Sunday, April 26, 2009

Home Keeping in San Antonio

Topaztook guessed correctly that we and our friends visited San Antonio, Texas. We also took an afternoon trip an hour north to see Fredriksburg. I learned some interesting things about the home keepers from past centuries in that part of Texas. Rather than write it out in an article, I'll just list a few of the random facts that I learned:

1) In the 1700's, southern Texas was populated by many different hunter/gathering native American tribes, each with its own language. The Spaniards built several missions -- including the famous Alamo -- along a river in order to convert the Indians to Catholicism and to also induce them to be loyal to the nation of Spain. Among the things the Spaniards promised the Indians was to protect them from warrior tribes coming down from the north. They also promised to protect them from diseases which had been ravaging their areas. Neither the Spanish nor the Indians knew that it was the Spaniards who were carrying diseases, such as smallpox, which the Indian immune systems had never encountered before.

Each mission would be assigned a couple of missionaries and a very few soldiers. So, the mission communities were largely composed of the local native Americans.

In the missions, the Spaniards provided apartments for each family. Most of the apartments had only two rooms for an entire family of a couple and several children. One apartment in each mission had three rooms, and that was for a family chosen to help oversee the others. The Spaniards taught the Indians various trades, how to live in a home, and two languages: Spanish and Latin.

Each apartment had its own kitchen. However, there were also large outdoor ovens placed around the courtyard. During the hot months, the women would take turns cooking in the outdoor ovens, so as not to overheat the apartments. People would gather around and eat meals together.

In the beginning, men did most of the gardening. Later on, women began to take over gardening duties. Each day, mothers and daughters would roll tortillas out on little, slanted stone stands. That was part of their daily house keeping.

The missions added to their food supplies by cooking prickly pear cactus. Also, they found ways to use the mesquite beans. The beans had a sweet taste, and children would reach up and pluck them to eat for snacks -- much as we might eat a piece of candy.

Some Indians adopted the Spanish culture, which obviously still thrives in San Antonio. Others did not enjoy being confined in the mission and went back to their old ways of living. However, the Spanish influence predominated, and the various Indian tribes gradually amalgamated into one Hispanic/native American/other European culture.

2) South Texas used to be grassland. The Indian tribes inadvertently contributed to keeping it this way. They would burn off brushy areas to drive animals out where the animals could be hunted. This actually renewed the land. As more and more European/American settlers move din to the area, they stopped the burning, and the area just north of San Antonio became more like scrub land -- with cactus, short mesquite trees, etc. Of course, San Antonio, itself, remains very lush. We used to live in the Dallas area, which has an entirely different feel than the more tropical San Antonio. Neither one is more enjoyable than the other -- just different.

3) Many Germans came to the area around San Antonio following a revolution in Germany. They brought with them features of German architecture. They established ranches. In towns, such as Fredricksburg, they established what they called "Sunday houses", which were smaller than their larger ranch homes. On the weekends, they would come into town to shop and to go to church. They would stay in these "Sunday" houses, which are an interesting blend of Texan and German building.

4) Lots of people from other parts of the U.S. poured into San Antonio. Of course, many were from Tennessee, where I live. I'm sure that these people contributed to the cultural mix around San Antonio, as well. Texas spent part of its time as a part of Mexico, as an independent country, and finally -- as a state of the U.S.

5) While in Fredricksburg, we visited the huge Wildseed Farms there. My husband and I fell in love with a butterfly hut they have on their property and jokingly said we'd love to build one ourselves. Do you think we could get that idea past our neighborhood association? I learned that in addition to planting the host plants for each species of butterfly in the hut (all butterflies that can be found in Texas), they feed the butterflies with gatorade in their hanging feeders. I had never thought of using gatorade! You can check out their site at

Dear hubby also suggested that we seed the common area, which has become a little weedy, with wildflowers! I don't think we could get away with that one, either.

I enjoy visiting various places and learning about the way families lived in the past and now live in the present.

Happy home keeping!

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