Have you seen the latest Yahoo! headline? LA is rationing water due to a three year drought. "What does that mean?", you might ask. There are too damn many people in LA using too much water. There isn't enough fresh water on Earth to support continued population growth. Here in Amarillo, our primary supply of water, Lake Meredith, is about 50 feet below normal. I remember constantly seeing reports of Edwards Aquifer depths on the SA news stations growing up. I once even got a warning for washing my car during a period of water rationing when I was in high school. During the summer months, as much as 40% of water use goes towards watering lawns. Aren't there some better uses for all that fresh water? What can you do to use less water? Our family's favorite saying about water conservation is, "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down". Build a rainwater catchment system at your house. If you have gutters, buy a few 50 gallon plastic barrels and catch water under your gutter spouts for use in watering your lawn and garden. Plant drought resistant plants and grass, or better yet, use xeriscaping to completely do away with the need for watering your yard. If population growth continues, the day will soon come when all major cities will need to start rationing water. Remember Atlanta last summer? Imagine what would happen with a prolonged drought in central Texas. Last year was bad enough, a year or two more of the same weather patterns could cause some serious concerns for all you central Texans. Anyway, I was just sharing my thoughts on the latest headlines.
My brother took a trip to Big Bend National Park, the lucky bastard, for a weekend of hiking and backpacking around the Chisos Mountains with his 10 year old son, Tyler. I would have liked to have gone along, but I didn't want to leave Marie at home on Valentine's Day and I had to go to work on Monday, so I would have ended up driving 18 hours for only one night of camping. Anyway, it had been awhile since my last outdoor adventure and I was beginning to get a little grumpy. Just ask Marie. So Friday morning after dropping the kids off at school I headed out to visit Palo Duro to get a little outside time to try to relax a bit. When I arrived, I bought a state park pass which will allow me to enter all parks in Texas for free for a whole year, which I have been meaning to do since we got here, then headed out to the Lighthouse trail (nice run-on sentence, huh Rachel). On The Lighthouse Formation is a big stone pillar that rises a few hundred feet into the air and if you ever see a picture of the canyon, it is usually a picture of the Lighthouse. I have now been out to the Lighthouse several times, so I decided to try out a new trail that leads away from the Lighthouse trail after about a quarter of a mile. It proved to be a great decision. As I jogged along the trail I scared up a cottontail rabbit and crossed paths with a four-point mule deer and his female companion. I followed the trail for a couple of miles then came upon a great pile of limestone boulders, perfect for practicing some rock climbing on. Evidently others had been there before as one of the rocks had "Brian's Castle" and "Dan" carved into it. After hopping around the boulders for a few minutes, I continued up the trail to the top of the mesa and the canyon rim. Here the trail disappeared. I had absolutely no desire to backtrack the several miles I had already come, so I went off trail in the general direction of the parking lot and trail head. After tip-toeing as daintily as I could around the dozens of patches of prickly pear, not always successfully, and getting scratched up a little by mesquite trees, which only grow about 8 feet high in this dry climate, I made it back to the canyon rim overlooking my truck about a mile away. I had no other choice but to scramble down a steep wash filled with little boulders and loose gravel. It is at times like this, when you know one slip could leave you stranded, off the main trail, and in trouble, that you truly begin to feel alive. I may be over-reacting to my own, not fear, but excitement, but I certainly felt a sense of necessity to be extremely cautious. I safely descended to the canyon floor and made it back to my truck on shaky legs from the eccentric contractions of walking downhill. On the way out of the park I passed a flock of 29 wild turkeys. I couldn't resist the temptation to do my best impression of a tom turkey as I stuck my tongue out and shook my head as fast I could to try to imitate a gobble sound. It must have been good because ten hens came running up to my truck. I didn't have any food for them so I drove out of the park feeling fully satisfied and ready to go back into the real world. I love being outside and on Friday, as the Abbey quote goes, my trail was "crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view".
John Parker, no blood relative of mine but related by name alone, moved his family and several of his dozen or so children’s families to East Texas in 1833. With the help of his sons, he built a fort near the Navasota River near present day Groesbeck. A re-creation of this fort stands today as part of Ft. Parker State Park. A visit to the park, one my family made with our friends the Millers, will give a small idea of what life was like for the Parker clan in the early part of the 1800’s. The supplies on their trip to Texas were limited due to the carrying capacity of the wagons used. Therefore, in the absence of nails, being too heavy to transport, all of the wood attachment was done using pegs inserted into holes dug out by a hand auger. The six small cabins where they lived were just large enough for a wood burning stove, a bed, a table and maybe a couple of chairs. The construction of the fort’s walls was rectangular in nature, with two tall gun battlements at diagonal corners to each other. These allowed for protection of all four walls. There was also a trap door of sorts that allowed the pioneers quick access to a nearby spring to resupply drinking water during times of siege. The work involved in creating a fort of this type and magnitude must have taken a great deal effort. It is hard to imagine the fortitude that our pioneer ancestors must have had in order to not only attempt to survive on the frontier, but in many cases thrive despite being far from home, in hostile territory, and having no means of resupplying the necessities of life besides those available in their surroundings. The need for a fort of this scale, and likely one much grander, was demonstrated on May 19th, 1836. On this fateful day, a large party of Native Americans, including Comanche, Kiowa, Caddo, and Wichita, raided the fort and killed 5 of its inhabitants, including the Elder John Parker. His mortal wounds included castration and scalping. The majority of the Parker clan was able to escape the bloodshed due to the bravery of the men who stayed behind, knowing full well they would die, to delay the Natives. Two children of the clan were captured and taken to live with the Comanche. Cynthia Ann Parker and her brother John Richard were taken and raised as Comanche Indians. John was ransomed six years after the massacre, but later returned to the Comanche tribe he left because he could not adapt to the lifestyle of the white settlers…imagine that. Cynthia Ann lived among the Comanche for 25 years, married the Comanche chief, Pete Nocona, and mothered three of his children. One of the most well known of the three being Quanah. During a raid on her new family, led by Sul Ross and the Texas Rangers, at the Battle of Pease River, Cynthia Ann was taken captive by the whites and later identified by her uncle. She died soon after her unhappy return to white society by starving herself following the death of her daughter, Prairie Flower. The fact that two different children raised among the Native Americans would rather stay with their captors than their own people raises great questions in my mind. How fulfilling must the Native American way of life been compared to the “civilized” way of life of our ancestors? What has the “civilization” of our country by European settlers done to the people that originally inhabited our homeland? We will never know. Quanah, Cynthia Ann’s Comanche son, a famous Comanche who I share a name with, and the last the chief of the Quahadi Comanche Tribe, was the leader one of the last free tribes roaming the panhandle of Texas in the 1870’s, at a time when other tribes were being forced into submission by the Texas Rangers and sent to live on reservations in Oklahoma and elsewhere. Quanah led his band of Quahadi Comanche into Palo Duro Canyon, my new favorite place to visit, in an attempt to hide out from a band of Texas Rangers led by Col. Ranald Mackenzie. Here, Quanah’s tribe, along with other Kiowa and Cheyenne Indians, attempted to hold out for a winter by stockpiling food and supplies. Palo Duro Canyon is a somewhat hidden location on the Llano Estacado. Due to the long, flat plains of the panhandle, one has a very limited sight distance, so while traveling along this part of the country, it can be quite hard to see the canyon until you are within just a mile or so of the canyon rim. On September 28th, 1874, Col. Mackenzie led his group of Rangers up the canyon from the south in an attempt to trap the few remaining free Indians in their canyon hide out. The Indians were quickly chased out of the canyon, with only a handful losing their lives. With the Indians gone, the Rangers burned all of their winter supplies and captured 1,400 of their horses, the majority of which were later slaughtered to prevent the Indians from getting them back. Without their supplies and horses, most of the Indians returned to the reservation at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. When I hike in the canyon, I often think about what it must have been like to make that canyon home. I wonder if I am walking a path that was walked by Quanah and his tribe and what they might have been doing in the place I know see. Quanah eventually became the appointed leader of all of the Comanche in Oklahoma. He took on many white customs and habits, learning the English language, dressing in business attire, and practicing white farming techniques. His cooperation with the whites helped end the Comanche resistance, a fact that led some Comanche to dislike Quanah. He also started the Native American Church Movement after seeing Jesus while tripping on peyote (a powerful hallucinogen), which he had consumed for its antibiotic qualities to treat a wound he had received in battle. Quanah later became wealthy from the Church and its trade in peyote. He eventually died on February 23rd, 1911, as we all have the pleasure of doing some day, and is buried next to his mother in Ft. Sill. For a long time I have had a strong interest in this man, mostly due to the fact that we share a last name. Reading about his story and visiting the places in Texas that are associated with his past bring a closer understanding for me of this great Indian leader.