in a Pecan Shell
In 1903 the first resident was Cipriano Hernández who bought land
and named the place Santa Helena. He irrigated the bottomland,
grew grain crops and opened the first store in the area.
Other Mexican families settled nearby in separate communities. Eventually
Castolon became the center for nearly 300 residents, almost all of
them subsistence farmers from Mexico. In 1910 the inhabitants requested
protection against border incursions from Mexico and a cavalry troop
was stationed there in 1911.
In 1919 the government leased four acres for a permanent cavalry troop.
Named Camp Santa Helena, it was never used. Other investors
opened a trading post and began commercial cotton
farming - moving in a gin in 1923. Alvino Ybarra, a Mexican immigrant
became the first Castolon postmaster in 1926. The post office was
granted under the name Castolon - making the name permanent.
In 1921 the army allowed independent businessman named Cartledge to
move his store into the never-used barracks and he bought the property
at government auction in 1925.
U. S. Immigration laws had been loosely enforced prior to 1927, but
that year many families voluntarily returned to Mexico rather than
After Big Bend National Park was established - the population declined
from 25 to only 3 and the post office closed in 1954. Today the only
residents of Castolon are National Park employees. The Castolon store
remains open as one of the most visited stops in the park.
steam engine, the most enduring relic in Castolon
Photo courtesy Richard Berger, April 2004
I have long wondered about the particulars of the histories of both
sides of my family. On my father's side, its pretty well documented.
On my mother's, not so much. My mother passed away at the age of 73
seven years ago, and her parents were dead before I had a chance to
know them. I remember stories about great aunts I had never met or
even seen photos of living out their days in the harsh, secluded region
of the Chisos mountains. I was told of family hiding from the raids
of Pancho Villa, then conversely, hiding from patrols headed up by
General Pershing. To a young boy, all of this sounded right out of
a Wild West movie. Then, we moved to the west coast, then I, as an
adult, moved to New York, then to Miami, finally, now, to Atlanta.
Recently I have regained interest in my heritage, largely because
I feel so cut off from it. So in starting a genealogy search, I found
from census reports that my maternal grandfather, Juan Silva, was
listed as born in 1901, in Castolon, Texas. Sure enough! In the Big
Ben National Park! A lonely outpost amongst the mesquite, sagebrush,
and creosote. I can only imagine the hard scrabble life he had, being
an illiterate son of immigrants from Chihuahua, Mexico. I am so glad
that this little piece of history has been saved. - Gideon Alawine,
Powder Springs, Ga, January 09, 2017
Subject: Castolon Texas
Hi there, Tomorrow is my birthday. On August 10, 1939 I was born in
a house overlooking the Rio Grand in Castolon, Texas. My father was
raising pigs there. I was only about eight weeks old when there came
flash floods and washed all the pigs away and my family moved to Denver
looking for work. I understand the old house is still there and is
a ranger station for the park. Can you let me know if there are links
to more history of Castolon and more pictures? I always hoped to go
there but never had the money or the time. Thank you. - Phyllis Hodson,
August 10, 2004