Castle Gap
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At the western edge of the Edwards Plateau in Upton County, Texas, where the mesas and rimrock of the Castle Mountains yawn open to the greasewood lowlands of the Pecos River and its fabled Horsehead Crossing, lies Castle Gap. This mile-long, 421-foot-deep cut in a mesa on the Comanche War Trail long has been a focal point for westbound emigrants and trail bosses and, in modern times, for treasure hunters seeking legendary fortunes in gold, silver, or jewels. “There’s been quite a few people that have interest in finding treasure,” said Gary Cutrer, member of the family whose corporation owns portions of the gap.1 C. C. “Smokey” Swift, who ranched beside the canyon for a half century, spoke more bluntly: “There’s people around here that’s looked a lifetime. They’re just convinced that treasure is out there.”2 Geologically, Castle Gap had its origins 135 million years ago as marine limestone deposits that eventually resulted in a great mesa 3,141 feet above sea level. Erosion later split the mesa to form the gap, exposing numerous marine fossils.3 In prehistoric times, Indian nomads came seeking buffalo on the Edwards Plateau or salt at Juan Cordona Lake, fifteen miles west of the Castle Gap Castle Gap viewed from the east. 2 Castle Gap gap.4 The gap was a natural gateway to and from the Pecos River and Horsehead and Salt crossings westward, and springs at the site prompted Comanches to name it Weick Pah, or “Gap-Water.”5 In 1535 Cabeza de Vaca and three other Spaniards may have passed through the gap en route from the Texas coast to settlements in Mexico. De Vaca’s description of a north-south river with thirty leagues of plain on the west and an eastern ridge is identical with the topography of the Pecos along the Pecos-Crane county line, with desert on one side and Castle and King Mountains and Castle Gap on the other.6 More than two centuries passed before the next white men entered the break in the mesa; fortyone Spanish explorers dispatched by Captain Rabage y Teran likely passed through in the early fall of 1760 as they scouted a route from the presidio at present-day Menard to Santa Fe.7 Within another generation, Spaniards had occupied Durango and Chihuahua south of the Rio Grande, and Indians traveled the Comanche War Trail to plunder these settlements. In parties of six to one hundred, Comanches, Kiowas, Rocky Mountain Utes, and Plains Apaches rode by the light of the “Comanche Moon,” or September full moon, across the Llano Estacado, stopped to water at the spring at present-day Big Spring, and pushed on southwestward to Castle Gap through arid land tenanted first by scrub mesquite and then by creosote.8 The gap cleft a great mesa, which stretched from southeast to northwest and was rimmed by a ledge of limestone. The numerous individual horse paths of the War Trail converged near the mountain’s base to descend alongside an arroyo that separated the mesa wall on the south from a hundred-foot-high knoll on the north. The course was crowded with creosote and lechuguilla and sentineled by yucca. Within half a mile the trail skirted on the south a side canyon with a cedar-fringed spring and continued on past the knoll to the gap proper. 9 The southern wall, King Mountain, was heavy with cedars below the rimrock, while the northern slope, Castle Mountain, was covered with huge boulders. A quarter-mile farther, beyond a less-pronounced hollow extending into King Mountain, the gap’s walls squeezed in on the arroyo and War Trail, rendering the fossil-embedded route only yards wide. Above, overhangs and small caves gaped as the bordering mesas rose steeply in two tiers, the first 100 feet and the second, 321 feet more. At the alwayswindy western extremity of the pass, water seeped from the arroyo’s north bluff and trickled down to form a shallow pond.10 Numerous grinding basins and a thick layer of charcoal near the probable site of the now-dry west spring indicate it was a favorite camping place for Indians before they pushed on beyond a V-shaped mountain to Horsehead Crossing twelve miles west-southwest. Dr. Henry Connelley was one of the first English-speaking men who Castle Gap 3 challenged Indian supremacy through the gap. Guarded by fifty dragoons, he freighted seven wagons of bullion from...


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