Archive for December, 2018

A Welcome from our President

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Season’s Greetings to the ELCAT Family!

Looking back on 2018 our Association has passed some significant milestones on the Camino. We’ve celebrated anniversaries, we’ve strengthened partnerhips, we’ve seen completion of the Lobanillo Swales project and we’ve made some good plans for 2019.

Before moving on to 2019 let’s extend a round of thanks to many of you:

The Staff…

To Steven Gonzales, let’s thank him for the tremendous effort putting his shoulder to the wheel keeping this outfit focused and going forward. If not for him, we’d need a few more teams of oxen to move this cart down the road and out of the muddy swales along the way. I also want to thank our part-time interns Maria Vazquez of UT Austin (Advertising), Elaine Sullivan of Boston University (Museum Studies) and Brian Salvesen of Texas State University (Geography). I’ve been test-driving our new interactive map, and Brian’s GIS work will be a palette for mapping many of the historic and cultural sites along the trail in 2019 and beyond. Thank them, but know we’re gonna keep ’em busy in 2019!


I also want to thank our partners Aaron Mahr and his staff at NPS, Brad Patterson and his staff at THC, and Ray Berthelot of Louisiana State Parks, in addition to many others. We are sharing the same goals and vision and we cannot do it without a good partnership.

And the ELCAT Board…

To those who have termed-out, let’s thank Maureen Winn, John Kisalus and Henry Mayo for their service. Let’s say “Hasta la Vista, y’all” (not “adios”). We’ll miss you and need your help again, soon. Thank you new joiners, Rebecca Blankenbaker and David Regan. Let’s get to know one another better and work together. Your volunteerism is important and appreciated. (I’ll take this opportunity to remind you all to record your time and expense data for submittal to NPS. It is very important to funding and goal-setting to know how our citizen efforts are supporting the National Trails and our own Camino Real de los Tejas.)

I am glad to join your efforts as the new President of the Board. I’ll have a lot to learn.

To introduce myself, my wife Eloise and I live in Houston and Santa Fe, New Mexico (part-time). I’m hoping our linkage to NPS staff across the river from us in Santa Fe will also help strengthen and leverage that partnership. I’m also a member of a similar group in New Mexico where the awareness of the National Historic Trail system is more extant and is a major part of the state’s heritage and tourist experience. There in New Mexico, many organizations celebrate and curate their Camino Real into ordinary lifeways, educational experiences and outdoor sporting activities- retracement, hiking, biking, running, even yoga! Here in our own Texas…well, we’re different, but we can share learnings to improve our effectiveness and we can promote a variety of outdoor sporting activities too.

But what really floats my boat? What floats yours?

Let me share an experience: Last week, Eloise and I took a kayak trip with a local canoe club (potential partner there) and did a little bit of Camino talk with that group. We went to the Trinity River cypress swamps near Wallisville. Our lunch stop was the site of the Presidio San Augustín de Ahumada, (Orcoquisac), visited by the 1767 Rubí Inspection. (This is not on our Congressionally recognized NHT but on a significant historic pathway connected and I must disclose I have no agenda to annex this trail.) Rubí’s engineers, La Fora and Urrutia made a detailed map, which was long undiscovered in the British Library, stashed with the maps of Los Adaes. The retracement and re-discovery of the site by enthusiast John Clay (he could have been one of us) was confirmed by Curtis Tunnel’s 1967 salvage archeological survey, though most of the presidio site had been removed a decade earlier to provide the embankment of a new camino, known as Interstate 10. The site is now a mere borrow-pit marsh in a protected archeological district… long gone.

The trip leader asked me to give a little talk on behalf of ELCAT. I was thrilled (goosebumps even now) to oblige. This kind of outdoor recreational activity is greatly enriched with the historical background, long forgotten, ignored, gone to the graves, or lost in archives. We can scarcely imagine how the missionaries, soldiers and native peoples lived here by these swamps, but the Bexar Archives bear witness and the archives somewhere may hold our next re-discoveries.

You might be thrilled to see the old caminos labeled on Urrutia’s map.
From Jackson, Jack and Foster, W.C., 1995, Plate 6

So where are we going from here?

Under Steven’s executive direction, 2019 has some significant projects. To list only a few:

We are nominating new sites (seven currently in progress) for National Register of Historic Places status. Our association is the grant awardee and we are working with partners GTI Environmental, the Milam County Historical Commission, and our friends at THC. With a proven background of work, we are certain that our archeological authentication and documentary research will be more than sufficient for the review by the NPS.

We have continuing signage efforts in Goliad, Nacogdoches, Dimmit, Wilson, Travis and… well, so many counties, so little time… but we need to be identifying and prioritizing upcoming signage efforts. It’s a process requiring the coordination, cooperation and cajoling of local governments, organizations and state agencies: All stakeholders. We’ve proposed a signage workshop to share practices and train some of us new joiners. From my experience in New Mexico, I believe the signage is a major way connect with the public.

We want to engage a wider regional participation and implementation of programs from South Texas to the Caddo Lands of Louisiana. This is tough, because these are long distances, sometimes off-road from our 21st Century pathways. These efforts can be effective by identifying, supporting and leveraging new partners.

We want to provide support for volunteer public speaking opportunities, by booking gigs, providing presentation materials and other supporting material to educate the public and maybe enlist more support to our efforts and promote the NHT.

And we need to keep our online website and social media assets current and accessible to make effective public outreach and bring in allied partners.

At the risk of sounding cliché, the list goes on…

Have a safe and Happy Holiday. Let’s have a great new year in 2019!

-Tom Byrd

Lobanillo Swales Dedicated to the Public

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El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association (ELCAT) has worked on a trail protection and development project for the last several years.  The project was focused on the association’s property, which is known as the Lobanillo Swales.  The site is a collection of seven remnants of the Royal Road in the forest of east Texas and was essentially a super-highway, with some swales measuring eighteen feet deep and twelve feet wide.

The project began in the Fall of 2013, when ELCAT conducted a crowdfunding campaign via Indiegogo to raise money to purchase the property.  Over the next couple of months, over $28,000 was raised!

ELCAT then began talking with county representatives in Sabine County, Texas about when the property might come up for auction.  The site was placed on auction on June 4, 2014 and ELCAT was able to purchase the property for a mere $4,100!  Over the next several months, the association coordinated with the National Trails Intermountain Region of the National Park Service towards appropriate steps to take in the development of the property.  In turn, this led to archaeological investigations being conducted at the property in the Winter / Spring of 2015.  The archaeology demonstrated over three centuries of artifacts dating from the 1700s to the early 1900s.

Additional surveys were done in the Spring / Summer of 2015, and by October of that year, the NPS-NTIR developed a conceptual plan for the site titled, “Lobanillo Swales – Interpretive Retracement Trail Development Concept Plan.”  The plan outlined a couple of development alternatives for the site, which ELCAT’s board of directors took into consideration in the coming months, as it moved forward with planning for the location.

By mid-2016, a development alternative was selected and interpreters from the NTIR visited again to survey the location and utilize their findings, and previously documented archaeological information, to create interpretive panels for the trailhead.  Simultaneously, landscape architects from the NTIR were drafting construction level documents for amenities such as the parking area and trailhead.  The landscape architect team then visited the site in May 2017, along with ELCAT representatives, and surveyed and staked the site for development.  Lobanillo was on its way to being visitor-ready!

In November 2017, Sabine County provided labor and equipment to improve the roadway into the site and develop the parking area and trailhead.  By mid-November, the first phase of development was complete!

The final piece of the puzzle was completed in April 2018, as the second phase of development at the site was finalized!  Developments included the creation of a loop hiking trail, installation of interpretive panels, and installation of site identification and roadway directional signage to the site.  The site was dedicated to the public on April 16, 2018 and the ceremony was attended by approximately 125 guests!  Speakers included Sabine County Judge Darrel Melton, NPS Superintendent Aaron Mahr, ELCAT President Henry Mayo and Executive Director Steven Gonzales.  Since its dedication, Lobanillo has been visited by over 100 guests per month!

Over the course of the project, with additional grant funding, ELCAT raised nearly $50,000 in funds for the site, and the association can demonstrate the protection and development of Lobanillo as a feather in its cap!  More importantly, the effort is a textbook example of public-private partnerships called for in the National Trails System Act, and most importantly, the site will be forever protected for future generations to see, explore, learn about, and appreciate!

2018 Annual Meeting Recap

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The association held its annual membership meeting in San Antonio on October 12th and 13th. The event celebrated the 300th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio and the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act, and it included numerous activities that allowed the public to experience the trail and learn about its history!

The meeting kicked-off with a signage dedication at La Villita, located in the heart of San Antonio. As one of numerous trail resources in the city, La Villita’s dedication was the first time that trail signing was placed in the urban center of town. Speakers and attendees included Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, City Councilman Roberto Treviño, San Antonio Conservation Society president Susan Beavin, NPS superintendent Aaron Mahr, and board members Dr. Sarah Gould and Dr. Ellen Riojas Clark. The signage is located at the corner of South Alamo and Villita Streets and it is dual-sided for both pedestrians and motorists.

Later that evening, the festivities moved to Con Safos Restaurant, where Dr. Jesús F. de la Teja spoke on “Cattle Drives and Cattle Society in early San Antonio.” Dr. de la Teja’s presentation was well-received and helped to set the stage for our visit to mission ranchos, which would occur the next day.
On Saturday, the meeting kicked off with a presentation by Anthony “Tony” Souther, site manager of Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. Tony spoke on the history of the Caddo and their relation to the Camino Real, and provided updates about developments at the site. Tony’s presentation was followed by Sergio and Melinda Iruegas of GTI Environmental. Their presentation focused on 18th-Century Spanish Colonial Mission Historic Cultural Landscapes: Caminos Reales, Mission Ranchos, Architecture, and Genealogy as Archaeological Artifacts. It was a fascinating presentation, covering everything from the Hapsburg to Bourbon Monarchy and their work for the association at Lobanillo, the Rancheria Grande, and the Ruiz – Herrera Rancho. The morning was rounded out with a presentation by the National Park Service – National Trails Intermountain Region, which provided updates on developments with the trail and highlighted mapping efforts and techniques to document historic trail resources. Combined, the presentations were a good segue into the tour of Spanish Mission ranchos that afternoon.

The tour kicked off by traveling the trail from San Antonio to the Rancho de las Cabras in Wilson County. About thirty miles from the center of the city, the rancho was the historic mission ranch for Mission Espada of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Park archaeologist Susan Snow led a tour of the site and discussed different archaeological findings that have been uncovered over the years. Most attendees had never visited the site before, and with Susan’s leadership, a wonderful experience and deeper understanding of the trail and the site’s history were to be had! From Las Cabras, attendees traveled to the Ruiz – Herrera Rancho, which served Mission San Jose. At the Ruiz – Herrera Rancho, we were greeted by Juan Manuel Ruiz, descendant of Jose Francisco Ruiz, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Mr. Ruiz and the Iruegases guided us on a pleasant tour of the archaeological site and we learned a great deal about its antiquity! The occasion was a true rarity, as the ranch is not typically open to the public!

All together, the meeting was an enriching experience that will be remembered for years to come by those who were a part of it!


ELCAT Creating New Exhibit on the Trail

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Traveling Exhibit: El Camino Real de los Tejas – Its History, Peoples, and Places

By: Elaine Sullivan

I have been working with El Camino Real de los Tejas Trail Association for a little over six months. I attended Abilene Christian University for my bachelor’s degree, and recently received my Master’s in Preservation Studies with a focus in Museum Studies at Boston University. After moving back home to Texas from Massachusetts, I was excited to start preservation work in my home state!

The past few months I have been working on a traveling exhibit for the Camino. The topics of the exhibit are cattle drives from Spanish Colonial ranchos that aided in the American Revolution, settlement patterns along the trail, and where you can see and experience modern traces of the Camino. My hope is that the research and content I present for the exhibit will help explain connections between the many people and places of Texas that have existed for centuries! The exhibit is called El Camino Real de los Tejas – Its History, Peoples, and Places, and will hopefully do a great deal to raise awareness of a part of Texas history that is not as familiar to people. Taken as a whole, the themes in the exhibit will allow for a deeper and richer understanding of Texas and the reason that El Camino Real de los Tejas has been deemed as nationally significant!

We are planning on the exhibit being ready to go by Summer 2019! Long term, it is our hope that the exhibit will help to raise awareness about the importance of the trail, and encourage citizens to join us in preserving a piece of irreplaceable history on the landscape. In doing so, we can make sure that the road that led to the founding of Texas is not forgotten!

Texas Historical Commission Real Places 2019 Conference

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As you know, Texas has an almost-embarrassing trove of historic and cultural treasures. They’re spread across hundreds of thousands of acres—from the beaches of South Padre Island to the high plains of Amarillo, from the forests of Texarkana to the mountains of El Paso. It’s a BIG state with a BIG history and heritage.

It’s our job to protect and preserve that rich legacy wherever it is found—in booming big cities and charming small towns alike.

If you are passionate about seeking out, saving, and leveraging the real places and real stories of your community, Phoenix I Restoration & Construction, Komatsu Architecture, and the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission invite you to join us January 16–18 in Austin for REAL PLACES 2019—a Texas Historical Commission conference focused on preserving, revitalizing, and experiencing the Texas mystique.

Featured speakers include Gene Kranz, legendary leader of the flight team that brought Apollo 13 safely home, noted museum expert Colleen Dilenschneider, bestselling author and speaker Nina Simon, architect and urban planner Curtis Davis, and author and TV personality Brent Hull. We’re also offering eight pre-conference workshops, a tour of the painted churches around Schulenburg, and we’re working on establishing continuing education credits for architects and planners.

Registration and Schedule Information:

Volunteer Opportunities with ELCAT

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El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association would not be able to do what it does for the trail without volunteers! As the backbone of the trail, volunteers contribute thousands of hours and an abundance of financial resources each year to preserve and protect the trail and its resources.

As guardians of the Camino, volunteers are active in all aspects of trail-related work, from presentations and outreach, to research and mapping of trail resources, and helping with the upkeep of trail sites like Lobanillo! Volunteers work within communities, counties, state parks, and in our main office.

Collectively, these entities, comprising dozens of people, work together to manage the trail under a common vision for stewardship and preservation. We encourage you to join us in our efforts to protect the Camino and help to make it the world-class destination that is worthy of its designation as a National Historic Trail!

Click here for our volunteer form, and start the new year off by becoming a part of something that is so much greater than us; something that will be ever-lasting and stretch into time!

Help Support ELCAT for the Holidays!

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As a non-profit 501 (c)(3), our programs and projects for the trail are largely supported by donations from individuals and businesses. With your financial contribution, we are able to run a host of programs such as our education program, Geographic Information Systems mapping program, resource protection program, and our signage program. Therefore, with the holidays in full-swing, we would like to share with you ways you can help to support the association!

1) AmazonSmile:
A good way to support the association, at no cost to you, is to do your online shopping at AmazonSmile. In doing so, you will have the same selection and price as traditional Amazon, but with the added benefit of 0.5% of your purchase going to the association at no additional cost. We also encourage you to share our AmazonSmile link with your family and friends, so that they can support the association while shopping too!


Much like AmazonSmile, will donate a percentage of your sale to our organization at no cost to you. The difference is that when you shop at, you will be able to shop with nearly 1,800 retailers who participate in the program and who donate to our cause at various rates! More so, with you can install an application on your web-browser that will place an umbrella-like icon on your browser, so that anytime you visit a website that participates in, you will be prompted to take advantage of the donation. It is an ingenious little tool that makes giving to the association extremely easy! Once again, please share this link with your family and friends so that they too can help support the organization.

3) Association Membership and Donations:

Finally, we encourage you to give the gift of membership or make a donation to the association for the holidays! There’s no easier way to share something with your family and friends that is so important to you, while encouraging them to become supporters themselves in the future! Plus, all memberships and donations are 100% tax-deductible!

We know you have a choice in what you support with your hard-earned money, so thank you for helping us to identify, develop, and protect the trail for future generations! Your National Historic Trail couldn’t be what it is without you!

Thank you for your support!