Texas Heritage, Volume 18, Number 3, Summer 2000 Page: 29
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cated near water sources in
remote desert canyons. A half
dozen men will pull up the
candelilla plants and tie them
in heavy bundles. The bundles
are then transported on burros
to the camp for processing.
A steel vat is set in the ground
above a firebox for boiling the
plants (photo two). The vat,
about six by four feet in size
and two feet deep, has steel
grates to submerge the plants
in boiling water (photo three).
As the wax begins to emerge
on the surface of the vat, a can
of sulfuric acid is added to increase
the wax yield. A skimmer
made from a piece of tin
perforated with nail holes is
used to skim the wax into a
mold for cooling (photo four). The only i
fuel used under the vat is the dried i
plants that have had their wax removed.
The hard, golden-brown wax is broken
into chunks and loaded in gunny
sacs for burro transport to a buyer along
the river. Several wax dealers in
Brewster County have small refining
plants where the wax is purified before
shipping back to cities in the Northeast.
Much wax is brought clandestinely
across the Rio Grande to Texas dealers.
Down in interior Mexico, candelilla
wax is produced in small factories and
marketed throughout official Mexican
Many abandoned wax camps from
early in the century are a fascinating part
of our cultural heritage. Rarely, an active
camp may be encountered in a remote canyon
by those exploring in the desert. Many
people have subsisted in the Chihuahuan
Desert by making candelilla wax, and a few
have grown rich through marketing it.
Curtis Tunnell is an archeologist.
Reference: "Wax, Men, and Money: A Historical
and Archeological Study of
Candelilla Wax Camps Along the Rio
Grande Border of Texas." By Curtis Tunnell,
1981, Texas Historical Commission, Office
of the State Archeologist, Report 32.
All photographs by Curtis Tunnell, except for
the image at left of the candelilla plant (in the
foreground), by James H. Evans.
Many people have
subsisted in the Chihuahuan
Desert by making
candelilla wax, and a few
have grown rich through
HERITAGE * 29 * SUMMER 2000
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Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Volume 18, Number 3, Summer 2000, periodical, Summer 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45389/m1/29/: accessed April 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.