A Trip to Ft. Lipantitlan

by Charles M. Yates

On a very warm July afternoon, Elizabeth Glidden and I left the air conditioned comfort of our lodgings in Port Aransas to search for one of the least known forts in early Texas history, Ft. Lipantitlán (LEE-pan-teet-lan). It was not easy locating the site. Even though it has been a state park for many years, it is seldom marked on any maps and for good reason: there is not much there. I had been to the site for the first time several years before, but I had inadvertently left my notes and the map from that previous trip in Austin. Not to worry! I had found it once and I was sure I could drive right to it. Wrong! After flailing around for several hours on dirt back roads in far northern Nueces County, I finally decided to try to find a map with the site located on it in Mathis. Again, after searching several stores in Mathis, I finally found a map which located the site in a very general way. Back to the dirt roads! Another hour of flailing and we, quite accidently, stumbled upon it. Elizabeth was not impressed, but like the trooper she is, she "endeavored to persevere." I have included a map to the site at the bottom of this article so that the next time, all I have to do is find a computer hooked to the Internet. That will be a much easier chore than finding a detailed printed map to the site.

The entrance to the site is marked by one of the ubiquitous, gray, granite markers erected by the State of Texas for the State Centenial which reads:

On This Site Stood Fort Lipantitlán. Occupied in 1831 by soldiers of the mexican army to prevent further anglo-american colonization in Texas captured November 4, 1835 by volunteers under Captain Ira Westover. Unsuccessfully attacked June 7, 1842 by 700 men under Gen. Antonio Canales while defended by 192 men under General James Davis. Five acres of land surrounding the site of the Fort were generously donated to the State of Texas by the heirs of J.C. Bluntzer in 1937.

Today, the site itself covers about five acres densely packed mesquite trees. An old cistern and the remnents of a small fountain can be found in the center of the circular drive that traverses the site. A few feet west of the cistern lies a small, half-buried concrete marker with the word "Lipantitlán". The only time this marker is visible is shortly after the grass and weeds are mowed and that isn't very often these days. At one time the state had installed several picnic tables on concrete slabs throughout the small park, but these are gone now, except for the smattering of concrete slabs. Several private residences are located near the site in close enough proxcimity to detract from any feeling of being away from civilization. After taking a few photos and enjoying the 100+ temperatures we headed back to the relative coolness of the coast leaving Ft. Lipantitlán to continue it's history as a forlorn outpost of Texas history.

Related Subject: Ft. Lipantitlán's sister fort in east Texas, Ft. Teran

from The New Handbook Of Texas

Fort Lipantitlán (meaning "Lipan land") was conceived about 1825 by José M. J. Carbajal. The site, now in northwestern Nueces County, was that of camping grounds of the Lipan Apache Indians on the west bank of the Nueces River about three miles upstream from the old town of San Patricio, which is on the east side of the river. At the site a number of ancient trails beaten by game animals, Indians, and explorers crossed. An old presidio was also reportedly there as early as 1734 but had completely vanished. Mexican general Manuel de Mier y Terán , acting on the orders to restrict Anglo immigration into Texas, commissioned the fort and placed Capt. Enrique Villareal in command. He served until 1835, when he was relieved by Capt. Nicolás Rodríguez.

Author John Linn wrote, "The fort was a simple embankment of earth, lined within by fence-rails to hold the dirt in place, and would have answered tolerably well, perhaps, for a second-rate hog pen." After its construction it was garrisoned with from eighty to 120 men; however, many times the complement was much less. Each of the four parapets was designed for one cannon, but it is doubtful if the fort was ever fully armed. Evidently several buildings and at least one barracks were built surrounding the embankments. James McGloin, in his account of the battle of Lipantitlán (November 4, 1835), makes reference to burning several houses, including a barracks.

The Mexican armies, coming north by land out of Mexico, headed to Goliad, Refugio, and East Texas during the Texas Revolution and crossed the Nueces at either the De Leon Crossing at the fort or Paso de Santa Margarita near San Patricio. During this period Mexican troops were in almost constant occupancy of the fort. Captain Rodríguez was in command of the Mexican forces when Capt. Ira J. Westover and a force of about seventy Texans defeated the Mexicans on November 4, 1835. Since the Texans did not occupy the fort after their victory, Mexican forces continued to use the old fort on occasion.

Fort Lipantitlán played an important role in the years immediately after the war, when Federalist forces under Gen. Antonio Canales sought refuge on the Nueces River to regroup and to seek assistance from Americans. Gen. James Davis repulsed Mexican troops under Canales at Lipantitlán on July 7, 1842. After the Mexican War put an end to Mexican armies in Texas, Lipantitlán was abandoned and grew up in brush.

In the mid-1980s digs on private land uncovered a number of artifacts in a rather large camp adjacent to the old fort where families and army women lived. A population of 300 or more in the camp is considered likely. The site of the old fort is a state park, but no traces of the earthen embankments remain. The archeological digs confirmed Indian presence before the Spanish and Mexican eras, as well as occupancy by Texas forces in 1842. Aboriginal ceramics, Indian artifacts, personal items, all types of military buttons and ordnance (Spanish, Mexican, and Texan), money, and miscellaneous hardware were among the hundreds of artifacts recovered.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Eugene C. Barker, ed., The Austin Papers (3 vols., Washington: GPO, 1924-28). William Campbell Binkley, ed., Official Correspondence of the Texan Revolution, 1835-1836 (2 vols., New York: Appleton-Century, 1936). Bethel Coopwood, "The Route of Cabeza de Vaca," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 3 (October 1899, January, April 1900). Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., Harriet Smither, et al., eds., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar (6 vols., Austin: Texas State Library, 1920-27; rpt., Austin: Pemberton Press, 1968). Hobart Huson, Refugio: A Comprehensive History of Refugio County from Aboriginal Times to 1953 (2 vols., Woodsboro, Texas: Rooke Foundation, 1953, 1955). Hobart Huson, Captain Philip Dimmitt's Commandancy of Goliad, 1835-1836 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1974). Hobart Huson, Souvenir Program, Refugio County Centennial Celebration (Refugio: Refugio Timely Remarks, 1936?). John J. Linn, Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas (New York: Sadlier, 1883; 2d ed., Austin: Steck, 1935; rpt., Austin: State House, 1986). Joseph Milton Nance, Attack and Counterattack: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1842 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Keith Guthrie


The easiest way to get to Ft. Lipantitlán is to take State Highway 359 south from Mathis, Texas to the small town of Sandia. Just as you are about to leave Sandia turn to the left on FM 70. After about 5 miles or so you will come to a "T" intersection. Take a right and continue on FM 70. About 8 tenths of a mile from this intersection, turn left on Jim Wells County Rd 58. There are two markers at this intersection concerning Ft. Lipantitlán. CR 58 will make a very hard left and turn into Nueces County Rd 101 which takes you straight into Ft. Lipantitlán State Park.

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