Milam County Texas Archives
(Written by Sharon Hodgeo with Information taken from
History of Mllam County, Texco; Kathleen Klrk Gllmore, The San Xavler Mlodono;
W. W. Newcombe, The Indlano of Texco; and Gerald Aohford, Spanloh)
The land on which Rockdale now stands was once the homeland of the Tonkawan Indians. In fact, all of Central Texas, stretching from the Brazos bottoms on the east to the Edwards Plateau on the northeast, was home to these peoples in the sixteenth century. The familiar name Tonkawa derived from the Waco Indian word "tonkaweya," which meant "they all stay together." However,theycalledthemselves "tickanwatic." The independent bands were the Tonkawa proper: the Mayeye, Yojaune, Ervipiame and smaller, obscure groups.
How early the Tonkawan peoples roamed Central Texas is not known. It is assumed that their ancestors were the people whose cultural remains are partly known as the Toyah Focus of the Central Texas Aspect, as this area is the same as that occupied by the historic Tonkawas. Prehistoric projectile points dating back to Neo-American were found in the 1968 archaelogical dig at the San Xavier mission site north of Rockdale.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Tonkawan bands were greatly reduced in number; and by the beginning of the nineteenth centrury the remnants had united to become a tribe. From that time they were known as the Tonkawa, a tribe typical of the Southern Plains Indians. It was in this period that these Indians felt the pressure of Anglo-American encroachment from the east. But before this time, the Tonkawan peoples had to contend with two other forces, the Lipan Apaches, who roamed the area hunting buffalo and the Spaniards.
Regarding the locale near present Rockdale, the Indian-Spanish confrontation began in the early eighteenth century. Two expeditions crossed Milam County. In 1716 Capt. Domingo Ramon with seventy-five people, which included nine priests, crossed the San Andres (Little) River, the San Xavier (San Gabriel) River and the Arroyo Animos (Brushy Creek) and found a village of two thousand Mayeye near the present site of Cameron. In 1719 the Marquess of Aguayo, governor captain-general of Coahuila and Texas, with five hundred men guided by El Cuilon, a chief of the Rancheria Grande, crossed the Little River. Governor Juan Bustilloy Zevellos came with one hundred fifty-seven men and sixty Indians in 1732 to engage in offensive action against the Apaches in this area.
A few years after the expeditions to Milam County, the missionaries came. As early as 1744 a Franciscan friar named Fray Mariano Francis a de los Dolores Y Vina traveled north to this area inviting the local Indians to go to the San Antonio missions. However, the Indians preferred that the missionaries come to them and establish permanent missions in their homeland. El Cuilon himself, along with other chiefs and several Indians, requested that a mission be established on the San Xavier River. While the political authorities dallied, Fray Mariano pressed for the establishment of such a mission. In fact, in January of 1746 he began working with the Indians. Finally on May 7, 1748, a month after the King of Spain's approval, San Francisco Xavier de Horcasitas (also known as San Francisco Xavier de los Dolores) was formally established at a site two to three miles above the junction of Brushy Creek and the San Xavier River on an elevation now known as Kolb's Hill. On February 25, 1749, San lldefonso was established near the junction of Brushy Creek and San Xavier River on the site of present Hick's farm. The following April Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria was established three- quarter of a mile to the west of Mission San Xavier on present Cemetery Hill.
The establishment of these missions was a long, hard struggle for a few faithful Franciscan priests and an even fewer number of sympathetic officials. Official approval had been delayed because of objections from many quarters, chief among those Juan Bustillo, former governor of Texas, who objected because of the Apache nuisance. Thus, the argument over the feasibility of the mission project waged for several years, and, in fact, never ceased.
Trouble at the mission began at the outset. Apaches attacked Mission San Xavier in 1748. This led to the establishment of a presidio under the command of Lieutenant Galvan at a site above Mission San Xavier on the river, with the purpose of guarding against marauding Apaches and preventing the mission Indians from running away. At this trying time disputes arose between the missionaries and the antagonistic governor, Pedro del Barrio y Espriella.
The following year conditions at the new missions began to deteriorate further, and worsened as time went by. During the years the missions were in operation, Fray Mariano traveled back and forth between Mission San Xavier and San Antonio. At times only one or two missionaries were present at the missions. Troubles with the soldiers as well as with the Apaches caused them great distress.
In the summer of 1750 Capt. Jose de Eca y Musquiz arrived at the missions to run a survey of the mission lands and to take a census of the inhabitants. He counted one hundred fifty-three Indians at Mission San Xavier; one hundred sixty-five Indians, mostly Bidai from the east bank of the Brazos, at Mission San lldefonso, and one hundred two Indians, mostly Cocos from the Colorado River, at Mission Candelaria. Musquiz also supervised the building of a dam on the San Xavier River and an irrigation ditch, both located upriver from the missions. Although these were undoubtedly never completed, traces of both were found on the site now known as Ditch Valley Farm.
The number of inhabitants at the missions continued to diminish. A smallpox epidemic in 1750 too} the lives of many Indians at Mission San lldefonso. Other Indians abandoned the mission to join in raids against the Apaches to the west, leaving the mission deserted a year and a half. But the events which led to the final abandonment of all the missions were yet to occur.
The missionaries had continually sought better protection for their wards. Finally on March 30, 1751, San Francisco Xavier Presidio was formally approved by the viceroy of New Spain. Fifty soldiers under the command of Capt. Felipe Rabago y Teran arrived that December. What was hoped to be their deliverance proved to the their ruin. There was immediate friction between Rabago and the missionaries. Tension mounted for half a year until on May 11, 1752, Fray Juan Jose Ganzabal abandoned lldefonso and went to Candelaria. There he met his death along with another man. Rabago was implicated in the murders until he was acquitted eight years later. Because of the tragic incident, all but one friar, Anda y Altamirano at Mission San Xavier left and most of the Indians fled. Ganzabal's murder was the climax in a long passage of unsuccessful development in the Texas mission field in the middle eighteenth century.
It seemed as if conditions could not worsen, but they did. Possibly as a sign from above after Ganzabal's death, a ball of fire appeared in the sky, encircled the presidio and exploded with the sound of a cannon. Then worst of all, the San Xavier River began to dry up, leaving stagnant pools. This condition of drought continued for several years until it became unbearable.
Rabago's uncle, Pedro de Rabago y Teran arrived at the missions in 1754 to find them in a deplorable situation. After repeated requests made by the soldiers and then by the missionaries, Teran ordered in July, 1755, on his own initiative, the abandonment of the San Xavier site and removal of the presidio and the mission to the San Marcos River. The two remaining missions were transferred to the San Marcos by August, 1755. Internal disorder and unfavorable external conditions had precipitated the unauthorized removal of the missions. By the close of the summer of 1755, Spanish occupation of Milam County had come to an end.
Historical markers are placed near the mission sites a few miles north of Rockdale on Bushdale road. The exact site of Mission San Xavier was located during an arcbeological dig in 1968. Excavations revealed eleven burials (Indian), two of whom were children, and wall outlines. These excavations were made around a house on Kolb's Hill (Felton farm), the site of Mission San Xavier. Test excavations were made on the Robertson farm. All the trenches were dug where Spanish Colonial artifacts had been found on the surface.
Numerous Spanish-European artifacts were unearthed: shreds of earthenware, pieces of glass bottles, beads (278 specimens), a bone crucifix, and fragments of metates and manos. The Indian artifacts included ceramic materials, projective points, and beads. There were animal remains of deer bison, sheep, goat, cow, fish, birds and mussels. The watershed of the San Xavier River had been a buffalo hunting ground.
From 1755, the end of the mission era, to the early 1820's, there is a blank in the history of our area around present Rockdale. We do know that during this time the mission- weakened Tonkawas found themselves between the Comanches on the west and the advancing American frontier on the east. Tbe Americans came seeking land grants from Mexico.
The grant including Milam County was that originally issued to Robert Leftwich, a native of Nashville, Tennessee. On April 15, 1825, Leftwich received a contract in his name for a corporate group from Tennessee. Two of the group, Dr. Felix Robertson and his cousin Sterling C. Robertson, set out soon thereafter to explore the grant. They established a camp at the mouth of Little River. In 1830 Sterling Robertson was appointed agent by Hosea H. League, who had replaced Leftwich as empresario, to settle three hundred families in the grant.
Settlement began a few years later. Between December 1834 and November 1835 over fifty grants of land were issued in Milam County, mostly along the streams. One hundred twenty-seven families had been settled by March 1836. The first Anglo-American settlers in Milam County located on Little iver. The first town was Nashville, a settlement laid off on the west bank of the Brazos River two miles below the mouth of Little River.
The early settlers had few troubles with Indians until 1835. In one incident a man named John McLennan was killed near Sugar Loaf Mountain on hls way home from Nashville. Peace prevailed toward the end of the 1830 s T en in 1844 Peter Mercer was killed by Indians near the village of San Gabtlel. He iS buried in the Locklin Cemetery on a hill south of the river. After statehood in 1845 Indian depredations in Milam County ceased.
Two of the early pioneers who settled near present Rockdale were Capt. B. M. Hutchinson, who settled two miles northwest of Rockdale in 1852; and Dr. T. E. Riddle, who in 1867 settled in what became known as Cattail. It was several years later, almost ten years after the close of the War Between the States, that pioneers came to settle permanently and build a new town, now known as Rockdale.
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