Continuing the Trailist’s recent emphasis on smaller parks that don’t get much attention, I decided to check out Huebner-Onion Natural Area, located in Leon Valley off Bandera Road. 

Most of the 36-acre natural area was once a horse, mule, and cattle pasture for the Huebner family, who once owned an 200-acre expanse. Austrian jeweler Joseph Huebner immigrated to Texas in the 1850s and built his home there, eventually creating a stagecoach stop and blacksmith’s shop with overnight lodging for travelers. 

Today, the natural area is mostly wooded park, except for a nearly mile-long single-track dirt trail that cuts around the perimeter. Park rules say to stay on the trail and not to venture deeper into the forest.

Huebner-Onion Natural Area

Offers: Walking, trail-running
Location: Access via the parking lot at Raymond Rimkus Park at 6440 Evers Rd, Leon Valley, TX 78238.
Trail miles: 0.9 miles of single track dirt trail
Restrooms: Restrooms and potable water only at Rimkus. 

Trail runners or those seeking a quiet walk in the shade will enjoy this trail. However, it’s not wheelchair-accessible, motor vehicles aren’t allowed, and I wouldn’t recommend it for mountain biking. Adding to the total trail mileage is a little more than a mile of gravel and paved trail at the adjacent Raymond Rimkus Park, a more traditional public space with playgrounds, sports fields, and a community garden.

I picked Huebner-Onion for this review simply because it was a green spot on the map I hadn’t visited before, but it didn’t take long to get sucked into the ghost legends that surround the Huebner homestead. 

A white-tailed doe peers out from the dense landscape of Huebner-Onion Natural Area.
A white-tailed doe peers out from the dense landscape of Huebner-Onion Natural Area. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Most originated with the Onion family, which bought the property in the 1930s. Many of the sources quote John Onion Jr., who told stories about hearing phantom steps on the stairwell and a distinctive click from his mother’s iron with no one in the room. Read more of those stories here.

Whether because of the ghost stories or simply because it was a spooky old house that was fun to explore, the house became a magnet for trespassers and vandals. In a 2014 research project, Northwest Vista College student Adrian Lopez documented the home’s possible past use in occult rituals during the 1980s and 1990s. 

His report, included on the Leon Valley Historical Society’s website, includes photos of goat-headed symbols and pentagrams scrawled in spray paint and carved into the fire-scarred wood. He concluded that the “the patterns of satanic imagery as well as the location of burning could suggest that during a ceremonial use of lights, the participants of the ritual may have intentionally or accidentally committed arson.”

But even before the trespassers had lit their flames and scrawled their tributes to the mysterious Baphomet, the almighty dollar’s influence had threatened to pave over the former ranchland. A 1995 aerial photo shows the pasture surrounded by a widened Bandera Road and encroaching neighborhoods, strip malls, and fast food joints. Huebner-Onion is now one of the only islands of natural space in the area. 

Fearing the loss of such a historic piece of land in the late 1990s, the historical society worked with the City of Leon Valley to preserve it. The city acquired the 36 acres of former pasture on Halloween of 2000, while the society ended up with the deed to the homestead itself. 

At the time, pasture grasses and forbs covered most of the natural area, though strips of trees lined the creeks that converge there. But two decades’ worth of mesquite and cedar elm trees have since grown in dense thickets.

That screen of brush blocked the Huebner gravesite until I was only a few feet away. In a dark section of trees along the trail on the property’s northern edge, the stone wall with a metal gate surrounds an obelisk-shaped grave marker, near a plaque from the Texas Historical Association. 

Legend has it that Huebner died on the property in 1882 after mistakenly drinking from a bottle of kerosene he thought was whiskey. It turns out that historians aren’t even certain that the grave is Huebner’s; the plaque states the site is “widely believed” to mark his final resting place. 

I wish I could bust the story wide open of whether Huebner’s spirit still lingers, but unfortunately a KSAT reporter beat me to the scene back in 2016. A television news crew visited the house with paranormal investigators in a story that featured an interview with a psychic medium and B-roll of people with cameras and electronics groping at “cold spots” in the empty air in front of them. 

The news segment concludes that “there’s no telling whether the ghost of Joseph Huebner still haunts the house.” Ah, what a shame.

The homestead itself remains fenced off to visitors, but a short stretch of paved greenway trail ends nearby. Crews are working on a connection that crosses below Bandera Road and eventually will link the park to San Antonio’s Leon Creek Greenway via its Huebner Creek artery. 

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.