Chihuahua Trail Marker Dedicated at Indianola

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Posted by Joyce Rhyne on 17 Jul 14 - 0 Comments


Pictured above is Victoria Scism (second from left) and some of the Chihuahua Trail/Road crew, including Nelson Marek of Port Lavaca (third from left), who have surveyed the Chihuahua Trail across Texas. Also pictured are Russel and Patti Knowell (at right of marker), ranchers from Kinney County, where the trail crosses near Fort Clark.

Ms. Scism and crew have been tracing the Chihuahua Road for the past 13 years, walking across 70 ranches and visiting surrounding sites of historical significance, to map the route that was once so important to commerce and immigrant travel.

The Calhoun County Historical Commission dedicated the Chihuahua Trail marker on July 12, 2014, and it was unveiled at its location near the cistern at Indianola.

Indianola, Texas and the Chichuahua Road

excerpted from calhouncountyhc.org

During the period between 1844 and 1877, Indianola grew from a plague-infested immigrant camp to a cosmopolitan port city. At her zenith, before the storm of 1875, she was second only to Galveston in the State and was regarded by that place as an annoying threat to its commercial and maritime supremacy. Wielding vast influence on the development of Western Texas, as the land west of the Colorado River was then called, Indianola left her imprint on that great region.1
She became the port for the Chihuahua trade, was the eastern terminus of the shortest overland route to California and was the funnel through which tens of thousands of immigrants from Germany, Switzerland and France came to Texas. Contributing to her growth were immigrants and energetic merchants from the Southern and Eastern United States to the new land of the west. Over her wharves moved the necessities and luxuries of life for the inhabitants of Western Texas, as well as the ordnance and other supplies for the chain of forts that shielded “civilized” Texas from the untamed Indian tribes.2 They came to take advantage of the only spot on the Texas coast where wagon trains to and from the interior could drive right to the fine shell beach for loading onto and unloading from sailing ships, and later steamers, from as far distant as Western Europe.

One of the great boosts to Indianola after Februrary 1, 1849, was the opening of the Chihuahua Road to the Far West and to Chihuahua, Mexico. The isolated silver mines discovered by the Spanish in Chihuahua in northern Mexico precipitated the development of three important trade routes between Mexico and the United States. In the middle of the nineteenth century, these three widely separated wagon roads snaked out of the United States and made their laborious way to Cuidad Chihuahuc, capital of the Mexican sate bearing that same name.3

By the end of the Mexican War in 1848, the most direct route from the Eastern Seaboard and Europe through the Gulf of Mexico, across Texas, and into the treasure troves of northern Mexico, was the Chihuahua Road. Along this great artery moved traffic and commerce from the 1850’s through 1877, as well as a tide of immigration that opened up the Southwest4. It wound across the Southwest from the Port town on Matagorda Bay – Indianola; through San Antonio and out along the great springs of the Balcones Fault to the Rio Grande at San Felipe Springs in De Rio; then turned northward, crossing the imposing canyons of the Devils and Pecos rivers, passing through Alpine and Marfa until it finally turned south down Alamito Creek to the Rio Grade at Presidio del Norte, then into Mexico and up the Conchos River to Chihuahua City. This bald itinerary suggest little of the wide variety of terrain which this route traversed: the lush, flowered prairies of the Coatal Plains, the magnificent pecan and cypress-shaded springs along the Balcones Fault, the desolate reaches of the Trans-Pecos and the Chihuahua Desert. The Chihuahua Road’s several parts were know variously as the Indianola Road or Goliad Cart Road, the Old Spanish Trail, the Government or Military Road, and in Mexico, El Camino del Rio Conchos.5
By the end of April 1850, train sizes had so increased that a single giant procession of 150 wagons and 250 Mexican carretas was on the road. Early summer saw 550 to 600 wagons at a time being outfitted at Indianola for the Trail. The flood gates of commerce had been opened.

Each wagon was drawn by six mules or six to eight oxen. The huge Mexican carts were pulled by four to six oxen. The wagoners endured a life of privation and danger on the trail, but they prized their independence. There was little variety in their diet. There was seldom an opportunity to bathe. Beards were the order of the day, by necessity.
The tough little towns along the way; the lumbering trains of great freight wagons and the boot-tough men who drove them; the innumerable desert campfires tended by weary freighters, taut with vigilance against the perpetual threat of Indian or bandit attacks – these elements developed as the story of the Chihuahua Road unfolds.6

The Chihuahua Road continued until 1877 when a hurricane destroyed Indianola and the railroads replaced ox/mule carts for carrying freight in the Southwest. During more than 30 years, the Chihuahua Road held a dominant role in moving items of commerce, travelers, military supplies, and personnel through this part of Southwestern North America. By the time of the Road’s demise, a solid foundation of civilization had been built in the Southwest. The end of the Chihuahua Road came upon the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad from New Orleans to California January 12, 1883. The beginning of the transcontinental railroad service also drove a nail in Indianola’s coffin, which was slammed shut by the hurricane of August 20, 1886.

During the period from 1844 and 1886 scores of towns in Western Texas along the Chihuahua Road were born as a result of the trade between Indianola, Texas and Chihuahua, Mexico. The route of the Chihuahua Road is generally known. Surveys have been conducted to determine with more accuracy the exact route. On-ground (walking) surveying has uncovered evidence such as rusty wagon parts, mule and oxen shoes, rusty container cans, rusty wagon tools, spent cartridges, campsites and occasional wagon ruts to help delineate the route. In addition, railroad and land surveyor reports from this period have helped to locate the exact route. These reports have, on occasion, mentioned crossing the Chihuahua Road.
A historic marker signifying the importance of the Indianola Chihuahua Road was unveiled on July 12, 2014, at the Indianola Texas Cistern at Indianola, Texas.

1 Brownson Malsch, Indianola-the Mother of Western Texas (Shoal Creek Publishers, Austin, Texas, 1977), page 1.
2 Malsch, pages 1 and 2.
3 Roy L. Swift & Leavitt Corning, Jr., Three Roads to Chihuahua (Eakin Press, Austin, Texas, 1988), frontspiece.
4 Swift & Corning, frontspiece.
5 Swift & Corning, Introduction, page x.
6 Swift & Corning, Introduction, page x.

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