By Daniel Jones, Sabine Index editor
Over 140 people stood at the Lobanillo Swales on the El Camino Real de los Tejas Monday, April 16 and many could visualize the traffic that began traveling the route over 400 years ago. First were the buffalo and Indian tribes that roamed the land here for thousands of years. The Indians traveled the route even before they had horses. In the 1600s, Spaniards claimed the land and named it Tejas after the Caddo meaning friend.
The Swales were discovered several years ago by Jeff Williams, a professor at Stephen F. Austin University. The National El Camino Real de los Tejas Association raised money to purchase the land with the assistance of Judge Darrell Melton of Sabine County. Serving on the 16 member board at that time were Chief Rufus Davis of the Adai Caddo Tribe, Linda Curtis-Sparks, Director of the Sabine Parish Tourist Commission, Duke Lyons of San Augustine, Christopher Talbot of Nacogdoches, and 12 additional board members.
Missionaries and soldiers traveling well-worn routes built missions to establish an economy and presidios (military posts) to protect its territory from France. Their efforts opened the El Camino Real (Royal Road), part of Spain’s road network into the New World. The El Camino Real de los Tejas brought expansive change – trade, settlements, war, independence, and statehood. It fastened cultural attraction and created a distinct mosaic of lifetimes that still color the land today. Spanish text recognized the Lobanillo Swales as a historic landmark on the landscape where two main branches of the El Camino converged into one route heading west to San Antonio and then on to Monclova, Mexico. The Swales were created through repeated use and travel over an upland terrace ridge, which incised the landscape 18 feet deep and 12 feet wide.
Today when one walks up and sees the monumental, undulating landmark and proceeds to walk into the deep, wide swales, one has a palpable sense of the Spanish Colonial experience of traveling on the El Camino Real de los Tejas. The National Park Service (NPS), celebrating its 50th year in existence this year, provided funds for archaeological digs and various studies pertaining to the site. NPS also funded the walking trails. The El Camino Real de los Tejas is divided into 4 regions. The Caddo Region is 175 miles long from Crockett, Texas to Natchitoches, Louisiana. The Caddo marketing group’s purpose is to create travel along the trail that will bring economic benefit to the region. They meet bi-monthly. The annual Sale on the Trail, held the first weekend of May, is sponsored by the group, plus familiarization tours for writers and the press, and various other marketing strategies.
They also participated in funding the interpretive panels at the Swales. Rebecca Blankenbaker of the Cane River National Heritage Area currently represents the Louisiana parishes on the National Association and serves with 15 members from Texas. Those on the program to present acknowledgements concerning the purchase and development of the Swales were Steven Gonzales of Austin, Texas, Director of the National El Camino Real, Aaron Marr of Santa Fe, New Mexico with the National Park Service, Weldon McDaniel, Historian of Hemphill, Texas, and Judge Darrell Melton of Sabine County. Steven Gonzales recognized Felix Holmes of Sabine County with a lifetime membership in the National Association for his dedication in helping to guide the work of the walking trails and interpretive area that surround the Swales. The Swales will become an important component of heritage tourism for the Toledo Bend area.
They are located approximately 50 miles from Natchitoches and 20 miles from Toledo Bend and will be a major stop for tourists traveling the El Camino Real de los Tejas. Citizens wishing to join the National El Camino Real de los Tejas Association can do so by going to www.nps.gov. For information on the Caddo Region of the El Camino, go to www. VisitElCaminoReal.com.