Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jesus Perea and sheepherders at Tahoka Lake

When did Jesus Perea bring 30,000 sheep to Tahoka Lake?
August 13, 2008

--Burr Williams

“This is part of a “pastores” (Hispanic sheepherders from Northern New Mexico) fence that was used in the 1870’s before Anglo ranchers arrived.” In 2000 and 2001 Dr. Eileen Johnson of Lubbock Lake Landmark held field camps here to excavate the site.” Mrs. Clyde May pointed out the tattered plastic covers of the dig site near the tumbled down rock walls of the fence. “Some of the rocks of the old pastore compound had been used by early day ranchers to build a “spring house” next to a windmill and water well we looked at earlier.” Springhouses were the only way to cool food in the early settlement days. Troughs full of water inside the springhouses cooled milk, meat, and other perishables.

I had been invited to Tahoka Lake by Mrs. May after she had informed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWC) that her ranch had “never been broken out” (plowed) and wanted to offer the possibility that botanists and other biologists might want to use the ranch for research. Michael Eason of the LBJWC asked me to do a quick survey of the property to see if any of the plants needed for the Millenium Seed Bank project grew there. After I learned of her willingness for the ranch to be used for education and research, I received her permission to bring along Don Hilger, a teacher in the Tahoka school system. I had learned that Mr. Hilger already took his students to another location in Lynn County for field studies when he attended a teacher’s inservice in Motley County that Sibley Nature Center staff had co-produced. Mrs. May agreed to host Hilger’s classes in the future.

When Mr. Hilger and I arrived the first thing that I noticed in her house was a display panel that hung at the Lubbock Lake Landmark Museum for two years about the pastores fence for which Mrs. May’s son had provided photographs. For a number of years I have mentioned in programs and these columns that Jesus Perea had brought 30,000 sheep to Tahoka Lake after I found mention of his flocks in Jose Ynocencio Romero’s “Spanish Sheepmen on the Canadian River at Old Tascosa” in the 1946 Panhandle-Plains Historical Review. From what I can determine from Paul Carlson’s “Texas Woollybacks” and other resources Perea’s sheep could not have arrived at Tahoka Lake any earlier than 1876.

In Frank Hill’s Grassroots Upside Down, a history of Lynn County, the author notes that by 1879 the McDonald-Shaw sheep ranch claimed Tahoka Lake. By 1898 C.C. Slaughter established the Tahoka Lake division of his cattle empire, and his long-time foreman of the Tahoka Lake ranch Jack Alley took over ownership by 1919.

This indicates that Perea may have used the Tahoka Lake range for only three years, including 1877, the year that Captain Nicholas Nolan led his ill-fated expedition chasing Comanches led by Red Young Man that ended in the death by dehydration of four buffalo soldiers. When a person reviews the historical accounts of the expedition, including Frank Collinson of the Forlorn Hope group of buffalo hunters that were along on the expedition, no mention is made of sheep being present in the area (or of their droppings or other evidence of their grazing.)

Nolan and his men were in the region in July during a very dry year. Perea would graze his flocks as far north as Yellowhouse Canyon and Blanco Canyon and as far south as the headwaters of the Colorado south and west of present day Gail. Residents of Nolan County believe that stone pastores fences were erected there before the coming of the cattlemen. Collinson and other members of the Forlorn Hope do not mention seeing sheep in Yellowhouse or Blanco earlier in the year, either, and Nolan did not see sheep on the Colorado River.

Romero indicates that flocks left the Canadian River in April after shearing and lambs were born and grazed in whatever direction good grazing could be found, and then would return by shearing time in August and September. In that dry year Perea might have grazed further north, in the headwaters of the Red, Brazos, and Pease Rivers were other pastores fences have been found. Another option is that Perea’s sheep were all the way down in Nolan and Fisher County along permanent streams.

The stone fences were built to corral sheep at night. Although Perea had 30,000 sheep grazing in the region, the herd was broken into many much smaller flocks. Perea and other Hispanic sheepmen employed Pueblo and Navaho Indian herders as well as mestizo herders of mixed Indian and Spanish ancestry. One “pastor” would follow a flock of 1500, or two to three herders would maintain flocks in bands of 2500 to 3000. I have seen three pastores stone compounds, (in Motley County, in Lynn County, and in Borden County) and none have been much bigger than a major league baseball infield. Cramming even 1500 sheep into such a small compound would have filled them to capacity.

Were there pastores and sheep at Tahoka Lake in 1877? O.W. Williams was surveying on the Llano Estacado in late 1877 and did not mention them either. Jose Romero’s mention of Perea came from family stories told by his father Casimir Romero, the largest sheepherder along the Canadian River during the pastores era. When I Googled Jesus Perea, I found reference to sheep he sent to Chihuahua, Mexico during the 1870s and 1880s and indications that other family members were merchants in Santa Fe, but have not found any other records recording his activities. Perea himself may have never come to the Llano Estacado, although the sheep he owned did. More information may be buried in the public records of New Mexico, but until a graduate student spend a year in files, that information will not come to light.

The pastores era of the Llano Estacado has only received attention by historical researchers in the last ten years. When I find mysteries like that of “where were the pastores in 1877” I ache to learn more.

Tahoka Lake -- a place for education and research

Tahoka Lake -- a place for education and research

--Burr Williams

Coach Don Hilger of Tahoka is a go-getter. (And a heck of a bus driver, too!) Recently he manhandled a Yellowhound down some mighty rough gravel roads, ferrying thirty Tahoka Middle School students to Tahoka Lake. When Locator map - Lynn Countythe kids tumbled out of the bus, the temperature was in the middle 20s, but the wind was not blowing, thanks to his lucky star! Coach Hilger had arranged for his students to meet with professional archaeologists and participate in real scientific research.

Dr. Eileen Johnson met the students at Mrs.Clyde May’s ranch house. Dr. Johnson is Curator of Anthropology, the Horn Professor of Museum Science at the Museum of Texas Tech University, and the Executive Director of the Lubbock Lake Landmark, the world-renowned archaeological facility just to the northwest of Texas Tech. For the day’s adventure, she assigned Dr. Stance Hurst, the Lubbock Lake Landmark regional research program Field Manager, Dr. Beau Schriever, the Museum Photographer and Documentation Specialist, Sophie Butler, Research Technician, and John Moretti, Research Aide to demonstrate basic field anthropology to the students.

Humans have used Tahoka Lake for thousands of years. As one of the larger and deeper salinas (salt lakes) on the Llano Estacado, it has three permanent springs along with other wet-weather seeps that once attracted the hordes of wildlife that early Native Americans relied upon for sustenance. Despite years of “arrowhead hunting,” the steady wind and water erosion continually exposes more artifacts. The goal for the day; discover artifacts and then use High-tech GPS equipment to accurately map their location.

Dr. Johnson had selected a rocky ridge for the survey. The crest of the ridge was riddled with small rock shelters large enough for people to use. On the north end of the ridge, a dense copse of junipers (cedars in West Texas parlance), mixed with scrubby hackberry and littleleaf sumac. The 60-degree slopes were covered with little bluestem, white tridens, blue grama, and sideoats grama. The ranch has been superbly managed for many years by the May family – such “ice cream grasses” grew everywhere.

Photo - Tahoka Lake
Tahoka Lake

Before the students dispersed into two groups, Dr. Johnson, gave a short speech about the archaeological importance of the lake and described the long-range plans for continuing surveys over the coming years. Once at the site, Dr. Hurst and the rest of the archaeological team took half of the students to the research site. I took the other half on an ecological survey, focusing on the plants with ethnobotanical uses (useful to humans for food, material, and medicine) and interpreting how the Native Americans would have used the landscape. After two hours of work, the group ate lunch, and the groups of students switched. Mrs. May’s grandson Kelson aided the process. Stevi Huffaker, a math teacher at the Tahoka Middle School, served as a second student group leader .

Coach Hilger went with the first group to go with me. Students photographed the plants I spoke about, as well as taking many pages of notes. The groups will combine their research and create a field guide to the lake that will later be printed and presented to Mrs. May. Mrs. May is creating a non-profit organization to preserve the ranch and its resources and promote education and research at the site. Dr. Johnson, Dr. Dave Haukos of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dr. Warren Conway of Stephen F. Austin State University, Tahoka lawyer H. Calloway Huffaker, and I serve as advisors to Mrs. May.

The temperature quickly became bearable, especially when we could find a big shrub to get out of a steady cool breeze that never got worse than ten miles an hour out of the southeast, right over the lake. The lake was almost full, thanks to plentiful fall rains. Thousands of sandhill cranes use the salina for a nighttime roost, and the big birds kept coming and going from the lake, their glorious trumpeting calls a constant presence.

In one of the draws near the site, hackberries covered with tiny reddish berries attracted dozens of mountain bluebirds (shockingly turquoise) and even more big red-breasted robins. In the early afternoon, the birds all gathered at one of the seeps near the edge of the lake. The seep was a hundred yards from a wonderful hackberry savannah with old trees with sizable girth dotting a waist-deep alkali sacaton meadow. Dr. Hurst agreed that in the future some exploratory trenches should be dug in the hackberry savannah. The location was perfect for a sizable Indian camp. It was down out of the drying west winds of summer and the cold north winds of winter, close to water, and had plentiful shade.

The rock shelters on the ridge nearby have long-since been picked clean by arrowhead hunters. Many of the “caves” were just the right size for burials in the Comanche way. It is hoped that if anyone with knowledge of any artifacts found there will come forth! Dr. Johnson, in her introductory speech, told about how in the past arrowhead hunters have unfortunately removed significant material that modern archaeologists would have found invaluable for further understanding the Indian’s adaptations to the tough environment of the Llano Estacado. She lauded the work of some amateur archaeologists, including the Midland Archaeological Society, for being “even more professional than some professional archaeologists.”

In 2000 and 2001 Dr. Johnson headed up a summer field camp at Tahoka Lake, studying the artifacts left by Hispanic sheepherders (pastores) that had constructed rock pens now not far from Mrs. May’s house. The work resulted in a display for the Lubbock Landmark and included photographs by Mrs. May’s late son. Jesus Perea used the lake in the 1870s as a headquarters for up to a dozen herds of sheep (30,000 total). Later C.C. Slaughter used the lake as a site for a line camp for his open range cattle kingdom, and his foreman for the ranch (Jack Alley) later bought it. Mrs. May’s husband’s family bought the ranch in the early 1920s.

The Sibley Nature Center salutes the efforts of Coach Don Hilger to make local history come alive for his students. Rick Day of the Andrews Middle School does the same for his students, too. We hope that other Llano Estacado school districts will be inspired by their work, and follow their lead. Leave no child inside!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Winter 2009, Northeast Ridge

Photo Essay 2009-02-21

--Donna Chafin

Our two mysteries: (the first is juniper berries in unidentified scat)

Land snail shell, fossilized shells, and Ammonite close-up:

Deer evidence (bucks rubbing velvet off of antlers leave "rubs":

Tree hollow:

The (now) slow-running fresh water spring:

Winter color:

Nightshade fruit, filaree bloom, snake apple(or balsam apple), a vine with a huge tuber

And other finds:

Robin, hairy grama, and uncovered centipede returning to winter hiding