Journal Of The Life And Culture Of San Antonio

Headwaters: The Springs of San Pedro Creek and the San Antonio River

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It is called the Blue Hole for its blue tint, the largest of San Antonio's springs, and with some 100 other springs, is known as the Headwaters of the San Antonio River. Two other large groups of springs break out just west of the Blue Hole. These springs are mostly located on the grounds of Incarnate Word College north of East Hildebrand Avenue.

Gunnar Brune, geologist, conservationist and scholar, in his "Springs of Texas," a study begun in 1971, identifies Bexar County as one of the state’s richest counties with a history that "is inextricably tied to the large springs which were found here."

Archaeologist Anne Fox of the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Susanna and Paul Katz of Incarnate Word College, have recovered Paleo-Indian projectile points, or flint arrows, over 11,000 years old in the area. Mounds made up of debris and snails give evidence of the headsprings as a hunting and camping ground. A flint quarry was found nearby, a necessity for arms and tools to early Indian hunters. Brune reports that as recently as 1924 Ponca Indians stopped at this site enroute from Oklahoma to northern Mexico to gather peyote used in religious rites. It is possible that man camped here many thousands of years earlier, when saber-toothed tigers, giant sloths, huge-tusked mastodons and wide-horned bison competed with other living things for the water.

Here at the headwaters were over 100 springs. In wet weather they are still numerous, and in 1973 the flow endangered buildings on the college campus. There are many other springs that bubble up around Olmos Creek, all flowing at one time into the San Antonio. Most of the area is now built over, or overgrown with weeds and brush.

The spring waters in Bexar County, writes Brune, "are generally fresh, alkaline, and very hard, containing chiefly calcium bi-carbonate. Their fluoride content is healthful and the iron content is not high enough to cause staining... The spring water is generally highly valued for human consumption. Although it has not become polluted yet, this could easily happen because of the great expansion of San Antonio’s suburbs into the aquifer's recharge area."

About 3 miles to the southwest of the Blue Hole, San Pedro Springs rises. This source of the San Pedro Creek impressed diarist Isidro Felix de Espinosa, leader of the Espinosa-Olivares-Aguirre expedition in 1716, who gave the springs their name when "capricious fate" brought the explorers to the springs on St. Peter's Feast Day of June 29. With all the pageantry of High Mass held under great oaks and elms that surrounded the waters, and with the chiefs of Indian tribes who "came in large numbers to participate in this ceremonial occasion," the Franciscan dedicated his Mass to St. Peter "in whose honor we gave this name to the"place...San Pedro.”

These springs were popular with early Americans in prehistoric times. It was a hunting ground of the Paleo-Indians of the area, and Brune reports that for thousands of years the tribes of the High Plains and those of the lowlands met here to trade in peace. Many caves found in the area were used as burial grounds.

Settlers after 1718 used the water to irrigate corn, pumpkins, beans and chili peppers, and King Philip V in 1729 declared the lands around the springs an ejido, a public land. His grant included six leagues of 26,568 acres, with certain lots given to the settlers and others reserved for the King. Most of the old roads radiated from the springs' lands, including the Comino Real, the King’s Highway. This road reached all the way to Louisiana and was used by the Tejanos in 1781 to drive their cattle to feed the Spanish army of Bernardo de Galvez in support of the American Revolution.

In defining the area around the springs as city property, the Republic of Texas granted a charter to San Antonio which re-established the city’s original limits. In the case of Lewis and Others v. San Antonio, the courts awarded title of 46.004 acres of land that is now San Pedro Park to the city. The San Antonio Daily Ledger reported: “From the heart of this square leap forth the clear waters of the San Pedro.”

Just as with the San Antonio headwaters, San Pedro Springs receive their recharge from streams up to 75 miles to the west, recharged water that flows through the cavernous Edwards fault line and limestone. Since the springs have been dry during several recent years, the crawfish, which were originally abundant in the springs, are having a difficult time surviving. As recently as November 10, 1975, there were at least nine springs flowing, with possibly more beneath the surface. Brune in 1981 predicted that, “In the not very distant future most of Texas’ springs will exist in a legend of a glorious past when mankind was one with, and reveled in, nature.”

--Mary Ann Noonan Guerra,

excerpted from: The San Antonio River,

(San Antonio: The Alamo Press, 1987)

Editors Note: Readers will find a comprehensive discussion of the springs and the river in: Lewis F. Fisher, River Walk, The Epic Story of San Antonio’s River (San Antonio: Maverick Publishing Company, 2006.)