If you drive through the Texas panhandle you’ll see miles of empty grasslands, feedlots that make you consider becoming a vegetarian, and small towns that look like they could have been where The Last Picture Show was filmed (actually that was Gatesville—nowhere near the panhandle). The scenery is mostly a boring monochromatic yellow interrupted only by billboards advertising free 72 oz. steaks at the Big Texan restaurant.
And then you run across the canyons. I’ve blogged about Palo Duro Canyon already.
It’s a stunningly beautiful erosion disaster that inspired Georgia O’Keefe to paint western landscapes. It was also the backdrop for the end of the Red River War. Canyons like Palo Duro seem have no business in the Texas panhandle. I certainly didn’t expect to find a second one. But about a hundred miles Southeast of Amarillo near the small Texas town of Quitaque (pronounced Kit-i-kway) there it is—15,314 acres of the most beautiful erosion disaster I’ve ever seen.
Caprock used to be a great place to hunt buffalo. Indigenous people killed thousands of them there starting about 10,000 years ago. That was before horses and even bows
and arrows. Folsom man (named for the Folsom N.M. where their lance points were first discovered) took the animals with spears and atlatls. They also stampeded them over deadfalls. The bison were just as surprised to find canyon in the middle of the grasslands as I was.
The Comanche, the Kiowa, and the Southern Cheyenne moved into the region after horses were introduced by the Spanish. They terrorized the local tribes and were pretty much running things by the time white settlers started moving through the area. The plains Indian era ended when Colonel Ranald (Bad
Hand) Mackenzie recruited the Tonkowa, Ute, and Deleware to help him kill off the plains Indians’ horses and leave them on foot and undersupplied just as winter was setting in. The horse slaughter took place in Palo Duro, but brass cartridges and even artillery shells have been found in several locations in Caprock.
I have to believe Colonel Bad Hand Mackenzie felt bad about killing all those Indian ponies. Ten years after the Red River War he was discharged from the army for “the general paresis of the insane.” Quanah Parker, on the other hand, became the chief of all the Comanche’s on the reservation. He went on hunting trips with
President Teddy Roosevelt and a founded of the Native American Church. While he was busy becoming one of the wealthiest Native Americans of his time, Quanah Parker had time to marry eight wives and have twenty-five children.
I gave many of the Comanche chief’s personality traits to Archie Chatto, Robert Collins and even Hashilli when I wrote Owl Dreams. I used him again in two new novels that will be coming out later this year, Magic Popsicle Sticks, and Trial Separation. I’ve also taken bits and pieces of Rand (Bad Hand)
Mackenzie’s life—his mental challenges and his physical handicap—for several of my stories. You’ll recognize them now that you know. When I’m borrowing from reality, I like to borrow from the very best.
Buffalo are grazing in the canyon again. In September of 2011, 80 descendants of the original southern plains bison herd were released in a 700 acre protected area of the canyon. No Comanche’s have been seen in he area, but I wouldn’t count them out just yet.