Sabinal: Gateway to the Frio

What’s the story of Sabinal? According to The Texas State Historical Association Handbook, the town was originally known as Hammer’s Station because the first settler at the site was a Thomas B. Hammer. It was he who established a stage stop there on the east bank of the Sabinal River in 1854. Interestingly, another early settler was a fellow named Peter Rheiner, who became the father-in-law of Vice President John Nance Garner. A post office was opened at the stage stop on October 19, 1954, and Hammer was its first postmaster. Travelers who came along could observe long lines of freight wagons on the road carrying supplies to settlers and soldiers on the far western frontier. Reportedly, this community, which lay en route between Del Rio and Castroville, was so isolated that its residents were eager for any news from the outside world that they could gain from passersby.
In 1856, Camp Sabinal was established. The Second United States Calvary, under the command of Albert S. Johnston, was stationed at Fort Mason as the last mounted unit left in Texas. Johnston distributed the six companies to different outposts along the Texas frontier, and Company I was assigned to Camp Sabinal under the command of Capt. Albert G. Brackett. It was located on the riverbank opposite Hammer’s Station to protect people and commerce on this road that led from San Antonio to El Paso. This was at a time that hostile Indians and outlaws posed a real threat. Case in point, in 1857, Thomas Hammer was killed by bandits. Later, the fort served as a Texas Ranger camp. (A Proud Heritage: A History of Uvalde County, 1975)
By the time of the Civil War, Sabinal was on the mail route and wagon trail from San Antonio to Mexico. Thus, a pioneer merchant named Louis M. Peters built a successful general store in 1874. Upon the arrival of the railroad in Sabinal in 1881, Peters moved the store to a site east of the river, and that location became the center of town with the rest of the community moving to Sabinal’s present site. Also in 1881, Angora goats were imported from Turkey. By 1884, Peters was serving as postmaster, and Sabinal had a population of about 150, a public school, two churches, and a hotel; and local ranchers were thriving by shipping wool, livestock, and hides.

Remnants of the old Trio School, annexed into Sabinal in the 1940s.

Farming was also a profitable endeavor, and by 1893, corn, cotton, oats, and sugarcane were being cultivated on farms around the community, with many farmers utilizing the “aer-motor water well windmill” for irrigation. This and other necessities were available at John T. Wilson’s lumberyard. Visitors who traveled through Sabinal could find lodging at two hotels, the Mitchell House and the Sabinal Hotel.
By the turn of the century, the population of Sabinal had reached 500, and Uvalde County school records showed that 156 students attended three schools in the surrounding area. By 1906, Sabinal was surrounded by 1,500 acres of cultivated land, and in that year, the town was incorporated. W. D. Heard was the first mayor. Soon after, the Sabinal Telephone Company was granted a franchise, the city water and fire departments were organized, and the community now had six cotton gins.
As of 1911, Sabinal had grown to be a commercial and agricultural center with an estimated 35,000 acres of cultivation, five general stores, and a population now of 1,500. In addition to a growing cotton industry, farmers were also raising oats, corn, and sorghum grains. Ranchers were raising thousands of hogs, cattle, sheep, and goats and producing thousands of pounds of wool and mohair annually.
By this time, there were Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Church of Christ churches. Also, in 1907, members of the Church of Christ had founded the Sabinal Christian College. Unfortunately, inadequate financial backing and poor patronage led to its closing in 1917. Meanwhile, there was a high school, grade school, ice plant, two banks, and a weekly newspaper called the Sentinel – started by publisher Harold Baldwin in 1890. In 1925, a new high school was built near the center of the town.
Outside of the central community of Sabinal, several area schools had been established. Live Oak School (established in 1907), initially located on the August Glaeser farm, was moved to another site that would become Trio. In 1915, Hackberry and Prairie View schools were consolidated with the Live Oak School and thus formed the Trio School district (so named for the three schools it would comprise). A new, four-classroom brick building was constructed which would accommodate grades one through ten, and the old wooden Live Oak schoolhouse was converted to provide living quarters for some of the Trio teachers. By 1950, the Trio school district had been incorporated into the Sabinal ISD, and by 1960, all that remained of the Trio community was three residences and the abandoned school house. It is said that the brick school became privately owned and for a time was used for storing hay. Today, all that remains of the Trio settlement are remnants of that Trio school, its main structure having been destroyed by fire in the 1990s.
By 1990, Sabinal had 1,584 residents in its farming and ranching community, but folks all over Texas recognize Sabinal as a gateway to exciting recreational and retirement communities on the Frio.