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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Girvin in Pecos County, Texas — The American South (West South Central)
 

Horse Head Crossing on the Pecos River

 
 
Horse Head Crossing on the Pecos River Marker image. Click for full size.
By Richard Denney
1. Horse Head Crossing on the Pecos River Marker
Inscription. Here crossed the undated Comanche Trail from Llano Estacado to Mexico. In 1850 John R. Bartlett while surveying the Mexican boundary found the crossing marked by skulls of horses; hence the name “Horse Head”. The Southern Overland Mail (Butterfield) route, St. Louis to San Francisco, 1858-1861, and the road west from Fort Concho crossed here. The Goodnight-Loving trail, established in 1866 and trod by tens of thousands of Texas longhorns, came here and turned up east bank of the Pecos for Fort Sumner and into Colorado.
 
Erected 1936 by The State of Texas. (Marker Number 2564.)
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the Butterfield Overland Mail, the Texas 1936 Centennial Markers and Monuments, and the The Comanche Trail into Mexico marker series.
 
Location. 31° 14.025′ N, 102° 28.912′ W. Marker is in Girvin, Texas, in Pecos County. Marker is on Horse Head Road 3.1 miles north of Farm to Market Road 11, on the right when traveling north. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Imperial TX 79743, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 4 other markers are within 14 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Castle Mountain (approx. 8.8 miles away but has been reported missing); Horsehead Crossing, C.S.A.
Horsehead Crossing image. Click for full size.
By Richard Denney, circa 1998
2. Horsehead Crossing
Looking northeast with Castle Gap in distance.
(approx. 12.7 miles away); Juan Cordona Lake (approx. 13.6 miles away); William Carey Crane (approx. 13.6 miles away).
 
Also see . . .
1. Horse Head Crossing. Handbook of Texas Online (Submitted on March 4, 2012, by Richard Denney of Austin, Texas.) 

2. Castle Gap. Handbook of Texas Online (Submitted on March 4, 2012, by Richard Denney of Austin, Texas.) 

3. Historic marker for Comanche Springs. Stop along the Comanche Trail. (Submitted on March 4, 2012, by Richard Denney of Austin, Texas.) 

4. Historic marker for Fort Peņa Colorado. Stop along the Comanche Trail. (Submitted on March 4, 2012, by Richard Denney of Austin, Texas.) 

5. Historic marker for Pecos High Bridge. Illustrates the difficulties of crossing the Pecos River. The steep walls formed a natural barrier for man and animals in prehistoric and historic times. Pecos High Bridge is about 100+ miles downriver towards where the Pecos empties into the Rio Grande. (Submitted on March 4, 2012, by Richard Denney of Austin, Texas.) 

6. Comanche Trail - Big Bend National Park. National Park Service description of Persimmon Gap in context of the Comanche Trail. (Submitted on March 4, 2012, by Richard Denney of Austin, Texas.) 
 
Additional comments.
1.
Horse Head Crossing image. Click for full size.
By Richard Denney, circa 1998
3. Horse Head Crossing

To amplify a bit on the history described on the marker, Horshead Crossing is arguably the most infamous and feared river crossing in Texas history. But today it is little more than a trickle of a stream.

It was the only ford for many miles where animals could enter, drink and leave Pecos River safely (see e.g. historic marker this page for Pecos High Bridge). Was the primary Pecos river crossing of the Comanche trail from Llano Estacado down into Mexico.

The ford was mapped 1849 by Capt. R. B. Marcy, head of army escort for parties on way to California gold rush. Became a major landmark on the trail west, as it provided the first water for about 75 miles on the route from the east. Emigrants arriving here either turned northwest along the river or crossed and continued southwest to Comanche Springs at Fort Stockton.

Source of the name "Horsehead" a bit unclear. Once story says that in 1850 John R. Bartlett while surveying the Mexican boundary found the crossing marker by skulls of horses; hence the name "Horse Head". Many water-starved animals, stolen in Mexico by Indians and driven along the Comanche war trail, died after drinking too deeply from the river. Comanches may have also intentionally marked the crossing for easier location.

1858, the crossing became an important stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route from St. Louis to
Horse Head Crossing image. Click for full size.
By Richard Denney, circa 1998
4. Horse Head Crossing
Photo from water level
San Francisco. An adobe stage stand was built and a ferry put into operation, but both were abandoned in 1861, when mail service was terminated.

In late 1862, during the Civil War, federal forces kept a close watch at the crossing in reaction to a threatened confederate invasion. Cattle began to be trailed across the Pecos in 1864. During the Civil War, 1861-1865, used by wagons hauling highly valuable salt scooped from bed of nearby Juan Cordona Lake, to meet Texas scarcities.

1866, Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving blazed their famous trail, which came to this point and turned upriver. Goodnight and Loving were the inspiration for Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove.

Completion of two railroads across west Texas in the early 1880s caused abandonment of the crossing.

Note: Two good books by Patrick Dearen in the Chisholm Trail Series, Castle Gap and the Pecos Frontier and Crossing Rio Pecos, describe the history of Castle Gap, Horsehead Crossing and the Pecos region in general.
    — Submitted March 4, 2012, by Richard Denney of Austin, Texas.

2. Actual location of Horsehead Crossing
The "precise" location of Horsehead Crossing was forgotten after its use was discontinued as a Pecos river crossing. Debate on whether the state got the historic marker located at the actual site goes on (or if there was a singular location). An article by Julie Breaux, "Bits & pieces reveal history near Pecos River" in Austin American Statesman (10/15/98) suggest the actual crossing is located 1,000 feet upstream from the marker at 31.237555,-102.486284, to the left of the "Casper the ghost" figure formed by a bend in the Pecos.
    — Submitted March 4, 2012, by Richard Denney of Austin, Texas.

3. Horse head Crossing on The pecos
Visit this special place of importance in Texas History and enjoy the quiet, peaceful moment. While there understand that you stand where great men have stood. Remove your hat to show that you recognize and respect their efforts and dedication. Look to the east across the Pecos and see Castle Gap 12 miles distant. This is a beautiful place in Texas. Note To Editor only visible by Contributor and editor    
    — Submitted August 13, 2012, by Paul Gerhardt noack of Austin, Texas.

 
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Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Richard Denney of Austin, Texas. This page has been viewed 1,658 times since then and 20 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on , by Richard Denney of Austin, Texas. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
 
Editor’s want-list for this marker. A photo of the marker and the surrounding area in context. • Can you help?
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