THE SAN YGNACIO SUNDIAL - By Roberto Uribe

In a roundabout way, here is the story of how and why the sundial above the entrance of the walled fort in San Ygnacio, Texas was placed there. It all started when two boys from Revilla (later Guerrero) in Tamualipas, Mexico, José Villareal and his cousin Cósme Damián Martínez, both 13 years at the time, were captured by Indians (probably Lipan Apaches) around the year 1820, and were taken across the Río Grande into Texas. The hostiles took the boys in a northerly direction for some ten days before they managed to escape. Once on their own, in order to confuse the Indians, the boys used the North Star to guide them and continued heading north. While the Indians, thinking the two lads would head directly for home, took after them in a southerly direction. After a few days, the boys turned towards the South and for countless days they traveled only at night and hid in the brush during the day until they reached the Río Grande. Once they reached the river, the two boys walked downstream until they came upon the small settlement of Palafox, just north of Laredo, where they were well received by the inhabitants and were nursed back to health before they were returned to Revilla. José Villareal never forgot his harrowing experience with the Indians and the important role the stars had played in directing them back toward the Rio Grande. As a young man while he was visiting a city in the interior of México he saw a sundial and immediately wanted to learn how he could construct one. He was taught how to set the numbers on the dial and most importantly, how it was to be positioned with the arrow in its center pointing directly towards the North Star.

When José was visiting San Ygnacio in 1851, while Don Blas María Uribe still had the town’s walled fort under construction, he asked permission to build a sundial to be set above the entrance of the new building. When Don Blas granted permission, José set about polishing two identical stones on both sides and carefully drilling a hole in the center of each where he was to place an iron arrow for a pointer.

Before one of the stones was set permanently with mortar above the entrance to the fort, José Villarreal had to align the sundial at night by peeking through the hole in the center of the stone to line it up with the North Star that had helped guide him to safety as a boy. The iron arrow was then set through the hole so in the daytime when the sun was shining, the shadow from this rod would tell the time on the face of the stone. The setting of the stone had to be between the time of the northern equinox of the sun (the northernmost travel of the sun) and when the sun was on the equator (probably sometime in May). The sundial is read on the north side of the stone in winter and the south side in summer, except for two or three days out of the year.This sundial in San Ygnacio was José Villarreal's monument to the North Star in appreciation for guiding him and his cousin, Cósme Damián Martínez, home. Legend has it that the second stone that José Villareal prepared in case the first stone was broken was never used. It is said that this stone was carefully wrapped in rawhides and buried in the fort grounds. It has never been found.

Roberto D. Uribe was born in 1932 and raised in Laredo, Texas, attending public schools until he joined the Navy in 1950. He used to spend the summer months in San Ygnacio with aunts and a great-grandmother, Olalla Gutiérrez de Uribe. It was there when he first heard the story of the sundial, for his great-grandmother used to tell her bisnietos stories of her childhood.

While in the Navy, Roberto served on the Praire, a destroyer tender. He was involved in Hydraulics and diesel engines. After the Navy, he worked on both diesel engines and hydraulics all his life. He passed away in September 1998.

Antonio Uribe-brother


Editor’s Note:

I’d like to thank Antonio Uribe, brother of Roberto D. Uribe, for sharing this incredible oral history story with our readers. This is a good example of a story not being forgotten or lost. Thanks to Roberto for writing this story down for future generations to enjoy.

Homero S. Vera

• return to Sample Stories