Comanche, Kiowa, Comancheros, RanchersA storied history in the rugged canyonlands
Pole Canyon Ranch contains approximately 6,000 acres of beautiful caprock canyonlands. The colorful property has seen tragedy, commerce, success, and failure, and is connected with famous Texas ranchers.
Certainly, the VALLEY OF TEARS (Valle de las Lágrimas), a long, narrow swale at the intersection of the Cottonwood and Los Lingos creeks near Quitaque, has a dramatic history. Located along the northern boundary of Pole Canyon Ranch, it is surrounded on three sides by hills. The elevation drops from about 2,550 feet to almost 700 feet in the space of six or seven miles from the top of the plains to the floor of the valley. The sides of the valley are cut by steep, dark canyons, and the creek banks offer sweet grass that once drew buffalo to the area. Several miles to the west of the Quitaque Peaks, the falls of Los Lingos Creek tumble from the Caprock. According to legend, the name of the valley was suggested by some unknown person who heard the wailing of mothers and children coming from the valley in the mid-1800s, after they had been kidnapped by Indians and brought there to be separated from each other and sold. (See "Valley of Tears" by Jeanne F. Lively in the Handbook of Texas; excerpted from that entry.)
It was here that the COMANCHEROS met with the Comanche and Kiowa tribes to carry on trading activities. The Comancheros were natives of northern and central New Mexico who conducted trade for a living with the nomadic plains tribes. They were so named because the Comanches, in whose territory they traded, were considered their best customers. Journals from Coronado's expedition in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Gold mentions the trade as early as 1541.
At first many Comancheros cached their oxcarts or carretas and loaded their merchandise on burros before venturing into the trackless Comanchería. During the first decades of the Comancheros' trade, their merchandise consisted largely of beads, knives, paints, tobacco, pots and pans, and calico and other cloth, as well as the metal spikes that Indians came to prefer over flint points for their arrows. Foodstuffs such as coffee, flour, and bread were also bartered. From about 1840 on, Comanches realized the commercial value of horses and raided the frontiers of both Texas and northern Mexico to secure animals not only for themselves but for trade to the Comancheros. The rising demand for cattle in New Mexico led to further raiding. Between 1850 and 1870 thousands of animals stolen by Indians were traded by Comancheros to merchants in New Mexico and Arizona. The addition of firearms, ammunition, and whiskey to the list of trade items from New Mexico likewise added to the trade's worsening reputation.
A familiar trading site was at Las Lenguas (or Los Lingos) Creek, near the future site of Quitaque. From a typical rendezvous, during which bargaining might last as long as three weeks, a shrewd Comanchero could take back with him a mule for five pounds of tobacco or a keg of whiskey, a good pack horse for ten pounds of coffee, or a buffalo robe for little or nothing. Probably the most controversial aspect of the Comancheros' operations was the ransoming of captives, a practice dating back centuries. Comancheros often accompanied Comanches on cattle raids. Noted traders like José P. Tafoya maintained crude rock and adobe shelters at places like Las Lenguas during the 1860s. (See "Comancheros" by H. Allen Anderson in the Handbook of Texas; excerpted from that entry.) To learn more about the Comancheros, visit the Comanchero Canyons Museum in Quitaque.
In the 1840s, this area played a starring role in the tribulations experienced by the TEXAN SANTA FE EXPEDITION. This politico-military-commercial expedition of 1841 was occasioned by the Nation of Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar's desire to divert to Texas at least a part of the trade then carried over the Santa Fe Trail and, if possible, to establish Texas jurisdiction over the Santa Fe area, which the Republic of Texas claimed on the basis of an act of December 19, 1836. Lamar on his own initiative proposed an expedition to Santa Fe to establish a trade route as well as to offer the New Mexicans the opportunity of participating in the Texas government. Trade merchants started on the trek on June 19, 1841, with twenty-one ox-drawn wagons carried the supplies as well as the merchandise of the traders, valued at $200,000. A military force of five companies of infantry and one of artillery accompanied the expedition as guests. These with the merchants, teamsters, and others brought the total number to 321.
By August 20, harassed by Indians and suffering because of insufficient provisions and scarcity of water, the expedition slowly made its way to the northwest. On Quitaque Creek in the area of present town of Quitaque, unable to find a route by which the wagons could ascend the Caprock, the expedition decided (made a resolution) to divide the group, sending a party of horsemen out to seek the New Mexican settlements while the remainder waited with the wagons and the remaining force at the foot of the Llano Estacado, at a site they called Camp Resolution.
The advance party, after suffering many hardships and encountering difficult traveling in crossing Quitaque and Tule canyons, finally met some Mexican traders on September 12 and sent a guide back to lead the waiting force on into the settlements. The Texans, reduced in number and broken in health and spirit, were eventually taken captive by the Mexican army. The Texas prisoners were marched to Mexico City. They were subjected to many indignities both en route and after their imprisonment in Mexico. The affair became the subject of a heated diplomatic controversy between the United States and Mexico before most of the prisoners were finally released in April 1842. (See "Texan Santa Fe Expedition" by H. Bailey Carroll in the Handbook of Texas; excerpted from that entry.)
Pole Canyon Ranch is a part of the ranchland that the famed rancher, CHARLES GOODNIGHT, owned. The first ranch on this land was established by George and Jim Baker in 1878. Named the Quitaque Ranch after its location on Quitaque Creek, the ranch was also called the Lazy F Ranch after the brand it used. By 1882 the Quitaque Ranch covered 140,000 acres in Briscoe, Floyd, and Hall counties. It was that year that Charles Goodnight, who, at the request of his JA Ranch partner John G. Adair, was buying up most of the land around Quitaque Creek for Adair's wife, Cornelia. Goodnight purchased the ranchland at twenty-two cents an acre. At that time the ranch contained about twice the purchased acres, counting interspersed, state-owned school lands left free for grazing. After Adair died in 1885, Goodnight continued to manage the Quitaque for Mrs. Adair until December 1887, when they divided the JA property. As part of the negotiation Goodnight assumed full ownership of the Quitaque. The following year, to ease the financial strain, he sold a half-interest in the ranch to L. R. Moore of Kansas City and continued using the Lazy F brand. In 1890 Goodnight disposed of his remaining half-interest to Moore. Moore retained sole ownership of the Quitaque until 1904, when he sold the Lazy F cattle to Henry W. Cresswell and A. J. (Tony) Day. These cattle were shipped by four consecutive rail lines to pastures in Canada. Cresswell and Day then parceled out the Quitaque range to farmers, and the Lazy F brand was discontinued. (See "Quitaque Ranch" by H. Allen Anderson in the Handbook of Texas; excerpted from that entry.) The Taylor brothers, Jim and John, purchased the existing ranch land in 1911 to start their ranch operations.