National Geographic : 1968 Jan
these days, but the way is very much the same: Indians and highway engineers alike sought the easiest route. From about 1700 the Comanches lived in a vast oval of buffalo country. It dipped from what is now Kansas in the north almost to the Mexican border east of the Pecos, and touched the range of the Apaches in New Mexico on the west. Out of this huge Comancheriabraves raided into Mexico as far as the State of Za catecas, some 300 miles south of Big Bend. At first these buffalo-hunting nomads plun dered mainly for horses. It is easy to forget that no North American Indian had ever seen a horse until the Spaniards brought them to the continent in the 16th century. Had the white hunters not exterminated their buffalo, the Comanches might simply have taken what horses they needed, then left the ranchos south of the Rio Grande in peace. As the buffalo vanished, however, the Indians perforce stole cattle and sheep, and often they took scalps and slaves. As surely as late-summer thunder and ripe corn, they rode south with their Kiowa allies every September for a hundred years or more. In passing, they harried the Texas settlements east of the Pecos, until the Texans, by 1880, drove the last one out of the state. The Comanche Trail passed through Fort Stockton-known in Indian times as Coman che Springs-because it was a sure place to find water and good grass. For the same rea son several important covered-wagon trails also went by Comanche Springs. Riding south from the water holes, the war parties detoured east or west around the Chisos, a mountain island in a bowl of desert. On the easterly trail they entered what is now Big Bend National Park through Persimmon Gap in the Santiago Mountains. Crossing the Rio Grande, they scattered into Mexico as wolves scatter once they are in the sheep fold. Mountains Guided Indian Riders South of the gap the Comanche Trail is now lost in the desert. "We'd very much like to define and mark it," said Chief Ranger John Mullady, who took over as acting superintendent when Perry Brown retired last year. "It would be a difficult job, though. "In the first place, I doubt there was a single narrow trail, except at places like Persimmon Gap or the Rio fords. The Indians probably spread widely across the flat country. Again, early white ranchers traveled this country on horses and then Model-T Fords, undoubtedly wiping out Indian traces. "Still, it isn't a hopeless proposition. Tell )GRAPHERDEANCONGER© N.G.S. Mingling laughter with the splash of water, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson skims down the Rio Grande on a rubber raft. This five-mile trip through Mariscal Can yon climaxed the First Lady's 1966 visit to Big Bend with Secretary of the Interior and Mrs. Stewart L. Udall (both riding just behind her). "What a treat to see wild country completely un touched," exclaimed Mrs. Johnson. "It's just the way the Indians and Spaniards and our own ancestors found it." Enchanted by the music of canyon wrens, whose voices echo off the high walls, she described Maris cal as "a concert hall" for the little brown birds.