This section is for our history buffs that love to know the story behind everything! We will continually be adding articles on a variety of subjects written by local and well known writers. On this page you will find articles covering all kinds of Texas history subjects, such as: Texas State Bison Herds, the Native Americans that inhabited these lands, the formation of the canyons themselves, and much much more! Before you make a trip to see us, take some time and read up on the story behind everything you will be experiencing. Texas has some of the most interesting history and in this part of Texas we have some of the most rich history you can find anywhere. This part of the country and state was home to some of the most critical points in our story. Taking the time to read a few of these articles will greatly enhance your time with us. You'll be able to see, understand and feel more while you are in the Caprock Canyon if you read up on the history than you would be otherwise. Your trip and experience here in the canyons will create moments you'll remember for life and will become part of your own personal history.
By: Frank G. Reeves
The Ghost Pony Herd of the Palo Duro Canyon, Fact or Fiction..
In 1874 in the Panhandle of Texas, the United States Army was interested in one thing and one thing only and that was to force all of the Native American Indian Tribes located in the Texas Panhandle back to their Reservations in Oklahoma. This was called the Red River War.
By the July 25th, 1874 General Sheridan, outlined his plan with General Sherman and issued orders for 5 Army columns to leave 5 posts and head toward the Palo Duro Canyon of the Texas Panhandle.
Col. Nelson Miles would strike southward from Ft. Dodge, Kansas. Major William Price would strike eastward from Ft. Bascom, New Mexico. Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie would strike toward the north from Ft. Concho, Texas. Col George Buell would strike toward the northwest from Ft. Griffen, Texas. And Lt. Col. Davidson would strike westward from Ft. Sill, Oklahoma Territory.
These columns were to operate without any boundaries or restrictions. Any Native American Indians the Army found were to be chased down and stripped of everything they were in possession of. (Horses, weapons, food, Tepee's, virtually everything except the clothes on their backs.) This would surely force the Indians back to the Reservations in Oklahoma where they would receive goods and clothing to survive and were not continually hounded by the Army.
In late September of 1874, Col. Ranald Mackenzie finally located the Winter Camp of the majority of Native American Indians in the Texas Panhandle. They were camped in what they thought was their Winter Camp Stronghold, a safe haven, under the steep canyon walls of Palo Duro Canyon.
It was a very large Indian camp of possibly 1/2 mile to a mile long, near where the Ceta Creeks flow into the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River. Today it's only a few miles east of the road turnaround in Palo Duro State Park. Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche Indians were camped there in their Winter Camp.
On the morning of September 28, 1874 Col. Mackenzie and his men found a very steep game trail on the Southside of Palo Duro Canyon just above the South Ceta Creek, and they navigated down the trail as quietly as possible to the canyon floor. The soldiers had almost made it when they were discovered by an Indian lookout. Shots were fired and the Indian Village was slow to react, thinking the shots were from someone hunting, since no one had ever disturbed them in their Winter Camp. What happened next was called the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.
Col. Mackenzie instructed his troops to locate the pony herd and try to capture them. Very few men and Indians were killed from the fighting, because the Indians nearly all headed for cover west up the Ceta Creeks. The Indian Villages were ordered to be burned and the food cashes destroyed. Mackenzie's men then miraculously led the Indian Pony Herd back up the trail the soldiers had come down, holding the large group of ponies and horses at the top until all of the soldiers made it out of the canyon.
Just before dark all of Col. Mackenzie's men had made their way out of Palo Duro Canyon. The ponies and horses were herded into a moving corral of Calvary columns formed into a long rectangle with the Indian Ponies in the middle. Then by moonlight, the soldiers drove the herd toward their Supply Camp at the head of Tule Canyon, about 25 miles to the Southeast. (Sounds easy on paper doesn't it.)
Early on the morning of the 29th of September at about 2 A.M., Col. Mackenzie and his men with the Indian Pony Herd arrived at Supply Camp where the wagon tenders and infantry corralled the Indian Pony Herd with use of Tule Canyon's walls and a makeshift corral of Army wagons and ropes. Mackenzie and his men were exhausted, they grabbed a bite of food and went to bed and left the wagon tenders and infantry soldiers to watch over the Pony Herd.
The next morning Col. Mackenzie finally had come to terms about what to do with the Indian's Pony Herd. He let the Indian Scouts and some of the officers pick out a couple hundred head of the best Horses and Ponies. He then announced that the remainders of the Pony Herd, about 1,100 horses, were to be shot. Mackenzie knew if they were not destroyed the Indians would steal them back in time. Mackenzie knew that without the horses and ponies, the Indians surely would be forced back to their Reservations in Oklahoma and Indian Territory.
There has been another version of what happened to the Pony Herd, it's where the Calvary stampeded the Pony Herd off of the cliff canyon walls of Tule Canyon. There is one big problem with that scenario is that where the Pony kill site is the canyon walls are not steep enough to kill an Indian Pony. It could have killed a few but it would have mostly crippled the Pony's, I personally don't believe that scenario took place. What I do believe is the Ponies were roped a few at a time and led to a designated spot and then shot, until all were killed.
By the end of the day of September 29, 1874 the Indian Pony Herd had been destroyed. The stench of the dead animal carcasses was horrible. Mackenzie moved his camp back to the west on two different occasions within the next few days to avoid the smell.
The Battle of Palo Duro Canyon was over, and the grim job of shooting the Indian Pony Herd was done, but it had to be done. We'll I had to tell you that story to tell the next story. It's about the legend of the Ghost Pony Herd that traverses the Canyons from time to time or so they say.
Many campers of the Palo Duro and Tule Canyons have been awakened in the middle of the night by what sounded like horse and pony hooves vibrating the ground to the extent that it was thought to be a stampede, as the sound echoed down the Canyons. But when closely examined there was not a trace of a stampede or even a hoof mark on the ground.
So as the Legend goes the Pony Herd still to this day wanders the Palo Duro Canyons from time to time as their Ghost Herd rumbles down the Canyons, still in search of the Indian Camp they belong to, searching and searching but never finding their home of so many years ago now.
Come by Swisher County Museum we would Love to have you stop by. Swisher County: "Home of the Richest Land and the Finest People."
By: Rick Day
Our west Texas Canyonlands makeup a very colorful and historically interesting part of our area. Within the stratified canyon walls and slopes are found clues that hint to the great changes our area has undergone.
Starting at the top of our canyons, one might find very white to grayish layers of sediment and rock. These layers represent our Pleistocene epoch. During this time, our area experienced the changes brought on by various ice ages affecting North America. Our area didn’t experience the great ice sheets of the North but did have a great deal of precipitation. This high volume of rain formed many large freshwater lakes and streams. These Pleistocene lake and stream environments are responsible for the whitish sediments. Sometimes within these white deposits, fossil bones and teeth can be observed. These are the remains of animals which roamed our area. Great herds of huge elephants and bison along with equally large herds of smallish horses and pronghorns roamed our ancient plains. Along with these herbivores, large carnivorous animals such as short faced bears, American lions, saber cats and dire wolves prowled. These are just some of the fossils one might encounter while roaming our uppermost canyon layer.
Along with fossils, some interesting minerals can be viewed in the Pleistocene beds. In some of these deposits delicate selenite gypsum roses can be observed. These so-called roses are selenite gypsum crystal twins which have incorporated white sand grains into their crystal makeup. Sometimes in distant hills composed of Pleistocene age sediments one might see what appears to be broken glass scattered along the slopes. Upon closer inspection, what appeared to be glass, actually turns out to be large transparent clear to golden colored selenite gypsum crystals. These crystals cleave or split easily in one direction leaving very flat surfaces which are highly reflective. These large selenite crystals don’t twin as much or incorporate sand grains in their crystals like the earlier mentioned selenite roses. Even though these two types of Pleistocene crystals look completely different they are composed of the same mineral, gypsum. The large selenite gypsum crystals and selenite roses were apparently formed as the result of partial evaporation of the large freshwater lakes of the Pleistocene during drought conditions.
Below the white Pleistocene layers are found very thick pinkish Pliocene layers. These deposits are for the most part very homogenous siltstones. Fossils and crystals are rarer here. These pink sparsely vegetated beds sometimes form large blowouts or deflated areas as a result of wind erosion. These deflated areas can form interesting smooth looking rounded landscapes which then in turn are cut further by meandering ravines or drainages forming a very unusual moon like landscape. The base of the Pliocene beds however are quite different. Here instead of pink siltstones one can see sands, gravels and cobblestones of many different types. All of the Pliocene deposits are the result of massive amounts of water flowing from the western Rocky Mountains. The basal Pliocene represents much higher stream energy or water flow as can be easily seen by the much larger sediments of sand, gravel, and cobblestones. Within the gravel and cobblestone beds some of the most interesting rocks and fossils can be seen. These basal gravels and cobbles are a virtual rock laboratory. All three major rock classes, igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary, can be seen here. Igneous rocks such as the pink crystal granites, sometimes containing small red garnets to the lighter colored igneous rocks containing small black crystals such as hornblende occur. Metamorphic rocks such as gneiss which contain glittery gold and silver mica flakes are quite common. Metaconglomerate is another colorful rock that can be identified by the multiple reddish and bluish inclusions scattered within the rock. These colorful blotches within the Metaconglomerate were once individual pebbles, but through metamorphic processes were incorporated more concretely into the rock. Translucent to transparent quartzites can also be found. These hard rounded stones can be rubbed or hit together and upon impact will cause what is called triboluminescence, a cold form of light. This interesting phenomenon also produces a sulfur-like smell. These quartzite and quartz rocks are sometimes called lightning stones. Other rocks of interest which are found in the basal Pliocene sedimentary conglomerates are milky translucent common opal, colorful agates and petrified wood cobblestones.
The next major layer underneath the Pliocene deposits are the Triassic period beds. Triassic deposits are made mainly of siltstones, sandstones and conglomerate rocks. These rocks represent ancient creeks, rivers and lakes. Large pieces of petrified wood, even whole tree trunks, can be seen in certain areas of the Triassic layers. These petrified trees can occasionally be several feet thick and tens of feet long. Some trees and wood fragments partially consist of lignite coal. Features such as knots, forks and bark are sometimes present. Open pockets within some trees even contain sparkly quartz and calcite crystals.
In some areas of the Triassic deposits teeth, bone, and armor plates can be observed. These fossils are the remains of ancient pre-dinosaur reptiles such as the crocodile like phytosaurs, rauisuchians, once thought to be an early ancestor of T Rex, and the heavily armored armadillo-like aetosaurs to name a few. Large amphibians such as the giant salamander, Metoposaurus, and petrified fish droppings called coprolites can be seen in Triassic lake deposits.
Colorful iron oxide minerals such as yellow limonite and red hematite are commonly seen in some Triassic deposits. These minerals commonly form interesting shaped rocks called concretions. These concretions often have rounded shapes but many times form odd randomly shaped stones that can be easily mistaken for fossils or Native American artifacts, but are actually just quirky objects that nature is so good at creating. Another misleading and interesting product of nature found in our canyon walls are the dendrites. These black manganese oxide crystals naturally grow in fractures of rock. These dendrites, for all the world, look like leaf or fern fossil imprints but are just mult-branched mineral crystals, but are still quite extraordinary looking. Toward the bottom of the Triassic beds another very colorful mineral, Tecovas Jasper, can be found. This jasper usually occurs as large colorful masses: red, brown, yellow and white being the more common colors. Native Americans made great use of this mineral, producing all sorts of tools such as arrowheads, knives, etc.
Below the Triassic layers we have the last geologic layer in our canyons, the Permian period layer. This Permian rock is composed mainly of orangish red to brown mudstones, siltstones and sandstones. These rock deposits represent long gone Permian age seas that once occupied our area. The Permian rock of our area rarely contains fossils, however a hike through the Permian layers can reveal several very interesting types of gypsum. One type of gypsum, satin spar gypsum , can be found in the walls of the numerous gullies and ravines as crisscrossing veins. These white and clear veins are thought to be the result of deeper underground mineral solutioning which then caused cracking deformation of the Permian layers. These cracks within the Permian layers were then filled with gypsum. Large layers of gyp rock or alabaster gypsum can also be found here in the red Permian rock. These larger alabaster gypsum layers can be many feet thick and can be very colorful. White, pink, and a greenish gray are common colors, and the textures of the gypsum masses can be quite interesting and variable. This type of gypsum is thought to be the result of individual microscopic gypsum crystals settling out and forming a sort of gypsum mud. Another form of gypsum sometimes found associated with the alabaster gypsum is selenite gypsum. This selenite gypsum forms fairly transparent crystals of gypsum which can grow to several inches long.
The things listed above are just some of the many interesting geologic things a person can see on a visit to our Canyonlands.