Heritage, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 1987 Page: 38
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Seminole Canyon appears faintly in the
background. Graduate student and staff
archaeologist Lee Bement is seated near a "signal
fire hearth" on the other side. This photo depicts
vegetation common to the area.
Caves, called by the Mexicans Arroyo de la
Cueva Pinta. This is the lateral branch of the
Devils River Valley, and one of the most
gloomy locales I ever saw; so barren and inhospitable
as to produce the most painful impressions.
Some excavations in the rocks were
filled with water. . . . This dismal valley descends
through a deep and narrow cleft between
grotesquely shaped rocks, which rise in
peaks and pinnacles and contain a number of
round openings. These are the entrances into
caves, some of which are said to contain numerous
Indian paintings on their sides. ....
On June 15, 1854, James Bell, on a
trail drive to California, described the approach
to Painted Caves.
We crossed the Rio Diablo, Devils River today
at 12 O'Clock, It is so called from its rapidity
when full-the ruggedness of the surrounding
country-and probably from the advantages
afforded to the Indians and murders committed.
It empties into the Rio Grande; the
water is very clear but of not great depth
where we crossed. On one of the banks, which
are of solid stone, and one to 150 perpendicular
feet high is a cave . . . two or three
mouths called No. 1 the painted cave so called
from some rough painting-like on a Buffalow
robe-in the inside. Probably this was a place
By 1869, August Santleben, on his first
freighting trip from Indianola to Chihuahua,
gives the most detailed description
of the pictographs in Painted Caves:
The next interesting place is Devil's River,
twelve miles beyond, in a northwesterly direction.
The first crossing was one of the most
beautiful places I ever beheld, and its pure
crystal water, in addition to the attractive sce38
nery, excited the admiration of everyone. The
stream was fully five hundred feet across, and
the water ran from two to three feet deep on a
smooth rock bottom. After crossing the river
and going four miles west we passed Painted
Cave, that was once a favorite resort of the
Indians. Its name was conferred on account of
numerous Indian paintings on the walls, such
as chasing buffalo, scalping white men and
stealing white children, wardances, and many
other things that were quite legible until recent
In 1880, a conglomerate of railroads
sent out an expedition to assess the potential
for mining near Presidio. The
most graphic account of Painted Caves
was preserved in Burr G. Duval's diary of
Friday, January 9, pulled out of Devil's River at
7 a.m. doubled teams up the hill. Moved only
about 8 miles and camped near a water hole
on the headwaters of 'Painted Cave Spring
Creek'. Painted Cave, two miles out of Devil's
River, is a noted camp and cave grotto.
Rather, which was previously embellished
with humorous Indian picture writings, no
longer to be seen, but in their place appear the
mysterious characters 'S.T. 1860', 'X Plantation
Bitters', 'Tutt's Pills' 'Sozodont', etc.
showing that the Star of the Empire still
makes its way westward and that the advertising
agent is even aboard on "Devils River".
Wednesday, March 31, on their return
to San Antonio, Duval's party "moved on
some six miles to Painted Cave cafion
embellished with Indian picture writings,
which had . . . been pretty well defaced
by our troops camping in the vicinity."
In 1882 the Southern Pacific Railroad
was completed, linking east and west and
opening the area to settlement. The
name Painted Caves was given to a station
near the mouth of the Pecos River.
Subsequently malps of the region show
only this, the second of the Painted
Caves. The first falls into obscurity, to be
revived under the later name of Castle
Painted Caves makes its last appearance
of the nineteenth century in Mallery's
1893 monumental work, Picture
Writing of American Indians. Quoting
from a letter from an informant, Mallery
There is a locality termed the Painted caves,
"on the Rio Grande, near Devil's River, in
Crockett county, Texas, on the line of the
'Sunset' railroad. Here the rock is gray limestone
and the petroglyphs are for the most part
sculptered. They are in great variety, from a
manifest antiquity to the most recent date; for
these cliff caverns have been from time immemorial
the refuge and resort of all sorts of way
farers, marauders, and adventurers, who have
painted, cut, and carved in every geometrical
and grotesque form imaginable."
Although Painted Caves was near the
Devils River and on the Sunset Line,
it was not on the Rio Grande nor in
Crockett County even in 1893. If the
majority of the art was sculptured, this
fact eluded all the other commentators
on the site. The significance of this
garbled description lies in the fact that
only two Texas sites were included in this
monumental work-Painted Caves and a
site near El Paso, probably Hueco Tanks.
By 1932 A. T. Jackson could find only a
few remaining pictographs of aboriginal
origin among the dense graffiti. The few
that he copied and photographed were reproduced
in his compendium The Picture
Writing of Texas Indians in 1938. Fortunately,
the noted Texas water colorist
Forrest Kirkland also copied the remaining
pictographs at the site he called
Castle Canyon on July 20, 1938. He remarked
that the pictographs within the
shelter were badly mixed with names,
dates and other recent work, with the
best pictures found around the cliff, on
the wall under a low overhang. His rendition
contains several figures more than
Jackson's and is probably more accurate,
but later researchers often were unaware
of this work. Due to Kirkland's untimely
death, his copy remained unpublished
until 1967, when W. W. Newcomb, Jr.
compiled his classic work, The Rock Art of
After the hiatus imposed by World War
II, Herbert E. Taylor attempted to establish
a chronology for the area surrounding
the mouth of the Pecos as part of his master's
thesis at the University of Texas. In
his discussion of Castle Canyon, he remarks
on the extent of the graffiti and the
pitting of the deposits by amateurs but enlarges
little upon the nature of the aboriginal.
pictographs. In 1958 Graham and
Davis surveyed the area to be inundated
by the then Diablo Reservoir. They recorded
Castle Canyon as 41VV7, recognizing
it as Jackson's Site 96 but not as
Kirkland's Castle Canyon. They described
two rock shelters, a midden deposit, or
refuse heap, and a blufftop artifact scatter-but
not the pictographs.
In 1959, the rock shelter deposits at
41VV7 were excavated by John Greer. He
was able at that time to detect most of the
figures copied by Jackson but remained
unaware that Kirkland also had docu
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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/m1/38/: accessed July 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.