Big Bend
Administrative History
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Creating a Border: The Cultural Landscape of the Big Bend (continued)

The U.S. Army and its Corps of Topographical Engineers (CTE) accepted the dual challenge of surveying the Mexico-U.S. border and opening travel corridors across the interior West. In March 1849, Major Robert S. Neighbors led a unit of Army troops westward from the state capital of Austin for the desert outpost of El Paso. Their plan was to survey a wagon road for military and civilian traffic that would link central Texas with the far Southwest. Also that year, Lieutenant William Whiting led a force from San Antonio with the assistance of Brevet Second Lieutenant William F. Smith. The Whiting-Smith party became the first American officials to survey the Davis Mountains. They camped on Limpia Creek near the site of Fort Davis (constructed six years later to protect travelers along the future San Antonio-El Paso highway). From there the party headed southwestward to Fort Leaton, established in 1848 near the town of Presidio (the Spanish La Junta), and on to El Paso. They then turned downriver, attempting to float from El Paso to Presidio. Records are not clear on this point, but this appears to be the first American effort to navigate the Rio Grande. Whiting and Smith faced substantial obstacles in reaching Presidio, eventually deciding to survey the river by land. It was Lieutenant Whiting who christened the area "the Big Bend," and his report, in the words of Gomez,
"recommended . . . that the neighboring region . . . be thoroughly reconnoitered as it represented the last expanse of frontier in Texas known only to its native residents." [22]

That survey came in 1849 as part of the work of the United States-Mexico Boundary Commission. Based in San Diego, the group encountered a host of obstacles (the Gold-Rush induced inflation in California, civilian-military competition, and sectional politics in Washington between North and South). The commission nonetheless took the field with Mexican and American officials working together. One of its prominent members was CTE Lieutenant William H. Emory, who served as chief astronomer and who did many of the measurements for the team. When the commission reached Presidio in August 1852, it detached a crew under the direction of Marine T. Chandler, a civilian meteorologist, to study the canyons of the Rio Grande by boat. They had few scientific documents to consult, with the exception of a map drawn by the Mexican exploration party of Colonel Emilio Langberg. In 1851, Langenberg had undertaken the first general inspection of the north Mexican states since the war. He reported that while frequently the target of Indian raids, San Carlos was also a major trade center for surrounding tribes friendly to both the Spanish and the Mexicans. The colonel had crossed the Rio Grande into U.S. territory along the Comanche trail into the Chisos Mountains, which Langberg described as being "like a chain of hills running uninterrupted as far as San Vicente, presenting a vision of distinct figures resembling wondrous castles and towers." The Langberg party followed an old Indian trail eastward to a place he called La Boquilla, and then turned upstream toward the old presidio of San Vicente. Even though the adobe walls lay in ruins, Langberg saw its potential once more as a defensive site against Indian raiding. He also noted "the inscriptions on the adobe walls, bearing the names of a generation of soldiers who had passed before him in search of Indians." [23]

In retracing the steps of the Langenberg party, the Chandler crew managed to travel by boat from Presidio to Santa Elena Canyon. Chandler had to climb the walls of the Mesa de Anguila to plot his course. This angle of vision convinced Chandler to avoid the narrow walls and rushing water within the canyon by riding around it. From there the party spotted a mountain that they named "Emory Peak," in honor of their chief astronomer (who did not accompany them through the Big Bend). This became their mark for triangulating distance and altitude in the area. Then Chandler and his fellow surveyors plunged into Mariscal Canyon, passing mountains that they referred to as Sierra San Vicente. After a two-day journey, they emerged from Mariscal Canyon and followed the river to the San Vicente presidio ruins. Finally reaching an opening that they named Canon de Sierra Carmel (modern-day Boquillas Canyon), Chandler and his peers agreed that they had neither the endurance nor the will to continue downstream. "Some of the members," said Gomez, "were suffering from extreme hunger, while others lacked adequate shoes and clothing." The boundary commission thus had little knowledge of the river valley at least 100 miles upstream from its intersection with the Rio Pecos. [24]

Neither the United States nor Mexico chastised the Chandler party for its failure to survey the canyons of the Rio Grande. Evidence of the limits that nature had placed upon the boundary commission appeared in 1859, when the "Camel Corps" of the U.S. Army sent a detachment through west Texas to determine the feasibility of these desert animals as beasts of burden. Second Lieutenant Edward Hartz, along with Brevet Second Lieutenant William Echols, journeyed south with their North African mounts to the area later known as Willow Spring (south of present-day Marathon). The camel corps walked through Dog Canyon (near the northern entrance to the future Big Bend National Park), then south along the east flank of the Chisos Mountains and across the Rio Grande at Presidio San Vicente. Hartz and Echols explored and mapped the area between Boquillas and Mariscal canyons for about a week. They then returned north along Tornillo Creek to Fort Stockton, but did not identify a site in the Big Bend for a military post. The Army sent Echols back into the area in 1860 with a camel unit from Fort Davis to survey the area from Presidio to Santa Elena. Echols recommended a site several miles downstream from the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon for an Army post, but the onset of the Civil War drew attention away from the Big Bend. [25]

In the interim between the boundary survey and the camel corps experiment, the United States addressed the challenge of border defense against Indian raiding required by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The U.S. Army placed outposts far to the east of the Big Bend at Fort Duncan (Eagle Pass), and 120 miles to the northwest at Fort Davis. The military had targeted San Antonio and Austin for maximum protection, with the road to El Paso included in their strategy. Gomez noted how "Mexican newspapers were quick to editorialize their outrage towards the United States for failing to comply with its obligations under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo." Conditions along the border had deteriorated such that in 1852 "Chihuahuan authorities sought permission in Washington for Mexican forces to cross the Rio Grande in an all-out offensive against the Indians." From this crisis came the Gadsden Purchase (1853), in which the United States gave Mexico $15 million to acquire the section of land west of El Paso and south of the Gila River (including Tucson). More important for the Big Bend region, the agreement contained language abrogating Article XI of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Said Gomez: "No longer committed to the protection of the Mexican frontier, the War Department devoted its full attention to Texas, and the remaining southwestern territories." This meant more troops and supplies for Fort Davis, which in the mid-1850s housed over 400 uniformed personnel, and the establishment of Fort Stockton in 1859 to ensure delivery of the U.S. mail along the San Antonio-El Paso road. [26]

The Gadsden agreement resulted also from conscious efforts by the Mexican government to establish communities along the Rio Grande. After 1848 Mexico created some eighteen colonias in areas traversed by nomadic tribes, among them the old presidios of San Carlos and San Vicente. In 1850 Mexican officials invited some 200 members of the Seminole and Kickapoo tribes to reside along the border. These Indians had been displaced from east of the Mississippi River by war and removal policies, and had disliked their new homelands in eastern Oklahoma. A third group accepting the Mexican offer of residence were black Seminoles, the descendants of runaway southern slaves who had intermarried with the Seminoles in Florida, and who were targeted in the Indian Territory by slave raiders. These mixed bands, led by such luminaries as the Seminole Coacoochee ("Wild Cat"), served as mercenaries against the enemies of the Mexican communities of the Big Bend area. Their bravery and willingness to run the enemy tribes to the ground led Mexico to offer them lands deeper in Coahuila and Chihuahua for farming, one being the community of Nacimiento de los Negros ("the birthplace of the black people"), and another near the town of Muzquiz. With the Civil War ended and slavery abolished, most Indians and blacks returned north. A small number of black Seminoles remained along the border with the Indian-fighting U.S. Army (the famed "Seminole Negro scouts"). [27]

These joint efforts of the United States and Mexico to terminate raiding by a common enemy affected the Big Bend region after the Civil War in two ways. The presence of soldiers at posts like Fort Davis, Fort Stockton, and Fort Concho near San Angelo lured ranchers and farmers to supply the Army with food, fiber, and supplies. A combination of military defense and procurement stabilized the economy of the region, making it attractive to families seeking new opportunities in the postwar era. Francis Rooney and John Beckwith established ranches in the Big Bend after 1870 to feed soldiers at Camp Pena Colorado (south of Marathon), and at Camp Neville Springs in the 1880s (within the confines of the future Big Bend National Park). Daniel O. Murphy came to the Fort Davis area in the early 1880s in anticipation of the arrival of track belonging to the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad (GH&SA). The railroad connected his cattle town of "Murphysville" with east Texas, and led to its renaming as "Alpine" to appear more attractive to potential eastern investors and tourists. [28]

Once the route passed through the Big Bend in 1882, more ranchers and community-builders arrived, and by 1887 they had succeeded in carving out Brewster County from the much-larger (and quite empty) Presidio County. Carlysle Raht, author of The Romance of Davis Mountains and Big Bend Country (1919), wrote that early Alpine "was composed of seven lumber shacks, one general store, and two saloons and dance halls combined." The former Murphysville may have changed its name, but it remained a place where "every man was a law unto himself, and carried his code with him." Raht, a graduate of the University of Texas and an aficionado of the folklore that glamorized the wildness of west Texas, noted that "gambling was open, and on hot summer days the tables and the 'layout' were placed on the front verandas of the saloons." He especially liked the response of travelers along the railroad who "never had been west of New York, and often their credulity and inquisitiveness was taxed to the breaking point." [29]

It was Raht's reading of the drama of the Big Bend that would echo in advertising and tourism promotion well into the twentieth century. "The Big Bend," said Raht, "was the scene of many daring exploits of the [Texas] rangers," who patrolled an 18,000-square mile area that was "the rendezvous of many desperate outlaws, murderers, robbers, smugglers, and a great variety of other criminals." None, however, were more threatening in Raht's opinion than Mexican desperados. "During this time," said Raht, "the Big Bend was infested with several notorious Mexican bandits who crossed the line at will, for the purpose of stealing cattle." One such person was Coo-Coo Torres, who would ford the river, capture American stock, and drive it back to a Mexican ranch for concealment. Ignoring the presence of Anglo outlaws, Raht warned his readers that until the United States could rid the Big Bend of Torres and other Mexican bandidos, American citizens could not make west Texas their home. [30]

That process of homesteading, so important to the state of Texas and the federal government, began in the late 1870s with the appearance of John T. Gano in the Big Bend. The son of a former Confederate Army general, Gano came to Presidio County in 1879 as a surveyor for private land claimants. Within a decade, according to Art Gomez, Gano and his family had acquired some 55,000 acres of land, much of it in trade with other ranchers for their surveying work. By 1890, the Ganos ran over 30,000 head of cattle between Terlingua Creek and the Chisos Mountains, with line camps at sites within the future boundaries of Big Bend National Park (Santa Elena Canyon and Oak Creek Spring). On the southeast side of the future national park, E.L. Gage ran cattle near McKinney Springs northeast of the Chisos Mountains in the shadow of the Sierra del Carmen. Later he moved his operations northward to the railroad town of Marathon. In the 1920s he built the Gage Hotel to house his guests and white-collar employees, as these were too numerous for private accommodations on the ranch. Gomez also noted the multicultural world of ranching in the Big Bend's early years, with the appearance of Martin Solis and his brothers at the turn of the century. They owned land from Boquillas Canyon to Mariscal Mountain, and "supplied beef to the thriving mining communities that appeared along the Rio Grande." Other Mexican ranchers included Felix Dominguez, Frederico Billalbo, and Feliz Gomez. The success of the Mexican ranchers provided a contrast unrecognized by Carlysle Raht and others as they sketched the cultural contours of early twentieth-century Big Bend. [31]

The intersection of government, the railroad, eastern consumers of beef, and eastern investors seeking new opportunities, made west Texas ranchers prosper in an area that had challenged all entrants, no matter their ethnicity or status. A survey of the statistical data for Brewster County from its inception in 1887, until the economic collapse of the 1930s, indicates at once how small the population remained, yet how much opportunity did surface, especially after the opening of the quicksilver mines in Terlingua and the fluorspar mines in Boquillas. It also reveals the lag between economic development of the Big Bend and that of the state of Texas (itself undergoing change in an urbanizing America). "Texas, because of the Civil War," wrote T.E. Fehrenbach in Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans (1985), "was about two generations behind the dominant Northern tier of states in social trends and developments." The capital invested in the railroad communities of Alpine and Marathon, and in the mining camps of Terlingua and Boquillas, allowed these areas to mimic the prosperity and diversity of the nation. The Big Bend, in sum, was not quite the bandits' roost portrayed by Carlysle Raht, nor the domain of cattle kings that led Fehrenbach to write on the eve of the Texas sesquicentennial: "The whole history of Anglo-Texas was a history of conquest of men and soil, and with the closing of the last frontier no such powerful thrust and impetus could merely die." [32]

When residents of Alpine asked the state of Texas in 1887 to separate them from the far-distant county seat of Presidio County, the new county of Brewster had only 307 people scattered over some 5,000 square miles. The first official enumeration of Brewster County occurred three years later, with U.S. Census officials noting the presence of 710 people. Of Brewster County's total population, 666 that year lived in "Precinct No. 1," the term for the town site of Alpine. An additional 44 lived in "Precinct No. 2" (the remainder of the vast county). To place Brewster County in regional perspective, Texas in 1890 ranked seventh in the nation in population, with 2.235 million people. Of that number, only eleven percent lived in towns of 2,500 or more (this at a time when the national average of urbanites stood at nearly 40 percent). Among Brewster County's 710 individuals, 695 were classified by race as "white," an intriguing reference in that this included Hispanics (who most definitely were not considered "white" by local Anglos). The county that year also claimed a dozen residents identified as "colored" (the term used for blacks, or African Americans), and three people of "all other" races. [33]

More revealing about change in Brewster County are the data uncovered by the census bureau in its 1900 enumerations. The state of Texas had grown by 36.1 percent, compared to the national average of 21 percent. Brewster County maintained its isolated character compared to Texas and the nation. Where in 1900 the United States was 48 percent urban, Brewster County still stood at less than two people per square mile (the census bureau's definition of a "frontier" area). But the presence of mining communities in the southern portion of the county (and the agriculture to support them) shifted the balance of population substantially. Precinct One (Alpine), with 778 people, now fell behind Precinct Three (the town and ranching area of Marathon), which claimed 799 people. There were two new precincts in 1900: Terlingua (Number Two), with 197 people, and Boquillas (Number Four), with 218 people. The 1900 census also had much more precise data in the manuscript census, which revealed that the county was not a haven for single-male outlaws (males outnumbered females by only 1,345 to 1,011). In addition, the census now listed Mexicans in the foreign-born count, with Brewster County registering 733 Mexican natives. By comparison, Germans comprised the next-largest ethnic group (a mere eleven people in the county's population). The vast majority of Mexican nationals resided in Terlingua, where they comprised nearly all of its citizens, and most jobs were listed as "miner," "laborer," or "freighter." [34]

By 1910 the advances in transportation, communication, and investment in the Big Bend country had changed Brewster County even more than in the previous decade. The state of Texas continued to outpace the nation in population growth, up nearly 28 percent while the United States grew some 21 percent in the first decade of the century. The Lone Star state continued to lag behind the nation in population per square mile (14.8 people in Texas as compared to the U.S.'s 30.9 people), as well as in urbanization (24.1 percent in Texas versus America's nearly 50 percent). Brewster County now stood at 5,220 people, slightly more than one person per square mile (a doubling of population density in just ten years). Alpine now had 2,216 people (nearly the entire amount for the county a decade before), while Terlingua claimed 1,122 (nearly ten times more people than in 1900). Marathon, the champion of population growth a decade earlier, now had 1,567, an increase of nearly half (but slower growth than its western neighbor of Alpine). Boquillas rounded out the census totals, with 315 residents (an increase of nearly half in a decade). [35]

This data on population growth coincided with economic development noted by Arthur Gomez that from 1900 to 1918, "west Texas stock did so well on the grasses of the Big Bend that most yearlings weighed anywhere from five to seven hundred pounds upon delivery." The combination of untouched grazing land, local markets consuming large quantities of beef, and the general climate of prosperity during the period known as the Progressive Era (1900-1920) convinced investors and settlers alike that the Big Bend could indeed bloom like other desert environs of the Southwest. Ironically, the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 also fueled the economic boom of west Texas, as the belligerent nations of the Allied and Axis powers purchased huge quantities of food, fiber, and meat from American farmers. Federal agencies like the U.S. Food and Fuel Administration encouraged farmers and stock raisers, in the words of director Herbert Hoover, to "plant fence to fence for national defense." The result for ranchers like John and Fred Rice, originally from Barstow, Texas, was their ability to improve their status from cowhands in the early 1900s to owners of their own spreads of longhorn cattle, then more hardy Brahma cattle. In 1908, Waddy Burnham started a Hereford ranch near Government Spring, while Sam and Jim Nail bought land near Burro Mesa in 1916 to raise Herefords for the booming war economy. [36]

Good water, tall grass, warm weather, and hungry miners and soldiers all made for a strong cattle business in a part of west Texas that would become famous in song and story for its cowboys and ranches. Yet one other feature of life in the Big Bend from 1910-1920 also contributed to the real prosperity of Anglo ranchers, and the folklore of lawlessness and banditry of the region. The Mexican Revolution of 1910, marked by bloodiness and factionalism, drove more than one million Mexican citizens north of the border in the years before and during the "Great War" in Europe. American employers throughout the Southwest, from Los Angeles to San Antonio, encouraged these refugees to seek their fortunes in the mines, mills, farms and ranches of the burgeoning regional economy. Immigration already had touched the Big Bend area, as the discovery of silver in the Sierra del Carmen in the early 1890s had created the twin border villages of Boquillas. Between 1897 and 1917, the Kansas City Smelting and Refining Company (KSARCO) would build a huge processing plant in El Paso. KSARCO and its successor, the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO), constructed a cable across the Rio Grande between the two towns named Boquillas, and upgraded the road to Marathon along Tornillo Creek to expedite the shipment of workers, supplies, and ore. This explained the presence of 200 to 300 residents in Boquillas, Texas, as well as estimates of 2,000 to 4,000 people in Boquillas, Coahuila, at the peak of mining operations. [37]

West of the Big Bend, the largest concentration of Hispanic labor worked the cinnabar mines of Terlingua. Kenneth Ragsdale has written of the changes brought to the west side of the future national park by the operations of the Chisos Mining Company. Howard E. Perry of Chicago had acquired a large parcel of land in south Brewster County in exchange for a bad debt. In 1903 Perry and Eugene Cartledge, a lawyer from Austin, lured hundreds of Mexicans north to Terlingua to work for the Chisos Mining Company. Gomez wrote that of the "company-town" atmosphere of early-twentieth century Terlingua, where Perry's mine paid workers in "scrip" to keep them indebted to their employer (this while the management staff received regular paychecks). One environmental feature of the operations was the need for large quantities of wood to fuel the huge ovens burning the quicksilver at high temperatures. The Chisos Mining Company hired Mexican freighters to haul large quantities of wood great distances from the Big Bend and northern Mexico. Like overgrazing, this wholesale deforestation had a profound effect on the landscape for decades to come. [38]

Not all emigrados from the calamitous Mexican revolution came to work for the wages of the Chisos Mining Company, or the ranches of the Big Bend. The periodic cross-river raiding that had persisted since before the days of the Spanish accelerated with the decline of order in Mexico, and paranoia in the United States over German espionage in northern Mexico (pursuant to German promises to restore the Southwest to Mexico in exchange for its support against America in World War I). Gomez noted that "only a handful of soldiers, assigned to guard the federal post offices located at Boquillas and Glenn Springs . . . were available to defend against potential bandit attacks." Glenn Springs grew in importance when in 1913 a retired Army captain, C.D. Wood, came to the small community to build a candelilla wax-processing plant. The Army prized candelilla for its waterproofing capabilities; "a highly valued commodity during the First World War," said Gomez, because of the dependence of the military on canvas tents in the humid, rainy climate of northern Europe. This new economic activity worried the United States when in March of 1916, the Mexican revolutionary Francisco "Pancho" Villa crossed the border into southern New Mexico and raided the small town of Columbus. "American interventionists," wrote Gomez, "clamored for a half-million U.S. troops to invade Mexico." Proof that they were not overreacting came six weeks later, when four Americans died at the hands of Mexican raiders while working near the Glenn Springs wax plant. The next morning (May 6, 1916), an armed Mexican party struck the American village of Boquillas, seeking money and supplies, and leading local residents to fear wholesale violence. [36]

While Colonel John J. Pershing led his "Pershing Expedition" of Army troops through the state of Chihuahua west of the Big Bend, other American officers contemplated similar actions in and around Boquillas. Negotiations in April 1916 in El Paso between Mexican and U.S. representatives had resulted in promises by the former to stop the raiding by bandits into the United States. With the collapse of that agreement a month later, General Frederick Funston decided to divide the "Big Bend Military District" into ten separate outposts; ironically, the same strategy as suggested by Spain's Marques de Rubi some 150 years earlier in the face of Native attacks. One of these military installations was called "Camp Saint Helena;" an Army post built on land leased in October 1916 from Clyde Buttrill at Castolon. This facility would offer protection to the quicksilver mines of Terlingua. But the announcement six months later by President Woodrow Wilson that the United States would commit troops to the war in Europe reduced the Army's presence on the border. W.D. Smithers, a muleteer at Glenn Springs, lamented in later years that the Army had little to do after the 1916 hostilities but to "'watch for bandits and play baseball.'" Immediately after the war, the Army tried to strengthen its defenses via the "Mexican Border Project," in which nine structures were added to Castolon, along with electrification and water and sewage connections. The Army Air Service that year also established aerial patrols along the Rio Grande out of Presidio and Camp Marfa, only to halt these in 1921 with the wholesale reductions in the nation's force structure following World War I. [40]

When the U.S. Census Bureau returned in 1920 to Brewster County, it found a landscape altered by the fortunes of war and civil unrest (if still far behind the changes sweeping a postwar America). The nation had finally become "urban," as 51.4 percent of the population lived in towns of 2,500 or more. This had many implications for political and economic power in America, as rural constituencies feared the domination of cities and the corruption of their attendant lifestyles. Texas also continued its shift towards the national pattern of urbanization, with the state now fifth in population at 4.7 million (up 19.7 percent in a decade). More telling was the Lone Star State's percentage of urbanites: 32.4 percent, which included rapid growth in such cities as Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. For Brewster County, however, the story was the reverse. The population fell by eight percent, to 4,822 people. Alpine lost over ten percent (to 1,989), even as Marathon grew to 1,928 (an increase since 1910 of 41 percent). The Terlingua and Boquillas census districts had merged in 1910, and their total declined from 1,567 that year to 1920's 905 persons, a shrinkage along the border of nearly 60 percent. [41]

The future of Brewster County, then, seemed to reside in the cattle business and its ranching communities, not mining towns near the Rio Grande. This pattern prevailed throughout the 1920s, as the expanding urban economy of Texas and the nation relied upon beef production to feed a growing populace. Gomez detailed the surge in ranching throughout Brewster County's 5,000-plus square miles during the "Roaring Twenties," when people like John O. Wedin of Kansas came to the Rio Grande near Boquillas to run sheep and irrigate for wheat. Joe H. Graham, a Del Rio rancher, followed in 1926 by purchasing the Wedin property to raise cattle and grow alfalfa for their pasturage. He eventually purchased the Rosillos ranch south of Marathon (which forms a northwestern border today with Big Bend National Park), while John R. Daniels of Presidio acquired another portion of the Graham ranch. One of the most prominent Big Bend landowners in the 1920s was Wayne Cartledge. The brother of Terlingua's Eugene Cartledge envisioned a vast irrigated domain near Castolon, where he could grow cotton with plentiful supplies of water from the Rio Grande, and the abundant Mexican labor force. Cartledge also managed the store at Castolon, and in 1925 purchased from the Army the new structures at Camp Saint Helena. Said Gomez: "Local residents depended upon [Cartledge] to provide U.S. Immigration officials with acceptable legal proof that they were American citizens not subject to deportation." Cartledge was indeed the patron of the west side of the Big Bend, to the extent that in 1928, when the federal government began stricter adherence to immigration laws, he argued that "continued enforcement . . . would devastate the farming industry throughout the state [of Texas]." [42]

The efforts of the federal government to realign the Mexico-U.S. border, making it more of a boundary than a river to be crossed, would be a source of contention for the remainder of the twentieth century. This was not surprising, given the state of relations in the 1920s between Mexico, other Latin American nations, and the United States. President Calvin Coolidge called out the American Marines on numerous occasions to occupy such Latin countries as Nicaragua and Santo Domingo, all in the name of protection of American vital economic interests. On the Rio Grande, this included construction in 1929 of an Army Air Corps facility at the ranch of Elmo Johnson, located midway between the east and west sides of the Big Bend. Johnson, a north Texas farmer, had bought land downstream from Castolon in 1928 from two failed tobacco farmers, G.N. Graddy and W.B. Williams. Joined by his wife, Ada, and by W.D. Smithers, who worked as a photographer and journalist for the San Antonio Light, Johnson negotiated with the Eighth Air Corps of San Antonio to lease a dirt landing strip for one dollar per year. The Big Bend received a federal presence to ease its concerns about border problems, especially the Escobar Rebellion in Mexico. Said Gomez: "[The young pilots] spent much of their time fishing, hunting, river rafting, and consuming Ada Johnson's home-cooked meals on a regular basis." [43]

The history of the Big Bend, west Texas, and the nation, would change once more with the economic collapse known as the "Great Depression." Census-takers could not predict in 1930 when they came into the communities of the Big Bend how the stock market crash would affect the region. The census of that year offered a snapshot of Brewster County at yet another moment of crisis, this time one that its ranchers and miners could not overcome on their own. Since the 1920 enumeration, the famed Mariscal Mine had closed, leaving behind its towering mill and substantial dwellings and offices scattered below on the River Road between Boquillas and Solis Ranch. A world at peace did not need the mercury extracted from the cinnabar ore of the Big Bend, nor did investors far away wish to pour good money into the expensive operations first built in 1919. Jose Cisneros, superintendent of Big Bend National Park from 1994 to 1999, secured funding from the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) program to study the ruins of the Mariscal Mine, and of its place in the cultural landscape of the Big Bend. Cisneros recalled in a 1998 interview how little the mine mattered to the average park visitor, given its isolation and distance from the main highways. The superintendent believed, as did the HAER crew of surveyors and historical researchers assembled in the spring and summer of 1997, that such an imposing facility could speak to the power of nature to shape life in this part of the world. Equally important to park interpretation, the Mariscal operation evoked the opportunities taken by Hispanic miners and mill workers at a time of national emergency (World War I). [44]

The 1930 census recognized the impact of the Mariscal Mine's closure, along with the realignment of capital and technology in the Big Bend area. That year Texas reported over 5.8 million residents; an increase of nearly 25 percent in a decade. Further revealing was the 41 percent figure of urban residents. Brewster County had shared in this growth, increasing to 6,624 in 1930 (or nearly 38 percent over 1920's statistics). The 1930 census also revealed the future of Brewster County, both in concentrations of population and ethnic mixture. Alpine surged to 3,860 people, far outstripping Marathon's 1,071 people and Terlingua's 1,424. Boquillas reappeared as a distinct census precinct (most likely because of the increase in ranching activity along the Rio Grande), with 209 people listed in its environs. Ethnicity, measured for the first time by native-born as well as foreign-born, found the county with a "majority-minority" status. Alpine, which that year finally became an "urban" area in the eyes of the census bureau, registered 63 percent white, and 37 percent "Mexican." But the county as a whole had 3,111 "native whites," and 3,411 "Mexicans" (both native and foreign-born). Employment indicated the reliance of Anglos on Hispanic labor. The county, which reported 2,089 males and 400 females as employed, had 205 miners, 409 farm laborers, and 204 workers in the building trades; all categories in which Hispanics predominated. Finally, the statistic on literacy revealed the changes in Brewster County as well. Whereas the 1920 census had found 31.4 percent of county adults illiterate, ten years later this statistic had fallen to 15.7 percent, or half of the previous count. [45]

The realities of a mixed world in Brewster County would continue in the 1930s, as the harshness of the Depression and efforts to create Texas' first national park inspired strident rhetoric about its land and people. The work of Anglos and Hispanics, locals and outsiders, to carve out prosperity and success in the bleakness and beauty of the Chihuahuan desert became a tale told by Walter Prescott Webb, J. Frank Dobie, and other devotees of the lore of a wild West. Such would be the milieu that the National Park Service would enter as it moved to design what would become among Big Bend's canyons, deserts, and mountains the sixth-largest park in the United States (as of 1944). "A country so thinly settled," Carlyle Raht had written in 1919, "makes an ideal rendezvous for persons of loose character who desire to remain unseen." Invisible to Raht and other writers of the Big Bend were the people of el despoblado, who had struggled for centuries to make it their home. "The white male adult only has been considered," conceded Raht in his Romance of Davis Mountains and Big Bend Country, "for the reason that, while the Mexican may be a peace-loving citizen, he is rarely active in furnishing information that may lead to the apprehension of local criminals." But Raht spared no literary expense in praising the abilities of white west Texans. "Despite all these obstacles," said the Austin native, "the West-of-the-Pecos country has grown and prospered." Nowhere in the world, said Raht, "will be found a higher type of citizenship." Having regaled readers with stories of Mexican perfidy and lawlessness, Raht cautioned that the Southern Pacific Railway was "a dead line which no Mexican bandit has the intrepidity to cross." He then promised that "the final settlement of the troubles in Mexico and along the border will insure the future of this great country." [46]

residence area
Figure 5: Residence Area, Chisos Mountains (1956)

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Last Updated: 03-Mar-2003