you’re looking for a ghost, it figures you’d go to a ghost town to find one.|
But when Terry Cole came to the Dimmit County town of Catarina
from McAllen several years ago,
he sought employment as a construction worker, not an encounter with the supernatural.
Even so, he ended up with both.
One spring night in 1999, Cole and an
acquaintance sat watching television in the second-floor common area of the old
Catarina Hotel, built in 1926 during Catarina’s heyday.
courtesy Robert Vahle, June 2011
| “I happened to look
away from the TV and saw a ball of smoke moving down the hall,” Cole recalls.
“I just went back to watching TV. But the guy with me said, ‘Did you see that?
What are you going to do if a ghost comes in your room?’”|
Not being afraid
of ghosts, Cole replied: “My room’s got two beds. The ghost can have the other
one.” Other guests have reported seeing a headless apparition wandering the hotel,
but the smoky blob is all Cole ever saw.
“I’d hear creaking noises at
night,” he said, “but it’s an old building. In the heat of the day it expands
and it cools off at night.”
Ghost stories make for interesting folklore,
but Catarina has a much more
tangible history, grounded in the development of transportation.
before Catarina got started,
the Camino Real, the old Spanish road from Mexico to Louisiana, cut through the
The fate of one person traveling Texas’ first “interstate” probably
provided the area its name. According to Cole, Catarina — her last name long since
lost to history — was a young Spanish woman killed by Indians in the vicinity
of the future town. A stream not far from where she died became known as Catarina
Creek. As the Handbook of Texas reports, historians have found the name connected
to the area as far back as 1778.
The name also could have been in honor
of Santa Catarina de Siena -- canonized in 1461 -- the patron saint of everything
from fire prevention to temptation. Or, speculating further, the young woman killed
by Indians could have been named for the popular saint.
No matter how
Catarina got its name, more
than 200 years later the Camino Real made a logical route for the railroad to
follow when Asher Richardson bankrolled a new line connecting Carrizo
Springs with the International and Great Northern Railroad at Artesia Wells.
The proposed route cut through the Taft-Catarina Ranch, which gave Richardson
right of way in exchange for a depot from which the ranch could ship cattle.
When the railroad began running in 1910, ranch foreman Joseph F. Green moved
the pasture company’s headquarters to a site near the depot and adjoining cattle
pens and a small town soon developed. When the ranch management expanded into
irrigated farming, a development project called Catarina Farms brought all the
modern amenities, including the Catarina Hotel.
long as the water pumped from the nearby artesian wells, Catarina
thrived. But the wells played out and Catarina
began to dry up, literally and figuratively. The Depression didn’t make things
any better. The hotel, a stopping place on U.S. Highway 83, saw its last guests
in the early 1950s. By the 1990 census, Catarina
had only 45 residents.
water never came back, but the hotel did. In 1997, new owners reopened the long-boarded
structure for the first time since the early days of the Cold War. It has had
two owners since then, but the property has been renovated and does a steady business
during the South Texas dove, quail,
deer and turkey seasons.
Just across the highway, to give hunters a place
to pick up a gift for the wives they left behind, a combination antique and gift
store has been in business for several years.
A few blocks past the antique
store, partially hidden by mesquite, is the old Catarina School. The building
has fallen to ruin, but its poured concrete structure assures that the skeleton
will survive for years to come.
Farther down the highway, the town’s
once lavish swimming pool — part of the Catarina Farms development — is debris-filled.
The country club building adjacent to it is long gone.
The Catarina cemetery,
located at the end of a winding unpaved road a couple of miles from town, is overgrown
with mesquite, though some burials occurred there in the 1980s and 1990s. But
the location of the final resting place of the woman who gave the area her name
is as uncertain as the existence of the ghosts who supposedly haunt the old hotel.
October 6, 2005 column
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing
Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history and vintage/historic
photos of their town, please contact
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