Big Indian Draw and Spanish Daggers
Horse Crippler, Cat's Claw. All Thorn, Spanish Dagger, Fish Hook Cactus and the likes of a hundred more sharp and spinney, sticker laden, thorny and painful plants inhabit the desolate hill country of Southwest, Texas from the Rio Grande Valley East to the Pedernales and Colorado Rivers.
The frontier border was in turmoil after the end of the Civil War. The Indians were embittered after the Chivington massacre at Sand Creek, Kit Carson's attack on the Comanche and Kiowa on the Canadian, and the wanton destruction of Indian property in Oklahoma by white invaders. Union and Confederate soldiers released after the war raced across the prairies seeking homesteads; and hunting parties thoughtlessly slaughtered the buffalo. When Indian outrage resulted in destructive and costly raids along the frontiers of Kansas, Colorado and Texas, in October of 1865 the federal government called the warring marauders to a council on the Arkansas River. Within months, all of the promises made to the Indians were broken. The angry Indians resumed their raids with renewed fervor from Arkansas to the Rio Grande. We all know how that feud ended. The West was finally won and the Indians – who inhabited North America for millennia, were nearly gone with the
buffalo. The last great Indian battle in Texas occurred in Llano County on Pack Saddle Mountain on August 5, 1873.
And that brings me to Pandale, Texas. It's hardly on the map – even these days. It's a small nearly uninhabited town in the trans-Pecos about fifty miles Northwest of Comstock. As the sign says, "there isn't as much in Pandale as there once was, but there's still more here than there is for forty miles in any direction." And when you read that sign, I'm quite sure it was meant to be read out loud in a slow Southern drawl so that everyone in the car can hear it as you pass on through. Sure enough, there's dirt roads, barbed wire fences, greasewood, thorny plants and a windmill or two and that's about it. Oh – and there's a hell of a view. My photo trek to the Pecos was yet another adventure.
When you take your fishing pole out to the river, it takes a lot of "lost leaders" to catch the fish you want to keep. Friendship takes a lot of work too, and it takes a lot of work to make memories worth keeping. But if you do it right, your life will be enriched forever. You have to invest a lot of unselfish planning, enthusiasm and dedication to make it work. This is a story about friendship, loyalty and the benefits that go along with knowing and trusting people for a long, long time. Friendships are everlasting even though a lot of marriages are not, as we all move along.
So there we are, driving down the dirt road to Pandale. We pull up to a wrought iron gate, hop out of the truck and stare at the lock. Now "what was the combination? ""Tex" says with an inquisitive look on his face. He looks up for a moment and says, "you wanna beer?" "Why of course" I said with a smile, for we'd come all this way from our civilized lives to dig for arrow heads in Indian caves, abandoned by the Indians when they left this land forever in 1873. In the family for over a 100 years, this ranch was 54 square miles of limestone escarpment along the Pecos river, littered with hundred of caves that
had been occupied at least intermittently since 6000 BC. After a few sets of numbers, we finally figured out the lock and were our way down another dusty road.
Texas has a lot of sayings – short little compositions of words that sound funny when you hear them the first time but make perfect sense when you think about them for a while. Birds of a feather – flock together. When you are of a sort – you find that as life goes on, you tend to hang out with a similar sort. So in the continuum of country time, your old friends meet your new friends and before long you're all friends. Tex and George were college roommates and have known each other for over 35 years. I was the new kid on the block having worked with Tex a time or two on a small but widely read entertainment news
magazine back in the day. I was invited and I was the photographer.
George had lived on the ranch his whole life for the most part. Tex had been at the ranch since college on long weekends, hunting trips and when he had nothing else to do. And when we met up on the road,
you could tell that the two had been friends forever. Friendly insults were cast back and forth like incisions in a knife fight. And the laughing out loud was strangely soothing for no offense was taken, even for a moment. This was a bond worth writing about.
There was an odd man out – so to speak. A guy named Mark who was visiting Texas from Minnesota of all places, putting in satellite telephone and Internet connections to the many rural homes in the trans-Pecos. When you look at that satellite image of North America at night – we were standing in the darkest spot in nearly the whole United States.
"You ready to dig", George says as he cracks open a beer. We dropped our gear at a game lodge; changed into working clothes and headed out. With my camera strapped to the back of a four wheeler – we raced down narrow rocky roads, through canyons and through strapping cactus hedges. A black bear ran across the path in front of us. There aren't many down here but they are around. After what seemed like forever, we pulled up in a small clearing in a narrow canyon. A hundred yards up
the hill and around the bend was the cave.
The ceiling was black with soot – stained by the thousands of years of fireside tales. In the first bucket of dirt were two nearly perfect points. As the day dragged on into two days – we were telling stories about all our friends back home, here and there, and the crazy things we did when we were young. The soil in the cave was like talcum, a soft, light powdered combination of dirt and ash laid down for millennia. I breathed in enough dust to show up on X-ray. And as I stood at the mouth of the cave, looking down into the canyon valley below, I wondered. So much of our world has changed in such a short
time. What a rare and vivid opportunity I was given to walk on this untouched land and to see first hand the drawings of a hundred generations and to hold their artifacts in my hand.
At night, we'd stand by the fire on the hill top and see the soft and silken purple outline of the Carmen Mountains in Mexico 75 miles away. George pointed to places as far as our eyes could distinguish to the edges of his lands. And again I wondered of what it must have been to have no conception of such a thing – and to walk endlessly across the land and at its mercy. After a long pause beneath a canopy of brilliant stars – George pointed out the handful of lights on the horizon. He said quietly that it had not been that long ago when there were no lights at night in any direction. I thought for a moment – "once upon a time, ages and ages hence…" and what would come of all this.
When we left in the morning, George's truck was gone and we couldn't say goodbye. One of his dogs was gravely ill and it had been weighing on his mind. As we drove the dusty roads to the highway, Tex often looked back and to the hilltops above, thoughtful of George. After we'd gone, he called with a heavy heart and said he'd had to put his dog down - a personal and private affair to which we could all empathize. As we crossed Big Indian Draw in the truck – a vast and
vacant rocky wash, we were all back on the pavement heading toward home.
Tex turned and asked when we were back on the road, "how you feelin Carl?" I said with a drawl, "I feel more like I do now than I ever have before. "
Carl H. Deal III