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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

The oldest town in Texas?

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
For longer than most of us can remember, Texans have been squabbling over which community is the state’s oldest.

The principal players in this ongoing feud are a couple of East Texas cities, Nacogdoches and San Augustine, and a West Texas village, Ysleta.

Now, it appears there may be another contender.

History watcher Billy Bob Crim of Kilgore recently sent us an article from Marfa’s Big Bend Sentinel indicating that Presidio, on the Texas-Mexico border in the Big Bend country, may also be a player in the oldest town competition.

While it recently observed only its twentieth anniversary as a municipality, Presidio claims it was first inhabited about 1200 A.D., more than 500 years before the Declaration of Independence, and was founded in 1683 when Jesuit priests from El Paso established a number of missions in the area, an event commemorated by Presidio’s Santa Teresa de Jesus Catholic Church each fall.

Archeologists claim hunter-gatherer tribes came to the valleys of the Rio Grande and Rio Concho rivers about 1200 A.D.

Like Presidio, Nacogdoches’ claim as the oldest town is based on archeological research which established that mounds found in the area date from approximately 1250 A.D. when Indians built lodges along LaNana and Banita creeks, which converge just south of Nacogdoches. The mounds were found to contain human bones and pottery.

San Augustine also had an Ayish Indian village as early as the 1200s and the first European visitors arrived there early in the 1540s. In 1717 Father Antonio Margil de Jesus established a Spanish mission near the Indian village on Ayish Bayou.

Ysleta, now part of the city of El Paso, has been continuously occupied since 1682 when the Tigua Indians came here from their pueblo at Isleta, New Mexico. The Handbook of Texas says with a touch of reservation that Ysleta “is perhaps the oldest town in Texas.”

But East Texans take the half-hearted assumption with more than a grain of salt.

Even Presidio’s claim is a little weak. Archeologists say details of the region’s archeology remains spotty. “We’ve worked on this thing for years, and we’re still not able to work out who was where at what time,” admitted Bob Mullouf, director of the Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross State University.

Every town seems to have its own way of staking a claim in the oldest town sweepstakes.

We like the story told us by a Nacogdoches resident with a good memory. He says a local booster wanted to make the claim that Nacogdoches was Texas’ oldest town and went to a historian at Stephen F. Austin State University. He asked him: “Can anyone prove we aren’t the oldest town?”

The historian thought about it for a few minutes and concluded, “Nope, I don’t think they can.”

“Okay,” said the booster, “from now on, we’re the oldest town in Texas.”



Bob Bowman's East Texas January 18, 2009 Column.
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers


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