Meet & Greet–Texas Book Festival

Myra Hargrave McIlvain

Author of Stein House

Saturday, October 25

Writers’ League of Texas

Booth 414-15

2-2:45 pm


Sunday, October 26

Texas Association of Authors

Booth 604, 605, 610

1-3:00 pm


Harker Heights Public Library

Local Author Fair

400 Indian Trail

Harker Heights, TX 76548

Saturday, November 1

9:00 am – 1 pm

Hope to See You There!

Going to the Poor House in Texas

The dream of finding a new life, the belief that if a man worked hard, he could “make it,” drove settlers by the thousands to the cheap land in Texas. If illness, death of the breadwinner, drought or crop failure forced a family into poverty, they and their neighbors believed that the need to accept public assistance was a form of moral failure.

During the Civil War, churches and charities that had always helped the indigent, could not keep up with the level of poverty after the men left for service in the Confederacy. When the men returned, they found four years of neglect, the cattle sold or stolen, fields grown up in weeds, and houses crumbling for lack of money or labor for repair. In an attempt to address the mounting problems of the destitute—young, old, mentally ill, and sick—an addendum was added to Texas’ 1869 constitution assigning to the counties the responsibility for providing a Manual Labor Poor House to care for the indigent and those who had committed petty crimes. Notice that lawbreakers were to be included in the poor houses—a clear indication of the disdain that coupled the impoverished with the criminal element of the community.

The Texas Historical Commission (THC) conducted a survey in 1987 and discovered that at least sixty-five of the 254 counties in Texas opened a poor farm. While very few of the farms kept records of the names, number or type of indigents housed in the facilities, Anderson County listed “indigent blind person, “indigent widow,” and “pauper” among its poor farm residents in 1887. The superintendent was allowed $6.50 per month to provide food and clothing for the paupers and twenty cents per day to feed the convicts and farm hands. The county paid for clothing, medicine and doctor visits for the tenants, but stipulated that funds would not be paid for babies nursing their own mother.

Debbie Cottrell’s research for her article in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, July 1989-April 1990 reveals that most of the farms closed with the introduction of federal assistance programs during the Great Depression. Cottrell writes that three counties—Anderson, Parker, and Cass—left more records than most other counties. Anderson County, which opened its farm near Palestine in 1884, built a potato barn, a superintendent’s home, housing for indigents, and a jail. It operated until the 1940s. Parker County began housing indigent families south of Weatherford in barracks-style houses about 1889; by the 1930s the residents were mostly elderly.

1914 Photo Cass County Poor Farm Right, pauper's and their home, Left is superintendent's family and house with inmates attached dining room.

1914 Photo Cass County Poor Farm Right, pauper’s and their home, Left is superintendent’s family and house with inmates attached dining room.

Cass County’s farm outside Linden opened in 1895 and replaced the earlier system of paying from $3 to $8 per month to individuals on the pauper list. Jean Howe Stow writes in Frontier Times that in Cass County to be eligible for residency in the poor farm a person could not “own more than $10 in worldly goods. . . had to appear before the commissioner’s court and take a pauper’s oath. . . declaring to the county judge and commissioners, ‘I am a pauper.’” Stow adds that “in addition to furnishing all the necessities of life for the paupers, the commissioners supplied them with the necessities of death . . . payment of $8 for a coffin and a payment of $2 for the digging of a grave.”

El Paso’s second poor farm was located in 1915 near the property of John O’Shea, a wealthy farmer and businessman, who took over operation of the poor farm. His wife Agnes O’Shea, was in charge of the

El Paso County Poor Farm, Photographer unknown Courtesy Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum

El Paso County Poor Farm, Photographer unknown
Courtesy Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum

residents, and in 1929 at the beginning of the Great Depression, John died. Their daughter moved from San Antonio to help her mother, and with the increase of poverty, the population on the farm grew rapidly. Renamed Rio Vista Farm, it housed the temporary base for a Civilian Conservation Corps, and it sheltered

El Paso Pauper's Cemetery, Seven graves found in 1957

El Paso Pauper’s Cemetery, Seven graves found in 1957

hundreds of homeless adults and children. It served from 1951 to 1964 as the reception and processing center for the Bracero Program, which brought Mexican laborers to work in the agricultural regions of the United States. Rio Vista accepted neglected and abandoned children in addition to indigent adults.

Edna Gladney, an early champion of children’s rights and better living conditions, moved with her husband to Sherman, and while on a campaign with the Sherman Civic League to inspect local meat markets and public restrooms, they discovered the deplorable conditions at the Grayson County Poor Farm. After writing a scathing article in the local paper about the poor farm being little more than a dumping ground for the poor, insane, handicapped, and children, she arranged for the Civic League to have a meeting with the Commissioners Court and the owners of the poor farm. She enlisted the aid of Civic League to clean and whitewash the facility. Then, she arranged to have the children transferred to the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society in Fort Worth.

Kaufman County, whose last residents left the farm in the 1970s, has been preserving some of the structures on the remaining twenty-seven acres of the original facility with the intention of making it a heritage tourism destination and educational resource. The farm, which was opened in 1881, housed the local

One of the original buildings on the Kaufman County Poor Farm.

One of the original buildings on the Kaufman County Poor Farm.

paupers who were expected to support themselves by working on the farm until they were financially able to leave or until they died. During the 1900 outbreak of smallpox, the poor farm served as the Epidemic Camp. A burial site on the property has been in use since the 1871 typhoid fever epidemic and continues to be the location for burial of transients, inmates who died in jail, and persons who have been quarantined.

The Texas Historical Commission is working with counties throughout the state to locate and document the operation of Texas poor farms—a legacy that has been forgotten.

Texas’ First Historian

In 1527, six years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca had not planned to become a historian when he set sail as the second in command of the Pánfilo de Narváez 600-man expedition.

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

After desertions in Santa Domingo and a terrible hurricane in Cuba, the Spaniards spent the winter re-outfitting the expedition. About 500 Spaniards and five ships struck out again in April. Available maps of the Gulf of Mexico were so inaccurate that when they reached Florida’s west coast, Narváez, believing they were near the River of Palms in Panuco Province (present Tampico, Mexico), —a miscalculation of about 1,500 miles—ignored Cabeza de Vaca’s protests and put ashore an exploring party of 300 men and forty horses.

After slogging along the coast for a month, suffering from Indian attack and food shortage, they realized that they must return to the sea for their travel. The Spaniards’ lone carpenter guided the construction of five rafts using deerskin and hollow pieces of wood as bellows. They melted stirrups and bridle bits to cast primitive saws and axes for felling trees and shaping crude planks that they caulked with pine resins and palmetto fibers. They fashioned sails out of their shirts and trousers and wove rigging from the hair of horse manes and tails. They tanned the skin from the legs of horses to form bags for carrying fresh water. They fed themselves by killing a horse every third day. On September 22, 1528, they loaded fifty men on each raft and set out along the Gulf, remaining within sight of the shore.

Soon after passing the mouth of the Mississippi River, strong winds separated the rafts, eventually driving all ashore between Galveston Island and Matagorda Peninsula. About ninety Spaniards and at least one African slave named Estevanico landed two rafts west of Galveston Island on a beach Cabeza de Vaca soon named la Isla de Malhado (the Isle of Misfortune). The exhausted and starving men were terrified to see six-foot giants towering over them. Using sign language the Karankawas, who occupied the islands along the coast, indicated that they would return the following day with food. Cabeza de Vaca wrote that the next morning, after taking their fill of food and water, the Spaniards tried launching their rafts only to have them capsize and drown three men before tossing the others back onto the shore. When the Karankawas saw the terrific loss of men and all their possessions, Cabeza de Vaca said the Spaniards were stunned when these “crude and untutored people, who were like brutes,” sat down with the survivors and cried, weeping and wailing for half an hour.

Still believing they were close to the province of Panuco, four strong swimmers were sent ahead with an Indian guide. Over the winter Cabeza de Vaca observed the Karankawas, noting that when a child died the entire village mourned the loss for a full year. He observed this same sensitivity to everyone in their society except for the elderly, whom they viewed as useless, occupying space and eating food that the children needed. He also wrote that during the first winter, five Spaniards became stranded on the mainland. As they reached starvation they began eating one another until only one man was left. The Karankawas were revolted by the cannibalism and horrified that the Spaniards were so disrespectful of their dead that the survivors feared the Indians were going to kill them all. By spring 1529, exposure, dysentery, and starvation had decimated the wayfarers. Only Cabaza de Vaca and fourteen others had survived.

Cabeza de Vaca set out alone to explore inland, and became seriously ill. When he did not return as expected, he was given up for dead, and twelve of the survivors decided to move on down the coast toward Mexico. Two men refused to go because they could not swim and feared having to cross the waterways along the coast.

Meantime, Cabeza de Vaca recovered from his illness, and for almost four years he traded with the Indians, carrying seashells and sea snails to interior tribes, which they used to cut mesquite beans, in exchange for bison skins and red ochre, a dye prized for body paint by the coastal Indians. The natives gave him food in exchange for what they believed were his healing powers. He blew his breath on the injured or afflicted parts of the body and incorporated prayers and the Catholic practice of crossing himself, which he reported almost always made those receiving the treatment feel better. Each winter he returned to Malhado to check on the two survivors who steadfastly refused to leave.

In 1532, when one of the men on Malhado died, the survivor Lope de Oviedo, agreed to journey down the coast after Cabeza de Vaca promised to carry him on his back if they had to swim across streams. At Matagorda Bay a tribe Cabeza de Vaca called Quevenes threatened to kill them, which caused Oviedo to turn back with a group of native women and disappear. Despite their threats, the Quevenes told Cabeza de Vaca the names of “three Christians like him” and agreed to take him across the bay. Upon reaching the other side, he traveled to the “River of Nuts,” present Guadalupe and found three of his former companions being held as slaves, the other nine having died as they made their way along the coast.

For the next eighteen months the four endured slavery under the Coahuiltecans, always planning to escape at their first opportunity. During their captivity they heard stories of the fate of their expedition. Some had died of exposure and hunger; others succumbed to violence among themselves or from natives, and some of the survivors resorted to eating the flesh of their companions. In late summer 1534, they slipped away separately and headed toward the Rio Grande. Despite the odds, they soon met again and joined friendly Indians southwest of Corpus Christi Bay, where they remained for the next eight months.

They crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico near present Falcon Dam Reservoir, but upon hearing of hostile Indians along the Gulf coast, turned back across northern Mexico to the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean. Four men out of the original 300 reached Mexico City in July 1536, almost eight years after setting foot on the Florida Gulf coast.

Route of the Cabeza de Vaca Expedition

Route of the Cabeza de Vaca Expedition

Cabeza de Vaca had not completed his service to the crown. He was assigned the governorship of present-day Paraguay in Central South America. His experience in Texas, despite mistreatment and slavery, had made him a champion of the native people. When he tried to initiate policies that would help the local tribes—removing Indian slaves from cruel masters and placing them with kinder owners, instituting restrictions against holding Indian women as concubines, and adding modest taxes, settlers determined to exploit the native population removed him from office and sent him back to Spain in chains.

During his six-year trial, conviction, and his subsequent pardon, Cabeza de Vaca wrote Relación (Account), his detailed description of his Texas experiences as merchant, doctor, ethnologist, historian, and observer of plants and animals. He recorded Native American’s incest taboos, dietary habits—spiders, ant eggs, worms, lizards, and poisonous vipers—when nothing else was available, and methods used for insect repellent. He even recorded his profound distaste for sodomy among the hunting and gathering culture. His description of the buffalo was the first written account of those wild creatures.

Cabeza de Vaca died about 1559, but his extraordinary adventures and his detailed documentation have earned him the title of Texas’ first historian. He performed one other amazing task as he and the other castaways walked barefoot across Mexico. His description of removing an arrowhead lodged in the chest just above an Indian’s heart earned Cabeza de Vaca fame as the “Patron Saint” of the Texas Surgical Society.

Millions in Silver Hauled Across Texas

Hundreds of freight wagons, each drawn by six to eight mules, and brightly colored Mexican carretas, each pulled by four to six oxen, formed dusty weaving trains on the Chihuahua Road from the silver mines of

Mexican Carreta in El Paso, c. 1885  Photo courtesy SMU

Mexican Carreta in El Paso, c. 1885
Photo courtesy SMU

northern Mexico to the port town of Indianola on the central Texas coast. The trail across Texas opened in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War when the U.S. laid claim to Texas and the entire southwest all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The following year, the California Gold Rush set the get-rich-quickers into a frenzy looking for a shorter route across the country than the old Santa Fe Trail that ran from Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Port of Indianola

Port of Indianola

The new port of Indianola on Matagorda Bay offered dockage for U.S. military personnel and equipment bound for the western settlements of Texas as far as El Paso (future Fort Bliss), and it provided the perfect jumping-off place for settlers and gold-hungry Americans heading west. The ships, anchored at piers stretching out into the shallow bay, took on the Mexican silver and transported it to the mint in New Orleans. The vessels returned with trade goods destined for the interior of Texas and the towns developing in the west and the villages of Mexico.

The Chihuahuan Road headed northwest from Indianola, made quick stops in San Antonio and Del Rio, twisted north along the Devils River, forded the steep ledges along the Pecos River, and then plunged southwest through the Chihuahuan Desert to cross the Rio Grande at Presidio, entering the mineral-rich state of Chihuahua, Mexico.

The Spanish, as early as 1567, had discovered northern Mexico’s mineral wealth—gold, copper, zinc and lead—but silver was overwhelmingly the richest lode. By the time Mexico opened its commerce with the U.S. after the Mexican-American War, there were six mines in the area near Ciudad Chihuahua, capital of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

The raw outcroppings of the richest mine, Santa Eulalia, had been discovered in 1652, but persistent Indian troubles chased away the Spanish explorer who had found the site. Fifty years later, three men who were fugitives from the law, hide in a deep ravine tucked into Santa Eulalia’s steep hills. They stacked some boulders to create a fireplace, and as the flames grew hotter, the boulders began leaking a shiny white metal, which they recognized as silver. Knowing their fortune awaited, they sent word via a friendly Indian to the padre in the nearby mission community of Chihuahua, offering to build the grandest cathedral in New Spain if the padre would absolve their sins and pardon them of their crimes. It worked. The fugitives received absolution and pardon; they became fabulously wealthy; and they built the Church of the Holy Cross,

Church of the Holy Cross, Our Lady of Regla, Ciudad Chihuahua

Church of the Holy Cross, Our Lady of Regla, Ciudad Chihuahua

Our Lady of Regla, the finest example of colonial architecture in northern Mexico. Miners flocked to the Santa Eulalia mine and Ciudad Chihuahua grew into a large and wealthy city.

Millions of dollars in silver and trade goods were hauled over the road between Indianola and Chihuahua, except for the years of the Civil War. The road served as the corridor for western settlement until 1883 when the Texas and Pacific Railroad from the east met the Southern Pacific from California. The new southern transcontinental railroad opened a direct route between New Orleans and California. The final blow to the Chihuahua Road arrived with the devastating hurricane of 1886 that turned the thriving seaport of Indianola into a ghost town.

Route of the Southern Transcontinental Railroad

Route of the Southern Transcontinental Railroad

The Mystery of Millie Durkin

She was eighteen months old on October 13, 1864, when a Kiowa warrior entered a blazing ranch house and found Millie Durkin crawling out from under a bed after the raiding party had killed her mother and baby brother.

Over the next eighteen years Millie’s grandmother, Elizabeth Carter Clifton led a determined search for the child who had been living on Elizabeth’s ranch with her widowed mother and siblings when 700 Kiowa and Comanche warriors tore through Young County in the infamous Elm Creek Raid.

Elizabeth Carter Clifton

Elizabeth Carter Clifton

Elizabeth Carter Clifton had known tragedy long before the Indian raid. She was sixteen in 1842 when she married a free black man in Alabama. (He may have been a mulatto whose mother was Irish.) They moved with his family to Texas where they eventually settled on a ranch near Fort Belknap, ninety miles west of Fort Worth. Elizabeth was illiterate and epileptic, but those drawbacks did not keep her from working on the ranch with her husband and father-in-law and operating a boarding house. After both men were mysteriously murdered, only Elizabeth’s fourteen-year-old daughter Susanna and young son Joe inherited the ranch. Elizabeth continued managing the ranch and boarding house for her children, and soon both she and Susanna married. Even after her second husband of eight months disappeared, Elizabeth went right on operating the ranch. The boarding house prospered, especially after the Butterfield Overland Mail Route made a stop at nearby Fort Belknap. In 1862 she married her third husband, one of her ranch hands, who was murdered within eighteen months.

And then her life was shattered by the horror of the Elm Creek Indian Raid. The men had gone to Weatherford for supplies, leaving three women at the ranch: Elizabeth, Susanna and Mary Johnson, wife of Britt Johnson, a free slave who worked for Elizabeth. When the women heard the shrieks of the approaching warriors, Susanna grabbed a gun, ran into the yard, and fought until she was overpowered, stripped and mutilated as Elizabeth was forced to watch. T. R. Fehrenbach says in Lone Star that two braves quarreled over who had captured Britt Johnson’s oldest son; they settled the argument amiably by killing him. They murdered Susanna’s baby boy before they threw the survivors—Elizabeth, thirteen-year-old Joe, granddaughters (Lottie, age five and Millie), and Mary Johnson and her two children—on horses. They rode away in separate groups that continued marauding and looting throughout the Elm Creek Valley. Joe was not well and when he could not keep up with the pace of his captors, they killed him. The raid resulted in eleven settlers killed, eleven homes damaged or destroyed, and seven women and children carried off.

Elizabeth was held for over a year in northwest Kansas. Although accounts differ over who actually won Elizabeth’s freedom, Fehrenbach writes that Britt Johnson, who had spent all that year searching for his wife and two surviving children, found Elizabeth. She begged Johnson to help ransom all the captives and promised to pay from her considerable land and cattle holdings whatever it took to gain their freedom. Johnson made four trips into Comanchería, paying “two dollars and a half” to ransom his wife and eventually rescuing all the captives except little Millie.

Still convinced that Millie was alive, Elizabeth was taken to a mission in Kansas where for the next ten months she nursed, fed, and cared for other released captives, all the time demanding better care for those in her charge and begging for more to be done to find all those still being held by the Indians.

Granddaughter Lottie. See the tattoo of her forehead.

Granddaughter Lottie. See the tattoo of her forehead.

When Elizabeth finally reached home in 1866, almost two years after her capture, she was reunited with her granddaughter Lottie whose Comanche captors had tattooed her arms and forehead. Elizabeth married her fourth husband, a farmer who still had four small children. They moved with Lottie to the land her mother had inherited from Elizabeth’s first husband. Elizabeth never gave up her search for little Millie, contacting the Office of Indian Affairs only a few years before her death in 1882, asking them to investigate rumors that Millie was living with a Kiowa woman.

In 1930 George Hunt, a Kiowa historian, began seeking the white relatives of his mother-in-law, Saintohoodi Goombi, who knew she had been captured by Kiowas when she was eighteen months old. Several elderly men, including one who had been a young warrior on the raid, confirmed the story of the capture of a toddler.

Other stories reveal that Elizabeth had described Millie to government officials as one-quarter African descent with dark skin, hair, and eyes. Mrs. Goombi had fair skin and blue eyes, which convinced many that she was not the missing Millie, but the child of another family who never knew their baby daughter was alive.

Mrs. Goombi had been well received by her Kiowa family and lived a happy life with no memory of her white childhood. She had nine children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. She lived in Oklahoma with her daughter Lillian Hunt until her death in 1934 and apparently never met any of Elizabeth’s or Lottie’s descendants. Fehrenbach writes that when the Governor of Texas asked Mrs. Goombi “what the state might do for her, she answered, ‘Nothing.’”

Saintohoodi Goombi

Saintohoodi Goombi

The Newton Boys

The Newton family had eleven kids, four of whom would become history’s most successful bank and train robbers. As sharecroppers the family moved around, scratching out a living in the cotton fields of Texas.h3 The boys’ mother Janetta Pecos Anderson Newton regaled the boys with outlaw stories with such success that Willis, the eventual leader of the gang, claimed that he cried in 1902 when he heard that the outlaw Harry Tracy had committed suicide. The boys grew up in Uvalde County, hating the backbreaking work on cotton farms. Their penchant for petty thievery kept them under the constant eye of local law enforcement. When Wylie (known as Doc) stole cotton from one gin and tried to sell it to another gin, Willis got blamed for the robbery and ended up serving his first prison term. Besides the brutal conditions of the Texas prison system, the farm on which Willis served time required him to pick cotton. Instead of blaming his brother Doc for letting him take the rap, Willis viewed the harsh conditions as evidence of injustice in the system. It was not long before Doc joined Willis in prison for robbing the post office of less than fifty dollars (probably stamps). For the next several years Willis and Doc moved in and out of prison—escape attempts and harsher sentences—resulted in the hardening of their attitude toward law enforcement.

While Willis and Doc stayed in constant trouble with the law, brothers Joe and Jess became cowboys working as ranch hands and bronc busters.

Willis graduated to train robbery near Uvalde in 1914, taking $4,700 at gunpoint from a passenger. Two years later he joined an Oklahoma gang that robbed a bank of over $10,000. When he went to prison the following year, he forged letters that secured a full pardon. Following several unsuccessful bank robberies with an Oklahoma crowd, Willis decided to organize his own gang, which eventually became known as “the Newton Boys.” The new organization included Doc who had made a successful jail break (his fifth), the two younger brothers Joe and Jess, and Brentwood Glasscock, an expert with high explosives and a skilled safecracker.

The Newton Boys

The Newton Boys

The five gang members began a campaign of bank and train robberies that spread from Texas up through the Midwest and as far north as Canada, operating at night when banks and businesses were closed. Willis bribed an insurance official with the Texas Association of Bankers to obtain a list of banks that had older models of safes that were more vulnerable to Glasscock’s use of nitroglycerin and dynamite caps. They usually cut the phone wires before a robbery, stationed two men at the door to keep townspeople at bay while the other members loaded the car (usually a Cadillac or Studebaker) with money, and then made a quick getaway. In Hondo, just down the road from Uvalde, they robbed two banks in one night. They kept their reputation for not killing their victims and were described by many customers and bank employees as extremely polite making a real effort to ensure that everyone was comfortable.

When they tried robbing pedestrian bank messengers in Toronto, Canada, at the height of the morning rush hour, the intended victims refused to give up their bags of cash. The resulting scuffle and gunfire ended with the wounding of two messengers, ruined their reputation for nonviolence, but it yielded $84,000 in Canadian dollars.

Willis and Glasscock made contacts in Chicago with underworld characters and used that connection to fence bonds and securities that were included in

Willis Newton

Willis Newton

individual deposit boxes.

Wylie "Doc"

Wylie “Doc”

On June 12, 1924, they pulled off their last robbery, a mail train carrying money from the Federal Reserve in Illinois, which garnered the largest haul—$3 million—in U.S. history. It all began to unravel when Glasscock mistook Doc for a postal worker and shot him five times. Eventually they were all arrested, and it was never clear how much of the money was recovered. There was a tale claiming that Jess was drunk when he buried $100,000 somewhere northwest of San Antonio, and despite years of digging, he was never able to find the location. He had gone into hiding after the robbery across the Rio Grande from Del Rio. The Texas Ranger Harrison Hamer (brother of Frank Hamer who ambushed and killed Bonnie and Clyde in 1934) created a ruse to draw Jess back across the border by organizing a bronc ride at a Fourth of July rodeo. When Hamer took Jess back to jail in Chicago, the newspapers began calling the Newton Boys “colorful cowboys” because Jess was still wearing his rodeo outfit.

After all their escapades the gang received relatively light prison sentences for the robbery because no one was injured except one of their own, most of the money was recovered, and they testified against their accomplice, a postal inspector who had connections with the mob.

Jess Newton

Jess Newton

Jess returned to Uvalde and lived out his life as a cowboy, dying in 1960 at the age of seventy-three without remembering where he buried all that money. Joe, the youngest, renounced crime after he left prison, but was accused with Willis of an Oklahoma bank robbery that they did not commit and served another ten years in prison. He finally returned to Uvalde, worked at odd jobs, took part in an interview with Willis that became a short documentary, and was interviewed by Johnny Carson in 1980 on The Tonight Show. He died in 1989 at the age of eighty-eight.

Doc was arrested in a 1968 for bank robbery.  Some accounts claim he was never charged because of his old age, however others say that he suffered a head injury while being arrested and served his entire prison term in a hospital. He died at

Joe Newton

Joe Newton

eighty-three in Uvalde in 1974.

Willis kept his criminal connections, operating nightclubs in Oklahoma and surviving an assassination attempt before returning to Uvalde. He was accused of a 1973 bank robbery in nearby Brackettville, but there was never enough evidence to arrest him. He and his wife farmed until his death at ninety in 1979.

In 1998 Twentieth Century Fox Studio released “The Newton Boys,” starring Matthew McConaughey.

"The Newton Boys"

“The Newton Boys”


Treasures of the Lower Pecos

Travelers heading northwest on US 90 out of Del Rio parallel the Rio Grande through arid canyon lands carved by the intersecting Pecos and Devils rivers, one of the most significant archeological regions in North

Rio Grande Map

Rio Grande Map

America. Tucked into overhanging limestone ledges and deeply recessed caves are rock shelters where evidence of human habitation dates back about 10,000 years. Over 300 paintings, sprawled across the limestone walls of these hidden rock shelters, created between 3000 and 4000 years ago, are among the world’s finest pictographs (drawn or painted images) and the largest collection in North America. Some of the multi-colored scenes, painted and drawn by hunters-gatherers who called the canyons home, spread more than 100 feet and depict characters twenty feet tall. The oldest images, known as Pecos River style, are the most common and often feature

Human-like figure in White Shaman Cave. Photo by Steve Black, TARL

Human-like figure in White Shaman Cave. Photo by Steve Black, TARL

shaman rituals representing journeys to the spirit world. Some of the shamans are painted to look like they are ascending; others appear to be hovering with protective out-stretched arms. Panthers with great long tails leap across the limestone canvass and splay fierce claws among

The Panther

The Panther

rabbit, snake, and crab-like shamans. In later work beginning about 500 B.C., fertility rituals, copulation, and birthing scenes are depicted.

The only large array of petroglyphs (images carved, pecked, or cut into stone), hundreds of geometric and abstract designs created about the year 1000, have been discovered on gently sloping bedrock on private property. Work continues to remove sediment revealing older, more graceful techniques, including motifs of atlatls (spear throwers that pre-date the bow-and-arrow) as well as animal tracks and human footprints.

Petroglyph uncovered by RAF in Lewis Canyon

Petroglyph uncovered by RAF in Lewis Canyon

The artistic styles evolved slowly over time among these isolated people living in a small region with no influence from outside forces until about 1600 to 1800 when Spanish explorers and Plains Indians began to make forays into the region, bringing disease and warfare. Depicting the changes brought by the intrusion, the art first shows the novelty of domestic livestock and the curiosity of a people who wore little clothing upon seeing hats, boots, weapons, and the armored horse. Although no missions were established in the Lower Pecos, structures appear similar to missions topped with a Christian cross. Then the destructive consequences of diseases, warfare, and starvation created by the outside invasion appear in scenes of soldiers, horsemen, and destroyed churches.

Pictograph of European Man Photo from ANRA-NPS Archives at TARL

Pictograph of European Man Photo from ANRA-NPS Archives at TARL

The introduction of the horse culture among the indigenous people seems to explain the appearance of the more recent art in canyons near water supplies and access to grazing areas away from the steep cliff sides of earlier pictographs. The scenes depict hand-to-hand combat, horse theft, thunderbirds and sun symbols.

Since the 1920s researchers ranging across all the disciplines have been studying the art and the lifestyle of the ancient canyon-dwellers who for thousands of years did not cultivate crops, but sustained their livelihood by hunting and gathering. Although more than 250 sites in Texas are known for prehistoric pictographs, only the Lower Pecos Canyonlands exhibit a rock-art tradition of a single group of people over an extended period of time.

For centuries the arid environment preserved the wall art as well as the grass beds, baskets, mats, string bags, and sandals made from fibers of native plants such as lechuguilla, sotol, and agave—priceless evidence of the culture of the prehistoric era. However, modern treasure hunters began destroying and defacing the art, and it was not until the 1930s that archeological expeditions began collecting the materials primarily for display in museums. Serious archeological research and efforts to protect the site began in the late 1950s when Mexico and the United States made plans to construct the huge Amistad Dam at the confluence of the Devils River and the Rio Grande in the core of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. When the dam was completed in 1969, its reservoir spread over 89,000 acres, covering much of the prehistoric treasures.

Amistad Dam and Reservoir

Amistad Dam and Reservoir

Study and preservation have continued, and today visitors enjoy guided tours to the Fate Bell Shelter conducted by the Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site and White Shaman Tours led by the Rock Art Foundation (RAF).

Rockart Foundation Newsletter Header

Rockart Foundation Newsletter Header