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The Harry Ransom Center located on the University of Texas Austin campus is celebrating its first fifty years of existence this year. The Ransom Center is a remarkable facility filled with countless thousands of historical treasures ranging from one of five Gutenberg Bibles in the world to the first photograph ever made. The center has an amazing archive including probably the finest nineteenth and twentieth century collection of Texas photographs anywhere. This includes the Big Bend photos made by the "Matthew Brady" of the Big Bend, W. D. Smithers. The Smithers Collection contains nearly 3,000 photographs made by Smithers and other photographers from original negatives and glass plates. Other notable holdings include a first edition of "Leaves Of Grass" signed by Walt Whitman and Scarlett O'Hara's "Gone With The Wind" movie dress. The center is said to be one of the world's most significant collections of arts and letters and it truly is. For more about the Ransom Center see:

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Eleven years after Neeley's fine study of Quanah Parker comes Jack K. Selden's "Return: The Parker Story". Published by Clacton Press, this 311 page hardcover book, ISBN-13:978-0-9659898-2-4, details the story of the Parker family, the kidnapping of Quanah's mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, and her tragic life and death. Although I don't know him personally, Jack was a fellow contributing writer for the new "Handbook Of Texas" published by the Texas State Historical Association and has written for several Texas newspapers and magazines. He also has appeared on the History Channel. Selden's expertise in writing history is plainly demonstrated in the Parker story. When I read the Neeley book, I thought it to be the definitive work on Quanah but thanks to Seldon's excellent effort, I know now that both books need to be read to fully grasp the whole story of Quanah Parker, his mother's family and their prominent place in Texas history. Seldon's telling of the Parkers reads like a who's who of Texas past including Stephen F. Austin, Sul Ross, Sam Houston and his friend Issac Parker. Seldon clearly demonstrates James Parker's unrelenting determination to find Cynthia Ann and free her that inspired John Wayne's classic character in the film, "The Searchers". Read this book and you will want to again see the movie. In addition, Seldon who married into the Parker family, details the long rift and reunion between the Quanah's Oklahoma family and the Texas Parkers. This is a book who anyone interested in Texas history should not overlook. Return: The Parker Story is available from Clacton Press at Gj

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"PRESIDIO, TEXAS (Via United States Army Telephone to Marfa) Special Wire to the El Paso Times, December 9, 1913, 12 Midnight. It is generally believed here that the federals expect and attack here and are preparing to resist."

"If they have any artillery, none of it has been brought to Ojinaga unless it came in since dark. There is great activity here tonight and judging from campfires stretching many miles to the northward and westward, troops are being rushed into position as fast as they come up from the rear and some are being sent out from Ojinaga."

"The commanders of the American forces, while maintaining a rigid guard, profess not to be alarmed by the latest developments. Nothing can be heard across the river direct as all passes are refused by guards posted by General Salazar and General Orozco."


"PRESIDIO, TEXAS (Via United States Army Telephone to Marfa) Special Wire to the El Paso Times, December 9, 1913, 10 p.m. In order to be able to cope with any emergency that might possible arise because of the presence of so many troops and disorganized and disheartened civilians across the river, another troop of cavalry was ordered from Marfa tonight to reinforce the Presidio garrison."

"Thus far, there has been no disorder, the few refugees who have crossed being too tired and too intent on getting to places of safety and comfort to be anything but grateful for the attentions that are being showered upon them after they reach the American side of the river."

"Up to this hour, fewer than 100 civilian refugees have reached Presidio among them to two sons of General Jose Ynez Salazar who will leave in the morning for Marfa to take the train for El Paso."

"Susana Perez and her children who live in El Paso and who were visiting in Chihuahua when General Villa captured Juarez, cutting off escape to the border by rail and who came overland with the refugee caravan were permitted to cross tonight and they too will leave in the morning for their El Paso home."

"General Luis Terrazas and his family arrived in Ojinaga this afternoon. They are well and in good physical condition despite their long and perilous journey, having traveled by automobile and being supplied with heavy clothing. They will be permitted to cross to Presidio some time tomorrow. Directly following them into Ojinaga were the Creels, Lujans, Cultrys and other "royal" families of Chihuahua. They all traveled in one party, guarded in front and rear by a specially delegated guard of regular federal troops. They expected to be permitted to cross the river as soon as they arrived, but for some reason, only known by the powers that be, they are being held in Ojinaga overnight."

"The main refugee party is beginning to arrive in Ojinaga by hundreds and animated by a hope that they will be permitted to cross the river as soon as they arrive, it is probable that they will continue to stream into the little Mexican town all night rather that spend another in the open in the desert. Including the soldiers, it is estimated that 4,000 or 5,000 are crowded into the adobe huts and jacals of the little Mexican town giving it the largest population it has ever seen or will ever have again."


"The people composing it are from every walk in life, are of all ages, all conditions, and in the main makeup a picture that is pitiful in the extreme. Owning to the confusion, it is almost impossible to get details of the long trek. All are suffering more or less. In the main, they tell the same tale, one of hardship and mental distress. When asked why they left their more or less comfortable homes in Chihuahua, they all say that they were led to believe that when the city fell into the hands of General Villa's soldiers, it would be looted and burned and those who had remained while it was a federal strong hold would be executed or at least imprisoned and otherwise made to pay heavily for their devotion to their homes."


"Women and children who have all their lives been used to comfort, many of them to luxury, have walked the entire distance from Chihuahua to Ojinaga, many of them reaching that point barefoot and in rags, having hardships which they never dreamed of in their happier days."


"Many deaths occurred while the journey was being made, but as no one was delegated to keep a list of those who perished, no accurate estimate has been made or probably ever will be made of the total number of victims of the order to evacuate the state capitol. From those already encamped it is learned that the total number of deaths will probably reach 75 but that is a mere guess."


"Refugees will have to be kept on the move if they are not to suffer from famine, even after the port is opened to them on Wednesday morning. Presidio is filled to overflowing now and the chances to get something to eat or a bed to sleep on are absolutely nil. Twenty-five men arrived from Marfa Tuesday. They forgot to bring their blankets with them and had to sit up all night Tuesday night around campfires, in the open, not being able to find a bed, a blanket or a roof to spread it under in either town."


"The immigration men and others connected with the United States government who will assist in getting the crowd of refuges across the river have build an "office" on the banks of the river in the form of a corral, into which all refugees will be herded as fast as they reach the American side, while they are waiting to be questioned and indexed before being given permission to pass on into the interior. The office equipment consists of a desk made of a dry goods box turned upside down and soap boxes for chairs."

The El Paso Times correspondent who wrote this article is unknown. This may have been written either by Luther Barnard or Bertram B. Caddle. Both of these fine journalists were staff correspondents who worked for the El Paso Times in those years writing many of their stories about the Mexican Revolution from the Big Bend. Gj

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On Tuesday, January 9, 2007, 05:52 PM, John Smith wrote:

"From where was the marker moved? Looking at the aerial maps it appears that the road was moved when it was paved effectively placing the marker on the other side of FM 170. The USGS shows the marker correctly (presuming the green square next to the cemetery)near the road on the east side of FM 170."

Until about six months ago, the marker was located on the west side of F.M. 170. Presently, the marker is on the east side of the highway not far from the cemetery. It should be said that the original location of the marker is located on private property and was only placed at a spot thought, in the 1930's, to be the approximate location of the Julimes mission. Since the mission remained in operation only for a very short time before the priests fled for their lives, the precise location of the mission may never be known. Gj

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Here is an email that just came in from Lupe Rodriguez:

"Per the query below a Contreras gang was stealing silver from the Shafter mine. According to an article originally published in Old West magazine Vol. 34 (Summer 1998): 10-14, it was the Antonio Carrasco gang. Which is correct?"

I checked in my copy of "Border Boss: Captain John R. Hughes-Texas Ranger" by Jack Martin and on page 108, Martin states that it was indeed Antonio Carrasco his bunch and not the "Conteras gang" as KW stated in his question below. Thanks for your keen observation. Gj

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I received the following email raising the question of whether the Texas Rangers were created "for the sole purpose" of annihilating the Comanche Indians.

Bubba (sir_onion<at>
Thursday, December 28, 2006, 09:46 PM
A review on Amazon quoted below...

"Quanah Parker was the last and probably the finest example of a Commanche (sic) warrior. Although they never numbered more than 3,000 to 5,000 warriors, the Commanche (sic) stood astride the southern gateway to the west and single handedly stopped the southwestern expansion of America for 100 years. The reason Lewis and Clark were sent north to find a route to the west coast around them. So hated by the Texans that the Texas Rangers were created with the sole purpose of annihilating them."

"You really think the Texas Rangers were created because of them? That's a stretch isn't it?"

Yes, Sir Onion, I think it very much stretching the truth to say the Texas Rangers were created with the sole purpose of annihilating the Comanche. See page 20 of "The Texas Rangers: A Century Of Frontier Defense" by Walter Prescott Webb. According to Webb who references "The Life of Stephen F. Austin" by Eugene C. Barker, Austin employed ten men to serve as Rangers in 1823. During this time and in 1824, the Tonkawas, Karankawas, Wacos and Tawakonis were causing Austin and his colonists the most trouble. Webb and the Handbook of Texas (see the Texas Rangers article by Ben H. Procter in the Handbook) both say that Austin had little trouble with the Comanche during this time. Austin himself and two companions had been captured by a band of Comanche near the Nueces River in 1821 only to be treated well and released along with most of their property. Texas lawmakers did not make use of the term Texas Rangers until 1835 when they created a force of men who served in the Texas Revolution. This group of Texas Rangers did not participate in much fighting and served more as escorts to settlers fleeing the Mexican army. It was not until the Council House Fight in March 1840 at San Antonio that any that any significant fighting between the Texas Rangers and the Comanche took place. This was the beginning of the real bloodshed between the Texas Rangers and the Comanche that lasted until the end of the Red River War when Chief Quanah Parker surrendered at Fort Sill in 1875. Gj

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I just finished reading with great enjoyment "The Last Comanche Chief: The Life And Times Of Quanah Parker" by Bill Neeley. This 276-page book, ISBN 0-471-16076-8, is well written and Neeley's first class research using an abundance of primary source documents makes it a fine study of the great chief. Here the reader will find the wonderful story of this remarkable leader of the Comanche told in fascinating detail from the 1836 raid on Parker's Fort until the death of Quanah Parker in 1911.

We learn of the days when Quanah, as a fierce young warrior, rode the Comanche war trail to Mexico and of his participation in the battle of Adobe Walls until the final conflict between the Comanche and the U.S. Army during the Red River War in the Texas Panhandle. Then a new Quanah emerges, a gifted visionary leader and politician determined to take his people out of the Stone Age and into the modern world of the Industrial Revolution. Certainly Quanah Parker had his detractors ranging from those Comanche who felt he had sold them out to the white man as well as the moralists who attacked Quanah for his use of peyote and many wives. In telling the story, the author offers a great many contemporary viewpoints to explain the reasoning and wisdom of Quanah so that he can be better understood by us living in today's world. This is a fine book that really deserves to be read by anyone interested in Texas history. Gj

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In the 1960's a group of artifact hunters explored a cave located a few miles from Chinati Peak in western Presidio County and made a remarkable discovery. Using flashlights, the men climbed through the cave entrance into a large rock shelter filled with ancient Native American artifacts. On the floor of the cave lay a considerable amount of very old camp refuge and bedding material along with quite a number of metates, sandals, baskets, and netting that had been woven from sotol and ocotilla fibre. Also, various projectile points including two still connected to shafts were found. Some were atlatl points giving a hint of the antiquity of the discovery. Digging through the scattered refuge of small corncobs, squash rinds, cactus seeds, pinion nuts, and mesquite beans, they unearthed stone knives and hide scrapers. The interior of the cave appeared to have been occupied by humans for a long period of time. The sooty, heavily blackened ceiling of the cavern indicated the existence of countless campfires along with large number of burned hearthstones on the floor inside and near the entrance the cave.

Excited by their discovery, the men set up a screen and began sifting through the dusty debris. Some forty feet from the front of the cave came their greatest find. In a heap of rubbage they discovered an extremely old, remarkably well preserved human skeleton. It apparently was the corpse of an adult male curled in a fetal position.

The finely preserved mummified corpse had rested for untold centuries in the dry atmosphere of the cave. It was clad simply in a loincloth made of antelope skin that had been chewed to soften the material. Its arms were contorted giving the appearance of grasping its throat with its right hand. The contorted position might have been a final death agony although Rex Owens, one of the pothunters present when the discovery was made, observed that the mummy might have fallen from a crevice higher in the cave at some point thereby moving the limbs.

Almost half a century after its discovery, surprisingly little is known about the Chinati mummy. The mummy and many of the artifacts found with it were on display at the West of the Pecos Museum in Pecos, Texas until just a few years ago. Since the mummy had been removed from the cave along with the artifacts found at the site, no archaeologist could be found who was willing to study or even consider this remarkable find. Even the age of the mummy will never be know since no Radio Carbon 14 dating was never performed.

The presence of atlatl points and sandals seem to indicate that the mummy may have lived in the time of Christ or before. Sadly, since the discovery, many of the artifacts found with the mummy have been lost or sold for considerable profit and scattered among various individual collections. The Chinati mummy may have been a Big Bend Basket Maker, and might possibly have been the best existing example of this long lost culture. The final stages of the Big Bend Basket Maker era lasted between 300 A. D. and 900 A. D. But unfortunately, the mummy leaves more questions than answers. Today, the mummy is no longer at the museum and is forever lost to any sort of study or research. Another priceless bit of our Texas past has been lost forever. Gj

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Any successful novelist worth his salt understands the value of first hand experience in writing. Who wants to read a historical novel or any novel without the ring of truth? There are many exceptions. Science fiction writers must rely entirely on their creative minds to produce a saleable work. Stephen Crane formed a timeless classic about the Civil War without having to without having to fight in the Great Rebellion. But he obviously talked to Civil War soldiers to learn about what it was like to be in combat. Historical fiction in print and in movies, no doubt, does much more to inspire young minds and teach the value of history than some dry, boring history text. But, to be effective some sort of research must be done by the writer who starts out with no life experience to draw upon.

Years ago when I first came to the Big Bend, I had grand but naive dreams of writing the great novel. But I soon discovered I could never manufacture anything between my ears better than the real and fascinating story of the far west Texas. So I set out to write history and resolved to make it readable, accurate and interesting to everyone. I had the fortunate experience of first learning to write in a newsroom noisy with the clack of typewriters. I studied journalism, not mass communications, and learned to tell the story always including, as best I could, the who, what, when, where, why and how. I learned the method of writing for readers who had no advanced degrees or even much formal education.

So how does one experience the past before putting it to paper? Most of the topics I take on are about people, places and events that long ago faded away. Native Americans left us no written records. Only today, their descendents are telling us their real story. Archaeologists fill in a bit of the story with their invaluable but plodding science. The end of prehistory in this part of the world came when Cabeza de Vaca published his remarkable narrative in the 1500s. Other Spaniards later also told us about the Indians they encountered. Likely, the Jumano Indians, as the conquistadores chroniclers named them, would have understood or recognized little about these stories. Later, William Henry Chase Whiting recorded an important bit of our west Texas past when he had the foresight to recognize the value of writing about his groundbreaking journey in his excellent journal.

The historian is bound by the written word with all of its troubles. Yes history is many times anecdotal. But that does not mean the story cannot be told accurately or in words only the very learned can understand and enjoy. Mark Twain formed the modern genera of writing what, in our time, is enduring history with "Roughing It". He learned his method by writing for a newspaper. But today the historian, to do quality research and writing must have first hand experience about which he or her writes. This experience comes from the land and the people living today and, of course, the primary source documents left from those who went before. Writers of history must make use of primary sources, as much as possible, and not simply rehash what others looking back have penned.

Big Bend historiography has seen much good work done by local historians and writers. J. E. Gregg, Alice Jack Shipman, Carlysle Graham Raht, Barry Scobee, Clifford Casey and Clayton Williams learned well the history from the land and the people. Later, Mildred Bloys Nored, Lucy Miller Jacobsen, Cecilia Thompson and Enrique Madrid also contributed their valuable local viewpoints. More recently, Lonn Taylor, Glenn Willeford, Jerry Raun need be included in this list. There are others. Our Big Bend folklorists including Virginia Madison, Halley Stillwell, Elton Miles and Blair Pittman have added their talents to the telling of our past from the oral tradition.

Although they did not spent much time in the Big Bend, Ronnie C. Tyler, William H. and Shirley A. Leckie, and Robert Wooster did fine research and writing in their efforts. Those who have only visited this part of the world only occasionally have written a fair amount of our more modern Big Bend history with considerable and lasting influence. When the lauded historian Walter Prescott Webb came to Marfa at some point in the 1920's for a short stay to do a little Big Bend first hand research, he was fascinated by the stories told him by the Texas Rangers he idolized. As a result, Webb's writings have greatly influenced our historiography. A prime example of this is Webb's telling of the Porvenir massacre. To Webb, the massacre was not a massacre at all, but rather a gunfight between brave Rangers defending themselves and Mexican badmen. Bill Smithers did much the same thing helping to further carve in stone the Ranger and U.S. Army view of the bloody border raids and reprisals on the Rio Grande during the Mexican Revolution. Their dated books are still in print and can be easily found in Big Bend bookstores.

Webb was the father of the Handbook Of Texas. Certainly, I would be the last to be overly critical of this fine effort by the Texas State Historical Association. That said, however, there are some factual errors about the Big Bend even in the latest online edition. The common problem is usually that many of the Handbook articles were written by those who had seen, first hand, little or nothing of the places and people they wrote about. An example is the Handbook article on Pilares, Texas. There is no such place as Pilares, Texas although it may have been called that by some years ago. Porvenir, Texas lies just across the Rio Grande from Pilares, Chihuahua and the two places continue to be confused even today. This error bled into Bob Keil's book and goes on even in the maps published in the book. The Keil account is highly colored by his attempt the whitewash the actions of the U. S. military on the border 1910-1920. No editorial comment is made anywhere about this in the book. Keil's one-sided but at the same time important telling of the story is now in print and his influence will live on. Gj

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In the 1980's, I had the great privilege of working as a staff writer for the Handbook Of Texas published by the Texas State Historical Association. This massive encyclopedia of Texas history is anything but a handbook. The print edition contains more than 23,000 articles on the people, places and events of Texas past in seven huge volumes. Fortunately, this vast wealth of information is available free online at Here you will find first class historical research county-by-county and place-by-place on just about any Texas topic. It is a goldmine of information for teachers, students, writers and anyone interested in Texas history. More than 3,000 folks from every discipline and background contributed to the research and writing.

Like anything written by us humans, history is subject to mistakes, errors, viewpoints and individual agendas. Certainly, the Handbook is not flawless. But the research and writing was done with great care and careful editing. Footnotes were required on every paragraph and the research was meticulously reviewed. There are errors but at the same time, the online edition has a link for corrections and corrections are continuously made.

Recently the Handbook and the art of history came under fire in public by a prominent archaeologist who continues to belittle us lowly historians because he apparently feels scientific method should somehow be applied to the telling of the past. The magnificent one seems to take Napoleon's statement that "history is but a fable agreed upon" literally and not tongue in cheek. No one questions the huge value of using all disciplines in the research and writing of history. But history, thank goodness, is an art and not a science. Archaeology is mostly written for academics. Good history is written for everyone so we, at least, have the opportunity to learn something from the mistakes of the past. Gj

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