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Devils River

Treacherous Twin to the Pecos: 1535-1900

Patrick Dearen

Publication Year: 2011

Devils River examines the history of this notorious river in southwestern Texas. Dearen describes the Spanish explorers and settlers from the Americas who encountered the river, their difficulties in traversing the region, and relates hardships, ranging from Indian attacks, impassable fords, unpredictable weather, and long routes with little water.  

Published by: TCU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

CONTENTS

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pp. vii-

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AUTHOR’S NOTE

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pp. ix-

I produced this work with the assistance of a J. Evetts Haley Fellowship Award granted to me in 2006.Administered by Nita Stewart Haley Memorial Library in Midland,Texas,with funding received from Summerlee Foundation, the fellowship allowed me to dig deeply into the Haley Library’s remarkable holdings in search of material related to the Devils River. ...

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1 A RIVER UNIQUE

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pp. 11-14

The very name of this ninety-four-mile sister river of the Pecos in Southwest Texas conjures up specters of doom and judgment, death and hell.1 From sixteenth-century Spanish explorers to the American trailblazers of the 1840s, from antebellum stage drivers and cattle drovers to post-Civil War venturers and stockmen, the Devils River country posed a two-edged threat worthy of Satan.There was man with an evil as old as Cain, and there was the land, drawn straight out of Dante’s Inferno, and one was as merciless and deadly as the other. ...

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2 SPANISH ATTEMPTS AT CONQUEST

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pp. 15-21

By the sixteenth century, the Devils River country already had nurtured Indians for millennia. They gathered its edible plants, hunted its canyon lands, fished its waters, sheltered in its overhangs. In 1535, though, as a scraggly party of European castaways approached from the Texas Gulf Coast, the curtain rose on a culture clash that would endure for 350 years. ...

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3 BLAZING THE DEVILS TRAIL

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pp. 22-33

Through fifteen years under the Mexican flag and another nine under the banner of the Republic of Texas, the Devils was a no man’s land, shunned even by the military.With no continuity of government, even the records of three centuries of sporadic exploration were little known to a new generation. Few white men could speak firsthand of the river’s mysteries, and when they did, their knowledge might have been forged in a crucible of terror. ...

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4 DEAD MAN’S PASS

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pp. 34-42

As the spring of 1850 approached, the gold bug flared again and afflicted men such as J. Frank Bowles, who left home in Belton and fell in with a California-bound caravan. He never anticipated that the Devils was about to assert its sovereignty so insidiously. Drouth raged as the wagons bore toward the river, and when the emigrants gained First Crossing they found the stream distressingly low.They set up camp for an extended respite, rested their animals, and speared catfish trapped in crevices in the river’s rock bed. ...

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5 BY MAIL COACH AND HOOF

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pp. 43-55

Undaunted by the challenges of an eleven hundred-mile route,1 Henry Skillman entered a bid in 1851 to provide mail service between San Antonio and Santa Fe, New Mexico.As a member of both the 1849Whiting expedition that pioneered the Lower Road, and the subsequent Johnston expedition that developed it, Skillman was an ideal choice. ...

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6 AN ARMY POST AT SECOND CROSSING

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pp. 56-61

As new Lieutenant Albert J.Myer first entered Indian country marching west on the Lower Road in January 1855, the twenty-five-year-old surgeon understood a reality that few officers voiced. “The war on this frontier is one of extermination,” he wrote, adding that not only did Army troops have orders to take no captives, but to refuse peace overtures “until the [Indian] race is cowed by their punishment.” ...

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7 THE SAN ANTONIO TO SAN DIEGO MAIL

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pp. 62-67

On March 3, 1857, Congress authorized mail service from San Antonio to San Diego,1 a line unparalleled in length and danger.More than 1,475 miles of trace unfurled westward from San Antonio, yet the greatest stretch without water lay between the Devils and Howard’s Spring—for harness mules, a death march of twelve to sixteen hours.2 ...

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8 INDIAN TROUBLE

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pp. 68-80

...In spring, Captain Larkin Smith, his junior officer Zenas R. Bliss, and the men of Seven A Company, Eighth Infantry,marched from Fort Davis to Camp Hudson and relieved a First Infantry company. Lieutenant Theodore Fink and G Company, Eighth Infantry,were absent, possibly on scout, but they soon returned and Hudson became a two-company post.1 Several adobe buildings already marked the ten-acre reservation, but by summer’s end the garrison would complete a hospital and erect a barracks...

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9 GRAY REPLACES BLUE

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pp. 81-87

On February 23, 1861,Texas voted overwhelmingly to secede from the United States and align with the Confederacy1—an act that helped set the stage for a bitter war whose consequences would reach all the way to the Devils. A day later, US Army headquarters in San Antonio ordered the evacuation of Camp Hudson and other Lower Road posts west of Fort Clark. W.A. Nichols, Assistant Adjutant-General of the Department of Texas, instructed the garrisons to march for waiting ships at Indianola in orderly fashion...

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10 THE DEVILS INDIAN WAR

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pp. 88-97

Struggling under the constraints of Reconstruction in early 1866, a half-dozen Cross Timbers cattlemen considered pasturing their herds in Mexico.About February, Charles Goodnight, C.C. Slaughter, Kit Carter, Richard Joel, Albert Lane, and George Lemley set out from Palo Pinto on an exploratory trip and bore southwest.As the days wore on,Goodnight and Lane decided to seek a market for their cattle and turned back. ...

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11 BLACK SEMINOLES TO THE RESCUE

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pp. 98-106

As freighter Anastacio Gonzales and his caravan camped at Howard’s Well April 20, 1872, approximately 140 Kiowas and Comanches (and perhaps renegade Mexicans) laid siege under the leadership of Kiowa chiefs White Horse and Big Bow. In a brutal display of violence, the band massacred at least nine caravan members, including a woman and her one-year-old grandchild. ...

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12 AVENGING IN MEXICO

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pp. 107-113

Marshaling its forces for the spring of 1876, US Army headquarters in Texas ordered Lieutenant Colonel George Pearson Buell on March 13 to equip his command at Fort Concho for a journey to Clark and on to the Devils.1 At abandoned Hudson, reported the San Antonio Daily Herald, he was to establish a “summer camp, to protect the settlers,who are filling up that section of the State very rapidly.”2 ...

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13 LAST OF THE ARROWS

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pp. 114-121

In the spring of 1878, Indians struck Kimble County and withdrew to the sunset, prompting a Texas Ranger squad that included James B. Gillett to dig boots into stirrups and take aim on the Devils.The Rangers clung to the trail for five or six days, all the way to a location near the river’s head, before heavy rains obliterated the tracks and left the raid unavenged.1 ...

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14 COMING OF THE SOUTHERN PACIFIC

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pp. 122-129

Despite telegraph lines connecting forts Clark and Davis by way of San Antonio and Concho in spring 1881,1 and the daily extension of T&P track west between Fort Worth and Sierra Blanca, mail coaches continued to roll through the Devils country.The 272-mile route, which began at Brackettville (adjacent to Clark) and ended at Davis, raised the ire of Post Office Inspector John A. Galbreath in May. ...

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15 THE BIG CATTLE DRIFT

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pp. 130-133

On the night of January 15, 1884, pile-driving winds began to blanket the Devils region with one to three inches of snow. The unprecedented blizzard raged for three days, spawning bitterly cold temperatures and casting much of western Texas under an icy white shroud. ...

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16 HORN, FLEECE, AND DROUTH

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pp. 134-142

Even as buzzards feasted on the carrion of the Big Cattle Die-Up of spring 1885, another insidious blight swept across the Devils. This land always had been subject to a relentless drouth-rain-drouth cycle, but never before had stockmen faced it to such a degree. All that summer, the sun burned with a quiet fury, refusing to yield to rain clouds,while furnace-like winds crawled across range already devastated by the Big Drift. The Chihuahuan Desert, never more than a stone’s throw away, now had a choke-hold on this river, and was loathe to let go. ...

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17 BADMEN RISE UP

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pp. 143-147

Whether this untamed region bearing the dark angel’s name molded good men into evil figures, or whether its isolation drew individuals predisposed to wickedness, no one can say. But robbery and theft increasingly became a way of life on the Devils—and gunplay a way of death. ...

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18 A POTENTIAL FOR SUDDEN DEATH

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pp. 148-156

Near Samuels Station, a lonely Southern Pacific siding forty miles by rail west of the Pecos, outlaws held up a train on September 1, 1891. Identified as Thumbless Jack Wellington, John Flynt (or Flint),Tom Fields, and James Langston, the men gigged their horses east through desolate country with thousands of dollars. In the bluff below the mouth of the Pecos,Wellington later claimed, they hid $10,000 before pressing on for the Devils with mail sacks under their saddles as blankets. ...

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19 FANG, CLAW, AND BUFFALO HIDES

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pp. 157-163

In February 1893, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad failed, ushering in the Panic of 1893. By mid-May, prices on the New York Stock Exchange plummeted to all-time lows. In August, nationwide unemployment swelled to one million on the way to three times that number. Before the economy began to recover three years later, the unprecedented depression would bankrupt seventy-four railroads, 500 or more banks, and 15,000 companies.1 ...

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20 THE DEVIL’S BROOD

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pp. 164-171

The villainy of 1896 broke early. Only five or so days into the new year, a clash between a sheep boss and a Mexican herder named Peter ended with gunplay along Buffalo Draw near the Val Verde-Edwards county line. The incident began when the foreman, Frank Caruthers of D. B. Cusenbary’s outfit, reprimanded Peter for his job performance.Wielding a carbine as the confrontation escalated, Caruthers shot the herder through the jaw. ...

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EPILOGUE

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pp. 172-

By 1900, 365 years had elapsed since Europeans had first traipsed the Devils region, following in the steps of Indians from millennia past. Gradually, this river had yielded to exploration and settlement, but always grudgingly and with dramatic reminders of its sovereignty. Now, as the sun sank on yet another century, the stream once more asserted its defiance in face of the most noteworthy symbol of civilization’s encroachment: the Southern Pacific. ...

NOTES

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pp. 173-198

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 199-208

INDEX, ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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pp. 209-223


E-ISBN-13: 9780875654508
E-ISBN-10: 0875654509
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875654232
Print-ISBN-10: 0875654231

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 67
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Devils River Valley (Crockett County-Val Verde County, Tex.) -- History.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Devils River Valley (Crockett County-Val Verde County, Tex.).
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