Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

The Pecos River in Literature and Folklore


Doug Braudaway
105 Kim, Del Rio, Texas 78840

"The waters, fresh and crystal, of the upper Pecos River, spring out into sunshine that blesses rather than blisters, are not the waters that hurl themselves bitter and murky into the Rio Bravo. The Pecos is a long river, a strange river, a thousand miles of twisting canyon from the pine-clad mountains of New Mexico to the gray, bleak bluffs of the Rio Grande on the Texas border. The traveler from the East upon reaching the drainage of the Pecos can yet say, ‘I have arrived in the West.’ And until environment and occupation cease to operate upon the character of men, the sparse ranchers of the Pecos will still be Westerners. The mountainous breaks, the alkali flats, the vast stretches of shifting sands, the treeless plains rolling out to far away hills—the Pecos world, despite narrow strips of irrigated land, will not be plowed up or, save around isolated oil fields, transformed by the structures of population into standardized mediocrity."1

Such is J. Frank Dobie’s introduction to a chapter called “The Pecos Barricade” describing the Pecos River and the surrounding countryside. The Pecos River looms large in Texas history, myth, and literature. Dobie, Texas’ preeminent storyteller, refers to the Pecos River and the surrounding country repeatedly in his rough-and-tumble descriptions of Western Texas. He has noted that the word “Pecos” actually has several usages beyond naming the river. For example, the Dobie dictionary lists this: “Pecos: as verb, to throw into the Pecos River; hence, to kill by drowning.”2 Mike Cox recorded another variation of the word. According to his “West Texas Dictionary, 1880: Pecosin’ [is] What you did with embarrassing corpses.” Furthermore, “A nameless body found floating face down in the Pecos River had been ‘Pecosed.’”3 Death and violence, or death by violence, is a common theme in the printed literature (or is some this pulp):

Pecos Blood by Erle Adkins;
Peril Rides the Pecos by Jackson Cole;
Death Rides the Pecos by Davis Dresser;
Pecos Vengeance by Robert Eynum;
book cover
Pistols on the Pecos by Paul Evan Lehman;
Pecos Death by Jon Sharpe.
The titles are dramatic, but the river and the country are no less so.

The Pecos country is remote enough from the rest of Texas that he has given the inhabitants their own identity: “pecoseños.” Dobie has even recorded the lack of respect for life by man (or by the River):

On the rocky banks of the Pecos
they will lay him down to rest
with his saddle for a pillow
and his gun across his breast.
“Just two things that cowboys were afraid of—the Pecos River and rattlesnakes.”4

Images of the cowboy and the frontier permeate the American perception of the Pecos River. In part this focus is due to the lack of other Texas industry from the area. Oil wells, cotton farms, railroad transportation have mded little impact on the region. Hence “the West” with all its drama and dust reigns supreme.

The geological history of the Pecos River is still being uncovered, but some of the research suggests that the river had a strange history before people started recording it. The ancestral river, apparently, has not always flowed through the same riverbed. In fact, the Pecos has taken and given up territory over the last few million years. The Pecos once had its headwaters in the state of Colorado and flowed southeasterly towards Val Verde County where it joined with the Concho River coming from northern Mexico. Somewhere in geological time, the ancestral Pecos practiced “stream piracy” and took the upper reaches of the ancestral Brazos and Canadian Rivers. But in the process of assuming parts of those channels, the Pecos lost its headwaters, which were pirated by the Rio Grande which began flowing southward toward a junction with Concho River in the Big Bend area of Texas. From there, the new Rio Grande flowed eastward to its junction with the Pecos and then on to the Gulf of Mexico.5

In more recent years, the Pecos is described as a nine-hundred mile long river with a drainage basin of some 42,500 square miles. It begins in the mountains of northern New Mexico and ends in the canyonlands of Val Verde County near Langtry, Texas. In between the river meanders through hundreds of miles of open plains. The geologists divide the basin into five sub-basins: three in New Mexico and two in Texas. The Carlsbad-Iraan Sub-Basin occupies the largest stretch of river as the Pecos flows through a broad, shallow valley.6 This portion of the Pecos is also home to a great portion of Texas literature and folklore.

The origin of the name “Pecos” is even more confusing than the river’s course. Bill Leftwich writes of four possible origins for the name “Pecos,” but offers a disclaimer that no one knows which, if any, is correct. Option one is a word Pe-a-ku, an Indian name for a pueblo in the New Mexico headwaters area of the Pecos. A second option starts with an old Spanish name for the river, Rio de las Vacas (literally, River of Cows). “The Spanish did not have a word for buffalo and just called them cows. One of his men exclaimed, ‘look at the spotted Indians or Mira los Indios Pecoso’. Pecoso means ‘freckled’ or ‘spotted’ and it could easily have been shortened to Pecos.” J. Marvin Hunter provided Leftwich with a third explanation, that the word is a corruption of the word puerco (though Leftwich notes that this would be “quite a corruption.” “The fourth explanation is of unknown origin and contends that ‘Pecos’ is an Indian word meaning ‘crooked’.”7

Most maps from the 1800s label the river as the Puerco, or the Salada (or Salado). Puerco means “pig,” but it also means “foul” or “nasty.” Hence the name may have been a reference to the high sediment load; literally, the river is dirty and its water foul in its middle and lower reaches. In more settled days, it was said that “The Pecos was so muddy that the people didn’t want to use it for baptizing.” Many people drinking its waters have also noted their taste of mineral salts and the effects those salts have on the human digestive tract. An early 1718 map calls it the Rio Salado de Apaches, likely a reference more associated with the Spaniards’ New Mexico contacts with native peoples.8

An 1844 map may inadvertently give a key piece to the name puzzle. This Republic of Texas map labels a river in New Mexico as the “Pecos,” and a river flowing into the Rio Grande as the “Puerco.” In between is drawn an indeterminate line connecting the two and labeled “supposed to run into the Rio Grande.” A U.S. State Department map draws the Pecos along a similar line with the caveat “R. Pecos supposed tributary of the del Norte.”9 Collectively, Spanish explorers have been known to label rivers with different names at different points along the banks. The “Pecos” name in the New Mexico portion of the map is most certainly named for the Pecos pueblo known to the local Spanish authorities. This pushes the search for the origin back a step, but does not give the full origin. Delmar Hayter suggests Pecos comes from an Indian name of some sort. The lower portion of the river likely was not recognized by Spanish explorers as being part of the same stream; the different characteristics led to different names. While earlier Spanish maps often showed the Pecos flowing from the Santa Fe area to the Rio Grande, its course on the maps falls short of modern GPS accuracy. In any case, if the Spanish maps were not available to American authorities, a distinct possibility, then the Americans were facing the same mapmaking problems dealt with by Spanish authorities years earlier.10

By 1857 American mapmakers were locating the river more and more precisely and consistently using the name Pecos. The choice of that name was likely due to the fact that northern New Mexico was much better-known (because of Santa Fe trade and Mexican War military operations) than far west Texas (with a wandering Rio Grande and misplaced headwaters of the Colorado and other Texas rivers).11

Most of the Pecos River Country was not an active or traversed part of the Spanish empire. Spanish Texas actually lay far to the east and New Mexico to the west and north. The longest stretch of river was part of the despoblado, the “unpeopled" or empty land. “Finding no precious minerals along the Texas stretch and few Indians willing to be proselytized, Spain retained little interest in the river. Soon, the Pecos and its desert gained a reputation that would endure until the late nineteenth century—as a forbidding land through which to hurry, not tarry.”12 While the Spanish left little, if any, literature of the Pecos River, they surely would have agreed with the following poem.

The devil could not dream such a damnable stream
As the Pecos River Southwest;
From bank to Bank she reeked and stank
Like a thousand buzzards’ nests.13

Verne Huser writes that “The Pecos River [is] better known in myth than in reality” but then turns around and writes that the Pecos is “Where the West Begins.”14 That idea of the Pecos marking the beginning of “The West” is evident in the titles of a number of popular fiction works:

West of the Pecos by James Calder Boone;
Longarm: West of the Pecos by Tabor Evans;
The Village Horse Doctor: West of the Pecos by Ben K. Green;
West of the Pecos by Paul Evan Lehman.

More seriously, Patrick Dearen, Mike Cox and Glen Sample Ely have produced a video “Graveyard of the West” with the subtitle “The Pecos River of Texas: Where Myth Meets History.” The Pecos has, in the minds of Texans, divided the state so that “West Texas” is not the westernmost portion of the state. The westernmost portion is, of course, the Trans-Pecos, a land of mountain and desert unlike the rest of the state.15 Jim Bones, Jr., in fact, entitled a book Texas West of the Pecos which is full of pictures of things and places alien to Texans from Dallas, Houston, the Panhandle or the Piney Woods.

The Pecos River has always been described roughly. “The land in which it lay was even identified with hell by early venturers. 'When a bad man dies he goes either to hell or the Pecos,” said buffalo hunters of the sandy desert around the moat-like river. These barrens seemed no kinder to a Spanish man of God who, it is said, once rode like the devil to get across this part of hell.16 "'The Pecos resembles a great canal rather than a river.... On both sides is a vast open prairie entirely destitute of trees, though scantily covered with mezquit [sic], and other plants of the desert.'...Because of the channel's moat-like nature, the Pecos proved a natural barrier to man and beast alike. Buffalo were common east of the river, yet virtually nonexistant on the opposite shore." An old-timer from New Mexico once remarked that the “Pecos River was the deadline for buffalo. I never saw one west of the river in all my life.” Another recollection, also from 1936, follows the same line: “Never have buffalo been found on the west side of the Pecos River, but there have been plenty of herds of them on the east side.”17 It would seem that the Pecos was the western boundary of the Great Plains—at least in its southern reaches. West of the Pecos, the land is drier and marked by desert and mountain. The Pecos, then, is a boundary that one crosses at his own peril.

Such a place must have stories to tell, and over the years, stories have been told.

Dobie is not the only writer to gather Pecos folklore. Paul Patterson has done the same in more recent years. Patterson tells stories of ghosts and treasure, but mostly about cowboys and ranchmen and the wit and wisdom of the region.

"Reeder Webb, long time sheriff of Odessa, with a prisoner in tow, accepted the Y roundup crew’s invitation to stay all night. They camped over in the sand, and had their calf crop been as bountiful as the crop of sand burrs ([known] as ‘goat heads’) they would have marked up 100 percent. Come bedtime, Reeder rolled out his own bed and made his prisoner a pallet beside him.
‘Reeder, ain’t you gonna handcuff him or chain him, or somethin’?’ This from a cautious cowboy nearby.
‘I took his shoes. Besides, a feller that can walk fifty yards through these damn things deserves to get loose.?"18
Many more of the stories also reflect the theme of tough characters in a tough land.

Nasario García has collected (the heretofore neglected) Hispanic, Spanish-language Pecos folklore. The stories often involve the supernatural and sometimes reflect the danger of deviating from traditional values. Such is the story of the Disobedient Son.

"One day the son got angry and he raised his arm in anger to strike his father. As he did so, his hand shriveled up, and at the same time the ground swallowed him up to his waist.
Then the people began to pray and pray, but they couldn’t free him….
Then the son promised God that if He got him out, he would roam the four corners of the earth for the rest of his life, preaching the word of God and what had happened to him with his father so that sons and daughters of other parents wouldn’t be mean to their parents—and would obey them. If not, they would suffer the same fate as he had.
After God opened up the earth and the son was set free, he kept his promise. He roamed the four corners of the earth until he died.19
Other stories tell of the dangers of witches and the evil eye. Some have morals, but others are just stories of strange happenings.

Bill Leftwich’s collection of Pecos tales brought the recorded stories into the twentieth-century while not giving up the cattle years of the nineteenth. He labeled one of his photos in a manner that remembered the importance of a man’s horse. The photo shows a home and is labeled with the names of the people visible: Clay, Henry, Mrs. Slack and an “Unidentified Horse.”20 In another story, the reader finds that the nineteenth and twentieth centuries literally collided.

“[W.L.] Bill [Bechham of Palo Pinto County] laughs when he recalls running over an old cow in his Model A. ‘I got that thing up on her and had a time getting it off’, he relates, ‘with her kicking and me a-pullin the auto finally rolled back off her. She jumped up and took out after me and chased me around that little car three times before I could dive in the window. She hooked the door a time or two then follered me a mile to get me to fight’.”21

Zane Grey, the prolific author of Western fiction, has also written of the Pecos River. The titles of Rustlers of Pecos County and West of the Pecos reflect the typical image of the river—that beyond the Pecos law is scarce and that the country is separate from civilization. Delmar Hayter complains of the “exaggerated reality” of Grey’s environment.22 Granted, the stories are full of racial and ethnic prejudicial stereotypes, but Grey’s description of the river is representative.

"From Heald’s range, up and down the Pecos for miles, the strange river had worn a deep channel through dull red soil, and the places where cattle could get down to drink were not many. The part of the river Pecos was now to explore proved to be the wildest and most dangerous reaches along its whole length. Nothing marked the course of the river. The cedar trees that grew sparsely were all down in the narrow deep-walled winding canyon. Cattle tracks led to the few breaks where it was possible to get down to water."23

"All the same was this wild Pecos country, bare grass spots alternating with scaly patches, greasewood and cactus contrasting with the gray of rocks, winding ridge and winding canyon all so monotonous and lonely, rolling endlessly down from the west to the river, trolling endlessly up toward the east, on and on, a vast wasteland apparently extending to infinitude. The course of the Pecos appeared only as a dark meandering line, its walls hidden, its presence sometimes mysteriously vanished."24

In essence, Grey’s mythic river is based on fact, and this image is what was distributed to the rest of America.

book cover    movie poster

And then there is many storied but very real Roy Bean. “‘There is no law west of the Pecos,’ another saying went. There is law now, but to thousands upon thousands of minds the words ‘law’ and ‘Pecos’ in conjunction mean but one thing—the sign hung by a singular character of old time West Texas. The sign was ‘Roy Bean, Justice of Peace—Law West of the Pecos.’”25

Law West of the Pecos marker

Dobie used this title when referring to the Judge, but so do the standard works on Bean:

Roy Bean: Law West of the Pecos by C.L. Sonnichsen;
Law West of the Pecos: The Story of Judge Roy Bean by Everett Lloyd;
Vinegarroon: The Saga of Judge Roy Bean ‘The Law West of the Pecos’ by Ruel McDaniel.

Much has been written about Judge Bean; some of it is even true. However, the stories, or the repeated telling and miss-telling of the stories, have reduced the man to a caricature. Some of the book presentations are less than fact-based, but the motion pictures are even worse.26

Imagery of the Pecos has popped up on the big screen as well. John Wayne starred in Western movie “King of the Pecos.”

movie poster    movie poster.

And on a lighter note, Danny Kaye played “Walter ‘Slim’ Mitty, the most feared man west of the Pecos” and a caricature of the Western outlaw in a scene from the comedy “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

And then there is Pecos Bill, a caricature of a caricature. Ironically, Pecos Bill excavated the Rio Grande in between his other escapades. The Pecos Bill stories may make nice children’s stories, but they make the serious telling of Pecos River history and folklore difficult.

Most Pecos stories are not so light-hearted.

The Pecos has been hard enough on livestock that the river has been called “Graveyard of the Cowman’s Hopes.”27 The wide-open spaces would seem to be a cattleman’s dream. Most of the countryside was unfenced in 1890 and populated by plenty of longhorns. The cattle herds rounded up for the cattle drives were so large that an “old cowman” once commented “I don’t remember the number exactly…but it was so big it took us three days and nights every morning to get it off the bed grounds.”28 However, land is prone to drought, even multi-year droughts. During one three-year drought “a ranchman hauled up a load of gravel to his house and threw it on the roof so that when it did rain the children would not stampede at the unprecedented noise.”29 The Pecos River killed livestock just as easily as it saved them. A train of soldiers nearing Horsehead Crossing noted that "for one square mile, one could have jumped from one carcass to another without touching a foot to the ground."30 During one drive along the Pecos, a cattleman started with 1,100 head and reached Fort Stanton, New Mexico with six. But at least he had something. Comanche and Kiova attacked a drive, and the cattleman lost all eight-hundred beeves.31 Delmar Hayter has written that, despite the more common drought, floods are the biggest danger on the Pecos. Flood stories are few, but there are some good ones. “Those big floods would get completely across the flat, a mile wide and three or four feet deep.” Ironically, the Pecos is able to inflict upon man and beast both flood and drought simultaneously. In 1886 runoff from the New Mexico portion of the river sent the Pecos “Roaring out of its banks…through the heart of the Big Dry” drought-stricken Pecos country in Texas.32

In such a dry climate, it is disturbing that even the water along the river can be dangerous—or deadly. The country is so dry that cows approaching the Pecos sometimes drank from alkali lakes and died. Bones of livestock are a common sight along the Pecos. “The cows stopped at one of the detached, strongly alkaline pools found in the Pecos Valley, and though he loped hurriedly back, three finished drinking before he reached them. As they turned away from the water, one after another dropped in her tracks and died—the others were dead in a few minutes—so poisonous was the concentrated Pecos water.” The water was bad enough that cattle grazing on “alkali-rich plants such as goldenrod” or “alkali-poisoned dandelion” died as well. Cesario Torres taught fellow ranchers to keep their animals from those areas, so the men were able to limit their losses over time.33

And then there is the story of J.D. Slaughter who found hundreds of dead cattle right on a bluff next to the river. “Unable to catch the scent of water below, the thirst-maddened beeves had refused to descend, despite desperate measures by their drovers.”34

And every once in a while, the water turned solid and hit people and livestock until they were bruised or dead. While hailstorms are infrequent on the Pecos, they can be truly deadly. “The drumming was deafening as thousands of stones slammed into turf and hopped like a swarm of demons. As the drovers cowered, taking a frightful beating despite their protection, steers and horses dropped left and right, their skulls fractured. When it was finally over, the cowboys, wincing from their bruises, crawled out from under their battered saddles to find themselves in the middle of an astonishing scene—in every direction sprawled hundreds of carcasses, stark against a plain white with ice.”35

While some reports state that the water was palatable or even tasty, most reports of river water suggest otherwise: the water had “more impurities than any other river in the South.” A rancher said that he “could not recall a time when the water was suitable for human consumption.” A soldier noted in 1878 that “The Pecos water is very apt to loosen one’s bonds and cause pain in the belly.” Paul Patterson has written humorously “Geologists apprise us of the fact that Rio Pecos water had wriggled and writhed some one million years passing through to the sea, yet it tarried only a millisecond or two passing through me.”36

When people reported that it was “good enough to drink,” those people had probably run out of water and were happy to drink anything. Cattle on drives without adequate water would get desperate enough to drink anything. People, too. Goodnight once reported that “The point of the river for which they were headed was like a ditch, with banks from six to ten feet high. When they reached the river they never halted, but poured right over the bank and the remainder of the horses went with them.” A settler crossing the Pecos near the town of Pecos remembered, “I shall never forget when we first came in sight of the Pecos River. We were so glad to see so much water but when we reached the river it was way up and such dirty red water. We had to dip it up in buckets and barrels and let it settle before we could use it.” The same person has elsewhere remembered the river water “as red as blood” and how disappointed she and her family were.37

The Pecos “moat” did its best to destroy cattlemen in 1885 during that horrible winter of the Big Drift. Livestock still roamed free when the worst winter on record came out of the north. Cattle drifted southward as they fled the storms, but in their increasingly weakened state, they “fell by the thousands.” Remembered one cowhand, “I saw so many dead cattle in the Pecos that the river was absolutely dammed with them in the spring of 1885.” The winter, spring, and summer (because of drought) were so bad that the year was called the “Big Die-Up.” Remembered another, “There were more of these cattle drowned and died in the Pecos than ever were brought back home” in massive roundups following the winter. “In places, the carcasses grew so thick down inside the banks that they became a grotesque barricade.”38

Carcasses in the water created more problems for cowboys whose only water source for days or weeks was the Pecos. “To mask the water’s taste and appearance, cowhands turned to coffee, black and hot, from water strained ‘through a gunny sack to get the maggots out of it.’”39

John Wilson told an important truth about cowboys, one not often found in the movies: cowboying is hard work. “At night we never told stories or sang or anything. We were too damned tired.”40 That may have been so, but the romantic cowboy life was often the subject of Pecos oriented stories:

Roundup on the Pecos by Elvis E. Fleming;
Early Days of a Cowboy on the Pecos by James Fielding Hinkle;
A Cowpuncher of the Pecos by F.S. Millard;
The Pecos Trail by Bradford Scott;
Bitter Pecos by W.W. Southard;
Rider of Pecos Valley by Chuck Stanley.

Some of this may be silly, particularly to writers like Patterson, but the romantic image of the cowboy remains strong in American pop culture.

Paul Patterson’s cowboy poems often focus on the man and the work. Modern historians remind students that a great many cowboys were representative of various racial or ethnic minority groups. Patterson’s work “Fritz Stigler, Cowboy, Period.” notes that black men were cowboys but that on the range (and in the afterlife), skill mattered more than color.

In the company of women folks
He wasn’t judged by worth
In the age of segregation—
Judged strictly by his birth….

God spoke to “Pete” at the gate about Fritz at the time of his demise.

Regardless of what he’s ridin’
Whether dun or bay or paint;
We’re takin’ Fritz fer what he is
And not fer what he ain’t.

That same respect for skill is evident in John Wilson’s memoirs. For example, a large Swedish man settled in along the Pecos. Harold Strong became nicknamed the Big Swede. The fact that he had no ability to cowboy was not held against him because he could craft “anything out of lumber, iron or leather.” Big Swede earned the respect of the cowboys and the ranchers by crafting bits, spurs, and saddles, and all the things the cattlemen needed.42 Maybe such an belief is more fiction than fact, but it does seem the Pecos frontier’s harshness was an equalizer; the Pecos Country gave men a chance to prove themselves, regardless of their ancestral origins.

It would seem that only the toughest of cowboys could manage the livestock and the river and every thing else the Pecos could throw at them. It seems that cowboys can get competitive. Hence, the Pecos is home to the state’s first rodeo in 1883 in the town named for the river. Horse-riding contests had been held in earlier years, and a “bronco-busting” contest was held in 1869 in Colorado Territory, but the Pecos event is said to be the first to give prizes. This rodeo and others in Del Rio and other Pecos River towns harken back to the day when cattle and cowboys were the only inhabitants along the river.43

Less has been written of the Pecos’ lower reaches and canyon country. In the last hundred miles the Pecos’ eight-foot embankments become three-hundred-foot limestone cliffs. The country also becomes nastier, full of rock and thorny lechuguilla and sotol. Cactus abounds including the well-named horse-crippler. But here was built one of the wonders of engineering: the Pecos Viaduct, or Pecos High Bridge. Built in 1892, the Viaduct shortened the time and distance of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s southern transcontinental rail line. T. Lindsay Baker has listed it as one of the states most important man-made features.44

The bridging of the Pecos broke through the physical and metaphorical barrier of the river. Civilization poured though; Interstate 10 now crosses the river without blinking; and travelers rarely have to worry about dying of thirst or alkali poisoning. Says one lament, “[If] a man seen that river fifty years ago, and see it now, you couldn’t make him believe it was the Pecos River.”45 When John Wilson was growing up along the Pecos, he fished and hunted turtles while minding the livestock. His family used creosote bushes for Christmas trees (despite the repeated tree fires from candle ornaments). Growing up in the 1910s and 1920s he noticed that the river was getting shallower and offering more places to cross in reasonable safety. He attributed this to the greater number of dams on the river. A second benefit from the lower water level was the opportunity to capture fresh spring water from along the banks of the Pecos before the river water mixed in with the fresh.46 It was not the same river from the previous century.

The cattle industry was changed as well. Cowboy poet Paul Patterson offers verse under the title “Bovine Buchenwald” in which he displays anger and distress at the modern economy’s impact on old-fashioned ranching.

“FDR, what a shock; you say you’ll kill stock
To turn the cow market around?”
‘Leven hundred one dead at $17.00 per head,
The biggest cow-killin’ out west!

Civilization and modernity came to the Pecos. They beat on the River and the Country, but they failed to conquer. Abandoned stone buildings and declining populations testify that civilization has, at best, come to an unsettled truce with the river and its country. "The Pecos country will always be a cow country. Nature has so decreed. Oil wells may flow in patches here and there among its breaks studded with lechuguilla daggers; irrigation ditches may turn stretches of its valley into populated fields; but the on- and on-stretching plains of greasewood and grass, the rolling sand dunes of gray sage and goldenrod and dusty mesquite, the wild breaks of thorned bush and rock--an immense territory of hundreds of miles wide cut into by a solitary river that winds for a thousand miles through drouthy New Mexico and drouthy West Texas--will never change its general character at the behest of man, machine, or mineral. Here Nature has written on an incorruptible tablet: 'So far shalt thou go but no farther.'"48 "The Pecos requires no monument,"49 but the Val Verde County Historical Commission thinks that Dobie would not mind a historical marker.


“American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940.” Library of Congress. .
Baker, T. Lindsay. Building the Lone Star: An Illustrated Guide to Historic Sites. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986.
Bones, Jim, Jr. Texas West of the Pecos. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981.
Cox, Mike. Red Rooster Country: A Ragtag Collection of Stories About a Hunk of the Lone Star State Bigger Than Ohio. Hereford, Texas: Pioneer Book Publishers, Inc., 1970.
Dearen, Patrick. Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1988.
________. A Cowboy of the Pecos. Plano, Texas: Republic of Texas Press, 1997.
________. Crossing Rio Pecos. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1996.
________. Halff of Texas: Merchant Rancher of the Old West. Austin: Eakin Press, 2000.
________. Portraits of the Pecos Frontier. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1993.
Dearen, Patrick and Mike Cox. “Graveyard of the West: The Pecos River of Texas: Where Myth Meets History.” Forest Glen TV Productions, Inc., 1993.
Dobie, J. Frank. Coronado’s Children: Tales of Lost Mines and Buried Treasures of the Southwest. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992 (Seventh Printing). ________. The Longhorns. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990 (Fifth Printing).
________. The Mustangs. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990 (Second Printing).
________. A Vaquero of the Brush Country. Dallas: Southwest Press, 1929.
García, Nasario. Brujas, Bultos, Y Brasas: Tales of Witchcraft and the Supernatural in the Pecos Valley. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Western Edge Press, 1999. Grey, Zane. West of the Pecos. Roslyn, NY: Walter J. Black, Inc., 1965 (original Edition 1931).
Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "RODEOS." (accessed September 24, 2005).
Hayter, Delmar J. “The Crookedest River in the World: Social and Economic Development of the Pecos River Valley, 1878-1950.” Ph.D. diss., Texas Tech University, 1988.
Haley, J. Evetts. Charles Goodnight: Cowman & Plainsman, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983 (Ninth Printing).
Huser, Verne. Rivers of Texas. College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2000.
Kelton, Elmer. The Time It Never Rained, First Forge Edition. New York: Forge, 1999.
Leftwich, Bill. Tracks Along the Pecos. Pecos, Texas: Pecos Press, 1957.
Lloyd, Everett. Law West of the Pecos: The Story of Judge Roy Bean. San Antonio: Naylor Company, 1936.
Martin, James C. and Robert Sidney Martin, Maps of Texas and the Southwest, 1513-1900. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1999.
McDaniel, Ruel. Vinegarroon: The Saga of Judge Roy Bean ‘The Law West of the Pecos’. Kingsport, Tenn.: Southern Publishers, 1936.
Patterson, Paul. Pecos Tales. Austin: Texas Folklore Society, 1967.
________. A Pecos River Pilgrim’s Poems II. Commerce, Texas: Cow Hill Press, 1989.
________. A Pecos River Pilgrim’s Poems III. Commerce, Texas: Cow Hill Press, 1992.
Sonnichsen, C.L. Roy Bean: Law West of the Pecos. New York: Macmillian Company, 1946.
Thomas, Ronny G. The Geomorphic Evolution of the Pecos River System. Waco. Texas: Baylor Geological Studies Bulletin No. 22, 1972.
Wilson, John H. Land of the High Sky: Stories Along the Rio Pecos. Austin: Land of the High Sky Press, 1992.


1 J. Frank Dobie, Coronado’s Children: Tales of Lost Mines and Buried Treasures of the Southwest, Seventh Printing, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992), 212.
2 Ibid., 327.
3 Mike Cox, Red Rooster Country: A Ragtag Collection of Stories About a Hunk of the Lone Star State Bigger Than Ohio (Hereford, Texas: Pioneer Book Publishers, Inc., 1970), 88.
4 Patrick Dearen, A Cowboy of the Pecos (Plano, Texas: Republic of Texas Press, 1997), 4; Dobie, Coronado’s Children, 327; Dobie, A Vaquero of the Brush Country, page 275.
5 Ronny G. Thomas, The Geomorphic Evolution of the Pecos River System, pages 9, 20, 25, 28-30.
6 Thomas, The Geomorphic Evolution of the Pecos River System, 13.
7 Bill Leftwich, Tracks Along the Pecos (Pecos, Texas: Pecos Press), 1957, 5-7.
8 James C. Martin and Robert Sidney Martin, Maps of Texas and the Southwest, 1513-1900 (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1999), 98. Maps in this work include some that identify the river specifically. “Puerco” is used in maps published in 1810, 1830, 1841, 1847, and 1851 (pages 55, 58, 110, 120, 142). A map from 1835 labels the river as “Puerco” or “Salada” (page 54). An 1845 map calls it the “Rio Puerco” with a “Village of Los Puercos” (page 132); Leftwich, Tracks Along the Pecos, 25.
9 The note is written along the river in the New Mexico portion of the map.
10 Martin and Martin, Maps of Texas and the Southwest, 1513-1900, 128, 130; Delmar J. Hayter, “The Crookedest River in the World: Social and Economic Development of the Pecos River Valley, 1878-1950,” Texas Tech University Doctoral Dissertation, 1988, 16-17. “The Spanish were particularly secretive…. From that record it is clear that not only did the Spanish not share their information with others, but they frequently did not share it with themselves, resulting in many an exploratory enterprise being founded on misconception and many reports of explorers repeating the mistakes of their forebears.” Martin and Martin, Maps of Texas and the Southwest, 1513-1900, 13.
11 Martin and Martin, Maps of Texas and the Southwest, 1513-1900, 144, 150, 152, 156, 158, 160, 162.
12 Patrick Dearen, Crossing Rio Pecos (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1996), 3.
13 Paul Patterson, forward to Crossing Rio Pecos by Patrick Dearen (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1996), ix.
14 Verne Huser, Rivers of Texas (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2000), 133, 135. Other rivers in this book are not designated with such a descriptive title phrase. The titles are plainly “Sabine,” “Red River,” “The Nueces of South Texas,” or “Lavaca and Navidad.”
15 The great camel experiment led the Army’s camels across the Pecos in order to test camels against the toughest terrain in Texas. Patrick Dearen, Portraits of the Pecos Frontier (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1993), 118-120. For more of the camel story, see the Val Verde County Historical Commission's "U.S. Army Camel Corps" historical marker application.
16 Patrick Dearen, Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier), page 33.
17 Patrick Dearen, Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier, 36; Charlie Fowler, December 24, 1936, found in “American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940,” Library of Congress, ; Katherine Ragsdale, November 16, 1936, found in “American Life Histories.” The canal like nature of the river caused another danger, not commonly stated: “The river was narrow and deep, with no warning as to when you were approaching the bank and a man was liable to ride right over into the deep water at night before he knew he was near it.” Elizabeth Doyle, February 11, 1941, found in “American Life Histories.”
18 Paul Patterson, Pecos Tales (Austin: Texas Folklore Society, 1967), 62.
19 Nasario García, Brujas, Bultos, Y Brasas: Tales of Witchcraft and the Supernatural in the Pecos Valley (Santa Fe, New Mexico: Western Edge Press, 1999) 69.
20 Leftwich, Tracks Along the Pecos, 38.
21 Leftwich, Tracks Along the Pecos, 66-68.
22 Hayter, “The Crookedest River in the World,” 100.
23 Zane Grey, West of the Pecos, (Roslyn, NY: Walter J. Black, Inc., 1965), 149. In the world of non-fiction, the Pecos is “a river less than a hundred feet wide…a treacherous stream that squirmed and fought its way through a vast arid world loath to let it flow. Rising clear and cold in the mountains of northern New Mexico, its pure waters cut though rough country that changed its flood to turbid red.” “Many of the cattle drowned, while some found precarious footing along the sharply cut banks, where they stood in the water, and others drifted into a short bend of the river which was bad with quicksand.” J. Evetts Haley, Charles Goodnight: Cowman & Plainsman, Ninth Printing (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983), 129, 134.
24 Grey, West of the Pecos, 117.
25 J. Frank Dobie, A Vaquero of the Brush Country (Dallas: Southwest Press, 1929), 292.
26 A Roy Bean character played by Walter Brennan appears in 1940's The Westerner, and Paul Newman played the Judge in 1972's The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. Both movies include that "exaggerated reality" noted by Delmar Hayter.
27 Haley, Charles Goodnight: Cowman & Plainsman, 162.
28 J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns, Fifth Printing (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), 61, 84.
29 Dobie, The Longhorns, 194.
30 Dearen, Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier, 46.
31 Dearen, Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier, 48, 50.
32 Hayter, “The Crookedest River in the World,” 47; Dearen, A Cowboy of the Pecos, 134, 193.
33 Dobie, The Longhorns, 184; Haley, Charles Goodnight: Cowman & Plainsman, 133; Dearen, A Cowboy of the Pecos, 140-141. See the Val Verde County Historical Commission "Torres Family: Founders of Langtry" historical marker application for more on Cesario Torres.
34 Dearen, Crossing Rio Pecos, 116. Leftwich (on pages 2-4) notes that the Comanche crossed at Horsehead Crossing on their way into Mexico and back again, but he does not speculate a reason why they crossed there. The slopes down to the river made this the only place for miles to cross the river. Could it be that the Comanche, in their hundreds of crossings work the approaches to the river at that point, creating the crossing, which by all accounts, is so unusual and expected? When English colonists settle the Atlantic seaboard, they often noted perfect places to put towns and farms. Those places were perfect because they local Indian communities had worked them into places for such use.
35 Patrick Dearen, Halff of Texas: Merchant Rancher of the Old West, pages 91-92.
36 Patrick Dearen, Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1988), 42-43; Dearen, A Cowboy of the Pecos, 20; Patterson in Crossing Rio Pecos, x.
37 Dearen, Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier, 48; Edith L. Crawford, April 11, 1938, and March 7, 1938, both found in “American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940,” Library of Congress, .
38 Dearen, A Cowboy of the Pecos, 174, 178, 187.
39 Dearen, A Cowboy of the Pecos, 188.
40 John H. Wilson, Land of the High Sky: Stories Along the Rio Pecos (Austin: Land of the High Sky Press, 1992), 26.
41 Paul Patterson, A Pecos River Pilgrim’s Poems II (Commerce, Texas: Cow Hill Press, 1989), 21-23.
42 Wilson, Land of the High Sky, 30-31.
43 Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "RODEOS."
44 T. Lindsay Baker, Building the Lone Star: An Illustrated Guide to Historic Sites (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986), 124-127. More of the story can be found in Val Verde County, pages 29-33; Railroads of Western Texas: San Antonio to El Paso, pages 39-52; and Del Rio: Queen City of the Rio Grande, pages 37-43 by Doug Braudaway.
45 Dearen, Crossing Rio Pecos, 121.
46 Wilson, Land of the High Sky, 15, 21.
47 Patterson, A Pecos River Pilgrim’s Poems II, 45-46.
48 Dobie, A Vaquero of the Brush Country, 289-290.
49 Dobie, A Vaquero of the Brush Country, 292.