Heritage, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1987 Page: 25
A lithograph by H. Lawrence near the head of the
prairie dog town fork of the Red River.
Translation from Comanche: Kee-chee (prairie
dog), Ho-no (river), ca. 1852. From here Marcy
and McClellan forged their way into Palo Duro
award the area between the two forks
(Greer County) to present Oklahoma"
(then, of course, called Indian Territory),
settling an ancient and sometimes angry
These achievements alone would have
made Randolph Marcy one of the West's
great explorers and cartographers. However,
in our opinion, his greatest contribution
was in showing the terms by which
American farmers and ranchers could
settle the Panhandle. There had been
others in the area-Spanish friars and
capitanes, nomadic Indians, American
prospectors en route from Fort Smith to
Santa Fe and westward to the gold fields
of California. But these were transients!
Could Anglo-Americans live here on land
some called simply the Desert?
In The Prairie Traveler and Thirty Years
of Army Life on the Border by Randolph B.
Marcy, products of several trips west, we
get the combined insights of surveyors
and engineers, cartographers, and biologists
on the Marcy team. What about
water and housing-sized timber? What
about hunting and fishing? Buffalo and
grass? Rainfall and soil? Blizzards and
summer heat? Friendly Indians and hostile
ones? It fell to Marcy to put these
findings into captivating prose.
Furthermore, Marcy anticipated Texas'
greatest historian, Walter Prescott Webb,
in understanding that civilization rests on
three legs-land, water, and timber. The
Panhandle had land aplenty, but water
and timber were sufficient-said both
Marcy and Webb-only for those willing
to adopt a lifestyle different from the wet,
wooded, lush East.
Marcy and McClellan were not the
first white men to live in West Texas, but
Marcy's books were the first to offer manuals
for coping with the Panhandle. They
took the area's fearsome reputation and
separated real from mythical dangers.
The men and women who soon came to
settle were willing to tackle hardships
if they did not have to wrestle ghosts.
Randolph Marcy's sparse prose in the
bottle and the diaries hold an implicit
message: Yes, the Desert is fit for humans.
Indeed, it can be made to blossom like a
rose. But only the hardy need apply!
The children, grandchildren, and
great-grandchildren of the settlers
gathered last San Jacinto Day, April 21,
1986, to honor both explorers and
settlers of North Texas as part of a Sesquicentennial
celebration. They packed
M.K. Brown Auditorium in Pampa and,
among other things, dedicated a historical
marker now in place about five miles
south of Pampa on Highway 70, near
where Randolph Marcy buried his bottle
-and notched a cottonwood.
It is stated in a leaflet distributed that
night: "The founding fathers of the Panhandle
towns heard Marcy's message and
came. We cannot pay our debt to them or
to the explorers who beckoned them, but
we can acknowledge that debt, and
joined with them by what Lincoln called
the mystic chords of memory, we can
affirm that no generation stands alone."
Richard B. Hughes is a professor of history at St.
Edward's University in Austin, Texas. Tom
Chisolm is a free-lance writer who lives in
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1987, periodical, Summer 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45437/m1/25/: accessed August 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.