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San Antonio de Bexar; a guide and history online

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resented here. The Masons are contemi)lating erecting a fine hall. The Odd
Fellows are already installed in a magnificent building on Houston street. The
Knights of Pythias are extremely .strong, and the society comprises some of our
most active business and professional men.

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The Waters of San Antonio and San Pedro.


" He'll t\irn your current in a ditch."

— Shakespeare.

And now conies a pleasant chapter to narrate, pleasant because it deals with
that which makes San Antonio the naturally charming place that it is, pleasant
because it deals solely with the efforts and arts of peace in a history that is only
too full of the strivings of war, bloodshed and contention ; pleasant because it has
to do with clear crystal springs rising in volume from unknown, mysterious
depths, deep translucent pools and bubbling brooks, a swirling river of pure
living waters and the arborous accompaniments of foliage, high canopies of
greenery, broad groves, great trunks and tangled vines, and with the plenty of
fields of waving corn. Let imagination wander back to the time before the
waters were in the least fouled by the contact of civilization, when the first
Spanish Missionaries traveling over the drier western plains happed suddenly
upon this valle3% knowing little of it, and that little ()nl\- by hearsay, how their
hearts must have leaped at the sight of this abundance of pure water, these strong

Several of the smaller cuts in the letter-press are produced here by permission of L. Prang ^ Co., Bostou,
and are copyrijjlited designs from their series of studies.


constant springs, and goodly lands. They might have had within them a
feeling of thankful exultation that their lot was cast for at least a brief space in
pleasant paths. In these peacefiil glades they might soon forget the lurking
danger and hostility of the warlike natives : and overlooking the valley
they might have concluded " Verily a river went out of Eden to water the
garden ; and here are provided two, that riv^er was divided into four heads,
these by the blessing of God and our Lady Mary on our labors and resources
shall be divided into many to water this second Eden." Some such an inspirtion
was likely enough the origin of some of the older acequias or irrigation ditches.
Or it may have been that the plain practical thought only occurred to them,
*' here is provided an abundance of water and fine facilities for irrigation, necessi-
ties to the success of our undertakings and Missions. Let us take and have
enough and to spare, for nature is lavish ; besides our converts and the people
that shall be afterwards drawn here and shall follow us soon, and shall enjoy and
supplement our labors, — these will need it all by and by." It may be that this
is nearer the truth, for that the Fathers were eminently practical and unselfish
workers as well as thinkers has been proved by works which testify to this day.
In these later days, when the Spanish domination is almost forgotten by the prevail-
ing population, when the representing race of it is regarded simply as one of the
attractive curiosities rather than one of the main historic quantities of the place,
when the past and present influence of it is only keenly remembered by the
lawyers, searchers after land titles and aspirants to local political emoluments
(and honors) at election times, we are apt to forget how much we modern San
Antonians owe to the right estimate that these men and their generation put upon
the value of the water of this valley and their quick appreciation of the facilities
for its distribution. San Antonio owes its very existence to this estimate. For
that it has been a city always more or less flourishing, it may thank these pioneers.
Are we not now also — in our arrogance of the possession or rather enjoyment of
an almost perfect modern system of water works, with its miles upon miles of
iron pipes that was almost pressed upon the citizens like a dose of wholesome
medicine upon a wilful and perverse child — only too prone to despise in our
scientific superiority these monuments of a simple wisdom and industry of the

If any reader should weary at the length of these remarks on the " taking
of the water," (saca de agua) he may skip it ; l)ut it must be written if only to do
justice to the founders of our city, not to speak again of the pleasure of the task.
Let this be the apology, if one be needed, for an article that may prove wearisome
to some by rea.son of its length ; the editor has found that no .such true estimate
and understanding of the history, domestic and public, of the aims of these good
old religious pioneers, and later their imitators in ditch construction, of " their
useful toil their destiny ob.scure," nor indeed for that matter, the history and
growth in the last century of the whole community, as by following up the
gradual construction, fact of existence, and logic of these old water ways. The
reader may judge for himself if it is not so, l)y following the story of one of these
acetjuias from the discovery of its pui)lic necessity to the formation of a company
of shareholders among those settlers most nearly interested and concerned, to the
obtaining of the permission from . His Majesty, the King through his


representative the Governor, to the settlement of the neighbors' real or fancied
prior water rights, to the election or a])pointnient of the Acequiero or Acequiador
(the constructor of acequias), to the actual construction, and finally to that
interesting operation of the drawing of lots among the shareholders of the
company for the " suertes " of land which the King will grant to them upon the
simple conditions of cultivating the lands thus granted, of keeping the channels
clear and clean, the locks, water gates, sluices, fences, aqueducts, troughs, etc.,
of the ditches in proper repair, and one horse, and arms and ammunition in read-
iness to meet enemies in the protection of the colony. On this line, from how
they learned to grasp the natural water advantages of the valley, may be traced
the true inwardness of the life and growth of the town in the eighteenth century,
say from 1729 to 1798, of its population gradually increased by soldiery, settlers,
special immigrants as those from the Canary Islands, camp followers, adventurers
and Indian converts.

The main or madre acequias shall be herein described in as near chronolog-
ical order as it is possible to make out.

The Pajalache or Concepcion Ditch.

This is the oldest of all the Acequias. The exact date of its construction is
doubtful, tnit it was begun early in the last century. In evidence in a lawsuit —
Rhodes v. Whitehead — this date was given as 1729 (see Calendar of San Antonio.
October, 22d, 18r),S). It is perhaps more probable that it was completed a few
years later than this. It was finally abaudoned in l.S(')9, thus serving its purpose
nearly 140 years. It was abandoned on account of the dam which provided it
with water proving too great an obstruction to the river's current and a nuisance
to the city during flood times. This dam was built across the river a short dis-
tance above the town ford, and above the present dam of the old Lewis Mill,
about on a line with Presa street. It was very high — some two or three feet
higher than the Ivcwis dam. From this high level, through a deep cuttnig, the
Pajalache ditch took its waters, and striking Garden street almost inuuediately,
it followed the direct line of that street to the Concepcion Mission, and
thence on to join the River below, irrigating lands on its way by laterals. At
the intersection of Mill and Garden streets, the Alamo Madre ditch, coming
from Water street a few years later, met it, and the waters of this ditch were
taken across on a substantial arched stone aqueduct, which exists now, only the
arches have remained buried since the disuse of the Pajalache. Before or upon
the abandonment of the Pajalache, in order that the compronii.se between the
citizens and the holders of water rights might be as peaceably effected as po.s.si-
ble, part of the waters of the Alamo Madre were taken at this same intersection
into a new ditch down Garden street, to the left of and on a higher level than
the Pajalache, but joining the old Pajalache chainiel below, and so on to Concep-
cion Mission. This was a small enough ditcli in comparison to the old one, but
was better than no water at all. The main water of the Alamo Madre still
crossed on the aqueduct and continued down Mill street, crossing this street
some distance down, turning to the left and on to join tiie River ])elow.


A number of laterals issued from these ditches right and left, as from all the
main ditches; but only those minor laterals that have some historical interest in
themselves — such as the Alamo Mission branches — will be mentioned.

The Pajalache ditch was made both wide and very deep, as may yet be
traced on Garden street; of sufficient size — tradition has it — that the Fathers and
their Indians kept a boat on it, from which to do the work of keeping its bed
clean and clear of obstruction. The main object of this old acequia was to supply
the Concepcion Mission and its lands with water.

The San Pedro Ditch.

This ditch comes next in point of interest. It was constructed to supply
the Villa Capital de San Fernando as well as to irrigate lands along its course.
It issues from the east side of the head waters of the San Pedro creek, taking
its way towards and down North Flores street crossing to Acequia street and
flowing across the west side of Main Plaza immediately under the front of San
Fernando Church (Cathedral now), then still keeping to the east of vSouth
Flores street passes through the United States Arsenal grounds to the
east side of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad Depot, on to join the
Sati Antonio River, with a branch to the San Pedro Creek, in the fork of the Y
of the River and Creek. As to the date of the construction of both this ditch
and the Alamo Madre, the evidence is a little tangled. It cannot be many
years the junior of the Pajalache. It is frequently mentioned in the documents
relating to the Upper Labor ditch of 177() to 1784 in the County and City
Records and other documents, and at the earliest of these dates the San Pedro
ditch had \indoubtedly been in use many years. Such evidence in regard to these
two ditches as has been found bearing upon the point will be given, and the
reader may draw his own conclusions. A fuller description of the origin of the
Upper Labor, the editor trusts, will in a measure make up for the lack of accurate
knowledge as to these. In 1730 the Canary Island .settlers came, and on
November the 2

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Online LibraryWilliam CornerSan Antonio de Bexar; a guide and history → online text (page 7 of 22)