Big Bend Archeology

Volume 5, No. 2                       April 25, 1998

Big Bend Archeology is published periodically for educational and informational purposes only.  It is not intended as a forum for expressing a particular view, but is to give public notice regarding the activities of the Big Bend Archeological Society. Address inquiries to P.O. Box 1, Big Bend National Park, Texas 79834.

South Brewster County Faces More Mining

The Big Bend area has a history of mining. Prehistorically,  high quality stone was mined for use in the manufacture of tools. Historically, quicksilver mining began during the latter decade of the 1800s and continued sporadically until the mid 1900s. The Puerto Rico mine in Coahuila, Mexico produced lead, zinc, and silver, and the mines at Shafter, north of Presidio, were known for silver production. These mines form a rich part of the prehistoric and historic heritage of the region. Many visitors are interested in this part of the area’s history and in viewing the remains of mining centers and their associated communities.  Terlingua Ghost Town is probably one of the most photographed historical attractions (as well as having one of the best extant “watering holes” for thirsty travellers).

The mining of bentonite has been going on here for several years and the area now faces humate mining. Although humate has been scooped up from the surface in a few locations, it has never been extracted to the degree proposed by several mining interests. Instead of tunnelling down and removing minerals from underground as was done in quicksilver mining, this process involves stripping material from the surface.

Humate occurs in the upper Cretaceous layers that also contain the remains of dinosaur fossils, fossil wood, and other fossil remains from the period when this part of the earth was near the edge of the retreating ocean, around 65 million years ago. It is the remains of decayed plant material and co-occurs with low-grade, high sulfur content lignite. When disturbed, this brownish deposit is like the bentonite beds in which it is found, it powders easily and tends to cling to anything upon which the dust settles.

Consequently, local residents near the proposed mining are concerned not only about the dust produced from stripping humate from the surface and loading it into trucks, but from the humate dust which will fall from the trucks as they haul it to the railway at Alpine, Texas. Additionally, the trucks numbering 50 to 100 per day (estimated by the mining companies) will generate dust while travelling the dirt roads to the highway. Local citizens are concerned as well, by the potential increased runoff from rain storms, increased organic material entering area streams like Rough Run and Terlingua Creek. To mitigate road dust, the companies promise to wet down roads or harden them with an organic plant resin, each of which will draw down the precious water supply upon which everyone depends. These are only a few of the environmental concerns. There is also a real concern for the socio-economic impacts from this and associated activities.

One of the companies is currently promoting “fossil and rock hunting” tours to paying customers and these tours will also be stripping artifacts from area archeological and historical sites. If allowed to continue, the message that this kind of exploitive activity sends to residents and visitors alike is that of a free-for-all “grab it while you can before it’s gone” attitude.

As stated by one speaker at a recent citizens meeting at Terlingua Ranch, “Mining has gone on here for a long time, but that doesn’t mean it has to continue.” This may be true to some of the most concerned citizens, however, the mining of minerals and the collecting of artifacts and fossils from one’s own land is perfectly legal under state laws. Texas has never had to deal with the problems associated with the destruction caused by large scale mining as other states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, where laws and statutes were formulated to control the excessive damage to resources and environment alike. Consequently, a citizens group has arisen in response to gather information about the proposed mining, determine what legal recourse exists, and decide on courses of action. The Big Bend Citizens Alliance has established a bank account at the Quicksilver Branch of the First National Bank in Alpine, located in Terlingua, Texas to receive donations to help cover the extensive costs involved in their legal campaign.

The destruction of the archeological and historical heritage of the state of Texas and specifically of the Big Bend region, is of concern to the Big Bend Archeological Society. Stay alert and we’ll keep you posted.

El Paso Archeological Society Pleas
for Preservation of Hueco Tanks

The El Paso Archeological Society (EPAS) has expressed concern over the degradation of the Hueco Tanks State Park. The major concerns identified are (1) preservation of the unique rock art, (2) recreation, and (3) the environment.

Parliamentarian Marguerite Davis of the El Paso society stated in the EPAS newsletter for February 1998, “Families have enjoyed the natural beauty, the caves, and the rock art long before Hueco Tanks was a state park. Unfortunately, we have observed willful destruction as well as natural weathering of the thousands of paintings on the rocks, an integral part of our past. This has been documented by the El Paso Archeological Society in two publications since Kirkland (1940) first recorded the rock art.”

1. Using the maps in the publications and other reliable sources, appoint a knowleadgeable person or persons to produce a map of the sensitive areas. Exclude these areas from all use except for those with a guide. Schedule regular trips for public viewing.
2. Designate other areas for specific uses, such as professional and leisure climbing and picnicking.
3. Limit the number of visitors appropriate to the number of staff available to assist the public. Enlist additional volunteers in “Friends of Hueco Tanks,” and train them to assist park personnel.
4. Develop a (monthly/annual) planning calendar for tours/climbers/picnickers/visitors.
5. Publish a regular, weekly/monthly bulletin in the media with a phone number so that all interested persons can call in advance for space/activities.

Ms. Davis concluded, “It is unfortunate that such structure must be considered; however, population growth and public interest have dramatically increased at Hueco Tanks. Citizens shouldn’t drive to the park and be disappointed that they can’t get in, but neither should the preservation of this very special part of our past be left to chance.”

Livermore Cache

According to the Alpine Avalanche, the Livermore Cache will be on display at the Museum of the Big Bend on Sul Ross University Campus. Also, drawings of area rock art recorded by V.J. Smith will be on display.  Contact the Museum of the Big Bend for information about its operating hours by calling (915) 837-8143. Admission is free. 

Bull Roarer

Also called a Rhombus, the Bull-Roarer appears world wide, both in the archeological record and in modern practice among aboriginal peoples. The device is made from a variety of materials, from wood to bone, to stone, and is usually perforated at one end. A thong is passed through the perforation and is doubled, then knotted at the end most distant from the device. The thong is twisted and its end is held in the hand. The device is then twirled round and round overhead in a circular fashion. The weight of the device pulling on the thong causes centrifugal force to pull against the twist of the thong, thus untwisting it. As the twirling continues, the weight will cause the thong to retwist from its original direction until it twists tightly to its limit. It will then begin to untwist again in the opposite direction, and then retighten. Twirled overhead in this fashion, the device will wind and unwind, changing the direction of spin, and while passing through the air, making a buzzing sound. The size, shape and weight of the device will create sounds of differing frequencies according to its morphology.

The Bull-Roarer has been used for such things as calling to the spirit world to gain the attention of spiritual beings having influence over natural phenomena such as rain, wind, and other natural elements. The Bull Roarer is usually decorated with various symbols depicting or symbolizing clouds, lightning, raindrops, etc. The Apache are known to have used the device to call forth rains.

BBAS Web Site

During the last society meeting a decision was made to prepare a society web page. The site will have links to other societies and will have keywords linked to the World Wide Web that will trigger hits to our site where Internet visitors can get information about our society such as a list of officers,a copy of the newsletter, a statement of the purpose of the society, what our current activities are, and issues of regional importance.

The site is being provided at no cost to the society by Brooks Data of Alpine, Texas. The society thanks Brooks Data for their generous donation.

Texas Archeological Society Offers
Introductory Membership Discount

The Texas Archeological Society is offering a unique introductory membership rate of $12.00 (compared to the usual $25.00) to all local archeological society members in good standing who have not been a member of TAS during the last five years. TAS has prepared a Special Membership Form which is being distributed by local societies to eligible members. There is a signature line on the form for a local society officer to confirm that the new TAS member is also in good standing with the local group. The only way to access this offer is on the Special Form.

As you know, $12.00 is a real bargain for all the services and information one will reactive with this membership. The internationally recognized Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society is worth the cost of the regular membership by itself. In addition, members receive quarterly issues of the newsletter Texas Archeology to stay abreast of archeological happenings around the state and upcoming society events. We are excited about the development of a new quarterly color TAS popular magazine scheduled to be introduced by the end of the year. This magazine may well become the source of interesting information about Texas artifacts, archeological studies and the people who are working to expand public awareness of our dynamic cultural heritage. Members are also eligible to participate in the annual TAS Field School.

This year the TAS Field School is returning to Victoria June 12-20 to continue work on prehistoric and historic deposits at Mission Espiritu Santo. The Annual Meeting  will be held in Waco on October 23-25. It promises to be one of their best meetings ever.

If you are a member in good standing, the date shown adjacent to your name on the mailing label of this newsletter will indicate “98.” If it does not, please send in your membership renewal and we will be able to verify your standing and send your copy of the TAS Special Membership Form. 

The Texas Archeology Society Web Site
The Texas Archeology Society has an Internet web site at the following address: http://www/
Financial Report for 1997
    Membership Dues                              $220.00
Operating Expenses: 
    Volunteer Benefits - Postage                 23.91 
    Dues to Other Societies                         25.00 
    Telephone                                               12.80
Total Operating Expenses                               67.80
Operating Income:                                          152.02
Cash on Hand:                                                951.51
Total Current Assets:                                     951.51
Total Liabilities:                                                  0.00
    Retained Earnings                                406.77 
    Current Earnings                                  544.78
Total Equity                                                   $951.55

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