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Contact: Douglas Murphy, 956-541-2785 x330
It's a common question at the Palo Alto Visitor Center, and it isn't as crazy as it sounds.
Travelers driving along Texas highway 77 between Corpus Christi and Brownsville often spot a roadside monument that implies that this is what happened. At the rest area near Sarita, Texas-just outside the men's restroom-- a Texas State Historical Marker boldly announces.
"Under this tree General Zachary Taylor, commanding the Expeditionary Army of the United States sent to Texas in 1845, encamped on March 15, 1846, while en route with his troops from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande."
Many people laugh at the thought of 4000 U.S. soldiers lining up to use the restroom. Others point out that the small tree beside the marker clearly does not look more than 160 years old. Most travelers probably shake their heads and quickly forget. But some remember, and when they reach Palo Alto, they frequently ask.
Did Zachary Taylor really camp at a rest area?
The answer is No.
Taylor's army did camp numerous times during its ten-day march from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande Valley in March of 1846. One of those camps was in the vicinity of Sarita, and somewhere in the vicinity of the present-day highway 77. And, some U.S. soldiers may have slept on the ground now occupied by a rest area. But neither Zachary Taylor nor the mentioned tree, ever put down roots on that piece of soil.
The confusion dates back more than 30 years.
In 1978, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) received a request to place the marker onto the grounds of the newly constructed stopping place. Mrs. Elena Kenedy, of the nearby La Parra Ranch submitted the application, believing that relocating the monument would increase its visibility and improve public awareness of the events that had occurred nearby.
Because, this was a Texas Centennial Marker-placed by the State of Texas in 1936 to mark 100 years of Texas independence-TxDOT engineers consulted with the Texas Historic Commission before moving forward with the project. They wished to make certain that there was no problem in moving a monument that was becoming historic in its own right. They also expressed concerned that moving the marker 200 yards would invalidate the words etched in stone.
In their research of the matter, the staff of the Texas Historic Commission discovered that the monument was already misleading. Although the marker rested beneath a large tree, it was not the plant referred to in the text. Mrs. Kenedy had already had the monument moved once before, transferring it more than a mile west of its initial position so that it would lie along Highway 77. The original site of the marker was unknown. The actual tree, if still alive, was forgotten.
Texas Historic Commission officials approved the relocation of the Taylor marker to the new location. They also suggested the creation of a brass plate that could be affixed to the memorial that would state, "The Marker was moved in 1978 to a new stance on the historic campground. The General's tent was one mile east of here."
Either no one ever produced the plaque or it never became attached to the marker. To this day, the marker, with nothing more than its original inscription, sits on the grounds of the rest stop, in the shade of a sapling tree, raising eyebrows and raising questions.