The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001 Page: 479
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The Pecos is the only major body of water in the long drive westward from the
headwaters of the Concho River to El Paso and New Mexico-a stopping place
for humans and animals making the difficult crossing of the semiarid regions of
West Texas. Travelers described the Pecos River as a shifty, noxious waterway
filled with quicksand and cutbacks. The water was alkaline; the banks steep
except in very few places; the bottom sandy and treacherous; and the flow varied
from a trickle in drought to a roaring flood. In all the Pecos River was quite a
nasty little stream. The thinly flowing river of the present day, with every drop of
water counted and controlled by dams along its entire breath, is tame in contrast
with the river of olden days.
In Crossing the River Pecos, Dearen takes, in turn, the six major fords of the
Pecos River and, using records from antiquity to the present, gives the history of
each crossing, quoting from letters, journals, diaries, maps, army records, and
interviews with cowboys. Though highways and railroads led to the abandoning
of river fords half a century ago and the passage of time and floods have
obscured the exact site of many of the famous crossings, the author has attempt-
ed to document the present site of each ford.
Starting from the north-Pope's Crossing, Emigrant Crossing, Horsehead
Crossing (my favorite), Spanish Dam Crossing, Pontoon Crossing, and
Lancaster Crossing-the author moves south toward the Rio Grande.
Horsehead Crossing-the site of a major branch of the Comanche Trail, a
place littered with the skulls of horses ridden to death, the spot where the
Butterfield stage crossed, and the passage taken by the Goodnight-Loving
Trail-is one of the most fabled river fords in Texas history. Though less
famous, more parties used Emigrant Crossing than any other. Indian raids and
outlaw ambushes left unidentified bodies to wash up after floods. Further down
the river, the military guarded Lancaster Crossing for access to Fort Davis, El
Paso, and routing for the San Diego mail. The information presented on the
other fords is equally fascinating.
In his second book, The Last of the Old-Time Cowboys, Dearen takes an entirely
different approach to the history of the Pecos River. He uses interviews conduct-
ed with the surviving cowboys who had managed the herds that grazed along the
Pecos or who had passed along the river on their way to market. The author
records their memories and anecdotes about life along the river. In the last
chapter, Dearen presents short biographies of these seventy-six Pecos cowboys,
who were alive at the time he gathered the information for his book. Their pic-
tures are scattered throughout the book. This touch gives the book a more per-
sonal feel as the aging men relate memories of their youthful experiences.
The cowboy was at the mercy of the forces of nature and appreciated any
warnings about rain, blizzards, and the feared "Blue Northerner." Animals often
know before their human handlers when the weather is about to change-hors-
es and cows kick up their heels; rattlesnakes head for high ground; livestock seek
protection; and wolves and coyotes howl in the daytime. The author has
arranged their recollections topically into ten categories, including weather,
stampedes, pranks, greenhorns, and bucking horses. He records the cowhands'
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/m1/547/: accessed January 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.