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Historic trail ‘signs on’

U.S. Senator speaks at El Camino Real dedication
By MIKE BROWN
Reporter Editor

Apache Pass is a time machine and the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail is the road that takes you back through the centuries.

Speakers, including U. S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, echoed that theme in a Monday ceremony at the historic crossing on the San Gabriel River, dedicating the first signs along the historic 2,500-mile route which stretches from Louisiana to the Rio Grande.

Milam County is the first place to get signs—62 of them—and Monday’s gathering, attended by an estimated 600, including students bused in from area schools, was intended to mark that honor.

But one speaker, Aaron Mahr, trail superintendent, sounded more like a poet than an administrator as he looked out at the place where Apaches once forded the San Gabriel River and Spanish priests walked to mass at three nearby 18th Century missions.

“This place (Apache Pass) has the intrinsic ability to convey its historical significance to visitors,” he said.


From left, Sen. Hutchison delivers keynote, Dr. Terry Colley, deputy executive director of the Texas Historical Commission, presents flowers to Dr. Lucile Estell and Joy Graham, commemorating their many volunteer hours to make the trail designation a reality. 
Reporter/Mike Brown From left, Sen. Hutchison delivers keynote, Dr. Terry Colley, deputy executive director of the Texas Historical Commission, presents flowers to Dr. Lucile Estell and Joy Graham, commemorating their many volunteer hours to make the trail designation a reality. Reporter/Mike Brown Mahr said a visitor walking along the riverbank, or crossing the river on the suspension bridge erected by owners Kit and Linda Worley “can put himself, or herself, into a vicarious experience of historic times.”

BUS TRIP—Sen. Hutchison, whose Senate Bill 2052 assured the El Camino Real Trail would be added to the trail division of the National Park Service, also fell under the spell of history.

“This trail reflects the optimism and the spirit of Texas,” she said.


Emotional ceremony for Apache Pass owners Kit and Linda Worley, who were praised for their assistance. Emotional ceremony for Apache Pass owners Kit and Linda Worley, who were praised for their assistance. Hutchison said when the trail was assured, she and several officials completed a five-day bus trip from Milam (the East Texas border city, not the county) to Eagle Pass on the Rio Grande.

“It’s the neatest thing I’ve done since I’ve been in the Senate,” she said.

Hutchison is a self-confessed history buff. An ancestor not only signed the Texas Declaration of Independence but was also a friend of Thomas J. Rusk who was named one of Texas’ first two senators—the other was Sam Houston—after Texas joined the union in 1845.

Hutchison now occupies Rusk’s seat in the U. S. Senate. She did not seek reelection and will retire when her current term expires Dec. 31.

‘TREASURE’—Steven Gonzales, executive director of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association, noted that El Camino Real is the second oldest national historic trail in the United States park system.


Speakers included (L-R) Aaron Mahr, trail superintendent, and Steven Gonzales, executive director of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historical Trail Association. Speakers included (L-R) Aaron Mahr, trail superintendent, and Steven Gonzales, executive director of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historical Trail Association. “It’s a real treasure,” Gonzales said. “We might not even be calling Texas ‘Texas’ if not for this trail.”

Gonzales said the first attempt to survey and delineate the trail was in 1918.

He said the trail is actually a collection of interconnected trails instead of one pathway.

VOLUNTEERS—Mahr said the National Historic Trail movement’s mission is to alert Americans “to the fact that nationally significant events occurred in their back yards.”

“And we do this with a limited amount of federal assistance,” he said. “We’re going to rely on volunteers to help develop the trail.”

Both Gonzales and Mahr praised cooperation of Apache Pass land owners Kit and Linda Worley.

“This trail is all about community,” he said.

He praised the Worleys for making Apache Pass available to the public on a limited basis.


U. S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison helps unveil the first signs along entire El Camino Real trail during Monday ceremony. 
Reporter/Mike Brown U. S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison helps unveil the first signs along entire El Camino Real trail during Monday ceremony. Reporter/Mike Brown

“This (Apache Pass) has a real sense of place,” he said.

SHOVELS—Dr. Terry Colley, deputy executive director of the Texas Historical Commission listed a number of persons who assisted in the trail’s development and ended with a tribute to two Rockdale residents, Dr. Lucile Estell and Joy Graham.

Both are local historians who have worked to create the trail in a variety of ways, scholarly and otherwise.

“They look very nice today,” Dr. Colley said. “But I’ve seen them with shovels in their hands, moving dirt, taking GPS (Global Positioning System) readings under bridges and giving all kinds of characters rides.”

WORK TO DO—Final speaker was County Judge Dave Barkemeyer.

He noted that Milam County not only has the honor of being the first area to get signs for the nation’s newest national historic trail but also has the responsibility to install all 62 of them.

Barkemeyer looked out at the county commissioners, who attended the ceremony. “It looks like we’ve got some work to do,” he smiled.

PROGRAM—Others on Monday’s program included:

• Dr. Estell, welcome.

• Cameron Boy Scout Troop 752 and Art Free, lieutenant colonel (retired), United States Army, presentation and retirement of colors.

• Carl Mica, board member, El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historical Trail Association, appreciation and recognition.

HISTORY—According to the National Park Service, El Camino Real de los Tejas (The King’s Highway of Texas) connected a series of Spanish missions and posts, from Mexico City to Los Adaes (first capital of the Texas province), now in northwestern Louisiana.


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The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.


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