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 Texas : Features : Texas Rivers : Pecos River

The Pecos River as Folklore
Horsehead Crossing,
Castle Gap, and Pecos the word

by TE's Crusty Sidekick
Brewster Hudspeth

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The word Pecos has that rare mix of mystery and simplicity. Even if you don't pronounce it properly (Pay cuss) it's still fun to say. Since it doesn't mean anything, it doesn't get much use outside of the geographic reference. The reference is always "West of the Pecos" - never "East of the Pecos".

Pecos Bill wouldn't be remembered if he was Trinity Bill or Salt-Fork-of-the-Brazos Bill. Guadalupe Bill? Medina Bill? I don't think so.
Pecos truck of cantaloupes
Pecos cantaloupes are so famous, they'll loan money on them.
TE Photo
Commercially, Pecos is world-renowned for its cantaloupe. Sweet, uncomplicated, moisture-laded, rough-skinned globes from an arid semi-desert landscape. Here again we have both mystery and simplicity.

The fame of the melons was spread when they were served in the dining cars of the Texas Pacific Railroad.

Horsehead Crossing

Although the exact location varied and can't be pinpointed, there is a marker 7 miles South of the town of Crane at Hwy 385. The marker's text describes the shallow-water ford that was used more than 100 years before the river was dammed. The name comes from the number of animal skulls that were found on the riverbanks. It is believed that parched animals drank themselves to death when they finally reached water.

The crossing was also an important site on the Butterfield Stage Route (1858-1861) which linked the Saints of Louis and Francisco.
Castle Gap, Upton County
Castle Gap
Upton County between Crane and McCamey
Photo Courtesy of Fiddle Blue
Castle Gap, "where the gold is buried"
Photo Courtesy of Fiddle Blue

Castle Gap

Only 12 miles north-northeast from Horsehead Crossing is the legendary Castle Gap. The mile-long break in the ridge of the Castle Mountains requires that the two peaks be given separate names. King Mountain is on the southern end; while Castle Mountain is the northern peak.

Everyone who was anyone in West Texas history seems to have visited the Gap, beginning with Cabeza de Vaca. The scouting expedition of Captain Felipe Teran is believed to have visited the Gap as well as multitudes of Comanches and later Texas Ranger "Rip" Ford. It was also used by the Butterfield Stagecoach Line as a way station. Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight later made the Gap a crossing on their soon-to-be-famous cattle trail.

The railroad went south of the Gap and decreased traffic allowed erosion to close the road for some time.

There have been no fewer than eight separate stories of buried treasure in or around the Gap. Outlaw gold, Mexican Gold, Butterfield Stagecoach money and even riches from Maximilian's short-lived "Empire of Mexico".
Pecos the Word
Pecos used to be used as a verb. Like Shanghai. It meant to rob someone and roll the body down a steep river bank where it was unlikely to be found until you were long gone. Murder was optional. It's not heard much anymore, since criminals now don't go to the the effort of concealing their crimes.

I Pecos ---- We Pecos
You Pecos ---- Y'all Pecos
He, she or it Pecoses ---- They Pecos


Examples
:
My wife Pecosed her first three husbands.
That was the Sheriff, y'all Pecosed last night.
I was learnin' my boy to Pecos when I got snakebit.
There's been a lot of Pecosin' goin' on at the Sheffield Riverwalk.

Pecos is best remembered for it's geographic employment by "Judge" Roy Bean. He was "The Law West of the Pecos" and I think the phrase should have been retired with his death. It seems every small business "West of the Pecos" has been tempted to use the phrase in their advertising. I want to thank businesses that resisted the temptation. It is second only to "The best little (whatever) in Texas" as a worn out advertising slogan.

There's the "Best Barbecue West of the Pecos" and "The Biggest Doughnuts West of the Pecos". There's even "The Law(yer) West of the Pecos" in Marathon. No one claims to be the biggest, brightest or shiniest of anything "East of the Pecos".

The only place you can be in West Texas that isn't West or East of the Pecos is actually on the Pecos. This is exactly where San Angelo Standard-Times reporter Sandra Billingsley made a recent canoe trip with her husband. Click here for a detailed description and close look of the rarely seen last 60 miles of the Pecos.

John Troesser
August 2001


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