Who, what, when and why was Briscoe County settled?
By Jerry Leatherman
(President of Comanchero Canyons Museum, Quitaque, Texas)
This semi-arid part of the southern Texas panhandle and south plains we now claim as our own has been described by travelers through the last few hundred years as a barren desert and uninhabitable waste land. The topography has changed little during recent centuries. Today as I research and roam around looking for old trails, camps and conflict sites I see huge hidden valleys and ravines that suddenly appear out of a flat rolling seemingly endless grassland. I am in awe of what I see and discover. I am amused, but not surprised, that I frequently hear museum visitors from afar describe this area as awesome, beautiful, etc.
The human occupation timeline of this area can be argued as plus or minus hundreds or thousands of years. what was it that drew people to this hostile and unsettled land to live? Although the earliest residents may have only been here for a few months hunting eventually some decided to make roots in this seemingly inhospitable land. Come and visit and you may find some answers and feel compelled to ask even more questions.
Native Americans, Spanish explorers, Buffalo hunters, U.S. Cavalry, cowboys, Texas Rangers and pioneers all are part of the jigsaw puzzle that comes together to explain how this unique part of Texas grew to maturity.
1 A.D. to 1000 A.D.
A shift from the Archaic era to the Late Prehistoric era took place when arrow points became smaller and the bow and arrow was invented. The first people commonly known in the Texas Panhandle who used the bow and arrow are known to archaeologists as the Palo Duro people. They probably came from the southwest around 1 AD to 500 AD. They used small arrow points with deep corner-notches and made thick brown-ware pottery. They used very little Alibates flint, although some Alibates flint was used for arrow points.
A few hundred years later, people believed to be from the eastern Woodland tribes came to the Texas Panhandle. They made cord-marked pottery and used arrow points with shallow notches. They may have been the first people to grow corn in the Panhandle.
1150 A.D. to 1450 A.D.
The Antelope Creek people lived in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles between 1150 AD and 1450 AD. Here in Texas along a small section of the Canadian River, the Antelope Creek people dug hundreds of quarries over a period of three hundred years. Alibates flint (silicified or agatized dolomite occurring n Permian-age outcroppings) exposed to the elements over a long period of time becomes fractured and breaks incorrectly when being knapped.
The Antelope Creek people seemed to realize that the underground flint is better quality than exposed flint and preferred for making into stone tools. They apparently used bison bone tools to dig down four to six feet below the surface to reach the Alibates flint. It was pried out of the dolomite layer and shaped into a two-sided piece of flint that could be carried, called a biface or quarry blank. The blanks were then carried to the village approximately a mile away. Much of the flint was traded with other tribes. Some quarry blanks have been discovered in historic times buried (cached) in scattered bunches across this area. One such cache is displayed at Comanchero Canyons Museum in Quitaque.
The Antelope Creek people were one of two Plains Village cultures to use masonry in their homes. Early archaeologists thought that the Antelope Creek people had come from the New Mexican Pueblo Indians, but now many believe that they came from eastern Woodland tribes. The Antelope Creek people apparently left the Texas Panhandle abruptly around 1450 AD, perhaps forced to leave by drought conditions, disease, or hostile Apaches. They may have gone east and joined other Caddoan-speaking tribes, such as the Pawnee or Wichita.
1450 A.D. to 1700 A.D.
The Apaches in the Texas Panhandle originally came south from Canada. They lived here until around 1700 when the Comanches forced them to flee south and west. After the Antelope Creek people left the Texas Panhandle the Apaches were the primary users of Alibates flint quarried by the previous inhabitants. Evidently a large amount of the high-quality flint exposed by Antelope Creek quarries that were used.
The Apaches were nomadic and relied on the bison as their primary source of food like many North American tribes. Every part of the bison was used. The meat, brain, and some of the organs were eaten. Sinew was used for thread and bowstrings, and the bones were made into tools. The bladder and stomach were used for water storage. Dried dung was burned for fuel since firewood was unavailable over most of the Plains, and the hide was made into clothing. The bison were hunted on foot until the horse was introduced into the Plains when the Spaniards arrived.
Spaniards with Coronado 1541 A.D.
In 1541-1542 Spanish Captain-General Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led over 1,000 in an expedition made up primarily of allied (subjugated) native Indians from Mexico across New Mexico into Texas. They camped in a wide canyon where they were battered by a violent hail storm. Later they moved into what many archaeologists believe was the Blanco Canyon in Floyd County where many period artifacts have been recovered at the Jimmy Owens site. Here they enjoyed a primarily friendly stay at a village of Indians identified as “Teyas” that some believe may have been a tribe branched off from the Caddoans. Coronado took a small party north into Kansas seeking (but not finding) wealth. Meanwhile he sent the bulk of his expedition back where they came from.
Comanches 1700 A.D.-1875 A.D.
The Comanches controlled a large part of what is now Texas and neighboring states due to their expertise in utilizing a horse centered culture. The Comanches were possibly the first Plains Indians to conduct warfare from the back of a horse. A Comanche warrior could ride bareback while leaning over one side shooting arrows and could pick a grown man off the ground while riding at full speed. The Comanches were expert horse-breeders, and both males and females were accomplished riders. They drove most Apaches out of the panhandle into New Mexico and further south in Texas. A former opponent that desired a peaceful relationship with the Comanches was the Kiowas. Beginning in the late 1700s and continuing today peace remains for the most part with these two warlike tribes.
The Comanches had driven the Apaches west into New Mexico and south out of what we know as the Texas Panhandle and South Plains region of Comancheria.
Native Americans identified by archaeologists as Clovis, Folsom, Plainview, Palo Duro or Antelope Creek are thought to be the earliest residents of the Texas Panhandle and South Plains area.
Mastodons and other prehistoric creatures’ bones are found in this area. Bison Antiquus (predecessors of modern bison aka buffalo) roamed this area and apparently were a hunting target of the earliest human hunter/gatherers here.
1528 Apache occupation may have begun in Texas around this time.
1541 Coronado lead his entourage of soldiers, Indians and civilians into the area.
1700s Ciboleros and Musteneros
Late 1700s Comanches displaced Apaches
1808 Amangual commanded 200 Spanish soldiers through this area headed to Santa Fe to put down an Indian rebellion.
Late 1700s to about 1876 Comancheros developed trade with primarily Comanches and some Kiowas. This trade peaked with thousands of stolen cattle and horses changing hands between 1860 and 1874.
1841 Texan Santa Fe Expedition the majority of 325 men spent 20 plus days in Motley, Floyd and Briscoe Counties harassed by Kiowas that lived here at the time. They couldn’t find a way up the caprock to drive their wagons until guided by New Mexico Comancheros very familiar with this area and the trails to Santa Fe. Ultimately the entire expedition was taken captive and marched from Santa Fe to Mexico City on foot. Those physically unable to walk were executed along the way.
1852 U.S. Army 5th Infantry Captain Randolph Marcy led an expedition trying to locate the Red River headwaters. During that adventure He misidentified Tule Canyon as the source. One of the drawings in his report that he describes as the source turns out to be in a place in the Tule Canyon known as “The Narrows”. See 1877 below.
1872 4th U.S. Cavalry uses a captured Comanchero to guide Colonel Mackenzie and his troops on a journey to solve the mystery of navigation across Llano Estacado thus creating what is still known as the Mackenzie Trail.
1874 – 1875 Buffalo War aka Red River War drives most Native Americans out of Texas to reservations in Indian Territory in what is now western Oklahoma.
1876 Charles Goodnight/John Adair cattle herd driven from Colorado to Palo Duro Canyon. Most believe this is the first large cattle ranch established in the Panhandle. This became the JA Ranch. The Tule and Quitaque ranches were added within a few years.
1877 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Ruffner’s survey of the U.S. Red River source proved that Captain Marcy in 1852 misidentified Tule Canyon as the source.
George Baker herd driven to Quitaque valley and established the Hat Ranch in Quitaque area. Took partner, J.O. Wren and Lazy F brand was used. Goodnight later purchased this ranch.
1882 Goodnight/Adair bought Hat/Lazy F 500 sections (included some school lands leased) and 20,000 head of cattle. Later called Quitaque Ranch by Goodnight when he obtained total ownership.
1889 Permanently settled panhandle
1890s Towns of Silverton and Quitaque were stage stops.
1892 Briscoe County organized