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Historical Blacksmithing in Texas

Spirit of Blacksmithing in the Historic Coastal Bend

by Richard Boswell

Texas is big and old, in contrast to our modern cities and expanding populations. Its history is different than what many people from the South and North East are accustomed to, people such as myself. From the early days on, the influence of the Anglo Celtic has come to Texas as fast as it could get here. Their stubborn determination and love of freedom are the roots of modern Texas. They became the economic fire which developed this State for the past 200 years. But there were others before them and their history is fascinating for study.

If you live in Houston look around you. Do you see much of its history? Not really. We are too new. The ones before us did not build to last a long, long time. Natures fury and her termites have not left much to look at either, and besides, property was too valuable to preserve as a keep sake. And in our climate, rust never sleeps.....

A good essay and perspective of the historical growth of blacksmithing in the Americas is found at the ABA site called Timelines, which notes the major milestones in this hemisphere.

If you live in Texas, you are likely to be familiar with the reconstructed Alamo in San Antonio because it is a popular tourist attraction. It represents only one of the events leading to the short battle of San Jacinto where our Independence from Mexico was taken. The other events represent activities in the Coastal Bend area where early Spanish colonies landed and attempted to thrive. They had a dual mission : religion and profit. An early center of this activity was in Goliad on the San Antonio River, northwest of Corpus Christi.

I recently had a short visit in Goliad where Texas Independence was first brought to flame, and where the cattle industry was birthed. The Spaniards developed a very large herd of cattle during the 1700's based at their Mission in Goliad called Espiritu Santo which was accompanied by the military on the adjacent hill across the river, at Presidio La Bahia. Both sites have been reconstructed in the 1900s. The Mission is now a state Park, while the Presidio is owned by the Catholic Diocese. Interesting flip flop isn't it?

I got a good book in the gift shop at the Presidio La Bahia titled "The Magnificent Barbarians - Little Told Tales of the Texas Revolution" by Bill and Marjorie Walraven (Eakin Press 1993) and recommend this to you as a good reader. I will not try to review the whole story in this article, but it describes the difficulty and courage of the early settlers in Texas. Blacksmiths always had a contribution and more essays will follow. What we find here in old Goliad is a location that had a big need for blacksmiths to make tools, wheel works, hardware, and armory equipment. Note the layout of the Mission that has in the lonely corner (upper left in figure) of the fortification a Forge. Must have been a noisy bunch of hammer guys. They even had their own gate to use!

The ruins of the Mission and La Bahia were eventually recycled by the townspeople. What we find today at the Mission was rebuilt from what was left, mostly by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930's. The Presidio was restored in the 1960"s through the dedicated generosity of Mrs. Kathryn O'Connor. Today it is considered one of the most authentic restoration projects in the United States and contrasts the Shrine of the Alamo surrounded by a busy City.

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While touring the Chapel at Mission Espiritu Santo (Goliad State Park of Texas), I noticed an fairly new anvil on a bench along the wall. So I had to ask about it. Apparently it is some sort of a blacksmith magnet.

Beth Ellis is in charge of exhibits at the Park. She was delighted I asked because she was expecting a delivery of her new forge from a smith in San Antonio. They have a small grant to set up a forge for blacksmithing exhibition and they do not know how to use it yet. And would HABA be interested in helping out?

In further discussion she said "It was very nice meeting you here at the park yesterday - I am glad you introduced yourself! I hope that you and the other members of HABA will accept an invitation to attend our November event, Spanish Tracks and Trails. The event will take place on November 7 & 8, which is a Friday and Saturday. The events on Friday are specifically geared toward school children, while the Saturday activities are for the general public. The event itself focuses on the Spanish Colonial Era and the handcrafts and daily activities that took place during that time period. Some of the demonstrators we anticipate attending include spinners and weavers, leatherworkers, stonemasons, vaqueros, musicians, woodworkers, as well as several others. One type of demonstration that has been difficult for us to get is blacksmithing, which is very unfortunate since it was a major activity at this mission during the 1700's. We hope your group will be interested in filling this gap.

We would certainly be very pleased to have members of HABA attend Spanish Tracks and Trails. As the event draws closer, I will be happy to keep you updated on times and other pertinent information. I am so glad that your group is interested in attending our event. Demonstrators will indeed be able to camp in the park overnight; however, whoever decides to do that will need to get back with me as soon as possible so that we can reserve camping slots for them. As far as selling, demonstrators should be able to sell items. Our Friends Group may end up having to charge a "booth fee" to anyone who is selling, but it would be a very small one (just enough to meet their event insurance requirements). I'll let you know the particulars on that as I learn them. We are definitely required to charge a small booth fee to those who are selling their items.

As always, volunteers who come to simply demonstrate their craft will not be charged a fee. Demonstrators and assistants/family will not be charged a camping or admission fee. Again, we need to get those reservations in asap for anyone who anticipates camping at the park.

At this time I am not aware of any insurance requirements your group must have in order to demonstrate here at the park. Our Friends Group is sponsoring the event, and it's their insurance that is covering the event. This is the insurance that may require charging a small booth fee to vendors.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I'll be sure to keep you updated as we draw closer to the event.

We got our new forge, bellows, and grindstone delivered on Sunday. Michael Seminara, a San Antonio blacksmith, did an excellent job. He researched the Spanish Colonial Era and produced a set up that is very similar to what they would have used in period. The main difference is that he made the equipment movable, so that we can transport it around the site and to other locations for educational/interpretive purposes. We are very proud of it! "

Here are some links about Goliad, followed by some more of my photos. Would have been more but my camera batteries ran out.

Please click on the thumbnail to see the full photo.










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Last updates were on August 05, 2003

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