Yet more rain fell near Langtry, Texas, yesterday, transforming Eagle Nest Canyon again. This time only about one-third of an inch created a flash flood that roared down the canyon as the crew worked in Eagle Cave. Please click on the link to see photos of this remarkable transformation. Note that the big willows and other trees are completely gone.
June 20, 2014, saw a catastrophic flood in Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas. They had 11.6 inches of rain in about eight hours. That’s almost the average annual rainfall in that place! Please click on the link below to see a photographic timeline of this event–and a moving documentary on the power of water. Thanks to the Ancient Southwest Texas Project for posting these photos. click here The Canyon Runs Deep.
My guests today are Jack and Wilmuth Skiles of Langtry, Texas, located right on the Rio Grande with a view towards the mountains of Mexico. Their house overlooks legendary Eagle Nest Canyon, home to the famous bison jump at Bonfire Shelter (http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/bonfire/index.html), as well as several archaeologically important dry rock shelters, which were occupied by people 4000 years ago or more. This spring archaeological research is being conducted in the canyon by Texas State University. The Skiles family has preserved the canyon and the historic legend of Judge Roy Bean, Law West of the Pecos, for almost a century. Jack has been a steward for the Texas Historic Commission for many years.
Thanks for being with us today, Jack. Tell us how you learned about Eagle Nest Canyon. I grew up here.
Dad came out here as a kid, and mother came out to teach school. All the mothers used to let us kids run through the canyons, play cowboys and indians in this old rough canyon, and go swimming. There used to be a good swimming hole with a spring right in front of Eagle Cave. When I was about 10, everybody was doing down for a swimming party. I slipped on a mossy slick spot and cut my chin. Still have the scar. I grew up prowling around and hunting arrowheads in this canyon. Our parents didn’t worry about us falling off the bluff. One of my first clear memories when I was three or four is going down on daddy’s back on the ladder the Witte Museum in San Antonio had set up in the mid-1930s for an archaeological project. Dad had been working with the Witte people and ate lunch with them. Dad said, “Git on my back and we’ll go down.” Mama cried, “No,no, no! Hold tight! Hold tight!”
You have a small private museum of pre-historic materials and historic artifacts. How did that come about? Well, mom and dad had collected some Indian things, and he built an addition on the back of his store to display them. After college at Sul Ross in Alpine, I moved to Monahans and took a part-time job at Sand Hills State Park museum. I got to know Bill Newcome, director of the Texas Museum at the University of Texas in Austin, and took a problems course with him when I was there in 1959-60 on an National Science Foundation grant for teachers. He was working on his pictograph book at that time (The Rock Art of Texas Indians, 1967), and Forrest Kirkland’s paintings were all around the walls of his office. I was real interested in that. So, I’ve also had an interest in museums, archaeology, and rock art, cause I grew up around it.
How did you start the museum and botanical garden in Langtry? In the early 1970s I went into the Texas highway department in Austin one day, and by the time I left they had offered me a job to start the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Bean) and Botanical Garden here in Langtry. The old saloon was still there, and I had a master’s degree in botany, so I knew the plants.The garden trails were already laid out. They had hauled in a load of giant daggers from Big Bend. I leased about 7000 acres, plus our own ranch, so I went out and gathered the plants. I knew which ones we’d want. I spent a lot of time with locals and old timers learning what those plants were used for. Later they brought in some plants that are not native, but they’re not in the cactus garden.
You also wrote a book about Judge Roy Bean. That’s right. I’ve got another one I want to
publish too. We’ve had some famous visitors to the house because of Roy Bean, too. The actor Robert Redford spend a weekend with us one time for a movie they were making. It was hot, so he went swimming in the pool, and when he left, he forgot his swimsuit! So Wilmuth has Robert Redford’s Speedos! Edgar Buchcanon from the 1950s Judge Roy Bean TV series was here at the dedication of the Pecos Bridge in 1957. Also actor Slim Pickens, he was a funny old guy! One time dad was swimming naked in his original swimming pool when Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas showed up at the door. He was with Francis X. Tolbert, the writer from Ft. Worth. Dad jumped up and ran to the barn and wrapped himself in a tow sack tied around his waist with rope. And that’s how he met William O. Douglas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_O._Douglas).
What are some of the changes you’ve seen in this area? Well, when I was born the population of Langtry was
about 400. Today it’s 14. We used to have a lot of picnics and community suppers, but now we don’t. There’s hardly any ranching here any more. People can’t make a living. Good for the land. It will replenish without the livestock. Poor for the economy of this area. We still have good well water, but damming up the Rio Grande to build Lake Amistad ruined our fishing. Used to be a beautiful water hole with perch down there. The river used to be 40 feet deep down at Twin Caves. I caught at 48 pound catfish one time. Dad caught one that was 64. Fishing used to be so good, we’d invite people for a fish fry before we even caught ’em! There’s no deep water between here and the Pecos River anymore because Lake Amistad filled it all up full of mud. I could tell you all about that.
You’re right here on the border. How have practical relations with Mexico changed? Untill 9-11 we kept in close communication with people across the river. They kept a boat down there. They’d come and honk, and I’d go down and get ’em and bring ’em up here. For a while there were no deer over here, but there were plenty across the river. We always went over there to go hunting. 9-11 stopped everything. We used to have dope and illegals coming up this canyon. Several came to the door wanting food, and Wilmuth gave ’em food. One day guys were walking down the canyon and I yelled that it’s private property, y’all get out! Made me mad. I got my .30-06 when they acted like they couldn’t hear me. I put a bullet in the gravel bar ahead of ’em and they got out. It was foolish. I shouldn’t a done that.
What are some of the challenges of living here, Wilmuth? The biggest is that we have to go 60 miles to the grocery store and medical care. And with less population here, it can get lonely. We had the devil of a time getting TV. We had to go to Del Rio and rent a motel room to watch John Glenn’s first flight, and the same thing in 1969 when NASA went to the moon. Around 1980 we got a great big old dish antenna that finally worked. Jack: I was lucky to have a wife who was willing to move to Langtry.
What about snakes and varmints? Are they a problem? We’ve had three mountain lions come up in our yard over the years. I’ve got a picture of one. Now we have a trapper that’s paid by the ranchers for how many mountain lions he kills. Last year that guy caught nine. I haven’t seen a rattler in three or four years. That’s because we have so many road runners that kill ’em. Hawks and owls get ’em too. Little rock rattlers in the canyon are most common, but not in the open uplands. They like it where there’s more cover. Rock rattlers seem rather docile to me. [As we speak there is a line of road runners looking at their reflection in the glass patio doors.]
What would you like to see happen to this canyon in the future? I’ve wanted so badly to get this canyon studied more, so I’m glad the archaeologists are here now.The very best thing would be to have a museum here where the artifacts wold be shown to the public and have tours of the canyon and make sure everything was taken care of archaeologically speaking. I’d like to see my museum stay here. That’s a worry for me. I want to see the stuff protected. I’ve had the canyon rim surveyed for a road so that people could drive around it. But who would take care of it, who would pay for it? That’s a worry for me.
The mighty bison, or buffalo, is currently experiencing a restoration in Texas and other parts of the American west after being almost exterminated between 1870-1880 by commercial hunters. Some estimate that over a million bison were killed in Texas alone in 1877. Caprock Canyon State Park near Quitaque, Texas is home to the official Texas bison herd. The video above by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department describes the herd today. Visitors can drive through the park to see bison roaming natural grasslands as they have done for thousands of years. The park also offers various talks and activities, such as the Bison Festival, which was held September 28, 2013, or the discussion of Mary Ann Goodnight on March 22, 2014. The Ft. Worth Nature Center will also host the Bison Boogie May 4-10, 2014 for the public.
Mary Ann (Molly) Dyer Goodnight (1839-1926) is the person most responsible for preserving
the American bison from total annihilation. She was married to Charles Goodnight, and together they ran the famous JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. She became concerned at the horrendous bison slaughter after the American Civil War, and saved several Southern Plains bison calves herself. She fed them cow’s milk, which they apparently could tolerant without problem. According to a story in the February, 1901 Ladies’ Home Journal, the calves drank up to three gallons of milk a day. This was the beginning of the Goodnight bison herd, one of the five foundation herds from which North American bison spring today. For more on the “Mother of the Panhandle,” see this article from the Texas State History Association http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgo35.
Several public bison herds exist in Texas today, including the one at Caprock Canyon State Park and one at the LBJ National Heritage Park near Stonewall, Texas, and over 40 private herds. In 2008 there were 61 Plains bison conservation herds in North American containing over 20,000 animals, and over 400,000 bison in commercial herds. A large herd also exists at Yellowstone National Park, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/american-buffalo-spirit-of-a-nation/introduction/2183/.
Bison are the largest terrestrial animals in North America. Adults are about 10 feet long and weigh anywhere from 700-2000 pounds. They can run up to 30 miles per hour and have been known to jump six-foot fences. Both males and females have short black horns that may spread to three feet. Evidence of several massive bison jumps, or stampedes off a cliff, have been found at Bonfire Shelter near Langtry, Texas, on the Rio Grande. To learn about how ancient people accomplished this, see http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/bonfire/index.html. To read about ancient people of the Lower Pecos stampeding bison, see my book, Peyote Fire, coming soon!
Reporting today’s blog post is Vicky Munoz, Archaeology Intern at the Shumla Research and Education Center.
The 7th Annual Archeolympics was held February 22,2014 at Seminole Canyon State Park near
Comstock, Texas, about 35 miles west of Del Rio. The Archeolympics is a primitive skills competition featuring atlatl and spear throwing, rabbit stick throwing, and frictiion fire starting. Ancient people who lived in the Lower Pecos region of Texas used these three basic skills for daily life, but few contemporary folks practice them today. It’s not unusual for today’s paleo-triathletes to compete in all three events.
Participants included Boy Scout groups from Del Rio, Texas; the Experimental Archaeology Club at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas; and a group from San Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas; as well as individuals with a special place in their hearts for Archaic skills, some coming from as far as Houston.
The rabbit stick throwing competition was first up. A rabbit stick is a non-returning boomerang, and was used all over the world as a primitive hunting device. The paleo-athletes took turns lining up and throwing at two defenseless soccer balls that stood in for rabbits about 20 feet down range. Each competitor had three shots per turn. This event, or any of the events for that matter, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most participants missed the targets, but the crowd went wild when one of those “rabbits” bit the dust. Watch the short video below by Jack Johnson to see the power of a rabbit stick against a mighty opponent, the “Pumpkin.”
A few of the competitors even had hits on all three throws! The bar was set high in this year’s games. Winners had to be determined by sudden death. Juan Carlos won in the youth category (second place went to Josh Allen), and Lauren Kempf in the adult (second was Fabian Castillo and third was Jerod Roberts).
Friction fire starting was the second event of the day. This is definitely the sprint event for the games. The event was open to all ages, but only five competitors were brave enough to enter: Robin Matthews, Jack Johnson, Charles Koenig, Bryan Heisinger, and Jerod Roberts. The rules for this event are deceptively simple: Start a fire using nothing but a spindle or hearth-board as fast as possible. No bow drills, all muscle.
Competitors arrange their kits in front of them on the ground. When the flag drops, the race begins. Within 30 seconds, two were beginning to feed their hungry embers to create that fire. Charles Koenig and Jerod Roberts were neck and neck, but it was the previous champion, Charles, who eventually came out on top with a blistering time of 46 seconds.
The other competitors had to be reminded that the race was not over, and that there were two more places on the podium still up for grabs. They quickly went back to trying to conjure fire. Jack Johnson, also a previous friction fire race champion, added drama to the race by dropping out not just once, but twice, citing exhaustion. He had been doing fire starting demonstrations most of the morning and didn’t have enough energy saved up for the race! Jerod Roberts had also burned most of his energy giving Charles Koenig a run for his money, but managed to get another ember going, only to lose it once more. Exhausted and somewhat defeated, Roberts took a timeout. Watch this short video to see how to start a fire with a sotol drill and hearth stick.
Meanwhile Bryan Heisinger (see http://www.aswtproject.wordpress.com, Feb. 25, 2014), with laser like focus and coaching from the new champion Koenig, began
to get his embers glowing. A newcomer to the sport, Heisinger later recounted how he was so determined to get a fire going that he was forgetting that he also needed to breathe! Clocking in over 4 minutes, Heisinger took second place as the others looked on, clearly feeling the burn (pun intended) in their arms. At just over 6 minutes, Robin Matthews and Jerod Roberts declared a draw and were awarded third place.
After halftime, the atlatl and spear throwing competition began. The sport was divided into amateur, skilled, and team events. This is the real crowd pleasing event and the one with the largest number of competitors. Apparently launching pointed darts at animal targets really gets the adrenaline going. Some competitors are so serious that they bring their own darts and atlatls from home.
Scoring is as follows: three points for hitting the target of the deer in the heart/vital area, two points for a hit on the neck and face of the deer target, one point for a hit on any other part of the flesh. The rules to this are also deceptively simple: earn the most points in three attempts.
As the shoot-out began, the wind began to calm down a bit which was a big help to the competitors as they were throwing into the wind. For most of the hunters, the prey eluded them and they went hungry that night but of course, there is always a winner. In the amateur category, Amanda Castañeda took first place with second to Joe Taylor. Amanda delivered a fatal blow to the deer as well as one to her competition.
Those with more experience (and confidence) compete in the skilled category. At this level, the competition is fierce with friends and couples being pitted against one another. Playful verbal jabs are slung at one another, especially within groups where they’re all vying to be the alpha atlatl hunter. It’s all-out war.
Charles Koenig, who also blazed his way to the top in friction fire race, took the top spot in the skilled category with Mallory Marcone taking second, and Jim (just Jim) taking third place. The youngest winner in the skilled competition was Willie Canseco, age 13. Here’s a short clip of the atlatl event, courtesy of Michael Strutt and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
In the team atlatl category, the group known as the Eaglenesters took first place. Troop 255 managed to slip in and snatch second place, and the Sharknados defeated the remaining competition in sudden death for third place. Each team got five shots at the target. Teams were composed of 2-5 people, with every member taking at least one shot.
Ultimately, it’s important to note that these competitions aren’t just for pride or fun. Each first place winner received a beautiful Perdernales style projectile point knapped by Kinley Coyan from Sanderson, Texas. Unlike the recent Sochi Olympics, however, no national anthems were sung, nor flags raised.
The Archeolympics is the brainchild of National Park Service Archaeologist, Jack Johnson, Amistad National Recreation Area, and organized for the last five years by Park Ranger Tanya Petruney, Seminole Canyon State Park. The
purpose is to give the public the opportunity to get hands on experience while learning about the lifeways of the prehistoric Lower Pecos inhabitants, including demonstrations on flintknapping, fire starting, plant processing, cord making and, weaponry. The event is sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, The National Park Service, The Rock Art Foundation, and the Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center. The event continues to grow every year but as of right now, this is one of Texas’ best kept secrets. Other events similar to this are held around the state year round. For more information on this check out the Texas Atlatl Association Meetup page (http://www.meetup.com/ATLATL/).
Well, that concludes this year’s Archeolympics! If you “like” the Seminole Canyon State Park Facebook
page, they will update you on when the next Archeolympics will be held plus all the other super cool things they have going on all year round. A special thank you to all the staff and volunteers! Without them this event would not be possible. Hope to see y’all next year!
The Ancient Southwest Texas Project from Texas State University has posted their weekly updates on the Eagle Nest Canyon excavation, ongoing in Spring 2014, on their blog at http://www.aswtp.wordpress.com. Click the link below to check their progress.
Click on the link above to see this week’s news from the Ancient Southwest Texas Project working in Eagle Nest Canyon, Langtry, Texas this spring. Dr. Stephen L. Black, Texas State University, my Steve, is leading the project.
Some people have asked me about the novel I claim to be writing. I am happy to say that I have recently completed the first draft–over 86,000 words in about 19 months. The book is tentatively called Peyote Fire, and is about the first peyote shaman.
The protagonist, Deer Cloud, is painting the stories of the Powerful Ones in a stone alcove high above the
river. His grandfather Panther Claw consecrated the alcove when Deer Cloud was a boy, especially for him to paint. The two spent many years tracing designs on the ground to arrive at the best composition to honor the gods and preserve their greatness for generations to come. When Panther Claw dies, Deer Cloud’s life takes a dramatic turn.
The book is set in the Archaic Lower Pecos, or about 4000 years ago in the area of the confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, bounded on the east by the Devil’s River. The Rain Bringer clan lives in the canyons , river banks, and uplands of this territory. There are many magnificent, brilliantly painted rock shelters that tell the stories of their gods within their lands.
I have used archeological reports and treatises written about the people of the Archaic Lower Pecos as a factual base for the story. I have tried to make descriptions of everyday life as accurate as possible, given what we know. But we do not fully know the people’s understanding of their world. As a stand-in for their undoubtedly rich religious and philosophical life, I am relying upon ethnographies of the Huichol people of Mexico, whom some suspect may be distantly related. I’ve had to strip out every agricultural mention in the Huichol mythologies, and other modern strains, such as cultural changes brought on by contact with the Spanish, in order to seek an Archaic core.
From these core beliefs and descriptions of Huichol ceremonies, I have constructed a fictional world view that pervades the Rain Bringers’ lives. This world view brings meaning to their lives and explains the natural phenomena that surrounded them; the same mysteries that surround us today.
I have a list of revisions two pages long which I am working through now. When I get that done, I will start completely over to add characterization and nuance (hopefully) to the manuscript. I hope to have it finished and ready to shop around by next June. (Which means I’d better get to work!)
I’m not sure how it will be published yet, but I know I want an ebook version. My son Miles, the composer and computer dude, is writing music for the electronic book. I may also add a bit of video of the landscape, just to set the mood. There will also be plain, unenhanced, paper copies, whatever publishing route I choose.
Thank you for reading my blog, and I hope you will read the book when it becomes available. Stay tuned for another year to find out.
- Tourists to Mexico still drawn by peyote trips_ (oddly-even.com)
- Mexico’s peyote casts mind-bending spell on tourists (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
Today our objective was White Shaman shelter with Dr. Carolyn Boyd. Dr. Boyd has studied the art in this shelter for over 20 years, and is as passionate about it today as she was when she started. We spent the morning in the shelter hearing her latest hypotheses about the meaning of the painting and the process of painting itself.
This complex mural was painted with four colors, black, red, yellow and white over 4000 years ago. The small alcove where it is located overlooks the Pecos River near the confluence with the Rio Grande. Today, this confluence is heavily silted, with only a narrow channel of water actually trickling from the Pecos into the Rio Grande.
There are a number of mortar holes ground into the stone floor of the alcove, and also into nearby boulders. The
purpose of these is unknown, but one possible hypothesis is that they were used to make alcoholic beverages of some kind, perhaps to be utilized in ceremonies. There is no evidence of paint pigment in the holes, so probably they were not used for grinding pigment.
Our schedule was so full this past week, I am finishing this post at home in Austin. Our small group was proud of themselves because we all got in and out of the canyons without having to leave anyone behind for the buzzards! Although at one time the group I was riding with in the pickup did vote to leave me there, if I broke a leg, and bury me in a crevice in the flex position. It was a unanimous vote.
We had a great medic with us at all times, Dave Gage. I have no doubt all his reflexes would have kicked in had anything serious really happened, and he would have made heroic efforts to carry someone out. I asked if he had brought anesthetic or something to knock us out, in a case such as that, and he said no, it was just gonna hurt like hell! I voted for the flexed burial instead. We kept hearing stories of someone who had broken a hip recently down in a canyon, and was carried out. It was not fun.
I mentioned the wonderful food we had in an earlier post. Therese, the cook, is wonderful!
She made chicken tagine with olives and carrots, lentils with kale, couscous, tabooli, and naan one night. The last night we had a baked ham with raisin sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, green beans with mushrooms, homemade rolls, and
three kinds of pie! To me, the best desert of the week was the Italian semifreddo, a type of light-as-air ice cream. Yes, we were very spoiled.
The morning of the last day we held a ceremony overlooking a small arroyo to dedicate our prayers to the powers that be. Dr. Stacy Schaefer of California State University at Chico lead the typical Huichol ceremony. Stacy has studied the Huichol, a small group in Mexico, for about 30 years.
She conducted the blessing ceremony, and we left the Huichol-style offerings we had made in the rocks for the wind and rain. We had each gained something special from the week, and we each felt the glory of the landscape and the call of the paintings by the ancients. The ceremony was an act of gratitude for these things, and acknowledgement of our small place in the history of mankind.
Future posts will elaborate on many of the sites and observations from the past week. A week in the Lower Pecos gives you a clean heart and a clear head–and lots to write about!
This is the first of several articles this week live from the Pecos Experience at the Shumla School, west of Del Rio, Texas. I arrived Friday night so I could hike Presa Canyon Saturday, courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife and Seminole Canyon State Park.
I had been warned that this was an “extremely strenuous” hike, and that warning is correct. I was so tired that I came back to camp and took a two hour nap, ate dinner, then slept another 12 hours. Got up today, had coffee, took a nap, and will go to be early tonight too. I am sore in so many places! But I made it in and out, and therein lies the tale.
The only way to see Presa Canyon is to join one of these tours that only go in cool months. There were about 23 in our group, along with two guides from the Rock Art Foundation. It is about four hours in to Black Cave, our final destination, and four hours out. We were lucky because there was a breeze and the temperature only reached the low 90s, even though the stone canyon was like a radiant oven.
This hike feels like it is mano a mano with nature. At least that’s what it feels like to an old woman like me. There are numerous boulder fields that must be climbed and gotten down from, and lots of thorny brush to push through. My mind was completely focused on where to put my next step so I wouldn’t sprain an ankle. That and drinking enough water so I wouldn’t get heat stroke.
I hadn’t slept a wink the night before because my monkey mind kept saying “heat stroke, rattlesnake, sprained ankle” like an evil mantra over and over. We did not see a single snake, although I am sure they saw us, and no one got overheated or injured. The buzzards didn’t circle, so you know we made it out alive!
When we could look up, we got to see some wonderful rock art. Our destination was Black Cave, which contains a panel of quite vivid art. The panel seems to be made up of several separate elements rather than being one continuous composition. But that’s just how it looks. Who knows what it really means?
The air was intoxicating with the sweetness of blackbrush, huisache and Mexican buckeye trees in mad bloom. More than one person commented that they felt like they were being seduced by the fragrance so as not to pay attention to the thorns and rocks that were brushing us and trying to grab our boots. Yes, it was another trick to get us.
We thought about the people who once lived here and made these paintings. How did they do it? The figures in Black Cave are very high up the wall. No one could have reached that high, so they had to have used some sort of scaffold. The paint is still vivid
today, 4000 years at after it was applied, at least. How did they make such a paint? My house paint certainly won’t last that long. How did they even walk through the canyon? They didn’t have high-tech hiking boots and camel-backs. How did they carry water? What did they think about? What did they mean to tell us with these figures?
Those are the questions that drew me here. Ones I’ll be exploring this week. I hope you will stay tuned for more!