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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Settling the Big Bend

Until the late 1800s, few families settled in the Big Bend territory. Comanches and Kiowa attacked passing travelers, and the Army could provide little protection. The region boasted few services such as churches and schools, and transportation was difficult.

By the 1880s, when railroads had been built and conflict between the Indians and the United States declined, American cattlemen began to enter the area. Mexican families who had earlier left the Big Bend began to drift back; they tended small herds of goats and farmed small tracts of land near springs, along the narrow creek valleys, and along the Rio Grande. Some were United States citizens, but many had grown up south of the river in Mexico. Some owned property, but others did not obtain legal title to the lands they occupied. Later-arriving American ranchers leased the land but did not bother the "squatters," who provided fresh vegetables and necessary labor.

The discovery of cinnabar, the ore used to produce mercury, also spurred population growth. Towns around the mines, most of which were near Terlingua, grew to include more than 3,000 people. Other settlements developed at Santa Helena (now called Santa Elena), Coyote, Terlingua Abaja, and Molinar; these small communities lay near the river and provided vegetables and hay to the mining towns about 25 miles north.

The Mexican Revolution began in 1910. For the next 10 years, revolutionaries like Pancho Villa, and bandits who found the war a convenient excuse, attacked villages and ranches on both sides of the river, robbing settlers of property and sometimes their lives. In 1911, the U.S. Army began establishing camps and mounted patrols to protect remote settlements. The Castolon area welcomed a small detachment of troopers from the 5th, 6th, and 8th cavalries when it established Camp Santa Helena in 1916. The men lived in tents and the construction of a permanent post began in 1919. After the Mexican Revolution finally ended, the need for patrols declined, and by 1921 the U.S. Army had withdrawn.

About this time, Howard E. Perry began the Chisos Mining Company, one of the most famous enterprises in the Terlingua area. Perry also began a farming and ranching business with Wayne Cartledge, the son of his lawyer. They called their business "La Harmonia Company" in order to give an international flavor to the enterprise and to promote the idea of harmony between American and Mexican residents of the area. The Perry-Cartledge businesses along the lower Big Bend helped consolidate the local people into four related, but independent settlements or villages. One of these, Camp Santa Helena, soon thereafter came to be known as Castolon. Its residents included the Cartledge family, the La Harmonia Store manager and his wife, and a dozen or more Mexican and American families, all of whom were employed by the La Harmonia enterprises. Perry and Cartledge received permission from the Army to use the main barracks building at Castolon as a trading post.

During the early years of Castolon, local people more or less ignored the international boundary. American ranchers regularly hired cowboys who were Mexican citizens, and Americans often visited their neighbors across the river. La Harmonia Store became an important source of supplies for American and Mexican families throughout the area. Only after 1920 did the laws of the international border become more carefully enforced. Even today there is no staffed port of entry within 75 miles of Castolon, and Mexican citizens regularly cross the Rio Grande and shop at the Castolon Store (formerly La Harmonia Store), use the telephones, or contact Big Bend National Park rangers for emergency medical help.

Questions for Reading 1

1. What natural feature marks the international boundary near Castolon?

2. What kept settlers from moving into the Big Bend area before the end of the 1800s? What kinds of dangers would they have faced if they had settled in the area then?

3. What developments brought more people into the area?

4. Why did Cartledge and Perry name their store "La Harmonia"? How did Mr. Cartledge attempt to carry out his goal?

5. Why do you think people along the Rio Grande so often ignored the international boundary between Mexico and the U.S.?

Reading 1 was excerpted and adapted from Clifford B. Casey, "Castolon," unpublished manuscript, 1967, Research Library, Big Bend National Park.

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