Big Bend Properties
The Tidewater and Big Bend Foundation’s operations in the Big Bend region of West Texas are centered in Presidio County. The county has a total landmass of 3,856 square miles but only 6,131 residents, according to the 2010 census. Other population indicators, like utility connections and students in school, would suggest a larger population. It is bordered to the South by the Rio Grande and its landscape ranges from rugged volcanic mountains to canyons and highland prairie. Archeologists believe the area has been continuously inhabited by humans since at least 7,000 B.C. According to noted Big Bend archaeologist Dr. Bryan Schroeder recent artifacts discovered by Sul Ross State University archaeologists establish the presence of early Clovis peoples in the region over 13,000 years ago. Fossilized footprint evidence discovered 200 miles to the northwest at White Sands National Monument suggests humans may have been present in the region as far back at 21,000 years ago. In Presidio County over a dozen tribes and subtribes have been documented in the area including the Mescalero Apaches, Comanches, Jumanos, Cíbolos, and others.
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca made the first documented Spanish incursion into the region in 1535. According to Texas Tech Professor Dr. Nancy Hickerson, Cabeza de Vaca and his companions walked down Cíbolo Creek where they spent two nights at a village of Native Americans that he called “la gente de las vacas” or “the cow people,” because they subsisted on the enormous buffalo herds in the region for both food and trade goods.
In 1540, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led a large expedition into today’s American Southwest in search of the fabled city of Cíbola. When he encountered bison he called them “toros de Cíbola” or the “bulls of Cíbola.” It was a small step to start calling them cíbolos, which became the archaic Spanish word for bison. The “gente de las vacas” became the “gente de los cíbolos” and finally just the Cíbolos. Their village or “rancheria,” where Cabeza de Vaca stopped, was located on the site of the current Cibolo Creek Ranch headquarters, just northwest of Shafter, TX., and the creek they lived beside became Cíbolo Creek.
Cabeza de Vaca continued down Cíbolo Creek to the junction of the Río Grande and its principal tributary, the Río de los Conchos, where they found a thriving farming community. The early Spanish called the village La Junta de los Ríos or the Junction of the Rivers, where they established a fort called Presidio del Norte. Today, the communities on the two sides of the Río Grande are known as Ojinaga, Chihuahua and Presidio, Texas. It has been an agricultural and trade hub throughout its history and into the 21st century.
Following the Mexican-American War, John D. Burgess, John Spencer, and Ben Leaton founded the town of Presidio on the American side of the Río Grande. They were soon joined by Milton Faver who was operating a freight business between towns in Chihuahua and Presidio del Norte. These individuals opened stores, operated trade routes, and went on to control large swaths of the territory. During this time, the town of Presidio grew in population and importance.
In 1854, the U.S. Army built Fort Davis in the northern part of county, which was home to the famous Buffalo Soldiers, a regiment of Black cavalry. The outpost was established to protect travelers along the southern route to California from attacks by Native Americans. Milton Faver, in addition to his other business interests, was a pioneer trail driver, who drove cattle to market in New Orleans in the early 1850s. He is reputed to have owned tens of thousands of cattle in the Presidio area. With the announcement of the expansion of Fort Davis, he decided to establish Cíbolo Creek Ranch in 1857 to provide produce and livestock to the soldiers at Fort Davis. In the 1850s, the country was open range, so he bought land around the major springs in the area. If someone controlled the springs, they controlled the land and could raise large herds of cattle. Cíbolo Creek Ranch is still in operation today and is managed as an operating cattle ranch, with a small boutique hotel providing visitors with elegant accommodations and hunting opportunities.
In the 1880s, John Spencer discovered silver in an arroyo near today’s Shafter. Together with Captain (later General) William Shafter who was stationed at Fort Davis, they founded the silver mine which operated on and off in Shafter, Texas until it was closed in 1942. It briefly reopened in 2012, but was closed again in 2013. Shafter had a peak population 1,400 in the 1940 census, but today is a ghost town with some 35 residents.
“The area around the present town of Presidio on the Rio Grande, known as La Junta de los Rios, is believed to be the oldest continuously cultivated farmland in Texas. About 1500 B.C., early farmers settled there to use the abundant water, fertile farmland and bountiful game. Since La Junta was located on an ancient and heavily traveled north-south trade route, its settlers absorbed the cultures of passerby.”
– Julia Cauble Smith, Texas State Historical Association
The Tidewater and Big Bend Foundation celebrates early America through the restoration of historical structures and preservation of art, artifacts and vast rural landscapes.
The Tidewater and Big Bend Foundation is growing and keenly interested in acquiring additional historical structures and rural land through purchases and tax-deductible donations. The Foundation’s creator, John B. Poindexter, continues to make substantial contributions to the Foundation’s efforts. He intends to donate his largest and oldest holding in the county in the coming years – Cibolo Creek Ranch.