The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips: Horsehead Crossing, Pecos River

Old Western trails funneled through the low-water crossing in the West Texas desert

By Gerald E. McLeod, July 17, 2015, Columns

Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River was one of the most important sites in the Old West. A good percentage of the traffic crossing the West Texas desert forded the river here.

The deep cuts in the river bank are still evident even though sand dunes and silt have covered the wagon tracks and prints of thousands of hooves. A lonely gray stone marker placed near the crossing for the state's 1936 centennial serves as a headstone for the famous site that cattleman Charles Goodnight called the "graveyard of cowman's hopes."

On maps, the fading headwaters of the Concho River points to the 90-mile dry-land trek to the brackish waters of the Pecos. The sun-bleached bones of animals poisoned by the briny water marked the trail to the crossing.

Comanche raiding parties camped here as they traveled between the Llano Estacado and Mexico. The first mail road from San Antonio to El Paso utilized the crossing. Butterfield stagecoaches stopped at a station near the crossing. Forty-niners stepped in the muddy waters on their way to the California gold fields. The Goodnight-Loving Trail followed with cattle to feed the hungry miners. For nearly 50 years the crossing extracted a grim toll.

Horsehead Crossing is off FM 11, 11 miles north of the ghost town of Girvin. A large metal sign marks the dirt road leading to the river. The piles of bones are gone, but the loneliness of the spot documented by Spanish explorers and pioneers endures.

1,251st in a series. Collect them all. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips," is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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