Pecos River Art

Rock Art Foundation White Shaman Preserve of the Witte Museum.

About 10,000 years ago, ancient peoples occupied rock shelters and deeply recessed caves tucked into canyons along the Pecos and Devils rivers. They left behind some of the most complex and diverse rock art sites in the world. Over 300 paintings, created between 3,000 and

Pecos River

4,000 years ago, sprawl across the limestone walls of these hidden rock shelters. Some of the multi-colored scenes spread more than 100 feet and depict characters twenty feet tall. The oldest images, known as Pecos River style, are the most common and often feature shaman rituals representing journeys to the spirit world. Some of the shamans are painted to look like they are ascending; others appear to be hovering with protective out-stretched arms. Panthers with great long tails leap across the limestone canvass and splay fierce claws among rabbit, snake, and crab-like shamans. In later work beginning about 500 B.C., fertility rituals, copulation, and birthing scenes are depicted.

Curly Tail Panther
Rock Art Foundation

Hundreds of petroglyphs (images carved, pecked, or cut into stone) have been discovered on gently sloping bedrock on private property in this area and are mostly geometric and abstract designs created about A.D. 1000. Work continues to remove sediment revealing older, more graceful techniques, including motifs of atlatls (spear throwers that pre-date the bow-and-arrow) as well as animal tracks and human footprints.

The artistic styles evolved slowly over time among these isolated people living in a small region near the Rio Grande. From 1600 to 1800 Spanish explorers and Plains Indians began to make forays into the region, bringing disease and warfare. Researchers know of the intrusion because of changes in the art, which depicts the novelty of domestic livestock and the impressions of a people who wore little clothing upon seeing hats, boots, weapons, and the armored horse. Although no missions were established in the Lower Pecos, structures appear similar to missions topped with a Christian cross. Then the destructive consequences of disease, warfare, and starvation brought by the outside invasion appear in scenes of soldiers, horsemen, and destroyed churches.

The introduction of the horse culture seems to explain the appearance of more recent art in lower canyon levels near water supplies and access to grazing areas away from the steep cliffs of earlier pictographs. The scenes depict hand-to-hand combat, horse theft, thunderbirds and sun symbols.

Since the 1920s researchers ranging across all the disciplines have been studying the art and the lifestyle of the ancient canyon-dwellers who for thousands of years did not cultivate crops, but sustained their livelihood by hunting and gathering. Although more than 250 sites in Texas are known for prehistoric pictographs, only the Lower Pecos Canyonlands exhibit a rock-art tradition of a single group of people over an extended period of time.

For centuries, the arid environment preserved the wall art as well as the grass beds, baskets, mats, string bags, and sandals made from fibers of native plants such as lechuguilla, sotol, and agave—priceless evidence of the culture of the prehistoric era. Modern treasure hunters began destroying and defacing the art, and it was not until the 1930s that archeological expeditions began collecting the materials primarily for display in museums. Serious research and efforts to protect the sites began in the late 1950s when Mexico and the United States made plans to construct the huge Amistad Dam at the confluence of the Devils River and the Rio Grande in the core of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. When the dam was completed in 1969, its reservoir spread over 69,000 acres, covering much of the prehistoric treasures.

Witte Museum Exhibit

Study and preservation have continued, and today visitors enjoy guided tours to the Fate Bell Shelter conducted by the Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site. Every Saturday through May, San Antonio’s Witte Museum Rock Art Foundation leads White Shaman Tours. Or visit the Witte Museum’s second floor to see life-size exhibits of the Pecos River culture and more than 20,000 artifacts from the ancient sites.

Interurban Electric Railroads

In 1901 the first electric interurban or trolley, began operating on a 10.5-mile track between Denison and Sherman in North Texas. The thirty-minute trip on the seventy-pound steel rails cost twenty-five cents. The line proved so successful that a second route between Dallas and

Denison-Sherman Interurban Railline

Denison-Sherman Interurban Railline

Fort Worth opened the following year. A fourteen-mile track started between Belton and Temple and by 1909 the original line extended all the way south from Denison to Dallas. In five years the line moved further south to Waco and other lines began between Beaumont and Port Arthur, El Paso and Ysleta, and Houston, Baytown, and Goose Creek.

Houston Station--Galveston-Houston Interurban c. 1915

Houston Station–Galveston-Houston Interurban c. 1915

The interurban between Houston and Galveston started carrying passengers in 1911 after Galveston rebuilt following the devastating 1900 storm. The city constructed a seventeen-foot seawall, raised the level of the island, and opened a new $2 million causeway to the mainland to accommodate the electric interurban, railroad tracks, and a highway. The Houston-Galveston Interurban boasted an observation car and the fastest schedule of any steam or electric railroad. It made the fifty-mile downtown-to-downtown trek in seventy-five minutes with the help of a thirty-four-mile “tangent”—a section of straight track that allowed the carriage to travel at fifty-five miles per hour. Passengers rode to Galveston for an evening on the beach or in the gambling houses and then took the 11:00 p.m. interurban back to Houston.

Other areas offered special excursions between cities. Baseball teams grew up along the interurban, and passengers flocked to see games of the Class C and D Trolley League.

The frequent service, convenient stops within cities, and lower fares of the interurbans overcame all competition with steam railroads. At the peak of the service in 1920, nearly four million passengers enjoyed the trolleys that boasted carpeted cars with lounge chairs, spittoons, and rest rooms. By 1931, ten systems across the state covered over five hundred miles.

Parlor Car Denison-Dallas-Waco-Corsicana

Parlor Car
Denison-Dallas-Waco-Corsicana

The advent of the automobile and the convenient travel it offered spelled doom for the interurbans. The lines began closing. Their tracks were paved over to make way for their competition—the automobile. On December 31, 1948, the old Denison to Dallas line made its final run.

Plano boasts a Interurban Railway Museum.

Electric rail car at the Plano Railway Museum

Electric rail car at the Plano Railway Museum

Judge Roy Bean: Law West of the Pecos

Pecos River

Pecos River

As the railroad spread westward across Texas it was often said, “West of the Pecos there is no law; west of El Paso there is no God.” The Texas Rangers were called in to quell the criminal element that followed the railroad crews through the desolate Chihuahuan Desert of southwest Texas.  The rangers had been hauling prisoners to the county seat at Fort Stockton—a 400-mile round trip—and they needed a local justice of the peace in Vinegarroon, a town just west of the Pecos River.  It was August 1882 and Roy Bean,

Judge Roy Bean

Judge Roy Bean

who had left his wife and four children in San Antonio earlier that year, won the appointment.  He kept the job with only two off years, when he lost elections, until 1902.

Bean’s training in the law consisted of a talent for avoiding it.  He was in his early twenties when he made a quick exit from the law in Chihuahua, Mexico.  He made a jail break in San Diego and avoided being hanged in San Gabriel, California.  He prospered for a time in the saloon business in Mesilla, New Mexico, with his older brother.  After the Civil War he settled in a part of San Antonio that became known as Beanville.  He married in 1866 and spent several years in various jobs—a firewood business until he was caught cutting his neighbor’s timber; a dairy business until he began watering down the milk; and a butcher shop that sold meat from cattle rustled from nearby ranches. When he began operating a saloon, a rival saloonkeeper was so eager to see him out of the business, that she bought out his entire operation for $900, all the money he needed to head west and set up his own tent saloon along the new railroad construction in Vinegarroon.

Postcard--Jersey Lilly Saloon

Postcard–Jersey Lilly Saloon

With his new position as justice of the peace, Bean acquired an 1879 edition of the Revised Statues of Texas and undertook his first action—he shot up the saloon shack of a Jewish competitor.  His tent saloon served as a part-time courtroom where his jurors were selected from an array of his best bar customers.  When an Irishman named O’Rourke killed a Chinese railroad laborer, a mob of O’Rourke supporters surrounded Bean’s court and threatened to lynch him if he didn’t free O’Rourke.  After looking through his law book Bean said homicide was killing of a human being; however he could find no law against killing a Chinaman.  He dismissed the case.

As railroad construction moved westward, Bean followed the line to a town that became known as Langtry, which Bean claimed he named for the English actress Emilie Charlotte (Lillie) Langtry whom he fell in love with after seeing her picture in a newspaper.  In truth, the town, sitting on a bluff above the Rio Grande, was named for George Langtry an engineer and foreman who supervised the Chinese immigrants who constructed the railroad.

Apparently Bean’s reputation preceded him because the landowner sold to the railroad on the condition that no part of the land could be sold or leased to Bean.  O’Rourke, the gentlemen Bean acquitted, suggested Bean establish his saloon on the railroad right-of-way because that land was not covered in the railroad contract.

Bean built his saloon, which he named The Jersey Lilly in honor of Lillie Langtry who was born on Jersey, one of the islands in the English Channel.  He claimed to know Miss Lillie and wrote to her several times inviting her to visit his town.  When his saloon burned, he built a new home and called it an opera house where he insisted Miss Lillie would come to perform.

Lillie Langtry

Lillie Langtry

Her visit actually came ten months after Bean’s death.

Bean’s creative court decisions in The Jersey Lilly included the time he fined a corpse $40 for carrying a concealed weapon.  It just so happened that in addition to his gun, the dead man had $40 in his pocket, which paid for his burial and court costs.  Bean was known as “the hanging judge,” despite never hanging anybody.  Whereas horse thieves were hanged in other jurisdictions, in Bean’s court, they were let go if the horses were returned to their owners.  Since there was no jail, all cases ended with fines, which Bean kept, refusing to send the money to the state. Usually the fine consisted of the amount of money found in the prisoner’s pockets.  Although a justice of the peace was not authorized to grant divorces, Bean did it anyway, charging $10 for the service.  He charged $5 for performing a wedding and ended each ceremony with “and may God have mercy on your souls.”  Bean was noted for his colorful language such as, “It is the judgment of this court that you are hereby tried and convicted of illegally and unlawfully committing certain grave offenses against the peace and dignity of the State of Texas, particularly in my bailiwick,” and then he added, “I fine you two dollars; then get the hell out of here and never show yourself in this court again.  That’s my rulin’.”  But he also maintained tight control of the language used in his courtroom, even threatened a lawyer with hanging for using “profane language” when the lawyer referred to the “habeas corpus” of his client.

When Bean heard that Jay Gould was on a train heading toward Langtry, Bean used a danger signal to flag down the train.  Thinking the bridge over the Pecos River was out, the train stopped and Bean entertained Gould and his daughter at The Jersey Lilly during a two-hour visit.  The delay sent tremors through the New York Stock Exchange when reports circulated that Gould had been killed in a train wreck.

While the trains stopped to take on water, passengers poured into The Jersey Lilly where Bean served them quickly and then became very slow giving them their change.  When the warning whistle blew announcing the train’s departure, the rush was on with passengers demanding their money and Bean eventually fining them the amount they were owed.  His reputation grew as the passengers ran cursing back to the waiting train and future travelers could not resist stopping to visit the ramshackle saloon and its famous proprietor.

Prizefighting became illegal in most of the Southwest and in Mexico, which prompted Bean to open a side business promoting fights on a sandbar in the middle of the Rio Grande.  In 1898 when promoters could not find a place to hold the world championship title prizefight between Bob Fitzsimmons and Peter Maher, Bean welcomed the event to Langtry.  An excursion train arrived with 200 spectators on February 22 and Bean entertained them for a time in The Jersey Lilly before leading them to a bridge he had constructed to reach the makeshift ring.  The Texas Rangers watched helplessly from a bluff on the Texas side of the river while Fitzsimmons beat Maher in 95 seconds.  The fans and sportswriters enjoyed a few more drinks at The Jersey Lilly before the train carried them to El Paso to spread the news throughout the United States.

Books, movies, TV shows, and Roy Bean himself spread the legend of Judge Roy Bean, “the law west of the Pecos,” with tales true and tainted.  Despite failing health, Bean he went on a drinking binge in Del Rio in March 1903 and died in his bed the following morning. The Texas Department of Public Transportation has restored The Jersey Lilly Saloon in Langtry and created a Visitors Center just south of US Hwy. 90

Jersey Lilly Visitors Center

Jersey Lilly Visitors Center

Lost Mission of San Saba

The Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission, built in 1757, is the only Spanish mission in Texas destroyed by Indians.  So thoroughly was the destruction that it took another 235 years for archeologists to finally confirm the site on the banks of the San Sabá River about 120 miles northwest of San Antonio.

Construction of the mission was a dream of Franciscan padres in San Antonio who believed a mission in Apache territory would put an end to almost perpetual warfare with the tribes.  Encouraged by a peace ceremony with the Apaches in 1749 and the Indians’ request to have a mission and a presidio to protect them from the Comanches, Spanish official sent three expeditions into Apache territory in search of a suitable site.  Several factors influenced the choice of the San Sabá River valley, including its potential for irrigated farming and the concern that rumors of rich veins of minerals in the area might attract the French if the Spanish failed to establish a presence.  Spanish officials, always concerned about the cost of every endeavor in its Texas province, finally authorized the new mission when religious ornaments and furnishings became available after the closing of three missions on the San Gabriel River.  And, a wealthy mine owner agreed to fund the cost of up to twenty missionaries for three years providing that his cousin Fray Alonso Giraldo de Terreros be placed in charge of the new mission.

With Col. Diego Ortitz Parrilla appointed commander of the San Sabá presidio, the march to the new site began on April 5, 1757.  A total of about 300, including six missionaries, arrived on April 17th with 1400 cattle and 700 sheep.  To their dismay they found no Apaches waiting to join the mission.  In an effort to satisfy concerns of the padres who feared the soldiers would corrupt their Indian neophytes, Ortiz Parrilla selected a site for the presidio on the opposite side of the river and about two miles from the mission.

By mid-June not a single Indian had come to the mission.  Then, to the padres’ delight 3,000 Apaches who were heading north to hunt buffalo and fight Comanches, camped near the mission.  After ignoring the missionaries’ overtures, the Indians left behind two of their group who were sick and promised to join the mission upon their return.  By this time, three of the original six missionaries had given up and returned to San Antonio.

With the arrival of winter, rumors circulated of northern tribes gathering to fight the Apaches and destroy the mission.  The missionaries seemed unaware that despite Apaches never one time coming to the mission, it looked to the Comanches like the Spanish were siding with their bitter enemies.  On February 25, 1758, after Indians stole fifty-nine horses, Parrilla Ortiz led soldiers in pursuit, only to find hostile Indians all over the countryside.  Returning to the mission, he tried unsuccessfully to convince Father Terreros to move the remaining three missionaries and thirty-three others to refuge in the presidio.

On March 16th as the mission went about its morning routine, 2,000 Comanches and other tribes that were enemies of the Apaches attacked the log stockade with some of the warriors using European guns at a time when most Indians fought with bows and arrows or hatchets.  Father Terreros and seven others were killed, while one missionary and about twenty others escaped to the presidio.  The attackers killed almost all the animals, including the cattle, and set fire to the stockade.

The Indians moved on to the presidio and when they could not lure the soldiers outside the fortress, they departed on March 18th.  After less than one year, the Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission had come to an end.

The Spanish government, determined not to appear weak to the Comanches, refused to close the presidio.  In September 1759, Ortiz Parrilla was sent with 500 soldiers and Apache braves into Comanche country to punish the warriors for the attack on the mission.  After several brief encounters Ortiz found Comanches and other tribes on the Red River in a village flying a French flag and surrounded by a stockade and moat.  The Comanche had been warned of the Spanish approach and Ortiz suffered fifty-two dead, wounded, or deserted before he ordered a retreat.

The Spanish government insisted that the San Sabá Presidio remain open despite the superior power of the Comanche and other northern tribes who had firepower similar to the Spanish.  Many soldiers asked to be transferred and despite the presidio being rebuilt in limestone and surrounded by a moat, the soldiers were killed if they ventured out of the compound.

In 1762 a painting, The Destruction of Mission San Sabá was commissioned.  It is believed to be the first painting to depict a historical event in Texas.  In 1769, Presidio San Sabá was finally closed, over ten years after the fall of the mission it had been built to protect.

Destruction of the San Saba MIssion

Destruction of the San Saba MIssion

Texas Interurban Railways

In 1901 the first electric interurban, or trolley, began operating on a 10.5-mile track between Denison and Sherman in North Texas.  The thirty-minute trip on the seventy-

Denison & Sherman Railway Donna HuntHerald Democrat

Denison & Sherman Railway Donna Hunt
Herald Democrat

pound steel rails cost twenty-five cents.  The line proved so successful that a second route between Dallas and Fort Worth opened the next year.  A fourteen-mile track began operating between Belton and Temple and by 1909 the original line extended all the way south from Denison to Dallas.  In five years the line moved further south to Waco and other lines began between Beaumont and Port Arthur, El Paso and Ysleta, and Houston, Baytown, and Goose Creek.

Parlor CarDenison-Dallas-Waco-Corsicana

Parlor Car
Denison-Dallas-Waco-Corsicana

The interurban between Houston and Galveston started carrying passengers in 1911 after Galveston completed its amazing rebuilding following the devastating 1900 storm.  The city constructed a seventeen-foot seawall, raised the entire level of the island, and opened a new $2 million causeway to the mainland with tracks to accommodate the electric interurban line, railroad tracks, and a highway. The Houston-Galveston Interurban boasted an observation car on the rear and the fastest schedule of any steam or electric railroad.  It made the fifty-mile downtown-to-downtown trek in seventy-five minutes with the help of a thirty-four-mile “tangent,” one of the longest sections of straight track that allowed the carriage to travel at fifty-five miles per hour.  Passengers rode to Galveston for an evening on the beach or in the gambling houses and then took the late interurban back to Houston.

Houston-Galveston Interurban

Houston-Galveston Interurban

Other areas offered special excursions between cities.  Baseball teams grew up along the interurban lines, and passengers flocked to see games of the Class C and D “Trolley League.”

The frequent service, convenient stops within cities, and lower fares of the interurbans overcame all competition with steam railroads.  At the peak of the service in 1920, nearly four million passengers enjoyed the trolleys—the carpeted cars with lounge chairs, spittoons, and rest rooms.  By 1931, ten systems across the state covered over five hundred miles.

The advent of the automobile and the convenient travel it offered spelled doom for the interurbans.  The lines began closing, their tracks being paved over to make way for their competition, the automobile.  On December 31, 1948, the old Denison to Dallas line made its last run.