Talk of Wilson County TX Historic Towns

by Barbara J. Wood
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Flores Ranch dig reveals Spanish colonial history

COURTESY / Wilson County News  [July 09, 2014]
Wilson County's history during the Spanish colonial era continues to be unearthed. Over the past two months, a handful of professional and avocational archaeologists have been excavating at the old Flores Rancho near the community of La Batte — locally identified as Labatt — a few miles northwest of Floresville. The property currently is owned by Brian and Melissa Seiler. The all-volunteer effort is headed by archaeologist David Nickels of Tierras Antiguas Archaeological Investigations.
Thus far, efforts have focused on outlining the foundation remnants of a small chapel, which lies near the old Flores ranch house.
In the middle 1700s, early pioneer rancher and Canary Islander descendant Francisco Flores established his cattle ranch along the San Antonio River on land that was then the home of the Chayopines Indians, thus the rancho was also known as "Rancho de los Chayopines" or "Chayopines Ranch." The Chayopines were a tribe or band of Native Americans who in the early- to mid-1700s helped establish Mission San Juan, in what is now San Antonio.
The limited archival information currently available indicates that the original adobe house structure was possibly constructed in the 1750s or 1760s. The house was built to withstand Indian attacks, and was apparently a place of refuge during more than a few Indian raids. According to one account, raiders could not burn nor gain access to the adobe structure that was fortified with three corner forts, so they tried to access the house through the roof. The roof was said to be strongly fortified with oak logs and dirt piled several feet thick, and even though several Indians tried to dig through the roof, they were shot and killed, and the attack was thus repelled.
Brian and Melissa Seiler are most interested in the history of the Chayopines Rancho, and have committed to a long but rewarding process of restoration of the house and grounds, containing the chapel where archaeologists have been working. There are few available archival documents pertaining to the size of the chapel. However, when Spanish Catholic priest Father Gaspar José de Solis visited Los Chayopines in the 1760s, there were eight persons living and working on the ranch. These were possibly family members and hired vaqueros.
Longtime residents of Wilson County remember that by the mid-1900s, only the foundation stones of the chapel remained. Nickels and interested volunteers are attempting to document what still remains.
He and others acknowledge that areas along the San Antonio River, Cibolo Creek, and their tributaries hold some of the most interesting and historically significant sites in Texas.
Excavations at the site for this season have been completed, Nickels said. However, the Seilers have tentatively agreed to host an archeological field school in the future, to be conducted by either a university or local archeological society.
History unearthed
According to archeologist David Nickels, during May and June, a total of 12 volunteers putting in more than 300 collective hours helped uncover the foundation of a 1700s or 1800s small chapel and the outer stone wall of an adjoining campo santo, or cemetery.
Some artifacts uncovered thus far include ceramics sherds and bottle glass that date from the late 1700s through the 1900s, as well as square nails and many pieces of metal hardware.
Archival research has turned up a remarkably interesting written history of the site and lands surrounding it, Nickels said, from its earliest occupation during Spanish colonial times, through the 1900s.
Oral histories of those who are familiar with the site and surrounding area are ongoing.
"We believe the effort thus far has been very enlightening and certainly worth it," Nickels said. "It's not every day you get to examine and learn about such a significant piece of history firsthand, and we look forward to returning to the site in the future."
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Peanut farmers

Wilson County Texas Peanut farmers from the Labatt community harvesting peanuts in the late 1940s. Can you identify any of these hard- working men?
COURTESY / Wilson County News
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..... A rural community, located 6 miles northwest of Floresville between Lodi and Calaveras, the majority of Labatt's founding families were farmers and ranchers of Czech, German, and Mexican 
The area is blessed with sandy loam suited for cotton, watermelons, and peanuts. The first rail carload of watermelons in Wilson County was loaded at Elasco Switch on the Harry Roemer property.
The community was named after Galveston attorney Henry J. Labatt, a promoter of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad (SAAP) which reached Labatt in 1885, bringing a lively heartbeat to the community. The SAAP built flag stations, the Elasco Switch and the Wagsand Switch, each about 1 1/2 miles long, to sand pits in the area. Mission Wood & Coal Company shipped wood from Labatt to San Antonio for heating.
The center of Labatt was located where Old Goliad Road, which paralleled the railroad, and Labatt Road crossed near the river.The railroad built a 3/4-mile-long siding in Labatt where trains could pass each other. During World War II, troop trains would stop for layovers on this siding. 
There was a Western Union substation where Labatt Road crossed the railroad (building still there). There was a small store and in-ground scale next to the siding where farmers weighed their products for shipping. On the Harry 
Roemer farm on Jackson Gulch at the Elasco Switch, the SAAP had a water tower, where trains took on water, pumped from the river.
The Labatt School was organized in 1915. The first trustees were William Roemer, Amado Rodriguez Sr., Charlie T. Roemer, and Barney McCloskey. Miss Lucy May was the first teacher. Labatt School was originally located on the southwest side of the railroad and Old Goliad Road. It was later moved to the southeast side of Labatt Road between the railroad and the river. The school closed in 1950, becoming part of Floresville I.S.D.
The Labatt Road bridge, built in 1917 across the San Antonio River, graced the community for 89 years. The bridge from horse and buggy days was moved to Floreville Hike and Bike Trail for a new lease on life. Three major floods completely covered the bridge, washing out two west-ends spans in 1946. It survived both the 1998 and 2002 floods. The original iron bridge was replaced 
with a new concrete one. When the bridge was built, it became a link that tied two communities together. It allowed the families of the closed Medina School on the west side of the river to join the families of the Labatt School, making for a larger community of neighbors.
In its heyday, Labatt's residents enjoyed membership in several active clubs. A Butcher Club during World War II supplied fresh meat to its participating members. A Home Demonstration Club originated in 1934 is still active today. The Labatt 4-H Club is still making a big difference in the lives of young people. Labatt had a Community Club that made important decisions for the community while providing fun and fellowship.
There were several cemeteries in the community filled with loved ones leaving a strong legacy in Labatt.The physical structure of Labatt has changed - school, railroad, and other things of the past are now gone. Numerous descendants of the original families still reside in the 
community. They have been joined by newcomers that have moved to the area - Bentwood, Shannon Ridge, Abrego Lake, and other subdivisions - people that are unaware of the history of this fine community.

WRITTEN BY BENNY ROEMER for the Wilson County Sesquicentennial 1860-2010.