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  Texas : Towns A-Z / Ghost Towns / West Texas : Terlingua


Texas Ghost Town
Brewster County, West Texas
80 miles Sof Alpine
95 miles SW of Marathon
4 miles W of Study Butte
13 miles E of Lajitas

Population: Study Butte-Terlingua CDP. 267 (2000)

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Highway 118 to Terlingua Texas
Terlingua Highway 118. Photo courtesy Byron Browne, 2006


by Byron Browne
Terlingua is a town resolutely opposed to any inclination towards modernization. It is a place that offers few outward indications of its reluctant progression into the 21st century: the post office, with its dark brick walls and smoked glass, is clearly a recent addition to the landscape; the gas stations advertise $2.20 a gallon prices. Wait, I have that wrong. Suggesting that Terlingua has more then one gas station is incorrect. There is another however, it is 5 miles down the highway, 5 miles closer to the dark silhouettes of Mexico's mountains, in Terlingua's sister village, Study Butte. The only other stations are either 80 miles north in Alpine or 95 miles northwest in Marathon.

My wife and I left Austin for Terlingua the first weekend of November, the same weekend as the International Chili Cook-Off... next page
Storm over Terlingua Texas
Storm over Terlingua

Photo courtesy Richard Berger
Terlingua  Texas sign
A representative view of Terlingua

TE Photo
History in a Pecan Shell

Terlingua started as a simple Mexican village on Terlingua Creek just North of the Rio Grande. The name Terlingua is a corruption of Tres Lenguas or three languages (tongues) that were spoken by the inhabitants of the village.

When mercury-bearing ore was discovered in the 1800s, a mine was opened and the tent village of the laborers and miners appropriated the name Terlingua. The village became known as Terlingua Abajo, or "Lower Terlingua".

At the turn of the century there were about 300 workers and they had their own post office.

By 1905 the population was over 1,000 and when the mine closed in 1910, the post office moved 10 miles East, keeping the name Terlingua.
Terlingua Cemetery
The Cemetery at Terlingua

TE Photo

The cemetery at Terlingua is still maintained (somewhat), although the miners buried here are probably mostly forgotten to their families.

Its primitive and barely decipherable system of grave identification and handmade markers make it a rather picturesque photo opportunity for some people. Frequent mowing is not a problem in Terlingua.

In the 1920s, Terlingua produced 40% of the Quicksilver produced in the U.S. The town was split along ethnic lines with the Mexican laborers living on the East side.

A school was built in 1907, but it was only a tent-like structure. It wasn't until 1930 when the permanent school - named after mine owner Howard Perry was finally opened.

Starlight  Dinner Theatre in Terlingua Texas
The adobe theatre at Terlingua
The former movie theatre is now a dinner-theater.
Photo courtesy John Darsnek
Terlingua became a household word due to a war of words between Dallas Morning News Columnist/ Chili gourmet Francis X. Tolbert (the X, like the S in Harry S. Truman, stands for nothing) and a columnist for Holiday magazine. The barbed words led to a challenge which lead to the first big chili cook-off back in the early 60s. The Holiday critic who had written such scathing articles about chili in, ended up retiring in Terlingua a few years after his visit there.

Tolbert wrote A Bowl of Red in 1962. This ode to chili stirred up an renewed interest in the under-appreciated and nearly (at one time) omnipresent Texas dish.

Shortly after the book's success, Mr. Tolbert founded the Chili Appreciation Society International. Fellow columnist Wick Fowler became a charter member and helped spread CASI. He even opened a Chapter in Vietnam in 1969. Fowler shared his particular recipe in the form of a kit he first marketed in 1964. It's still sold today.

CASI is an organization that uses its love of Chili to raise funds for a variety of charities and worthy causes through regional cook-offs and competitions.

See The Naming of Chili by Luke Warm
More Texas Ghost Towns
West Texas
A chili sign in Terlingua
"How long since you've painted your ad down in Terlingua?"
"Well, Podner, that's too long."
TE photo
Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center
HC 70, Box 375 Terlingua TX 79852


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Terlingua Texas Forum

  • Study Butte and Terlingua
    As is often the case, I found your site while searching Google--this time for information on Study Butte and Terlingua. Your description of Study Butte, comparing and contrasting it with Terlingua, is *FABULOUS* and right on the mark. ... Thanks for the laughs, the information and the great photos. - King Douglas, January 12, 2005

  • Study Butte and Terlingua
    ... I was planning to stay one evening in Terlingua or Study Buttes in Brewster County before going into Big Bend National park for a couple of days. Can you hear me laughing with embarrassment from there. I have a 1996 Rand McNally Travel Atlas and it shows Mentone and Terilingua as in the same population symbol as Gladewater, Texas (the town I grew up in about 6000 people). I also have a 1997 Texas Road Map and it shows all three towns. It uses the 25,000 and under population size marker for all three towns. It never occurred to me to verify how many people were actually in the town. After reading your site I read the population counts on the Texas Road map: Mentone has 50 people Terlingua has 25 people Study Butte has 120 people. .. I enjoyed your Texas Ghost town site. - Alvin Bittner, December 20, 2001
    To share history or photos of Terlingua, Texas, please contact us.

    John Troesser
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