Looking at Glenn Springs now, it is hard to imagine that anything ever happened here or that, in 1916, there were nearly 80 people living here in a busy little village. But history tells the tale of turbulence and violence that put Glenn Springs on the map. It all begins with water--the "liquid gold" of the desert.
Glenn Spring assumed its place in history because it was a reliable water source in an arid land. It lies on one branch of the Great Comanche Trail. Flint chips and bedrock mortar holes throughout the area indicate that Indians used Glenn Spring not only as a water stop during their raids into northern New Spain, but also for more permanent stops as well.
NPS/Big Bend National Park
In 1914, “Captain” C. D. Wood and Mr. W. K. Ellis built a factory near the spring to produce candelilla wax—another form of “liquid gold”. They employed forty to sixty Mexican workers to operate the factory and hired C. G. Compton to run the general store and post office. Candelilla, the wax plant, was the primary raw material needed for the wax business, and the Glenn Spring area not only had an abundance of the plant, but it also had water, another essential ingredient for the wax rendering process.
Candelilla is a perennial, with hundreds of gray-green stems each somewhat smaller than the diameter of a pencil, which grow vertically from the base. The rendering of this wax was hard and hot work. In 1916, wax workers were paid $1.00 per day. The workers boiled the stems in large vats of water, adding sulfuric acid to separate the wax from the stems. When the wax floated to the surface, the men skimmed it off and boiled it again to remove excess water and impurities. They let it cool, broke it into small blocks and put it in burlap bags for shipping. Two boilers provided the steam to cook the wax. Dried cooked plants were used as fuel to keep the boilers going.
NPS/Big Bend National Park
Bandit raids along the border caused the United States government to send troops to the Big Bend region as early as 1911. On the warm summer night of May 5, 1916, there were nine soldiers stationed at Glenn Springs. Around 11:00 PM, after everyone had gone to bed, Mr. Compton, the storekeeper, was awakened by several armed Mexicans at his door. When they inquired if there were any soldiers in the village, he said no, hoping that they would go away. Compton was afraid they would return, however, and took his small daughter to a Mexican woman across the draw and asked her to keep the child for the night.
He was coming back for his nine-year-old son, Tommy, when the raid began. Captain Rodriguez Ramirez, a Mexican bandit, led his men into a dark, sleeping Glenn Springs, each man well-armed and shouting “Viva Carranza” and “Viva Villa” as he rode. How many Mexican raiders accompanied Ramirez or to whom they pledged their allegiance is not known. In Mexico during these unsettled times, it made little difference to the followers whether the leader was a Carranza or a Villa sympathizer, for political affiliations made little difference if the men were provided with food.
Regardless of their numbers or affiliation, there were too many for the nine cavalrymen attempting to defend the village. These nine men of Troop A of the 14th Cavalry were sleeping in their tents when the bandits appeared. Upon hearing the shouts and commotion, they fled in the dark to an adobe building nearby where they would have more protection. For nearly three hours, the soldiers exchanged fire with the bandits and were able to hold off much of the attacking force. When the Mexican raiders realized that they were not making any headway they set fire to the thatched roof of the building. Pieces of the burning roof began to fall on the necks and heads of the men. As the oven-hot room filled with smoke someone yelled “run for it” and the soldiers fled from the adobe inferno to a nearby hill. Three of the soldiers were killed and all but two were either seriously wounded or badly burned. When Mr. Compton returned, he found that his son had been fatally shot.
The little community of Glenn Springs suffered heavy losses due to the raid: four people killed and four others severely injured, the store looted, two of the major buildings partially burned and much of the wax factory destroyed.
Glenn Springs [756k PDF File]
This brochure scheduled for revision in 2010.
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