Cultural Resources Study
NPS Logo



Joseph H. Labadie
September 1993


What follows is a cursory look at the major European political, economic, and military events that shaped the land now encompassed by Amistad National Recreation Area (hereafter called "The Amistad Basin"). Some events have been described in greater detail than others—an indication of the richest sources of primary documentation for future research. A dearth of information exists for other events or time periods—suggesting what future researchers might uncover.

There are a number of historical events—and in some cases archeological remains—relevant to those events associated with European history in the Amistad Basin area. Most previous historical research has focused on particular people, or specific places or events. The use of primary documentation by researchers has varied greatly, producing a rather sketchy view of the larger picture for social and economic change over time.


The story of the U.S. Army in the Amistad Basin is part of the larger history involving the settlement of Texas and the western United States. From 1846-1890, the U.S. Government built or occupied 35 forts (Wooster 1987:10) and numerous other temporary camps across Texas. Some posts, such as Stockton, Concho, and Worth, served as the forerunners for permanent civilian settlements; the local communities near Army outposts in the vicinity of the Amistad Basin, such as Hudson, Lancaster, and Blake, did not survive after the Army left.

The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between the United states and Mexico set the course for Texas as part of the United States. Under this agreement, Mexico gave up all claims to lands in Texas, and established the Rio Grande as the border between the two nations. The United States agreed to accept responsibility for the actions of Indians living in Texas, and to use force to prevent Indian incursions into Mexico for the purpose of raiding or taking slaves. Not surprisingly, the fiercely independent Apache, Kiowa, Kickapoo, and other southern Plains Indian groups living in the vicinity or traveling great distances to raid across the border saw little reason to abide by or respect the political boundaries defined by the two alien governments.

The U.S. Army came to Texas and faced an unusual situation in terms of American Indian policy. Normally, when a territory entered the Union, American Indians had already been rounded up, reservation lands had been established, and Indian agents had been appointed to administer government treaties. Indian agents were Federal civil magistrates whose business it was to execute the terms of Indian treaties. However, in reality, Indian agents had no power stronger than persuasion with which to control their legal charges. Army soldiers were there to protect the peace, and could not kill Indians because of their mere presence; on the contrary, it was the Army's duty to protect them (Webb 1935:128-130).

The Army's plan to stop American Indian incursions both into and out of Mexico, relied on building a series of forts and inter-connecting roads along the border in advance of Anglo settlements. The idea was to separate the Indians from settlers along a line that ran from the Gulf Coast in the south to the Red River and the Indian Territory in the north. Actually, a total of three lines of forts were ultimately established: one along the frontier extending from Eagle Pass to the Red River; another extending along the Rio Grande from its mouth to Eagle Pass; and a final group of forts to protect the San Antonio-El Paso road.

From border locations such as Fort Brown, Fort McIntosh, Fort Duncan, Fort Clark, Camp Hudson, and Ringgold Barracks, the U.S. Army would launch small- and large-scale punitive operations, in addition to routine patrols, to include incursions across the border into Mexico in an attempt to eliminate the problem. Most actions were punitive occasions or chance encounters with routine patrols along established military or commercial roads connecting the forts with one another. Much of the Army routine in the area consisted of escort duty for mail carriers, freighters, cattle drives, wagon trains, and gold miners and settlers heading to California.

Nearly all of the early border forts and military camps were garrisoned with infantry soldiers. Many Texans—especially the Texas Rangers—were impatient with the U.S. Army and Indian agents, and constantly accused the Federal Government of protecting Indian behaviors, shielding Indians from justice after their raids, and lacking sufficient means or experience necessary to subdue their adversaries. It is hard to imagine that the U.S. Army would regularly pursue (with wagon loads of Infantry soldiers) highly mobile, horse-mounted Indians, and expect any meaningful engagements. As Mrs. William L. Cazneau wrote in 1852 (Cazneau 1852), after witnessing just such an event near Fort Duncan (Eagle Pass, Texas), "Unless the Indians were polite enough to come up to the soldiers' muskets and ask to be shot, I do not see how the infantry were to hurt them."

There were a number of pre-Civil War U.S. Army/Indian encounters in what is today the Amistad Basin. However, most of the skirmishes took place after the Civil War, between 1870 and 1880. Many of the engagements were the direct result of attacks on wagon trains traveling the San Antonio-El Paso Road. This road was the only commercial link between Texas's Gulf Coast ports and El Paso. The roadway, opened by the U.S. Army topographic engineers in the late 1840s, was intended to be the major arterial link connecting remote military posts in southwest Texas, such as Forts Clark, Hudson, Lancaster, and Davis. However, at this time very little was known about the territory west of the Devils River.

"A few months before I came to Texas, troops were pushed out from Fort Duncan, and camps were established on the Devils River and at Lancaster on the Pecos. In 1854, the 8th Infantry moved up the country from [Forts] Chadbourne, McKavett, etc., where they had been stationed and established Fort Davis. Two companies went to Fort Bliss and two to New Mexico.

"As no troops had ever been that far out before, all the country west of Fort Clark had been almost been given to the Indians, and a scout had never been made west of Devils River. As may be supposed, it was pretty wild dangerous place, and entirely unknown, except for within a mile or two of the road." (Reminiscences of Zenas R. Bliss, Major General, U.S. Army, two vols., n.d., in Perkins 1954:43)

For all their efforts, the U.S. soldiers garrisoned along the Rio Grande frontier during the 1850s were never able to achieve more than temporary successes in eliminating the highly mobile Indians, horse and cattle thieves, and revolutionaries who frequently crossed the Rio Grande into Texas. Among the major reasons for Army policy failure was the fact that the forts were too far apart, and were poorly supplied; and garrisons were too small, and often composed of infantry useless in pursuit of mounted warriors (Webb 1935:128). Additionally, the U.S. and Texas State governments never seemed completely willing to respond to Mexico's call for cooperation; Texans at least had not forgotten the Mexican Army's conduct at the Alamo or at Goliad less than 20 years earlier. The net effect of such problems was that the border between the United States and Mexico was little more than a line on a map until after the Civil War.

With the evacuation or abandonment of all borderland forts during the Civil War, the little progress made during the 1850s had completely evaporated by 1865, when the U.S. Army began returning to the Rio Grande. (Texas was not officially re-admitted to the Union until March 30, 1870.) The Federal Government did not permanently reoccupy all the forts that were part of the original 1850 line of borderlands defense, choosing instead to open a series of new forts farther west. Fort Clark was re-occupied by Federal troops on December 12, 1866—by Company C, 4th Cavalry, under the command of Captain John E. Wilcox (Carter 1935:471). Camp Hudson was re-occupied in 1867 by several companies of the 10th Cavalry under the command of Major Boyard, but was abandoned for the last time in April 1868. By 1870, Federal troops were again assigned to Fort Lancaster, but by the mid-1870s, the Indian threat had diminished to such a level that the fort was closed for good.

Border raiding had increased to such levels by the early 1870s that the U.S. Army began planning to eliminate the problem. Not only were groups of Lipan, Comanche, and Kickapoo raiding across the areas from around Rey Molino, Mexico, but groups from the Indian Territory were sweeping down across Texas and finding sanctuary and ready markets for their stolen goods across the border in Mexico. Indian groups living along the northern frontier in Mexico would raid up the Nueces Valley and sell their booty near Fredericksburg, Texas.

On April 12, 1873, a meeting of top U.S. Army officers took place at Fort Clark, Texas. The outcome of this meeting would produce a plan to eliminate the border problems once and for all. In attendance at this meeting were The Secretary of War (William W. Belknap), Generals Sheridan and Meritt, and Colonel Ranald Mackenzie. Colonel MacKenzie and the 4th Cavalry were ordered to relieve Fort Clark's General Maraud and the Ninth Cavalry. MacKenzie was given wide latitude and the authority to plan a course of action that would produce the results desired by the Secretary of War and General Sheridan. The following night, MacKenzie would detail his plan in confidence to his adjutant Captain R. G. Carter.

"He then, in strictest confidence, informed me that through some renegade Mexicans and half-breeds he was possessed of certain knowledge with reference to the Indians who, just previous to our arrival at Fort Clark, had raided up the Nueces Valley, and committed the massacre at Howard's Wells in which an officer of the Ninth Cavalry had been killed. He [MacKenzie] had ascertained their exact locality, number, etc., their trail, with stolen stock, led back across the Rio Grande, and he should immediately commence preparations for an expedition against them. He proposed to punish them for the past, and check their raids in the future. At this interview, he gave me in detail all that had passed between the Secretary of War, General Sheridan, and himself. Relying upon General Sheridan's declaration of absolute support, Mackenzie said he should not hesitate to take the risk. It was make or break." (Captain R. G. Carter 1935:424).

Colonel MacKenzie was proposing to raid the Indian villages at Rey Molino, Mexico—roughly 80 miles (129km) into Mexico from the Texas border. U.S. Army troops had always stopped at the banks of the Rio Grande. In effect, MacKenzie proposed to invade Mexico with an armed military force of 400 troops drawn from the commands at Fort Clark and Fort Duncan. MacKenzie's proposal was not a spur-of-the-moment action; he made detailed preparations to ensure success. He sent three civilian spies (Ike Cox, Art McClain, and Green Van) to reconnoiter the villages at Rey Molino before ever crossing the Rio Grande. He spent nearly a week drilling his troops on the maneuvers that would be used as each company of horse-mounted troops systematically attacked the villages.

On the evening of May 17, 1873, Colonel MacKenzie and his troops slipped across the Rio Grande after dark. Covering some 160 miles (257km) in 32 hours, Mackenzie's 400 troops and 25 Seminole Negro-Indian Scouts burned Kickapoo, Lipan, and Mescalero Apache villages at Rey Molino, Mexico, returning virtually unscathed on May 19th. His command captured "40 women and children and Costilietos the Principal Chief of the Lepans [sic] and 65 ponies" (MacKenzie, May 23, 1873, Fort Clark, Texas, in Wallace 1967:167-171).

Although MacKenzie's raid was not "officially" ordered by his superiors, they were quick to endorse his report of the action as it made its way up the chain of command to the headquarters of the U.S. Army, Washington D.C. General P. H. Sheridan, Headquarters Military Division, Missouri, endorsed the action, noting:

"I have for a long time been satisfied that it is the only course to pursue to bring to life and property on our side of the border of the Rio Grande. There should be no boundary line when we are driven to the necessity of defending our lives and property and our side of the Rio Grande. If the government will stand by this action of Colonel MacKenzie the troubles on the Rio Grande will soon cease. (Letter, General Sheridan to General Sherman, June 5, 1873, in ibid.:171)

General Sherman, Headquarters U.S. Army, in correspondence to the Secretary of War Belknap, wrote:

"The invasion of the Territory of a neighboring Friendly power in hot pursuit of an aggressive or robber force would be warranted by the Laws of nations. Until the Mexican Government complains formally of the invasion of their Territory, I suppose there is no need of making further enquiries on this point." (Letter, Sherman to Belknap, June 9, 1873, in ibid.:171-172)

After the initial repercussions from MacKenzie's actions had died down, large-scale border raiding ceased. However, by 1876, the frequency of raiding had again increased to such a level that Department of Texas Commander E. O. C. Ord sent Lieutenant Colonel William R. Shafter's 24th Infantry (from Fort Duncan) back across the border in "hot pursuit" of raiders from Mexico. Although the Army's doctrine of hot pursuit was controversial, President Rutherford B. Hays formally recognized it on June 1, 1877 (Wooster 1987:145). Ord's sanctioning of such punitive actions resulted in additional raids by Mackenzie and Shatter, and several actions by Lieutenant John L. Bullis and his company of Seminole Indian Scouts before President Hays rescinded the "Ord Order" in 1880 (ibid:145). By this time, however, U.S. Army incursions into Mexico had produced their intended results.

The last Indian raid into Texas and the Amistad Basin from Mexico occurred on April 14, 1881, and resulted in the death of a settler named Mrs. McLauren near the Frio River (Kinney County). Lieutenant Bullis and his Seminole Negro-Indian Scouts (Porter 1952) pursued the raiders. An account of the chase as told by Sergeant Ribbits appeared in the San Antonio Daily Express newspaper on May 14, 1881.


The Republic of Texas was annexed to the United States as the 28th state on December 29, 1845. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) established the Rio Grande as the Texas/Mexico border. The need to survey and develop transportation links between San Antonio, the Gulf Coast, El Paso, and Chihuahua, Mexico, became a high priority for the U.S. Army. With the discovery of gold in California a year later (1849), the need for immigrant roads and commercial freighting routes from Texas's Gulf Coast to El Paso and points west provided additional impetus for the Army to establish and protect transportation routes across Texas.

During the early years of Texas statehood, the U.S. Army experienced numerous difficulties in establishing and protecting an efficient supply system—particularly for the mobile horse-mounted cavalry. Normally, a cavalry trooper's horse carried a maximum of 250 pounds (113 kg), including the rider, which normally limited supplies to 250 rounds of ammunition, a change of clothing, bedsack, 2 days' rations, and 1 day's supply of grain (Cooke 1862:15-16). All other equipment and supplies were transported by pack or wagon trains following the expedition. The ordinary two- and four-mule escort wagons carried 1,200 to 2,400 pounds (544-1,089 kg) of cargo. The largest of wagons—a six-mule jerk-line wagon weighing 1,950 pounds (885 kg)—was capable of carrying from 3,000-3,300 pounds (1,360-1,497 kg) of cargo. In contrast, a single pack mule could carry a maximum of 250 pounds (113 kg); and an average pack-mule train of 50 animals could transport 12,500 pounds (5,670 kg) (Essin 1970:53). In short, although wagons could transport greater amounts of supplies using fewer mules, they were generally limited to flat terrain, they were slower, and they were difficult to hide. For terrain such as the Pecos and Devils River valleys, pack-mule trains proved to be the most efficient.

In 1848, Colonel John Coffee Hayes organized one of the first expeditions from San Antonio to El Paso to determine whether a practicable and convenient route for military and commercial purposes existed. Among the individuals accompanying Colonel Coffee were several Delaware Indian scouts, Richard S. Howard (San Antonio businessman and ex-Texas Ranger), 35 Texas Rangers under the command of Captain Samuel Highsmith, and several dozen private citizens and businessmen from San Antonio (Bender 1933:118). The group left San Antonio, following the Llano river to its source on the South Fork, and crossed the Divide, arriving at the San Pedro (Devils) River. After spending 3 days trying to cross it (at a location now submerged under Amistad Reservoir), the Hayes expedition re-named it the Devils River, as it is known today (letter, Col. J. C. Hays to Col. P. H. Bell, Commander Texas Frontier, December 28, 1848, in ibid.). Portions of the modern-day roadbed for Texas Highway 163 from Comstock to Ozona follow the route originally mapped by the Hays Expedition.

On December 10, 1848, the Secretary of War reassigned Brevet Major General William J. Worth to Texas. With the arrival of General Worth, the U.S. Army established a major presence in what had been just a few years earlier the Republic of Texas. Worth was ordered to station troops along the Rio Grande below San Antonio and along the frontier settlements in Texas. He was also directed to examine the country on the left bank (U.S. side) of the Rio Grande, and the area west from San Antonio to Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the following year, the U.S. Army made at least seven official reconnaissances in western Texas, the Rio Grande valley, and the gulf coastal plain in an effort to establish reliable routes for the movement of troops, as well as for commercial purposes. Most of these expeditions were commanded by officers from the Bureau of Topographical Engineers, who carefully mapped the routes of march, as well as locations and distances between watering holes, campsites, and major stream crossings.

With Texas firmly in the grip of California's gold fever, the need for the U.S. Army to establish protected routes from Texas to California became ever more pressing. In January 1849, before the first of the engineering surveys by the Army for the San Antonio-El Paso Road, a party of 25 men, led by a Mr. Peoples, followed the Hays Expedition route through Val Verde County (and the Amistad Basin) to become the first group from Texas to reach California (Perkins 1954:24). The following month, a group of 32 men calling themselves "The Kinney Rangers" made the trip to California over the same route (ibid.).

The first of the Bureau of Topographic Engineering ventures was the Whiting-Smith Expedition of 1849. Under the joint leadership of Lieutenant W. H. C. Whiting and Lieutenant William F. Smith—both topographic engineers—the expedition left San Antonio on February 12, 1849, to explore a route of march to El Paso for military and commercial purposes (Whiting 1850). With them went a large number of emigrants bound for California (Perkins 1954:25). The expedition began along the upper route, which followed the San Saba River to its sources, then turned west to the Pecos River, and went on to El Paso. At several locations along the San Saba and the Pecos Rivers, the party encountered friendly groups of Lipan Apaches. West of the Pecos River, they were surrounded by a group of several hundred hostile Apaches, who eventually allowed them to continue unmolested to arrive in El Paso on April 12, 1849 (Whiting 1850).

For the return trip, the Whiting-Smith Expedition followed a more southerly route, primarily because of a lack of water between the Pecos and San Saba Rivers. They traveled down the Rio Grande valley from El Paso for about 100 miles (161km), then turned eastward to the Pecos, went down the right bank of the Pecos River valley for about 60 miles (96.5 km), and then continued on to the Devils River, which they followed to within a few miles of its junction at the Rio Grande (Bender 1933:122). (The mouth of the Devils River at the Rio Grande and the "first crossing" are now submerged under Amistad Reservoir.)

This location was not actually the first crossing; rather, it was the first good location with adequate approaches for wagons to cross the river above its confluence with the Rio Grande. The second crossing was at Bakers Crossing, 20 miles (32km) north of present-day Comstock, Texas. From April 2 to October 25, 1854, the first crossing on the Devils River was protected by Camp Blake under the command of Lieutenant Samuel H. Reynolds and members of Company K, 1st Infantry (National Archives Memo NNMO-2732 JLM, 1-27-76). Established shortly after the Mexican-American War, Camp Blake was named for Lieutenant J. E. Blake, a topographical engineer who distinguished himself in the Battle of Palo Alto—the first battle of the Mexican-American War, fought at Palo Alto, Texas, May 8, 1846 (Webb 1952, vol. 2:327). There were 18 more crossings of the Devils above Bakers Crossing before reaching Horsehead Crossing—the last crossing before the San Antonio-El Paso road headed west to El Paso.

Lieutenant Smith felt that the return route was the more practical of the two followed by the expedition, and estimated that the existing trail could be widened and made passable for Army freight trains in less than 3 weeks (Whiting 1850). At that time, road building consisted of clearing trees and brush; putting logs in creek bottoms and low-water crossings to prevent wagon wheels from bogging down in mud; and cutting and grading the approaches to embankments and stream beds. In actuality, much of the proposed lower route up the Devils and Pecos River valleys coincided with the traditional trails through this wilderness area; thus, what the U.S. area; thus, what the U.S. Army was proposing to do amounted to upgrading the existing trail to accommodate larger military and commercial freight-hauling wagon trains.

Lieutenant Whiting notes in his report (Whiting 1850) that security along the lower route could only be maintained through the establishment of a chain of forts at strategic points along the road. This recommendation led to the establishment of Fort Clark in 1852, Fort Davis in the fall of 1854, Fort Lancaster in the summer of 1854, and Camp Hudson in the summer of 1857. However, even with this line of forts, it was not until after the Civil War, in the 1870s, that relatively safe passage was assured along this route. The expedition maps established that water holes were few and far apart west of the Pecos River. In 1853, Jefferson Davis, U.S. Secretary of War, put Captain John Pope in charge of digging water wells in locations where water sources were 40 miles (64km) or more apart. Although some wells were successful, they seldom produced water in sufficient quantities to meet needs; consequently, the project ended in failure (Rowland 1923: vol. 3:71-73, in Bender 1933).

In March 1849, the U.S. Army and a group of ordinary citizens from Austin, Texas, organized a freight train, intent upon establishing direct commercial relations with El Paso. The group, under the joint direction of U.S. Army Major Robert S. Neighbors and Doctor John S. Ford, consisted mainly of Austin citizens with commercial interests and a few "friendly Indians." The friendly American Indians consisted of John Harry, a Delaware; Joe Ellis and Tom Coshatee, Shawnees; Mo-po-cho-co-po and Buffalo Hump, both Comanche Chiefs; Patrick Gowin, a Choctaw (letter, R. S. Neighbors to W. S. Hardy, June 24, 1849, in Bender 1933:120). Striking out westward at the North Bosque near Austin on March 23, 1849, the Neighbors-Ford Expedition reached Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River on April 17th, and arrived in El Paso on May 2nd. (The expedition traversed only the northernmost part of Val Verde). They began the return journey 4 days later, traveling eastward back over the Guadalupe Mountains to Horsehead crossing on the Pecos River, across the Concho and Bradys Creek, then on to the San Saba and Llano Rivers, and southeasterly on to San Antonio, arriving on June 2nd (Neighbors 1954:36-59).

The routes taken to and from El Paso were mapped by the Neighbors-Ford Expedition, even though it was not one of the "official" expeditions involving the Bureau of Topographical Engineering. Nonetheless, it was part of the Federal Government's larger exploration policy in Texas, and therefore should not be interpreted as a purely commercial venture on the part of Austin businessmen attempting to be the first to establish regular commerce with El Paso (letter, R. S. Neighbors to W. S. Hardy, June 4, 1849, in Bender 1933:119).

The Neighbors-Ford and Whiting-Smith Expeditions generally followed the same outbound route all the way to El Paso. The major difference between the two expeditions was their return routes: That of the Neighbors-Ford Expedition soon became known as the "upper road," while the return route of the Whiting-Smith Expedition became known as the "lower road." The lower road, from San Felipe Springs (present-day Del Rio) to Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River, would eventually be known as the "Military Road," or "Government Road," connecting Fort Lancaster, Fort Hudson, the community at San Felipe Springs, Fort Clark, and Fort Inge. To others, the road was known as the lower immigrant road for settlers heading to California from Texas gulf ports such as Galveston and Indianola. Portions of the route would also become known as the Chihuahua road. Present-day Texas Highway 163 from Comstock to Ozona, Texas, follows sections of the original government road up the Devils River valley to Horsehead Crossing.

To test the practicality of the Whiting-Smith Expedition's recommendation to establish the lower road through Val Verde County (and the Amistad Basin) as the principal route from San Antonio to El Paso, the U.S. Army organized a large freight train to travel the route. Under the command of Brevet Major Jefferson Van Horn, the wagon train departed San Antonio, heading due west through the Texas settlements of Castroville, Quihi, and Vandenburg, en route to crossing the Rio Frio (Frio River) near Sabinal, Texas. At the Frio River, a small train of wagons under the command of Lieutenant Colonel J. E. Johnston and Lieutenant William F. Smith set out in advance of the main group to reconnoiter the general area and make improvements to the existing trail. The main body of the group continued west to the first crossing on the Devils River (now submerged under Lake Amistad), stopping briefly on the Leona River at Fort Inge (south of Uvalde, Texas) to pick up additional men and equipment.

By this time, Van Horn's group included six companies of the Third Infantry; 275 wagons; and 2,500 animals (Bender 1933). From a modern perspective, it is difficult to imagine a group this size traveling together through the wilderness canyon lands of Val Verde County and the Amistad Basin. Van Horn's group probably stretched out over a mile (1.6km) in length as the wagon train snaked its way up the sinuous Devils River valley and its 18 river crossings before reaching Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River. Van Horn's expedition arrived in El Paso, with no major incidents on the trail, on September 8, 1849. The 650-mile (1,046km) trip took exactly 100 days to complete.

Van Horn's wagon train demonstrated, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the route was viable, and that it should be relied upon in the future as a major transportation link for the settlement of Texas and the western United States. As the lands along the Rio Grande in New Mexico and the Arizona Territory opened up for U.S. commerce and settlement, the Federal Government was laying the foundations for continued expansion ever westward.

President Pierce wanted to ensure United States possession of the Mesilla Valley in New Mexico near the Rio Grande; at the time, the area was considered to be the most practicable route for a southern transcontinental railway to the Pacific coast. The U.S. Government therefore entered into negotiations with Mexico to better define the exact border west of El Paso, which had been vaguely defined in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The negotiations concluded in the Gadsten Purchase (1853), with the United States paying $10 million for about 30,000 square miles (77,700 sq km) of land. The area today forms the southern border of New Mexico, and the Arizona border south of the Gila River Valley.

The legacy of the San Antonio-El Paso road is the opening of the American West. From the 1850s to the early 1880s, this road through the Amistad Basin was a crucial link in the rate at which the west developed. Then, in 1883, everything changed abruptly with the completion of the southern transcontinental railroad. The railway instantly signaled the end of the government's reliance on wagon trains. Troops, equipment, and messages could move faster, farther, and cheaper by rail and telegraph. Within a few years, the old wagon trail that had helped to open west Texas was used mainly as a thoroughfare for regional traffic. Gone were the mail riders, stagecoaches, and government wagon trains, as the steam engine and rail cars replaced the mule and wagon train.



At the end of the Civil War, 90 percent of all railroad tracks in the United States lay east of the Mississippi River. As a result, President Lincoln signed into law the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862 (Briggs 1974:7). And on January 1, 1863, ground was broken at Sacramento, California, for the building of the first transcontinental railroad: the Central Pacific from Sacramento, and the Union Pacific from Omaha Nebraska (Elliot 1928:2). On May 8, 1869, these two rail lines were joined with a gold spike at Promontory Point, Utah, creating the first transcontinental railroad.

The driving force of the "Big Four" (Potter Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins) who made the first transcontinental railroad a reality was also responsible for the completion of the southern transcontinental line in 1883 (Elliot 1928:3), which passed through today's Amistad Basin. Several miles of old grades, foundations for trestles and spans, and railroad tunnels are seen by today's visitors to Amistad National Recreation Area. However, many of these historic features are located on private property within 100 feet (30m) of the park's current boundary.

Railroads came into existence in Texas in 1851 with the formation of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railway (Patterson 1980:81. Several earlier attempts to construct lines had failed due to lack of support by the government of the Republic of Texas (Elliot 1928:30). In time, the Texas legislature would approve giving railroad companies 16 sections of land per mile of completed track as an incentive (Comstock Study Group 1976:22).

In 1870, the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railway was purchased by Thomas Pierce and Associates, who changed its name to the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway Company (GH&SA). The GH&SA completed a line from Houston to San Antonio in 1877, and gained additional charter rights to extend its lines to the Rio Grande (Labadie 1987:10). However, Pierce lacked the financial resources to continue the line to the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, because it had ample finances, the Southern Pacific was trying to obtain a charter to construct lines in Texas. By late 1877, Pierce's charter and Huntington's finances produced an agreement that allowed the Southern Pacific to lay track in Texas (Briggs 1974:13).

Survey work for the proposed railroad route in the vicinity of the Pecos River was well under way by the summer of 1880. Captain Hood was in charge of the Southern Pacific survey, and of engineering crews working between the mouth of the Devils River and the mouth of the Pecos at the Rio Grande. Hood and his survey crews were equipped with five boats and several dozen horses. Their job was to select, survey, and prepare construction estimates for each foot of the route between the two rivers (San Antonio Daily Express, August 26, 1880). M. J. Ripps, a member of one of the 1880-1881 survey crews, wrote (Hunter 1925:125) of his experience:

"From there on we did not see any more Indians until we came to Eagle's Nest [near present-day Langtry, Texas], on the Rio Grande. We were camped some 350 feet (107m) above the level of the river bed, and were cutting out a trail wide enough for a burro to pass with a cask, or small barrel on either side, to transport water from the river. We had stopped for the noon hour when we noticed nine Indians, seven bucks and two squaws. They had evidently descended to the river bottom some miles above and were winding their way to a point directly in front of us, where they could get water. They were coming in single file, some 10 feet (3m) apart, and were in full war paint, the Indian in the rear being the guard. The eight went to water to satisfy their thirst, while one stood guard. Then the guard went to drink while one of the squaws stood guard, and she spied us, as we could tell from her gestures. When she gave the alarm they took to their horses and disappeared up the river. As we were not looking for trouble, we did not fire at them, but doubled our guards to protect against an attack.

"Our next camp was at Paint Cave (present-day Parida Cave). One night we sent our mules and horses out to grass with two guards in charge. Indians crept up and tried to scare the animals. One of the guards, finding something was not right, gave the alarm, and the fireworks started. We fired some 30-40 shots, and one of the guards claimed he got an Indian. This Painted Cave is worth a trip to see. It is a big opening under a protruding boulder, large enough for 14 men to ride into on horseback at one time. Its inner walls are decorated with Indian paintings of wild animals, lions, tigers, buffaloes, etc., and all the sign language on the walls, some of which we would not understand if they were played on a phonograph" (ibid:125).

In 1881 Huntington's Southern Pacific—the Western Division—began work eastward from El Paso; and Pierce's GH&SA—known as the Sunset, or Eastern, Division—started westward from San Antonio. The plans were to meet Southern Pacific crews somewhere near the Pecos River (Elliot 1928:21-22). The route was surveyed about 2 years before actual construction began. From San Antonio to Del Rio, the survey crew generally followed the San Antonio-El Paso road, which had been in use by military and commercial freight haulers since the early 1850s. From Del Rio to Fort Davis, the route roughly paralleled Bullis's 1875 military road, which crossed the Pecos River near its junction with the Rio Grande. Construction of the line from San Antonio to El Paso was conducted under the administrative auspices of the GH&SA and the Southern Development Company (a company set up by Huntington's Southern Pacific). Each of these divisions had its own management, utilized different construction procedures, and relied on different sources of supply.


Western: The Western Division was responsible for construction and track-laying from El Paso to the mouth of the Pecos River—the point where railway officials decided west and east sections of tracks would be joined with a silver spike. James H. Strobridge, a seasoned veteran of Southern Pacific Railroad construction in California and Arizona, supervised the work of the Western Division from Sierra Blanca, Texas, to the Pecos River. Strobridge, while a construction superintendent for the Central Pacific in the 1870s, had supervised Chinese crews involved with shoveling, surfacing, grading, hauling fill, driving carts, and digging on softer excavations (Rhodes 1977).

At peak construction in January-February 1882, Strobridge's Western Division was pushing to complete the last 20 miles (32km) of track, and employed upwards of 7,000 people—6,000 of whom were reported to have been Chinese laborers (San Antonio Daily Express, March 14, 1882). Once the line was complete (1883), most of the Chinese laborers eventually went back to California after working in the Mojave Desert on a branch line to tap the Arizona and Pacific Lines (San Antonio Daily Express, October 10, 1882). Only a handful of Chinese workers remained in Texas.

At this time, much of the construction work on the U.S. rail system was done by Chinese immigrants. But most of what we know about their contributions is restricted to period literature about areas in California, Nevada, and Utah. Except for a few comments in regional newspaper articles in Texas from 1881-1883, very little first-hand information exists about the Chinese crews that worked for Strobridge's Western Division. What information we do have on such crews in the Lower Pecos area comes primarily from archeological investigations of railroad construction camps (Briggs 1974), which located Chinese artifacts.

Strobridge's Western Division was modeled after the Central Pacific's operations in central California, Nevada, and Utah, which had been part of the larger Central Pacific-Union Pacific Transcontinental network. Due to a reported inability to secure Anglo laborers on the Central Pacific lines, Chinese laborers, by default, became an integral part of the first transcontinental, often out-numbering non-Chinese construction crews by more than a 3-to-1 ratio (Reed 1870). E. W. Reed, Superintendent of the Utah Division wrote, in 1870:

"I have on my two divisions about 250 Chinamen. I never saw a better working gang of men than they are. They are a class of people that do not drink and you can depend on them every day unless they are sick. The only place that I see that they are not equal to white labor is in the loading and handling of iron on cars. But for shoveling, surfacing, track-spiking, loading ties or making embankments, they are equal to Anglos. We pay them $31.00 per month for 26 days work and they board themselves and pay freight that is shipped over the road to them" (Reed 1870).

There is every reason to believe that the 1881-1883 Chinese labor crews that worked in today's Amistad Basin were nearly identical in work composition, eating habits, camp organization, and daily administration to the Chinese crews that worked on the first transcontinental railroad in California, Nevada, and Utah during the 1870s. Briggs's research (1974) at the Langtry Construction site (41VV585) clearly indicates that Chinese crews were among the residents of this temporary construction camp. His research identified the presence of four separate double-hearth features—something he attributes to traditional Chinese food preparation. Briggs believes the double hearth was used strictly by ethnic Chinese, with one side for steaming rice, and the other for frying meats and vegetables. From analysis of the historic artifacts in association with the four double-hearth features, Briggs makes a conjectural population estimate of 17 Chinese to one Anglo at this site where perhaps 550-665 construction workers lived for a brief period in 1882.

Chinese laborers usually lived and worked in isolation from other railroad employees. They were restricted, by railroad policy, from jobs associated with surveying, supervision, and machinery operations—activities traditionally given to Anglo workmen. A typical Chinese crew might contain between 12 and 30 members. Each crew usually had an individual assigned whose sole job was to maintain the 30- to 40-gallon whiskey barrels full of lukewarm tea used by thirsty crew members. A mess attendant replenished the barrels several times a day with fresh tea carried in old powder kegs suspended from each end of a bamboo pole balanced on the shoulders (Kraus 1969:114).

The railway company supplied Chinese work crews (at a cost of course) with most of the basic necessities, such as tents, clothing, and food, to live and work in remote or wilderness areas. During the early 1870s, the Central Pacific Railway Company provided Chinese workmen daily rations of 1 pound of rice; 1 pound of fish, pork, or beef; 1/4 pound of vegetables; 1/2 ounce of tea; and a small amount of lard or cooking oil (Reed 1870). Water-proof lodging and all tools and equipment for work were supplied by the railway company or contractor; each worker provided his own bedding.

Chinese crews began work at sunrise and quit at sunset, working 6 days per week, with monthly wages ranging between $30 and $35. Days lost to sickness or injury were deducted from wages, with contractors providing free medicines and medical care (when available). Anglo construction foremen would meet with the Chinese "head man" for each work gang on a daily basis to settle up payroll. The head man, who bought and paid for all provisions used by his crew, would divide the payroll evenly among them after deducting the cost of individual purchases he had made on their behalf. Kraus (1969:211) describes one of the few first-hand accounts of wage payments to Chinese laborers working in Nevada in the 1870s:

"Sisson and Crocker Company had an interpreter named Sam Thayer and also a Chinese interpreter. When they came up to these gangs of Chinese, the money due to them would be already counted out and they would dump the money in one of the Chinese' hats for that gang with a statement written in Chinese. There would be no time for explanations. They had to take it whether they liked it or not. (Ibid. 1969:211).

In October 1882, San Antonio Daily Express newspaper correspondent Fred Locker visited Strobridge's construction camp near Langtry (site 41VV585, noted above), and reported that "the Chinese are treated more like slaves than anything else, they are drove [sic] around and sometimes used severely if they don't work to suit the bosses."

Following Strobridge's Chinese grading crews were Black Jack Higgins's track layers, who numbered about 1,000 strong. The majority of Higgins's track crews were recent immigrants to the United States, and included Irish, Italians, and Germans. As long as the track-laying crews kept up with the graders, daily supply or work trains from El Paso were able to provision the entire operations of the Western Division (Dolan 1979:6-10).

Eastern: The Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway selected Major James Converse to oversee construction operations for the Eastern Division. Converse was a veteran of the first transcontinental railroad construction through the High Sierras, and would later become General Superintendent and Chief Engineer of the line in Texas. The overall operation of Converse's Eastern Division sharply contrasts with the Western Division in terms of the makeup of the work force and the organization of construction activities. The Eastern Division contracted out all construction activities, except track-laying, with the contractors providing the labor force and the railway company the materials. Contracts were made for rock work, tunnel construction, and grading between San Antonio and the Pecos River. Each contractor established his own temporary construction camp, and worked independently from other contractors. This meant that construction and grading were taking place simultaneously at non-contiguous points along the route, which sharply contrasts with the orderly grading and track laying of the Western Division.

The work force of the Eastern Division was much more heterogenous in ethnic makeup than the Western Division. Among the work force could be counted immigrant Italians, Irish, and Germans, alongside Mexican-Americans, ex-African slaves, Anglos, and Mexicans. A number of the contractors came from the San Antonio area, although much of the labor force was brought in from other areas. Several contractors recruited a large group of workers from Illinois who even brought their wives and children with them and lived in several different camps in the vicinity of the construction work at the Devils River crossing (San Antonio Daily Express, February 2, 1882). Three wagon loads of African-Americans (probably ex-slaves) and supplies joined the Devils River camps in January, 1882 (ibid., January 21, 1882). By February 1882, the San Antonio Daily Express newspaper (ibid., February 19) was reporting that there were between 2,700 and 3,000 workers constructing the line between the Pecos and Devils River, and that 45-60 new workers were arriving daily.

Some of the newly arrived German and Italian immigrants may have learned of the employment opportunities with the railroad through immigrant newspapers published in Europe, such as the Weltpost in Leipzig, Germany; or through stateside newsletters from companies such as the Southwestern Immigration Company. The literature often reports that the majority of the Eastern Division workers were Irish immigrants (Wilson 1923:10). However, newspaper accounts on the progress of activities in the Devils and Pecos River areas fail to mention Irish workers. Therefore, if Irish immigrants were working on the line, they were most probably hired directly by the GH&SA in San Antonio to lay track from San Antonio to the contract area (Briggs 1974:34).

The U.S. Army provided initial security for the Eastern Division by temporarily assigning a detachment of horse soldiers from the Eighth Cavalry of the Pecos. Railway officials had been concerned about the potential threat of Indian depredations on such a large work force operating in a remote area away from any towns or settlements—and they had just cause to be concerned. Between 1873 and 1881, U.S. Army Lt. John L. Bullis and his companies of Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts from Fort Clark had been involved in 26 different Indian campaigns (Porter 1952:27) in Texas and northern Mexico. On at least three separate occasions, Bullis's engagements with nomadic, horse-mounted Indian groups had occurred at locations within the future Southern Pacific railroad right-of-way: two different engagements at the mouth of the Pecos River at the Rio Grande; and one at Eagle Nest Canyon—future site of the railroad town of Langtry, Texas. But initial fears of Indian attacks never materialized, and the U.S. Army soon replaced the mobile horse soldiers with a group of infantry and Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts presumably from Fort Clark, 30 miles (48km) east of Del Rio; or Fort Duncan, 50 miles (80km) south at Eagle Pass; under the command of Lieutenant Jones (San Antonio Daily Express, April 20, 1882).

The Eastern division began road construction (building of the grade) west from San Antonio on March 1, 1881. The Western Division did not begin work east from El Paso until mid-April. Both divisions advanced at a rapid pace, due mainly to the relatively flat topography, until reaching the canyon lands of Devils and Rio Grande valleys. Here, the deeply incised limestone walls rose nearly vertically 300 feet (91m) above the river bottom below. Crossing the intervening side canyons further slowed construction, as both divisions inched towards the Pecos. By the time the lines were finally joined, completing the line through the canyon-lands, engineers had designed two tunnels; 3,000 feet (914m) of wooden trestle; and 14 metal spans, each between 100-300 feet (30-91m) in length.


Captain William N. Monroe worked for the Southern Pacific in California in the late 1870s. He contracted with the Southern Pacific to construct two tunnels and 3 miles (5km) of rock-work near the mouth of the Pecos River at the Rio Grande (Patterson 1980:11). Monroe had 500 men in his employ in March 1882, paying between $2 and $2.50 daily to workers. It took roughly 500 kegs of black powder (50-pound, or 23kg, kegs, which cost $3.50 each) per mile of rock-work construction. Dynamite was tried, but insufficient quantities were available for use 1979:10).

Construction of Railroad Tunnel No. 1 began in December of 1881; it was completed on July 21, 1882, becoming the first railroad tunnel built in Texas (San Antonio Weekly Daily), August 24, 1883). An entrepreneur named Mr. Meyers established a saloon and store in the immediate vicinity of Captain Monroe's construction camp. The remains of Meyers's store and saloon are designated as site 41VV586.


Shumla: The Shumla Station was used by the Southern Pacific from 1883 to 1893. In 1893, the Shumla cut-off, which began just east of the town, was completed as far as the new Pecos River High Bridge, eliminating the treacherous decent of the Rio Grande Valley to the crossing of the Pecos at its mouth.

The remains of Shumla Station are located about 8 miles (13km) west of the Pecos River, adjacent to the modern tracks that parallel U.S. Highway 90. There are several old limestone-block buildings within the highway right-of-way in this area, but they were not part of the Shumla Station. These buildings were built after World War II by Mr. Parkie Wade, who owned and operated them as a gas station, store, and small motel until the early 1970s. The old Shumla Station is located about 300 feet (91m) northwest of the limestone buildings, and situated on the north side of the modern Southern Pacific track. Several large trees denote the former location of Shumla Station. The actual Shumla Station depot was moved by Mr. Bill Zuberbueler, Sr., using a sled and wagon, to a new location 1/2 mile (0.8km) south. Today, the old Shumla Station depot is located adjacent to a sheep shearing pen, and is used as a barn.

Flanders: Flanders Station was located at a mile marker 433, as measured in miles from Houston. The old station was situated on the west side of Seminole Canyon, roughly 1/4 mile (0.4km) north of U.S. Highway 90. The historic artifact scatter in the vicinity of where Flanders Station once stood has been designated as site 41VV415.

In the 1920s, Pat Sullivan leased land from Patty Moorehead Wilkins for ranching on the Rio Grande. The lease was along the Rio Grande from the mouth of the Pecos River to Seminole Canyon on the east, and to the Pecos River High Bridge on the north. During the summers, when their children were not in school in Comstock, the Sullivans (and frequently their neighbors, the Holcombs and Moores) would spend extended periods on the ranch. "The historic old depot was used for the kitchen and dining area and a separate building served as the sleeping quarters" (Comstock Study Club 1976:155).

The old depot and associated buildings stood at their original location until the mid-1920s, when Mrs. Fate Moorehead Bell moved the depot building on skids and by wagon to a new location about 1/2 mile south of its original location. The land with the building was leased to, and eventually homesteaded by, Perry Brotherton. The land and the original Flanders depot are now part of Seminole Canyon State Historic Park.

Painted Caves: The Southern Pacific station between the Pecos River crossing and Flanders Station was called Painted Caves Station. The station began operation in 1883, and closed after the opening of the Pecos High Bridge in 1892. In 1892, Simon Shaw, Sr., was the section foreman at Painted Caves; and Travis Brown, Sr., was the telegraph operator (La Hacienda 1976:117).

Today, nothing remains of Painted Caves Station. What had survived into the 20th century was covered up by the waters of Amistad Reservoir. The nearby rockshelter with prehistoric Indian paintings that was the station's namesake is now known as Parida Cave. The site is operated by the National Park Service as an interpretive site for visitors to Amistad National Recreation Area (Labadie 1989).

Pecos Viaduct (1893-1944)

The Pecos High Bridge may be the most famous of all the historic bridges in Texas. In 1892, it held the distinctions of being not only the highest bridge in the United States, but also, at 322 feet and 10-3/4 inches (98m) in height, the third highest bridge in the world. Strengthened in 1910 and 1929, this bridge was in continuous service as part of the Nation's first southern transcontinental railroad, until it was replaced by a newer one during World War II. Known to railway historians as the Pecos Viaduct, this bridge was the second across the Pecos, and was designed to solve a host of problems that had plagued the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway since the line opened in 1893.

The crossing of the Pecos River had been the biggest single engineering obstacle to construction along the Texas leg of the route forming the first southern transcontinental railroad. The first crossing of the river was accomplished by the use of a simple iron-truss bridge at the bottom of the canyon and the confluence of the Pecos at the Rio Grande.

The track winding down into and out of the canyon to the first bridge left the flat uplands 5-6 miles (8-10km) distant from either side of the bridge. Following the sinuous canyon rim in a series of curvy and steep grades crossing numerous deep intervening side canyons, the track descended to the bridge. In some sections, the grade consisted of no more than a narrow ledge blasted into the towering cliff walls. So prone were these to rock-falls that the railway company had to employ "track-walkers" both night and day to prevent derailments caused by obstacles on the road bed.

The first crossing of the Pecos River had been incredibly expensive to construct, and was proving to be quite costly to operate and maintain. Steep grades and degrees of curvature combined to impose severe length and weight restrictions on all trains using this section of track. This section required the construction of two tunnels, both in excess of 1,500 feet (457m) in length, blasted through solid rock; 3,600 feet (1097m) of wooden trestle; and 2,730 feet (832m) of iron trestle works. Most significantly, it involved 2,926.2 degrees of curvature, and a total of 902.27 feet (275m) of rise and fall in elevation (Wilson 1923). Perhaps most important (to the owners, at least) was the fact that the original configuration of the route effectively limited future profitability at a time when trains were getting longer and larger, and carrying greater weights.

In 1890, Major James Converse, General Superintendent and Chief Engineer of the line, made several reconnaissances along the Pecos River valley to identify potential locations for a new crossing. Converse is generally credited with first envisioning the Pecos canyon crossing on a high viaduct, and with preparing the initial designs for the bridge about 5 miles (8km) up river from the first one. By late 1890, Julius Kruttschnitt, General Manager and Chief Engineer of the Texas and Louisiana lines of the Southern Pacific System, approved the designs, with minor changes, for the Pecos Viaduct. Kruttschnitt contracted with the Phoenix Bridge Company to provide bridge materials and crews for the construction of Converse's designs. When completed, the new crossing would eliminate 11 miles (18km) of steep and curvy grades in and out of the Rio Grande canyon, as well as close the station houses at Helmut, Painted Caves, and Flanders Stations.

By February 1891, Ricker, Lee, and Company received the contract for pier and footer construction, and for building the approaching grading to the new bridge. The piers supporting the bridge were made from concrete and local limestone cut from the canyon bottom and floated into place. Seven of the most important footings had copings cut from Texas pink granite from the Granite Mountain Quarry in Burnet County, more than 200 miles (322km) from the construction site. All piers and footings were constructed on bedrock. But it was often difficult for the engineers to determine its exact location, due to the accumulations of river deposits and boulders in the bottom of the canyon. Pier number nine was the most difficult to construct because of these deposits. Although the pier was 55 feet (17m) in overall height, only about 5 feet (1.5m) of it was visible at the surface. By the end of October 1891, the footers and piers were completed; and Ricker, Lee, and Company then turned their attention to constructing the grades and new track leading to the east and west sides of the canyon rim.

The Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, began work on the bridge's iron and steel towers and spans on November 3, 1891, under the direction of Chief Engineer J. T. Mahl. No heavy locomotive cranes existed at this time, so engineers designed an apparatus called a "traveler" to lower the heavy iron beams into place. This strange-looking device utilized an overhanging arm that was 124.6 (38m) feet in length—greater than any traveler ever used before (Wilson 1923:29)—to lower bridge sections into place. This arm was counter-balanced by the 57-foot (17m) wheelbase of the traveler, clamped to the completed section of bridge during operation. The various sections of bridgeworks were assembled on both sides of the river adjacent to the track, and then lowered into place by the traveler. The bridge sections included two cantilever arms, 85 feet (26m) in length; four tower spans, each 35 feet (11m) in length; two lever arms, 52.6 feet (16m) in length; one suspended lattice span, 80 feet (24m) in length; eight lattice spans, 65 feet (20m) in length; one plate girder span, 45 feet (14m) in length; and 34 plate girder spans, each 35 feet (11m) in length (ibid.).

The traveler began work from the east canyon rim, lowering sections of bridge-works down into the canyon. When the machine reached the approximate midpoint of the future bridge, it backed up and returned to the east canyon rim, and was dismantled, loaded on a rail-car, and hauled via the old rail route across the bridge at the mouth of the Pecos, and on to the west canyon rim, where it was re-assembled and put to work again building towards the span that had been completed from the east side. Using a daily work crew that averaged 67 people, the bridge was completed in just 103 days, at a cost of $250,108. The completed construction was 2,180 feet (664m) long, consisting of a combined cantilever and a 185-foot (56m) section of "suspended" lattice over the actual watercourse. The ironwork alone weighed 1,820 tons. With its completion, all that remained to bring the structure into service was the installation of the electrical signaling equipment on both approaches to it. Trains approaching from either direction would be required to stop and inspect the bridge prior to crossing. On March 31, 1892, a special train carrying railroad dignitaries officially opened the Pecos Viaduct to regular rail traffic.

The railway company assigned a full-time watchman at the bridge once regular service began. His duties included patrolling the bridge at night for reasons of safety, and performing regular maintenance and safety checks of the towers and superstructure. The watchman lived in a small, two-room wooden house located just north of the tracks on the east side of the Pecos canyon. From 1893 to 1924, the watchman was W. A. Clare; the last watchman and pump operator to live in the house in the 1940s was a Mr. Carter, whose widow still lived in Comstock, Texas, in 1992.

The Pecos Viaduct was rapidly becoming obsolete by 1910, due to an ever-increasing amount of traffic, and the demands of heavier loads. The railway company substantially reinforced the original bridge design with an additional 2,268,786 pounds (1,029,121kg) of steel—the total amount of steel then estimated at 5,497,063 pounds (2,493,468kg). The grades approaching the bridge from both sides were shortened a total of 665 feet (203m) by adding fills at each end. In 1929, additional structural changes were made that significantly increased the load capacity for trains crossing the viaduct.

In 1922, the Southern Pacific built a station on the east side of the Pecos River adjacent to the bridge. Although it has received scant attention in the literature, this facility was considered at the time to be a remarkable piece of engineering. The station consisted of a residence, pumping station, and one oil and two water storage-tanks. The pumphouse was located near the watchman's residence in the canyon bottom at the base of the bridge. Water for drinking and boiler purposes was pumped up from the canyon bottom to storage tanks on the east canyon rim. The brackish waters of the Pecos were not suitable for the railroad's needs, so a natural spring was used as the sole water source.

The watchman's two-room residence and the pumphouse were all located on the canyon floor, well below the floodplain, adjacent to the east side of the canyon. It is estimated that the elevation of the floodplain on which these structures were built was roughly 1,070-1,080 feet (326-329m) above mean sea level (AMSL). These structures were inundated by flash-flood waters on at least three different occasions between 1922 and 1960. There is a U.S.G.S brass monument adjacent to an abandoned pipeline associated with the pumphouse that runs up the cliff face on the east canyon wall. The brass monument commemorates the June 1954 flash-flood on the Pecos, when waters rose over 80 feet (24m) above normal flow to an elevation of 1,154.56 feet (352m) AMSL. Small wonder that the railroad used reinforced concrete structures in the canyon bottom. Since 1969, the waters of Amistad Reservoir have permanently flooded this section of the Pecos River Valley to an elevation that averages 1,117.0 feet (340m) AMSL. During a severe reservoir draw-down in 1988, the lake level dropped nearly 30 feet (9m) (1,090 feet, or 332m AMSL), exposing the upper portions of the pumphouse.

The Pecos Viaduct was built almost entirely of metal—purposely done to reduce the risk of fire. What little wood existed, such as the ties and decking, was covered with galvanized iron plating; and to further reduce the risk of fire, the railway company in 1922 added 13 fire hydrants, evenly spaced, on the bridge decking. The water source for the fire hydrants was a separate line, which was part of the pumping system described above. If water could not be pumped from the canyon bottom, there were two large water storage tanks (described above) to draw from.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, had repercussions that were felt as far away at the Pecos River Viaduct. Because of the bridge's strategic importance as part of the southern transcontinental railroad, the U.S. Army stationed troops at the Pecos River to provide security for the bridge and the increase in military rail traffic following the Japanese attack. During World I, the U.S. Army had stationed troops for a similar purpose; and, during the Mexican Revolution of 1917, Texas Rangers patrolled the bridge, looking for saboteurs. Railways officials and the Office of Defense Transportation soon realized that the 48-year-old bridge might be unable to carry all the weight it could be called on to bear, thus creating a bottleneck when the Nation was rapidly mobilizing for war.

Topographic studies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1942 identified a suitable site for a new bridge located less than 1/4 mile (0.4km) south of the existing Pecos River Viaduct. The War Production Board placed a high priority on building a new structure, thus enabling the railway company to obtain the needed steel at a time when it was in short supply. By the end of 1942, the Southern Pacific had successfully applied to the Office of Defense Transportation and received construction materials for the new bridge, which was to consist of a number of continuous cantilever and plate girder spans perched on top of two huge concrete towers anchored in the river bottom. Work began on the piers in August 1943; and on December 21, 1944, the $1.2-million bridge was completed and in service as the first regular freight train crossed the 1,390-foot-long (424m) structure. Still in operation today, it is commonly known as the Pecos High Bridge.

During the war years, the U.S. Army leased roughly 30 acres of private land on both sides of the Pecos River adjacent to the bridge. The Army established a military police camp, and the police patrolled the bridge and canyon below both day and night. The remains of foundations for several small buildings and several limestone block machine-gun nests are all that remains of the Army's World War II presence at the bridge.

The 1890s Pecos Viaduct was kept as a standby for nearly 5 years following the completion of the new bridge. In 1949, the Southern Pacific contracted with the Robinson Erection Company (St. Louis, Missouri) to dismantle the historic bridge. Initially, the Southern Pacific had made plans for the purchase of the entire structure by the government of Guatemala for use in that county. Current literature on the subject provides conflicting stories on the fate of the old bridge. The Odessa News (October 15, 1978) states that the bridge was in fact sold to Guatemala, and is still in operation in that country today. A postcard of the 1892 bridge (Old West Collectors Series no. 46, Pecos River Viaduct, n.d.—ref. added) states that, "Because it was so well engineered the West Texas bridge was dismantled after 56 years [1948] and rebuilt across the Wabash River in Indiana." Baker (n.d.) notes that, initially, the Southern Pacific had made plans to sell the bridge to the government of Guatemala; however, the deal fell through, resulting in the piecemeal sale of individual spans from the bridge to several different states and local governments for use as shorter bridges across streams within their political jurisdictions. Most of the other pieces and parts were sold to scrap metal dealers (ibid.).


Baker, Steve
n.d. History of Baker's Crossing. Unpublished manuscript on file at the Val Verde County Library, Del Rio, Texas.

Bender, A. E.
1933. Opening Routes Across West Texas, 1848-1850. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, no. 2:116-135.

Bliss, Zenas R.
n.d. Reminiscences of Zenas R. Bliss, Major Genera), U.S. Army, 2 vols. In The Early History of Val Verde County, Texas. Masters Thesis, Sul Ross State University. Alpine, Texas.

Briggs, Alton K.
1974. The Archeology of 1882 Labor Camps on the Southern Pacific Railroad, Val Verde County, Texas. M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin.

Carter, R. G., Captain
1935. On the Border with MacKenzie or the Winning of the West from the Comanche. J. M. Carroll and Co., Matticuck, New York.

Cazneau, Mrs. William F.
1852. Eagle Pass or Life on the Border. Reprinted 1966 by Pemberton Press, Austin. Originally written under pen name of Cora Montgomery.

Comstock Study Club
1976. Comstock: Friends and Neighbors. Compiled and printed privately by the Comstock Study Club for the United States Bicentennial.

Cooke, Philip St. George
1862 Cavalry Tactics or Regulations for the Instruction, Formation and Movements of the Cavalry of the Army and Volunteers of the United States. Washington, D.C.

Dolan, Wilson
1979. The Railroad. M.S. on file, Interpretive Branch of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin.

Elliot, Claude
1928. The Building of the Southern Pacific Railroad Through Texas. M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin.

Essin, Emmett M.
1970. Mules, Packs, and Packtrains. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, no. 1:52-80.

Hunter, J. Marvin
1925. The Trail Drivers of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin (reprinted 1985).

Kilstofte, June
1949. Too Big for its Bridges. San Antonio Express Magazine, June 26, 1949:4-7.

Kraus, George
1969. Chinese Laborers and Construction of the Central Pacific. Utah Historical Quarterly 37 (1):41-57. Salt Lake City.

Labadie, Joseph H.
1987. An Archeological and Historical Assessment of the Vista Verde South Project, San Antonio, Texas. Center for Archeological Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio, Archeological Survey Report, no. 156.

1989. The 1987 Parida Cave Conservation Project, Val Verde County, Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 59:83-109.

La Hacienda
1976. La Hacienda. Whitehead Museum and Val Verde Country Historical Commission Bicentennial Publication. Del Rio, Texas National Archives.

1976. National Archives memo NNMO 2732 JLM, dated January 27, 1976, on file at the Whitehead Museum Del Rio, Texas.

Neighbors, Kenneth F.
1954. The Expedition of Major Robert S. Neighbors to El Paso in 1849. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, no. 1:36-59.

Odessa News (newspaper) October 15, 1978

Patterson, Patience Elizabeth
1980. Relocation and Restoration of a Baking Oven (Site 41VV588) in Val Verde County, Texas. Texas State Department of Highways and Public Transportation, Publications in Archaeology, report no. 18. Pecos River Viaduct (postcard)

n.d. Old West Collectors Series, No. 46. Kustom Quality Co., El Paso.

Perkins, George O. 1954. The Early History of Val Verde County. Masters Thesis, Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas.

Porter, Kenneth Wiggins
1952. The Seminole Negro Indian Scouts 1870-1881. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, no. 3:358-377.

Reed, E. W.
1870. Railroad Gazzette, August 13, vol. 1. Chicago.

Rhodes, Edward J.
1977. The Chinese in Texas. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, vol. LXXXI, No.1:1-36.

Rowland, Dunbar (ed.)
1923. Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist, His Letters, Papers, and Speeches. (10 vols.). In Opening Routes Across West Texas, 1848-1850, by A.E. Bender. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, no. 2:116-1351.

San Antonio Daily Express (newspaper):
August 26, 1880
May 14, 1881
October 10, 1882
March 14, 1882
January 21, 1882
February 2, 1882
February 19, 1882
April 20, 1882
August 24, 1883

Wallace, Ernest (ed.)
1967. Ranald S. MacKenzie's Official Correspondence Relating to Texas, 1871-1873. 2 vols.. West Texas Museum Association, Lubbock.

Webb, Walter Prescott
1935. The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense. University of Texas Press, Austin. Reprinted 1991. Webb, Walter Prescott (ed.)

1952. Handbook of Texas. 3 vols. The Texas State Historical Association, Austin.

Whiting, H.C.
1850. Report on a New Route From San Antonio de Bexar to El Paso. Published in The Western Journal of Agriculture, Manufacturing, Mechanical Arts, Internal Improvement, Commerce, and General Literature. M. Tarver and T. F. Risk (eds.). Saint Louis, pages 231-245.

Wilson, Hugh B.
1923. Southern Pacific Lines: The Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway. Unpublished manuscript prepared by the Secretary to the Superintendent.

Wooster, Robert
1987. Soldiers, Sutlers, and Settlers: Garrison Life on the Texas Frontier. Texas A&M University Press. College Station, Texas.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 26-Mar-2007