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Crossing Rio Pecos

Patrick Dearen

Publication Year: 2012

The Pecos River flows snake-like out of New Mexico and across West Texas before striking the Rio Grande. In frontier Texas, the Pecos was more moat than river—a deadly barrier of quicksand, treacherous currents, and impossibly steep banks. Only at its crossings, with legendary names such as Horsehead and Pontoon, could travelers hope to gain passage. Even if the river proved obliging, Indian raiders and outlaws often did not.

Long after irrigation and dams rendered the river a polluted trickle, Patrick Dearen went seeking out the crossings and the stories behind them. In Crossing Rio Pecos—a follow-up to his Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier—he draws upon years of research to relate the history and folklore of all the crossings—Horsehead, Pontoon, Pope’s, Emigrant, Salt, Spanish Dam, Adobe, “S,” and Lancaster. Meticulously documented, Crossing Rio Pecos emerges as the definitive study of these gateways which were so vital to the opening of the western frontier.

Published by: TCU Press

Series: Chisholm Trail Series

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Patrick Dearen is well acquainted with that obnoxious, noxious, tortured, torturous stream of water going by the name of Pecos, Writer, photographer, backpacker, and tireless researcher, Dearen has been up and down the river countless times by canoe and on foot. Most of his labors have been afoot—plodding and trodding its Texas length, seeking out crossings. ...

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Chapter 1: River of the West

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pp. 1-8

The story of the Rio Pecos in frontier Texas is really the story of its crossings, for generally these vital "gateways to the west" harbored mans only intimate contact with a deadly river otherwise walled by barrier banks. ...

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Chapter 2: Pope's Crossing

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pp. 9-30

Down from present New Mexico the river came, a moat of brine and mud on a snake-track course bound for the creosote flats and wind-hewn sands of West Texas. Just below the border, it hesitated, as if unsure of the desert ahead. Hooking back to within a mile of New Mexico, it finally surrendered, turning southward to slither reluctantly through an unforgiving land. ...

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Chapter 3: Emigrant Crossing

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pp. 31-42

Emigrant Crossing, splitting the Pecos River twelve miles southeast of present Barstow, long stood as both a threat and a doorway for wagoners trekking west along the Emigrant Road to California, The discovery of gold near Slitter's Mill in California in January 1848 set in motion this human stampede,1 ...

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Chapter 4: Horsehead Crossing

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pp. 43-60

Cattlemen called the Pecos a graveyard,1 Buffalo hunters likened the river to hell.2 And in all its nine hundred miles, westering pioneers feared most a yards-wide span that early traveler Stephen Powers judged "the very abode and throne of death."3...

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Chapter 5: Spanish Dam Crossing

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pp. 61-70

Below a great rock that marked a ford and served as a lookout against Apaches, the Pecos rushes through a jumble of boulders laid by pioneer hands. ...

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Chapter 6: Pontoon Crossing

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pp. 71-86

Floating on the Pecos ten miles northwest of present Iraan, Pontoon Bridge, built in 1870, immediately became the most important crossing point ever known on this treacherous river. Twice by the late 1860s, authorities had bridged the river downstream near Fort Lancaster, but it had refused to be tamed, its sudden floods sweeping away the crude structures. ...

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Chapter 7: Lancaster Crossing

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pp. 87-108

It was Monday, March 5, 1849. For Captain William H. C. Whiting and his command, it was a moment of desperation. Three weeks before, they had forged west from San Antonio to blaze a road toward El Paso, but now the want of water ruled them. ...

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Chapter 8: Other Crossings

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pp. 109-120

Although the aforementioned sites constituted the most significant crossings for travelers in frontier Texas, three other fords in particular, including the earliest known, also gave passage at times. ...

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pp. 121-122

On May 28, 1923, Santa Rita #1 blew in near Texon twenty-eight miles northeast of the Pecos and ushered in the West Texas oil boom.1 The consequences for the river were not all good. In 1931 Dee and Nora Locklin, crossing a cattle herd below old Pontoon Crossing, lost six cows to an oil slick in the river.2 ...

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About the Author

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pp. 123-124

Born in 1951, Patrick Dearen grew up in Sterling City, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin. A former award winning reporter for two West Texas daily newspapers, he is the author of six other books, ...


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pp. 125-170


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pp. 171-186


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pp. 187-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780875655611
E-ISBN-10: 0875655610
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875651590

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 30 b&w photos., Notes.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Chisholm Trail Series