Thursday, May 1, 2014

Seminole Canyon

Just about forty miles north west of Amistad National Recreation Area is Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site.  We decided to check it out.
The park is located high on the ridge surrounding the huge canyon that gives it its name.  The area is arid and rocky but is home to many birds, other wildlife, and blooming wildflowers. 
The land is harsh and inhospitable.  How did farmers and ranchers ever survive its hardships?  Even with the "modern" conveniences of windmills, barbed wire, and the railroad, built through this area in 1883, life on the west Texas frontier must have been a constant struggle.
I was curious about the name. Seminole is the name of a native American tribe whose homeland was Florida.  How did the name get transported to west Texas?  That is the first of two fascinating chapters of history this area has experienced. 
Seminole Canyon in the morning
During the early 1800s, many African-American fugitives from slavery found their way to south Florida.  The Seminole Indians, who had themselves been enslaved at one time, took them in and offered them hospitality and protection.  There was intermarriage and their descendants were known as "black Seminoles" or "maroons."
Seminole Canyon at noon

In 1840, President Andrew Jackson enacted the Indian Removal Act which required that all persons of native birth (Indians) were to be forcibly moved west beyond the Mississippi River.  The Seminoles and their black tribe members fled to Mexico for protection.
Seminole Canyon, evening view

After the Civil War, the Texas/Mexico border was very dangerous due to frequent Indian raids.  The U.S. government enticed the black Seminoles to return to the U.S. with the promise of government employment as Indian scouts.  The park brochure states, "Seminole Canyon received its name in honor of the U.S. Army's Seminole Negro Indian Scouts, garrisoned at Fort Clark.  The scouts protected the West Texas frontier from marauding Apache and Comanche bands between 1872 and 1914.  Known for their exceptional cunning and toughness, no scout was ever wounded or killed in combat, and four earned the prestigious Medal of Honor."
"The Maker of Peace" by Bill Worrell

The next day we set out to discover what we could about Seminole Canyon's other interesting chapter of history.  Under the watchful eye of this artistic depiction of ancient peoples of the area, we headed down into the canyon.

Rest shelter along canyon trail

It was a hot day and a steep trail, so we were glad for that little shelter at the left of the picture.
View of the canyon from inside a rock shelter

When we finally (and for me, breathlessly!) made it to the canyon floor, our exertions were richly rewarded.  The walls of the canyon are lined with caves, or rock shelters as our guide called them, and several give evidence of having served as shelters for a prehistoric people who left their mark in paintings, called pictographs.
Our guide pointing out some pictographs
Our guide, Ruth, was very knowledgeable and helpfully pointed out the wall paintings.  Little is known about the people who created these paintings.  With archeological dating, the pictographs are estimated to be between 4000 and 6000 years old.
The paintings are of a style unique to the trans Pecos area of Texas although similar paintings have been found elsewhere.  However, since the painters' people have disappeared without descendants in the area, the meaning of the symbols represented in the pictographs is unknown.
"Deer's head" symbol replicated in Worrell's statue The Peace Maker

The pictographs are deteriorating visibly and the guide says that a method of preserving them has not been found.  Fortunately, intricate and precise drawings have been made, and preserved, of each painting.  That will preserve the memory of the paintings, but their creators are lost forever without a trace.  What a loss for all later generations!
Seminole Canyon Visitor's Center on the canyon rim
This morning we said "goodbye" to Seminole Canyon.  We were grateful for the beauty with which it had surrounded us for several days and for the knowledge of its history, shared with us.  But, Big Bend is calling our names!