Lost Wagon Train
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Rising from the creosote and scrub mesquites east of the Pecos, the dunes that stretch two hundred miles north from Horsehead Crossing are governed by the wind. They shift at its command, burying and exhuming, and in 1901 the endless cycle revealed an anachronism in southeast Winkler County, Texas: a large wagon train that had been burned. Arthur E. Hayes of the Half Circle U or Cross O and Bob Brown of the Figure 4, on their way home to Monahans after reportedly driving TX Ranch cattle up the Chisholm Trail, stopped at Flag Point, a one-time Comanche camp at a spring bordered by willows. While Brown cooked supper, twenty-three-year-old Hayes wandered into the free-drifting dunes and discovered numerous wagons partly buried. He solicited the Lost Wagon Train Site of Arthur Hayes’s discovery of the lost wagon train near Old Flag Mill in Winkler County. 82 Lost Wagon Train aid of Brown, who initially was uninterested, and together they counted forty wagons, “twenty wagons on either side of what was apparently a V-shaped camp,” said Hayes. They decided that six-oxen teams had pulled the vehicles. But it was the gold-digging equipment that most aroused their interest, for it supposedly was made of steel manufactured only in San Francisco; they believed the wagons had been returning from the California gold fields, and that perhaps the ore had sunk into the sands. But what had happened to the wagoners? Hayes noted three clues: the formation of the wagons, their burned condition, and their presence in what was once Comanche country. Because the wagons were in a V and not a circle, he suggested that the emigrants had been unprepared for attack; too, the charred relics indicated that they had not abandoned the wagons simply because they had bogged. To Hayes, there was only one answer—massacre.1 But in this land of enigmas, establishing documented facts about such a possible event was like trying to grasp a sandstorm. Indeed, for more than a half century before Hayes’s discovery, explorers had been awed by these hills of silica where men might ride within and never find their way out. In 1849 Captain Randolph B. Marcy described them as “a most singular and anomalous feature”;2 a few months later Lieutenant N. H. Michler called them “really an object of curiosity”;3 and in 1854 Brevet Captain John Pope noted that they constituted “a curious and interesting geologic formation.”4 Marcy, ordered by the US Army to find the best wagon route west, escorted a wagon train from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Santa Fe, and returned east by way of Guadalupe Pass and a ford near Emigrant Crossing. Sighting the sands September 22, 1849, on the second stage of that march, he described them as “a chain of sand hills . . . running from north to south across our course, about twenty miles to the east of us.” A Comanche warrior who served as his guide told Marcy that the only practical route through the dunes, which held abundant water, was via a fifteen-mile pass.5 Nevertheless, Marcy balked at entering the wasteland and dispatched a lieutenant and dragoons to look for a better route to the south; the following day they returned to report that within the succeeding forty miles southward “was no place . . . where they could be crossed with wagons.” On the contrary, the region “seemed to be one continuous succession of white sand hills, from twenty to one hundred feet high, in which . . . horses sunk to their knees at almost every step.” Marcy had no choice but to follow the course suggested by his Comanche guide. On September 25, 1849, they forged northeastward through the sands in present-day Winkler County. About them rose white drift-dunes, hewn by the wind into myriad “conical hills, destitute of soil, trees or herbage.” With thirst becoming a concern, they sought springs Lost Wagon Train 83 that reportedly lay a half-mile off the trail; riding into “the midst of this ocean of sand” they found several deep pools of pristine water at “the very last place on earth where one would ever think of looking for it,” said Marcy. The next day Marcy’s contingent sustained difficulties; the wheels bogged so severely that Marcy had to abandon half the wagons and double-up the teams. After reaching the final pool of water five miles later, he ordered the animals unhitched and driven back to...