The Eyes of Father Margil

On April 27, 1716, seventy-five clergymen, soldiers, and civilians crossed the Rio Grande headed north and east. They travelled with all their tools and livestock for hundreds of miles before resting under the boughs of the East Texas woods. There they founded some half-dozen missions, little settlements intended to convert the Indians, and offset the French influence creeping west from Louisiana.

Among these missions, founded on the ninth of July, was Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de los Nacogdoches. At its head was Father Antonio Margil de Jesus, a Franciscan missionary from Valencia who left Spain in 1683 and spent nearly fifty years founding missionary colleges in the Americas and ministering to the indigenous population.

At first, the mission seemed to be a success. In 1717, however, a severe drought struck East Texas, killing crops, draining Lanana Creek nearly dry, and causing many of the natives to leave the mission. This continued into the summer of the next year, the state of the mission growing worse with every passing day. At last, distressed by the loss of his flock, Father Margil was caught up in a vision.

He took his staff and began to walk up the creek, a crowd following behind him. He stopped at a bend in its course, gazing at an overhanging rock shelf. The others watched as he struck the tall creek bank twice with his staff, and each time a steam of water gushed forth. From those two spouts the whole creek was filled again, the crops began to recover, and the Indians found the inspiration to stay at the mission. The spring became known as Los Ojos de Padre Margil—the Eyes of Father Margil.

Almost three hundred years later, there is a trail along Lanana Creek. I am fond of it, and walk its six mile length whenever I can. Once, after hearing the story of Father Margil, I walked that portion of the trail where the spring was said to have been all those ages ago. There is a place where the path diverges into a tangle of walkways, and one of them leads up some wooden stairs along a rise in what used to be the creek bank. On one side is a wall of earth, on the other an oxbow pond. In that wall of earth, I saw a little trickle of water flowing down.

Some months later I returned to that place to find it substantially improved. Large areas had been cleared, benches had been set out, and a stone marker sat beside the oxbow pond, facing the bank and my trickle of water. This area had been declared “Father Margil Park,” and old stories passed down through families that had lived in Nacogdoches since time immemorial proved my hopes right. In that little trickle, grown small through the centuries, I had seen the Eyes of Father Margil.

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