Big Bend History
Spanish Territory to United States
In the 1500's, the first Spaniards arrived in the Big Bend; followed soon thereafter by the Mescalero Apache and Comanche Indians. While Spain claimed the Big Bend for 300 years, they never settled it. As Mexico gained independence from Spain, it claimed the land for another 50 years.
Mexico and Spain referred to the land as "El Despoblado (the uninhabited land) because both countries relinquished claim to the territory, and the Mescalero Apache and Comanche Indians regained control of the land.
Following the Civil War, military posts were established and the mounted cavalry; consisting primarily of Buffalo Soldiers (Black troops), drove the Apache and Comanche to reservations in other areas.
In the 1890's, silver was found in nearby northern Mexico, and shortly thereafter cinnabar was found throughout the Big Bend. A 20 year mining boom occurred at the turn of the century, which led to the production of mercury, refined from cinnabar.
Black Jack Pershing to Modern Times
In 1910, the Mexican Revolution ignited and the Big Bend became a danger zone for more than a decade. Raids, pitched battles and massacres erupted across the Rio Grande; straining relations between the United States and Mexico.
General Black Jack Pershing and Pancho Villa were significant players of Big Bend history. General Pershing chased Villa back into Mexico near the Lajitas Trading post.
In 1944, a ten-year effort by area citizens to establish a park was culminated when Big Bend National Park was dedicated. Initially, Big Bend was a remote park with no paved roads and was virtually unknown to the general public. The surrounding area of South Brewster County was scarcely inhabited, few ranches dotted the landscape, Terlingua was a ghost town, and Lajitas was just a trading post.
In the sixties, the age of tourism began. By that time, the area was reputed as a destination for adventure travelers, rafters, hikers, birders, and students of natural history. River companies were established, the first championship chili cook-off was hosted, and the Big Bend assumed a new identity.
In 1978, the original hotel that is now The Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa was built, and today it prospers on a bluff overlooking the beautiful Rio Grande.
The dramatic and diverse geology of the Big Band; spanning some 500 million years, has long attracted geologists to the area. Unequivocally one of the best concentrations of geological formations on the planet, the Big Bend uncovers years of Earth's history with rock layers representing the last 3 chapters of geologic time; including Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic Eras.
Often described as a geologist's paradise, the Big Bend has attracted many researchers to analyze the effects and interactions of all its natural resources, such as rocks, soil, plants, animals, water and human history.
Incredible fossil discoveries have uncovered much of the Big Bend's historic treasures; including a variety of dinosaurs, large turtles, and ancient mammals that once roamed the land, petrified wood collections, and incredible marine invertebrates called ammonites.
Geologic forces of compression, volcanism and tension over a long period of time provided the foundation for the Big Bend landscape. Various forms of erosion such as wind and water, aided by abrasive materials, minerals or acids combine their efforts with the effects of organisms that live here to sculpt the landscapes and features of the present day Big Bend.
The geology of the Big Bend provided numerous opportunities for modern day mining. Once known as a land rich in Mercury, the Big Bend was frequently mined for Cinnabar, a brilliant red ore derived from Mercury. First discovered in Texas by Indians who used it on rocks and bluffs and as war paint, the deep red pigment of Cinnabar still shows brightly along the West Texas landscape. The discovery of mining mercury in the Big Bend began when a sample was taken to Alpine, Texas, for identification in 1884. By the early 1900's The Big Bend and Texas Almaden at Study Butte, the Chisos Mining Company, and the Marfa and Mariposa Mining Company had become national leaders in Mercury mining. At the end of World War II supplies from war impoverished countries, principally Spain, were dumped into world markets creating such an oversupply in the United States that Texas mines were abandoned by 1946. Today you can revisit this history at theFresnoMine and Buena Suerte ghost towns.
Given the geologic history of Big Bend National Park, one thing is for sure…What you witness today will be different in one way or another the next time you visit.
The Rio Grande River
The Rio Grande River establishes a natural border between the United States and Mexico, and is considered the life-giving blood to the creatures and features of the Big Bend. Its 1,250 miles of winding waterway extends between southern Colorado and the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1978, Congress designated a 191 mile portion of the Rio Grande as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, which preserves and protects the river from environmental and human harm. Big Bend National Park administers this segment of the river as the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River; 70 miles of which lies within the park itself.
Over the years, the Rio Grande has diminished due to dams and irrigation; however, a trip down the river by raft or canoe is an experience not to be missed. The "Lower Canyons" of the Rio Grande provides a winding adventure of rapids that can be geared for the novice or experienced rafter, and everyone in between.
A trip down the river unveils spectacular canyon walls; sculpted by erosion and rising 1500 feet or more from the rivers edge. An incredible array of wildlife, beautiful desert fauna, fresh air, clear skies, and serene silence are just some of the rewards from a day on the Rio Grande.
Lajitas Politics and Mayor Clay Henry III
Many towns can claim that the mayor's an old goat, and just as many can claim that the mayor likes his beer. However, not many have the privilege of a beer-drinking goat for a mayor. Yes, it's true…Clay Henry III is the political pride and joy of Lajitas.
The story began lightheartedly in the 1980's. The previous owner of Lajitas, Walter Mischer, invited a group of his friends and politicians from Houston to the town for a museum fundraiser. A freak snowstorm hit Lajitas and Mischer's group had the luxury of an extra night in town. While enjoying a beverage at the Thirsty Goat Saloon, the fine gentlemen decided it was time for Lajitas to have a mayor, and a friend of Mischer's, Tommy Steele, was "elected".
The election of a Houstonian as mayor irked Bill Ivey, a multi-generational Lajitas local. He claimed that if someone living in Houston can be mayor, his goat, Clay Henry, could be mayor. And thus, the election, "VOTE THE GOAT" campaign started.
Bill Ivey's friend from Uvalde, Jim Woodward, was Clay Henry's campaign manager and created press releases using the platform, "you just have to give a dam". The Houston platform sought to get a snowplow for Lajitas.
Press releases created national interest and made headlines in United States newspapers. Ivey gave radio interviews daily and received letters of support for Clay Henry. Much to the dismay of the locals, the Houstonite, Tommy Steele, won the election.
When the time for a new election arrived, a poll tax was charged with proceeds going towards a local charity. The roster was heated with the incumbent, Tommy Steele, against the Trading Post wooden Indian, a local ranch dog named "Buster", and Clay Henry, the goat. Clay Henry won the election by a landslide.