Camp Wood: Mission San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz

by Jim Fish

Ozona—Located in the Nueces Canyon where the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau is marked by the rugged and pristine Balcones Escarpment, Camp Wood offers abundant sources of water, wild game, and other natural resources. It is at the intersection of State Highway 55 and Farm Road 337 in Real County, not far from Camp Wood Creek. It was founded by cedar choppers from the Uvalde Cedar Company in 1920 for the purpose of harvesting the abundant cedar throughout the area. However, the site has been inhabited for thousands of years, according to the archeological ruins and artifacts discovered in the area.

John Minton states in "Camp Wood, TX" for the Handbook of Texas Online… “The excellence of the site for habitation is attested by evidence of successive occupations since the Archaic and Neo-American periods. The modern town's water is supplied by the same spring that earlier served San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz Mission (1762-71), established by Franciscans for the Lipan Apache who inhabited the region during the historic period, and the United States military outpost Camp Wood (1857-61) from which the town derives its name. After the mission was abandoned, Indians continued to return to the site.”

The Mission San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz was established at a large spring on the upper Nueces River in what was the northern border of New Spain at the time. Franciscan missionaries built the mission in hopes of Christianizing and pacifying the Indians, both to curtail their assaults along the northern frontier and to preserve Spanish control of the area. The Franciscan friars’ strategy was to lure the Indians into their fold to help confront threats by the French.

The Spanish fathers and Indian laborers undertook an enormous construction effort at the wilderness outpost by building more than fourteen adobe and limestone buildings that were positioned around a square. The compound was comprised of a church, vestry, barn, cabins for the Indians, a fortress, and a series of aqueducts to water the nearby fields. Unfortunately, the mission only survived for nine years.

“With the exception of hand-wrought iron nails, all the building materials were made from local resources, including adobe mud, limestone blocks, oak and juniper timbers, lime made from local limestone in a nearby kiln, and sand, gravel, and cobbles from the nearby Nueces River. The buildings and outer walls proved to be sufficiently strong to hold back repeated attacks by Comanche and other Indians. According to historical accounts, the Lipan Apache at the mission were highly impressed with the granary, seeing it as a place to take refuge during Indian attacks.

“The mission, however, was small, never officially sanctioned, poorly supplied, and unsuccessful in converting the Lipan Apache. Nine years after it was founded, the mission was burned and abandoned. The adobe structures began to deteriorate rapidly, although visitors, including historic Indian groups, continued to camp at the site. Between 1857 and 1861, the site served as a temporary U. S. military outpost known as Camp Wood.” - Tunnell, Curtis D. and W.W. Newcomb, Jr., 1969, A Lipan Apache Mission: San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz, 1762-1771.

Archeologists from the Texas Memorial Museum began exploring the site in 1962 and found that the walls of the mission had fallen into mounds of crumbled adobe. Their subsequent excavations uncovered hundreds of tons of construction, pottery, and waste debris, and found that most of the floors remained complete since they were built. They found that many of the ceramic vessels came from other locations and abroad.

“Many of the ceramic vessels came from far afield—abroad, like Europe from Puebla in central Mexico, olive jars from Spain, glass beads from Venice, salt-glazed stoneware from England, faience from France, and porcelain from the Orient.” (Tunnell–1969)

Another archeologist Curtis Tunnell concluded, “Even this poor mission, one of the smallest and most remote of outposts, benefited from the worldwide trade network of eighteenth-century Spain.

A surprising finding of the archeological investigations was that the Lipan, having been exposed to European influences for nearly 200 years, still practiced several native crafts and traditions. The trash middens inside the Indian quarters were littered with chipped stone tools - small knives, and scrapers - and a quantity of stone tool-making debris.”

The mission was attacked by a three-hundred-member Comanche and Kiowa war party in October 1766, which was followed by a second raid the following month. While both attacks were repelled when the Marqués de Rubi visited San Lorenzo in July of 1767, he was highly critical of the mission and another nearby mission, Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria del Cañón. He ascertained there was no possibility of converting the Apache and recommended that both missions be abandoned. That opinion was echoed by the governor of Coahuila, in April 1770 and the official closure for the El Cañón missions was set for June 21, 1771, they had been abandoned before then.

Ozona July