Historical Period: Spanish Missions (1716-1821)
Historical Topic: Native Americans
Species: Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)
Public Access: Yes
On May 22, 1716, as noted in the diary of Father Isidro Félix de Espinosa of Querétaro, Mexico, his Spanish Franciscan expedition camped on the banks of Onion Creek within “three shots of a harquebus”—a distance of less than one-half mile—from its confluence with Williamson Creek.
May in Texas is the height of thunderstorm season and it can already be sweltering hot. However it was in 1716, it made the shelter of trees a welcome respite. Three hundred years later, Old Baldy, a towering baldcypress tree, alive and available for refuge then, still stands sentry along the creek not far from where they must have camped in what is now McKinney Falls State Park.
The 1716 expedition was the second Espinosa had taken along the same route. In 1709, accompanied by another Franciscan and fifteen soldiers, Espinosa marched from Mexico to the site of future San Antonio. Impressed by the availability of water and the prospects for Spanish settlement, the padres pressed on toward the Colorado River where they hoped to make contact with the Tejas Indians and establish a mission.
El Camino Real, the highway through Central Texas towards Louisiana, saw a lot of traffic in the early eighteenth century. Spanish Franciscan missionary efforts had turned to East Texas in 1690 and they founded San Francisco de los Tejas just west of the Neches River. At least six other missions from different expedition parties were established within two decades of that first mission. Three East Texas missions established in 1716 were temporarily abandoned in 1719, restored in 1721 through another expedition, moved in 1730 to a site on the Colorado River now in Zilker Park in Austin, and finally reestablished on the San Antonio River in 1731. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people and animals were required to establish and move these missions.
A granite outcropping near the confluence of the creeks still shows faint swales and ancient hoof marks that indicate the frequent passage of large expeditions.
Today McKinney Falls State Park continues to host many visitors who appreciate the cool water, shady woodlands, and Old Baldy.
From Highway 71 in Travis County, take US 183 south to McKinney Falls Parkway. Follow McKinney Falls south to Park entrance on right. Old baldy is found along the creek off the Rock Shelter hiking trail northeast of the main parking area.