Horsehead Crossing of the Rio Pecos LbNA # 22259 (ARCHIVED)
|Placed Date||May 17 2006|
You drive up from the west over a straight, caliche road. You are not aware that you are approaching a river until you are almost upon it because the flat, featureless, dry plain seems an unlikely place for a river. The “park” is just as featureless except for a lonely granite marker erected by the state in 1936. What is this place? Why come here?
This ‘place’ is perhaps the most infamous and feared river crossing in Texas history. Yet today it is little more than a trickle of a stream. It was the only ford for many miles up or down-stream; where animals could enter, drink and leave the Pecos River safely. Elsewhere, deep banks would trap them. It was the primary Pecos River crossing of the Comanche War Trail from the Llano Estacado down into Mexico. And the Butterfield Overland Mail, the Loving-Goodnight Cattle Trail, and route for hordes of adventurers headed to the gold fields of California. It is perhaps one of the most historical sites in Texas, and certainly the most important historical site in all of West Texas. Its lack of any physical beauty undermines its important role in not only the development of western Texas, but of the West itself. What happened here, who passed by here, who got no further than here has filled many books of both scholarly fact and fuzzy folklore. You are at ‘ground zero’ when it comes to historical significance. Take a moment to contemplate that significance.
It was first mapped 1849 by Capt. R. B. Marcy, head of the U. S. Army escort for parties on the way to the California gold rush. Source of the name "Horsehead" is a bit unclear. One story says that in 1850 John R. Bartlett, while surveying the Mexican boundary found the crossing marked by skulls of horses; hence the name "Horse Head". Many water-starved animals, stolen in Mexico by Indians and driven along the Comanche War Trail, died after drinking too deeply from the river. Comanches may have also intentionally marked the crossing for easier location. In 1858, the crossing became an important stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route from St. Louis to San Francisco. In 1866, Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving blazed their famous trail, which came to this point and turned upriver. But the completion of two railroads across west Texas in the early 1880s caused abandonment of the crossing. It slowly sank into the memory of the past, and the once-feared river, being repeatedly dammed upstream to provide for the agricultural needs of a growing territory and growing nation, was reduced to a mere trickle.
Directions to the letterbox:
Drive southeast out of Imperial, Texas (Pecos County) on FM 11 for about 14.9 miles to a graded, caliche county road heading northeastward marked by a state historical marker information sign and a rusting, faded billboard that points the way to Horsehead Crossing (If coming from the south you will travel northwestward from Girvin, Texas on FM 11 for 11.5 miles to this spot). Turn northeast and follow this road 3.1 miles to Horsehead Crossing ‘park’. Find the granite marker erected by the State of Texas in 1936. From the marker go 170 steps at a heading of 230 degrees. This should take you to a single, large mesquite shrub (or small tree). From this spot you should be able to observe a corner in the barbed wire fence that surrounds the ‘park’ a few steps further on in the direction you were traveling, and also a gate in that fence off to your right. Look for the letterbox in a fork of the mesquite tree about 4 feet off the ground and held in place by a black bungee cord.