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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Cleo Face

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
The folks along Bear Creek in Kimble County always called the mysterious stone carving the “Cleo Face.”

That is not to say that the Cleo Face is Cleo’s face.

About as close to a ghost town as you can get, Cleo is on Farm Road 2291 about 10 miles northwest of Junction. Founded in 1880 and first known as Viejo, the post office served the area for six years before being discontinued.

Reestablished in 1915, the Viejo post office got a new cancellation stamp five years later when post master Sam Pearson succeeded in getting the federal mail stop renamed in honor of his niece, Cleo Weston.

The Cleo post office stayed open until 1974, when the last post master retired.

By all rights, the area should have been called Gentry, after pioneer settler, Raleigh Gentry. The first resident of what would become Kimble County, Gentry built a cabin along Bear Creek, about a mile south of the future Cleo community, in the late 1850s. In 1862, Gentry conveyed his property to Rance Moore, a young stock raiser. Moore later sold the property to N.Q. Patterson, which is where the Cleo Face comes in.

Patterson came with his family to Texas in 1868 from Tennessee. They lived in Limestone and then Williamson County before moving to Kimble County in 1875.

Patterson became one of the new political subdivision’s leading citizens, gaining election as the first county treasurer. He served on the first jury ever empanelled in the county, and beginning in 1877 spent a year as county judge.

A tombstone cutter by trade, Patterson could not have had a whole lot of business in that field in such a sparsely populated county. In 1880, to help make ends meet, he worked as a census enumerator.

He seems to have been an active man, but he suffered from recurring bouts of what folks back then called “galloping consumption.” Today we know it as tuberculosis.

At some point, while recuperating from an attack by the disease, he had enough time on his hands to chisel a series of images on limestone rocks along the creek that flowed through his ranch.

The most notable of those sculptures later became known as the Cleo Face. By the late 1960s, age had made it somewhat difficult to spot, but the carefully carved, large-scale face could still be detected on a large stone near Bear Creek on the old Patterson Ranch.

The face has a broad nose, glinting eyes and a snarling mouth with long, fang-like teeth.

Some believed the face had been carved by Indians, but Texas Indians, unlike some cultures in Mexico and Central America, were not sculptors. Others theorized someone had meant the carving to represent a bear, or as a totem for Bear Creek.

After the San Angelo Standard-Times published a column about the Cleo Face in 1969, Mrs. W.E. Allen Jr. of Junction wrote the newspaper with the answer to the mystery.

TB gave Patterson the time to practice his stone-cutting skills, but the disease didn’t kill him. In 1898, while in New Mexico, Patterson got hurt in a horse accident near the mouth of Cox Canyon. He died from the injuries and was buried near Cloudcroft, N.M.


See Cleo, Texas
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
- January 26, 2006 column

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