This article appeared in the October 2009 issue of the Helotes Echo.
Miguel Menchaca & La Quinta de las Piedras (The House of Stones)
By Cynthia Leal Massey
An historic stone villa at the foot of a hill just north of the city limits of Grey Forest stands testament to the fascinating life of a Tejano pioneer. Near Scenic Loop Road, an ancient Indian trail and stagecoach route that parallels Helotes Creek, the home and its lush and fertile environs provided a battleground for tribes that frequented the area until the late 1870s. Indians often dropped boulders from the top of the hill onto the house to frighten its occupants, who fired rifles in defense through the gun-slits built in the thick walls of the two-story structure.
Built in 1858 by Miguel Menchaca, the House of Stones was awarded Texas Historic Landmark designation in 1965. A private residence not open to the public, the stone villa, nevertheless, provides an intriguing backdrop for the story of its first owner, Miguel Menchaca.
Menchaca is often confused with namesake individuals who have similar biographies: a rebel Tejano soldier who died in 1813 during the battle of Medina, and a renegade Tejano of dubious character captured by Comanches in 1781. The Miguel Menchaca who settled “on the Arroyo de los Helotes” was both a soldier and an Indian captive; however, his identity is uniquely his own, and is here for the first time revealed.
Miguel was not a Menchaca by birth, but by adoption. José Miguel Valdes, son of Luciano Valdes and Melitona Lopez, was born in 1811, and baptized May 12 at the Santa Rosa de Lima Church in Melchor Musquiz, Coahuila, then a sister state of Tejas, which was part of Mexico.
The young boy’s father died before Miguel was four, and his mother remarried on
November 5, 1815. Her new husband, Marcos Menchaca, was a soldier in the La Babia Presidial Company (in what is now the town of Melchor Musquiz, Mexico). Whether Marcos adopted Miguel formally is unknown, however, the boy was given his stepfather’s surname.
Menchaca’s youngest daughter Matilde wrote the story of her father’s life in a 1956 memoir, five years before her death at age 86. Her reminisces provided the clues to his identity, and helped to flesh out his life story.
When Miguel was nine years old, according to Matilde, he and his younger brother were “stolen by Indians.” The boys were looking for wood for their mother so she could make a fire for cooking. As they were scouring the countryside, Indians rode by and grabbed them, putting them on their horses’ bare backs. His younger brother jumped off and was shot with an arrow and killed. The frightened Miguel stayed on the horse. Captive for several years, he often went hungry. The Indians gave him raw horsemeat, but he wouldn’t eat it, so they “would burn him with burning wood sticks.”
He escaped one day when he was on foot and out of sight of his captors. A woman captive on horseback said she was going to escape and asked if he wanted to join her. He said he did. “They ran until the horse could run no more,” wrote Matilde.
They arrived on foot in the village of San Antonio. Miguel could no longer speak Spanish, only the Indian dialect of his captors. He was taken to one of the missions, where he re-learned his boyhood language and worked for a priest selling saint statues. “That is how he passed the time until [he] became a man and left the priest,” wrote Matilde.
Matilde’s memoir skips an important portion of her father’s life: his years as a
soldier for the Republic of Texas. According to Texas Republic Claims documents at the Texas Archives, Miguel served as a volunteer soldier between the commencement of the Texas revolution at Gonzales in 1835 and the first of January 1837. A soldier in Capt. Manual Leal’s Company, he took part in the siege and capture of San Antonio in December of 1835 against Mexican General Martin Perfecto de Cos. Miguel was well acquainted with Tejano legend Juan Seguin, who vouched for his service.
Menchaca married his first wife, Refugia, after his stint as a soldier. In 1837, his first child, Francisco, was born, followed two years later by Cesario, whom the couple named after Miguel’s half-brother. Miguel also had a half-sister, Maria Josefa. His stepfather and mother, who died in 1835, maintained a home in Melchor Musquiz, Coahuila, where his siblings were born and lived.
By 1850, Miguel was working as a farmer in southern San Antonio. Because of his service for the Republic of Texas, he was awarded a grant of 640 acres. He sold the grant acreage, using some of the money proceeds to purchase 280 acres in the Helotes settlement in 1857.
He then commenced the building of his House of the Stones, fortifying it against Indian attacks. He built the house over a spring, so that in times of siege, the family would have access to water. Unfortunately, his wife died about this time. In 1860, his 23¬year-old son Francisco was married and living on a farm adjacent to Miguel’s. Twenty¬year-old Cesario was living with his father, along with several other relatives.
Tragedy again struck Menchaca when both of his sons were killed during their service in the Civil War. According to Matilde, “The years went by; my father’s wife died and the sons were taken as soldiers and died in the war.” Miguel decided to return to Mexico to find a new wife, leaving his home in charge of Manuel Martinez and his wife, Teodora Lasarin, a move he would later come to regret.
Menchaca was gone for several years. In about 1863, he married the much younger Clemencia San Miguel, who was from Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Their first child, José Eutemio, was christened there in early 1864. When the family returned to Miguel’s Helotes home, along with a herd of goats and two shepherds, “the Martinez family would not move out of the ranch,” according to Matilde.
In 1867, Menchaca gave up his fight against the Martinez family, who had asserted squatter’s rights. Nevertheless, Menchaca held legal title to the property. He sold it to another man, who in turn sold almost half the acreage, including the stone villa, to Manuel Martinez. The house stayed in the Martinez family for 94 years.
Menchaca purchased 160 acres a few miles northeast of his original property and built another family homestead (which no longer exists). He and his wife added three more children to their family: Isabel, Meliton, and Matilde. Of their four children, only Isabel, who married Rogelio Robles, had descendants.
Miguel Menchaca did not live long in the house he built and that bears his name, yet his memory lives on. And according to subsequent owners of the House of Stones, so does his vibrant spirit. Cynthia Leal Massey is the author of Helotes, Where the Texas Hill Country Begins,
Isabel and Rogelio Robles had a son named Milton M. Robles who married Anita S. Robles. Milton and Anita had 6 children one of them is Gloria Robles who married Cary Alsobrook. Gloria and Cary are my parents. My name is Mary Alsobrook. I (Mary) had two children Anita Maddox and Nathen Maddox. Anita Maddox who married Derrek Potter. Anita and Dererk had two children Destiny Potter and Madison Potter. Later Anita divorced Derrek. Anita Maddox and Michael J Austen Had one son Elijah Austen.