.”

US Army Experiment Fails

1856 saw an experiment to solve problems in transporting U.S. Army supplies in dry areas. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, attempted to replace mule trains with camel caravans. Since camels contained the ability to travel far distances without water, could carry heavier loads, required less equipment, and moved more quickly than mules, they seemed to be a good solution.

On June 18, 1856, the dusty streets of San Antonio were lined by excited people that witnessed these unusual “ships of the desert” march their way to San Pedro Springs for a brief stay before reaching Camp Verde, near Kerrville, where the experiment would take place.

Davis’ camel venture was a flop. It turned out that the Texas Mustangs objected to the humped animals appearance and odors and became unruly in their presence. Adding the fact that Texans were horse lovers and expert horsemen and though the foreign animals met all the tasks put before them, they were unilaterally scorned and the experiment failed. The thirty four camels were sold and it is said that many of their descendants may be found in this country’s circuses and zoos.

General Sam Houston at the Springs

Sam Houston, well known General of the Texian Army during the fight for Independence, was received at San Pedro Springs on two occasions.  His first speech at the Park was in 1858 during his second gubernatorial campaign, and then in 1860 when he spoke against the secession. It was reported that more than 2,000 people were in attendance and the Old Hero’s eloquent address was applauded by all present and a barbecue followed. The warm reception at the Park was one of Houston’s last great triumphs. His futile battle to keep Texas in the Union ultimately failed and he stepped aside, broken in health and finally disappointed to see his favorite son return, wounded from battle, as a Confederate veteran.

San Pedro the Prisoner of war Camp

During the course of the US Civil War, San Pedro Springs became a prisoner of war camp site holding Union Soldiers in deplorable conditions. Prisoners had to build their own shelters with whatever would was at hand. Prisoners reported that they were also moved to another camp close to Boerne, Texas, where they would put that camp in order, and when finished would be ordered into a two day march back to San Pedro Springs. Upon their arrival the prisoners would find the camp shelters they left behind destroyed by the Confederate prison soldiers. In time the prisoners were marched to Shreveport and then to Baton Rouge where they were turned over to Union troops under a flag of truce.

For years the City had allowed the use of the park as an encampment ground and for grazing. San Antonio City Fathers were so disturbed by the damaged inflicted at the springs by the Confederates that they passed several ordinances on December 21, 1863, forbidding the use of the park by troops, mules or ox, or any body of men. Furthermore, the regulation banned persons owning stock such as horses, mules, jacks, Jennies, cattle, sheep, goats or hogs from watering, herding or penning within the San Pedro Springs Reserve.

To be continued...