Now, there are a number of areas in the States that are “Big Sky Country.” And Big Bend is one of those places.* Where the horizons stretch on forever. A vast expanse. It’s difficult to tell where the Earth ends and the Sky begins.
It is a mirage within a mirage.
The only thing offering a tethering to the ground in Big Bend are the Chisos Mountains. They break the joint between skyline and chaparral and provide definition. They restore the sense of gravity that would otherwise vanish completely.
In these places we get that duality of striking beauty mixed with the desolate and dangerous. It’s enchanting and alluring here, but there is deception because if you’re not careful you could easily die from the elements.
The population is sparse for obvious reasons.
You might remember from my first post in this series that the two population centers here, Terlingua and Lajitas boast only 128 people between the two of them.** So why does this handful of people still occupy this desert land? Call such a barren wasteland home?
The River for one.
In the past (as I’ll speak about more in a minute) it was mining that brought in the Anglos for a scorching exploitation of Mother Earth. But for the present all that remains is enough tourism to keep the towns running. And I doubt there is enough of an attraction to retain these community’s youths. They will be having those “can’t wait till I get the fuck out of this place” moments, having been fully saturated with the bliss this countryside offers, but desiring a more exciting life. With a greater population from which to seek out their jobs and their mates.
These towns may dry up with the desert winds over time, but for the moment let’s explore the history of this Big Sky County.
One of the problems with the telling of American History is, sort of ironically, time. And attention span. There seems to be an over emphasis on certain key times or dates, and an abandonment of time altogether that surrounds or is in between those principal events. And we are, to a certain extent, relying on the presentation as being true and not some form of revisionist history served up with a bit of savory, mesquite honey as opposed to a more faithful reality — a putrid, sulfurous, acrid aftertaste that would burn the palate.***
Here in America, we are usually thrown a few tidbits about when us European immigrants first began serious colonization in the 1500s and 1600s, followed by the American Revolution almost a couple of hundred years later, and then all time simply ceases to exist again until the Civil War, almost a hundred years later than the Revolution.****
It’s sad to think that most all human wayposts are marked by destruction, war, and genocide. This certainly doesn’t register with me as being some heroic conquest.
No difference here in Texas. The stories spun to form that patchwork quilt of antiquity usually begin with the mid-1800s, and then proceed forward with varying levels of detail as the clock approaches our present moment.
But that’s ok. If I want more, and I usually do, I can dig a bit further on my own.
The big take-aways from this region, is that various nomadic tribes (hundreds in fact), and a few farming tribes solely occupied the area throughout the Paleo-Indian Period. We’re talking some 10,000 years ago or 10,000 BCE. But where most of us Anglos start the SouthWest history clock in Texas is when the Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500s.
Their incursion brought a lot of fighting and a lot of missionaries trying to convert the First Nation’s people to Catholicism and; consequently, the establishment of a lot of “Presidios” to protect the Spanish people trying to establish a domicile in a hostile environment.
Of course, to be fair, the environment became hostile to the Spanish because the Spanish were hostile to the First Nations’ Peoples.
But not all was hostility.
There were many bands who traded with the Spaniards. Nomadic buffalo hunters as well as farming and gathering communities. They called the nomadic branch collectively the “Jumano,” but they were composed of members from at least three tribes. The Tompiro-speaking Pueblo Indians; the La Junta Indians – a nomadic trading group at the confluence of the Rio Grande and Río Conchos Rivers; and the Caddoan-speaking Wichitas.
The Spanish referred to the agricultural branch of the Jumanos as the Patarabueye. But other names mentioned in connection with the Jumanos as sub-groups include the Cíbolos, Jediondos, Caguates, Cabris, Julimes, Passaguates, Amotomancos, Otomacos, Cholomes, and Abriaches.
As you can see, historical facts and context can become rather blurred with all of these migrating tribes. “Jumano” was broadly applied to people who painted or tattooed their bodies and the Indians who occupied lands along the Pecos River. But one of the primary areas for the Spanish encountering these tribes was in Big Bend. It is in this area that the Jumanos were believed to be the first Texas Indians to meet up with Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1535.
I have to pause here for just a moment, because I wrote several posts about the amazing story of Cabeza de Vaca, so if you want more reading on him and his adventures, check out my series: Compulsion to Flee; Compulsion to Flee: Conversion or Reversion; and Compulsion to Flee: Modernity and Hermitism .But back to 1500’s Texas . . .
It’s estimated that in 1580, the Jumano’s population living along the Rio Grande and the Pecos River was around 20,000 to 30,000. But by the end of the seventeenth century, with the advances of the Apache, the Comanches, and European diseases, the Jumano were effectively displaced, or detribalized and living at Spanish Missions, or dead. And any of their remnants not covered in these three categories were most likely absorbed by the Lipan and Mescalero Apache, the Caddo, the Wichita, and the Comanche bands.
Civilizations come and go.
It makes you wonder how long Democracy will survive in our country now that some 232 years have passed since the Constitution was finally adopted by all of the original thirteen states. And since we have a present internal movement towards total authoritarianism. Ah, but that’s a another story for another day.
So in the late 1500s, we have also documented the presence of the the Chisos Indians in Big Bend. Their tribal bands were nomadic hunter and gatherers who may have practiced some limited agriculture. Chiso (Chizo) originally referred to the Cauitaome or Taquitatome, but once again, the Spanish continued to lump bands together so who really knows who is who in this vast desert land.
What’s interesting about the Chisos, is no one knows about their origin. They just sort of popped up and spoke a language that is a variation of Uto-Aztecan. This language ranged from central Mexico to the Great Basin Desert in the States and includes the Aztec, Toltec, and the modern Hopi.*****
Some time around the early 1700s, the Mescalero Apaches began to encroach upon Big Bend, and as with the Jumanos, the Chisos Indians were eventually displaced or absorbed or killed. Finally, the last-in-time aboriginal group to primarily use the Big Bend was the Comanches who were noted for their fierce raids on both sides of the border that continued until the mid-1800s.
So we are finally at a point where the modernity of US history kicks in – the 1800s. And as an appropriate disclaimer, what I’ve outlined historically above is probably filled with errors as I’ve tried to condense material from various sources, and who knows the accuracy of those sources?
The Anglos coming from the East didn’t make their biggest surge until after the Civil War, and it was the discovery of “Quicksilver” around 1884 that lured the human flies to the trap.
“Quicksilver,” being “Mercury.” And that Mercury had to be distilled out of the mineral Cinnabar. Of which there was plenty. The towns of Terlingua and Lajitas swelled until there were about 2,000 people living and mining, and with some dying from Mercury poisoning.
Inhaling the vapors from the distillation wasn’t a great treat for the human body.
You see, Mercury is a neurotoxin and symptoms of poisoning include: headaches, anxiety, blurred vision, depression, irritability, nausea, memory or concentration loss, tremors, hand and feet numbness, poor coordination, hair loss, coma and death.
Additionally, silver, fluorite, lead, and zinc were discovered on both sides of the Grand River and corresponding border camps were birthed — “Boquillas,” (“Mouthpiece” or “Nozzles”) Texas and “Boquillas del Carmen” (Spanish for the “Mouthpiece of the Walled Garden”) in Mexico. These camps, just like the towns of Terlingua and Lajitas, swelled in population to somewhere between 2000 and 4000 peoples during the heydays of the mines.
Production from all of this mining surged up until the conclusion of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression, then receded until the next expansion during WWII. Then the local mining industries basically died out at the end of that War.
With the loss of the mines, the populations and the towns themselves quite literally deteriorated . . . And we’ll pick up with the story of Boquillas in our next chapter.
To be continued . . .
Title: I thought it was only fitting to change the numbering of these chapters to the Comanche language. “Pahiitʉ” means, if we’re keeping count, three. So this is Part three of this series. And I actually didn’t expect to have this many parts to this story. Hopefully you’ll enjoy Part 4, which has to do with more recent history and my trip to the area. 🙂
Photos: I took all of these pics in the areas described 🙂
Prior Posts in this Series include:
* In the States we have many public lands that have been “preserved.” In some ways it is similar to the Reservations where the Europeans herded the Native Americans. It is worthless land in the sense that it is not easily developed for profit, so there is nothing to hold back giving it a designation, declaring it to be a National Park, and rake in some tourist dollars.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing it being “preserved.” If it remains in its natural wilderness state that is. We need more lands protected from those who would exploit all of the natural resources until there was nothing left. Those who would turn rain forests into deserts, and mine deserts until there is nothing but an empty hole in the ground or a plethora of abandoned tunnel systems, all exposing, or else leaving behind, a contorted environment filled with the toxins left behind by the Human Virus.
** “Terlingua” is an amalgamation of the Spanish words “Tres Lenguas,”or “three tongues;” most probably in reference to the three languages spoken here – English, Spanish, and Native American, although some claim the name derives from the three forks of Terlingua Creek.
And “Lajitas” is Spanish for “little flat rocks,” which were commonly used to build the homes in the area.
*** And being ethnocentric, if the historians ever mention any other part of the world, it has to be in relation to something happening within the U.S. You’ll also notice how all forms of America media place a distinctively higher value on the lives of Americans than the lives of anyone else.
Whoops, going down a Rabbit Hole here. No worries, I’ll steer the boat back down the right River channel. But I’m likely to veer off down a couple of more Rabbit Holes before this series of posts is over. 😊
**** Of course, we know now that the Vikings likely attempted to colonize North American in the late 10th century of the Common Era. And the major thrust of the European invasion began in the early 1500s C.E.
BTW: BCE/CE usually refers to the Common Era. That is, BC is usually understood to mean “Before the Common Era” and CE to mean “Common Era,” though it is possible to reinterpret the abbreviations as “Christian Era.”.
The meaning of AD is Anno Domini or Year of our Lord referring to the year of Christ’s birth. The meaning of BC is Before Christ. CE is a recent term. It refers to Common Era and is used in place of A.D. the dates are the same thus, 2020 AD is 2020 CE. BCE means Before Common Era . For example 400 BC would be the same as 400 BCE.
***** Native Americans – I’m not going to glorify the entry of the White man into this region. The slanted history books of the US do enough of this damage. I do, however, wish to make a note of the genocide they perpetuated.
By 1500 in North America, there were approximately 500 Indigenous societies fully using the continent to “which their ancestors had inhabited for about 25,000 years.” It is debated just how large the total population was with estimates ranging up to 18 million. There is consensus that individual societies, bands, tribes or confederacies were limited to around 30,000 people.
From a variety of records, researchers estimate that there were 60 million Indigenous Peoples living in all of the Americas before the Europeans arrived. They then tried to answer the question of just how much of the Native American population was killed?
What they came up with was that between 1492 and 1600, a full 90% of all of the First Nations populations in the Americas had died. That means about 55 million people perished because of violence and never-before-seen pathogens like smallpox, measles, influenza, cholera, and yellow fever.
That’s not a history I’m proud of and I feel it leaves an indelible stain on anyone deriving the benefits of this masacure who try to justify these actions on such Bullshit concepts as “Manifest Destiny” or conversion of the “heathens” to Christianity.
Other Sources and Further Readings:
Note: I’ve used these sources for multiple parts of this series.