Heritage, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 1987 Page: 37
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terrain of the canyon country, displacing
the remnants of the native people. The
best-known of the intruders, the Apaches,
met a similar fate, harassed by the white
man and their hereditary enemies, the
Comanches. The latest of the warrior
tribes, the Comanches, trod a well-worn
highway from Oklahoma to northern
Mexico, crossing the Rio Grande east of
the Devils River not far from Painted
Caves. In the mid-nineteenth century,
the fledgling state of Texas set out to
pacify the desert West to insure the flow
of trade goods and people among settlements
throughout Texas and New Mexico
and as far away as California. The moreexperienced
frontiersmen recognized the
wisdom of following Indian trails, guaranteed
to be the easiest route across the dessicated
landscape to the more permanent
water sources. The journals of the military
expeditions, freighters, and explorers
provide us with the first descriptions of
the pictographs of 41VV7, then known as
Jack Hays, the famous Texas Ranger,
left San Antonio in 1848 at the head of
an expedition to discover the best route
to El Paso. Passing the site of Painted
Caves, he is credited with renaming the
then San Pedro River as Rio Diablo, or
Devils River, a reflection of his opinion of
this proposed road to the West. Despite
Hays' recommendation that a better route
could be found, a military expedition
set forth to map the Lower Route under
the command of Major H. C. Whiting.
In his journal entry of May 16, 1849, the
origin of the name of Painted Caves becomes
The country now became more rugged, indicating
our approach to the [Devils] river
once more, and we shortly entered an extensive
canyon remarkable for its large pools of
water. One of these was nearly as large as the
lake of the T.O.S. in the San Saba valley. To
our great satisfaction the trail lost above was
discovered here, and we were delighted with
the chance thus given of finding a crossing
without difficulty, a singular piece of good fortune.
Perpendicular walls of limestone here
commence to take the place of the steep hillsides
of the ravine. These cliffs are notable for
the numerous caves which are hollowed in the
face of them. Upon seeing them, Old Francisco,
the muleteer, recognized the canyon as
a famous Comanche pass, to which he said he
had been a long while ago in pursuit of some
Indians out of San Fernando. He added that if
we would examine the larger caves on our
right hand, we would find their walls covered
with Comanche paintings. It was as he said.
This pictograph was copied in watercolor by Kirkland from Rattlesnake Canyon, site K-45, 1936.
Kirkland considered that this panel verged on true pictographic writing, a design that told a story.
William Newcomb felt that the "figure visualizes what Lipans and Mescaleros often wanted to do and
occasionally did do to missionaries" and that the painting commemorated an actual event.
Forrest Kirkland, a commercial artist in the 1930s, copied many pictograph sites in West Texas . This
Forrest Kirkland, a commercial artist in the 1930s, copied many pictograph sites in Wesaccount Texas. This
Kirkland watercolor painting is from Painted Caves, Amistad. Its name was conferred on account of
numerous Indian paintings on the walls; however, this is all that remained in 1938.
In a vaulted chamber upon the rock the Indians
had drawn in colors rude pictures of adventures
in Mexico. Here we halted to dine,
and I gave to this pass the name "Painted".
Just below the caves and set against the face of
the cliff appear several regular and notable pilasters
which would always identify this place.
These pilasters, or pillars, were to give
the site its later name of Castle Canyon.
The name Painted Caves apparently
was quickly adopted. In December of the
same year, Captain S. C. French with the
second military expedition of 1849 wrote
in his diary:
From the table land above, on either side, the
country presents a dreary aspect, and no
traces of the [Devils] river can be seen in the
depth below. About two miles beyond, water
is found in a ravine; and near by is the only
encamping-ground in the vicinity. From some
rude Indian paintings on the rocks, it has been
called the "Painted caves". From there the
road continues up the ravine to the open
The establishment of the San Antonio-El
Paso mail route in 1851 saw
Painted Caves become a regular landmark
of the lower ford of the Devils River. The
mail route boasted a man by the name of
Bigfoot Wallace as one of its drivers. One
of his more famous skirmishes with the
Indians took place on September 9, 1852,
near Painted Caves, when his four-horse
Concord coach was beseiged by Indians
and one of his men was killed. Also in
1852 Painted Caves appeared as a stop
along the Lower Route in the Texas Almanac
and on the military and general
maps of Texas, a position it occupied
through the late 1870s.
Julius Froebel, one of the few chroniclers
who approached the Devils River
from the west, wrote while traveling with
a money train from Chihuahua to San
Antonio in 1853:
Reached a depression of the plateau which
brought us to the rocky valley of the Painted
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 1987, periodical, Spring 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45438/m1/37/: accessed May 25, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.