May 2, 1887, someone living in Crosby County using only the initials R.P.S. wrote
a letter to the Austin Daily Statesman.
“How many readers of this article,
who were school boys and girls twenty-five or thirty years ago, remember being
taught that the Llano Estacado was a great sandy plain, whose dreary wastes stretched
from the interior of New Mexico down into Texas,
and, as far south as Mitchell and Taylor counties are now located?” the author
Actually, the writer continued, the notion that the Llano Estacado
consisted of nothing but desert was only a myth. In reality, the region was a
“great, grassy plateau, whose southern edge crosses the lower parts of Lubbock,
Crosby and Dickens counties.”
whoever he or she was, lived in Estacado.
The oldest community on the South Plains, it had been founded in 1879 by Paris
Cox, a Quaker from Indiana. Envisioning a colony of fellow members of the friendly
persuasion, he had named the place Marietta for his wife Mary, but when a post
office opened there in 1884 the community was renamed Estacado.
In 1886, it became the seat of newly established Crosby County.
“caprock” had not yet been used to describe the sudden increase in elevation marking
the edge of the High Plains, but the anonymous writer painted a nice word picture:
“As the traveler
approaches the plains he sees its whole outline towering up before him, appearing
like a mountain chain, without the appearance of peaks. Upon a nearer approach
he finds what appeared to be mountains is a tall precipitous cliff, 200 to 300
feet high, stretching as far as the eye can see, from right to left, with a smooth,
even top. At intervals a gorge cuts its way into the plain, only for a short distance,
to end in the same precipitous manner as the outside cliffs.”
labor,” the writer continued, a traveler reaches the plains above, “a great, smooth,
grassy plateau bringing to mind that perhaps here the creator of the universe
had, at the creation, laid out a vast parade ground upon which to marshal the
armies of Heaven.”
devoting a few paragraphs to playa lakes and their opposite – mirages -- the author
waxes on for a couple more paragraphs about the beauty of High Plains sunsets.
covered the topography of the Llano Estacado, the writer turned to its fauna –
antelope, black bear, deer, turkey, quail, cougar, wolf and bobcat. Finally, the
writer goes into a riff on skunks.
“The skunk is the scourge of the plains,”
the anonymous correspondent wrote. “There are two varieties—the large striped
skunk and the small black one. The small black skunk the cowboy fears more than
he does the rattlesnake.”
hard to imagine a polecat trumping an angry buzztail when it came to a cowpoke’s
fear factor, but a skunk could sure stink up a place or person – and sometimes
they carried rabies.
“Crawling around at night it [the dreaded skunk]
frequently finds its way into a camp, when, without warning, it attacks the sleeping
camper, inflicting wounds upon the face and hands that have occasionally proven
fatal,” the writer warned.
Indeed, back then no effective treatment existed
for those who became infected with the rabies virus. And hydrophobia, as it was
then known, was not an easy death.
Next the writer turned his attention
to the Panhandle cowboy, “that
class of society so unjustly treated by ignorant writers.
following his daily avocation, riding bronchos or following in the wake of the
wild stampede, cannot be judged by the world’s standards of a gentleman,” the
anonymous writer went on. “On an intimate acquaintance with them, one finds that
true manhood can and does exist under so wild an exterior.”
that, the writer told a story illustrating “the courage and quick perception of
the cowboy when in danger.”
Seeing an approaching thunderstorm on the horizon,
an outfit on a roundup put up a small tent when they made camp for the night.
“During the night a rattlesnake made its presense known among the sleeping cowboys,”
the correspondent wrote. “Immediately there was a rush, each one making an exit
for himself with his knife through the sides of the tent.”
In trying to
escape, one of the cowboys stepped on the snake.
“He quickly concluded that because it had not struck him, and that so much of
its body was squirming around his legs, that he must be standing on it near its
able to see whether he had guessed correctly, the gutsy cowpoke just stood there
listening to the agitating rattling of the reptile until his tent mates tore away
the canvas and killed the intruder.
“I leave it to my readers to determine if one who would thus risk his own life
to save that of his companions can be the villain the cowboy is so often portrayed,”
the writer concluded.
Cox - June
14, 2012 column
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