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PostPitcock-Rosillos Mountain Ranch; Hallie Stillwell (Randy Black, USA, 04/03/14 9:54 am)
I always enjoy and relish Richard Hancock's word pictures his life of Texas, New Mexico and Mexico (see his post of 3 April). His ability to match the vastness of the regions with face-to-face memories of people in his past is a treasure. [I second that--JE.]
Speaking of large ranches, my old, old chili cook-off pal, Roy Pitcock of Graham, Texas, owned the historic Pitcock-Rosillos Mountain Ranch, 25,000 acres, from 1981 until earlier this year when he sold the ranch to a younger fellow from Corpus Christi. Roy is probably in his mid-80s.
But back in the 1980s, along with his late brother Louis, Roy turned the only private holding, to my knowledge, in the Big Bend National Park into a working "meat" ranch. The property has some pretty interesting geological features including Indian burial mounds, the entire Rosillos Mountain Range, a huge amount of land within the ranch that was a shallow, tropical ocean and rain forest 100 million years ago, now simply a petrified forest in the middle of a desert. It even has a working windmill that, according to Roy, is one of only two working windmills in the national parks of the United States.
As I study the maps, the ranch is part of what is known as the Chihuahua Desert. As recently as the early 1920s, the land was pretty much lawless, only being inhabited mostly by Mexican bandits, and the usual Texas Rangers who tried to chase them back across the Rio Grande.
From my studies, I've learned that during the railroad building boom of the 1880s, the area was surveyed by Capt. George Spillers, whose wife was Bell Loving, daughter of J.C. Loving, one of the founders of the Texas Southwest Cattle Raisers Association.
For the history buffs, the Loving name is legendary and is taught to this day in Texas History classes, mandatory for all Texas 7th graders. See: the Goodnight-Loving Trail.
Author Larry McMurtry borrowed from Loving's manner of death, resulting from a mortal wound by a Comanche attack, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove. On a cattle drive to Colorado in the spring of 1867, before he died from the gangrene, Loving asked his pal Charles Goodnight to promise that he'd be buried in Texas. After completing the cattle drive, months later Goodnight returned to Ft. Sumner, exhumed Loving's body and took it back to Texas where he was buried near Weatherford, west of Fort Worth.
Background of the Pitcock purchase of the Rosillos Mountain Ranch: In 1980, an act of Congress authorized $1.5 million to purchase the ranch and incorporate it into the Big Bend National Park. However, the money was never appropriated and the previous owner, having grown tired of the do-nothing Congress, finally sold it to Mr. Pitcock. Along with his brother and a handful of ranch hands, he updated the operation and improved the water supply by installing solar-powered water pumps, drilled new wells, built shaded pavilions over water troughs and added miles of water lines. He even added a private 4,800-foot paved runway for the planes that brought in the hunters. Today, the ranch has more than 27 water wells and springs that have never run dry, even in the worst droughts.
It has been on the Pitcock ranch for a few days each year over the past five years that my daughter learned to track mountain lions, explored for arrow heads, picked up petrified wood samples and has come face to face with javelina, road runners, mule deer, bobcats, coyotes, bear, jackrabbits, white wing dove, quail, a couple of rattlers and a hive of bees that almost did her in!
On the advice of the ranch foreman (a woman), I never ventured outside or onto the ranch without a sidearm. That only thing we've actually killed, however, are a few dozen beer cans from 40-50 feet with a .45!
Geologically, the ranch is in the Marathon Basin of Trans-Pecos Texas. Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the redwood forests that covered the area. The landscape of today reflects a time when Canada was buried under a mile of ice. Even earlier, 300 million years ago, there remains physical evidence of the collision of Africa and North America in an area between the town of Marathon and the entrance to the Big Bend National Park at Persimmon Gap (geological information courtesy of Dr. Arthur Busby, TCU School of Geology).
My daughter and I will miss our annual pilgrimage to the Pitcock ranch. It's a rare treasure in the lore of West Texas as are our memories.
Question: Does Richard know much specifically about the history of the Pitcock-Rosillos Mountain Ranch? Was he acquainted with Justice of the Peace Hallie Stillwell, who lived nearby and officiated over the annual Terlingua Chili Cook-Off for decades? Miss Hallie as she was known, was a legend in West Texas, having arrived in the Big Bend in 1910. She died at age 99 in 1997.
From Miss Hallie's obituary: "As a rough rancher, chatty newspaper columnist, justice of the peace, chili cook-off queen and mistress of a museum devoted to her life, Mrs. Stillwell, who was known as Miss Hallie far beyond the sweeping curve of the Rio Grande, became a Texas tourist attraction.
"A native of Waco whose restless father kept the family on the move, including three years homesteading in the New Mexico Territory, she was 13 when she hitched up a four-horse team, gathered the reins and led a Conestoga convoy that took her family to the dusty little town of Alpine in the Big Bend region of southwestern Texas.
"Six years later she received a teaching certificate, strapped on a six-shooter and set out for the town of Presidio on the Rio Grande, a major crossing point for Pancho Villa's raiders. When her father accused her of going off on a wild goose chase, she stood her ground. 'I'll gather my geese,'' she said, a retort that established her independence and provided the title for an autobiography."
Texas was full of such characters. Our language and our lives are fuller because of them.
JE comments: I'm sure Richard Hancock is familiar with these names and places, although he may well be in transit (to Odessa, TX) as we speak. Perhaps, in a day or two, Richard can share Randy Black's post with the West Texas historians at the conference.