Moseying: History of the Southern Llano Estacado
Lipan Apache Magoosh in the Guadalupe Mountains
April 23, 2003
More than a million people visit the Guadalupe Mountains each year. Ninety percent are visitors to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The rougher regions of the mountains can truly be considered empty of people. There are places that do not get visited for years.
I have an irrational love of the Guadalupes. For years I visited a little feeder canyon with seeps and pools of water. Few people visit, for it takes over a day to hike to the camp. There are no trails, and steep 60 percent slopes have to be climbed or descended. I never tell anyone where it is, or anything that might lead someone else to its delicate beauty. It is a place that must be discovered, and those that do, wish to keep it secret. Arthritis in my knees (from teenaged duties as a catcher) now prevents me from returning.
The canyons are deep. Most of the canyons are a thousand feet deep, and several are deeper. The walls are too steep to climb, except in the most laborious fashion with care and planning. In the Guadalupes an acre of land area contains a square mile of land surface. Such a statement is not excessive hyperbole. The higher the walls, the less likely for recent human visitation.
My favorite camp is up on the canyon wall. An overhanging ledges looms over a rectangular flat bench of 75 square feet. As it is on the north-facing slope, it is completely obscured by bigtooth maples, douglas firs, southwestern white pines, ponderosa pines and Knowltons hophornbeam.
The area is a moisture trap. The overhanging ledge is dry where it is 15 feet above the floor of the ledge, but as the overhang narrows down to a seven-foot height, condensation forms on the cool wall. Eventually enough moisture collects so soggy green balls of moss grow on the cliff wall. The moisture pulls calcium carbonates out of the limestone, so the balls of moss become covered with travertine and turn into rock gargoyles.
The camp is near a seep that is a hundred-foot by hundred-foot patch of Jamaican sawgrass that blankets the rock where the water oozes out. One rainy August a wet weather stream splashed along the canyon bottom. The sounds of the water echoed on the ledge. The echoes mixed together and created auditory hallucinations. We heard someone talking, but no one else was within miles. That raises two questions who was talking, and what did the voice say?
My companions of ten years of visits to the canyon, MISD teachers Hugh and Andrew Franks, humored me, and let me pretend it was the voice of Magoosh, a Lipan Apache who ended up on the Mescalero Apache Reservation not far away. As I told the story, I made it complimentary to us we were very proud of our secret canyon and all that it meant to us. A warrior for fifty years, Magoosh survived the changes from the end of Spanish colonial era to the time of gaslights, windmills, the internal combustion engine, and transcontinental commerce. I am enamored with his story, and he has become an imaginary companion that is a teaching spirit I try to imagine seeing the world from his perspective.
Now, lets listen to Magoosh!
On days after I saw Raven I hunted. As an old man I was slow and not strong, but Raven rarely failed me. The presence of ravens flying without a sound, and in the treetops, is often an indication a large predator is in the area. When a mountain lion is present, the deer and other game are nervous, and they often make mistakes. I would eat nothing, tell no one that I expected success. I had to become a hunter that brings the game, bleating like a fawn, wearing skin and heads, and mimicking a deers action.
I acted out my role in the predators ritual cycle of bait, tease, ignore, and then kill. Bobcats and cougars do it, and coyotes do it too. When a predator makes a kill there is a dialogue of many signals between predator and prey. There is a conversation of death, a ceremonial exchange. The foolish, weak, old, or diseased transmits a signal of their condition and the predator understands.
Hunting societies have rituals that must be performed before the hunt, after the kill, and before the meal. These rituals are deadly serious. To not succeed in the hunt is to die. The ritual acknowledges an agreement with power if the hunter is worthy the game will be guided to and given to the hunter. The agreement on the humans part is this; the hunter must respect and honor all animals, there should be no waste, and rituals should be adhered to without fail. Hunting is holy and sacred when done in this way. For us, killing entails vast spiritual responsibility.
There is an old saying I have heard from people further west for permission to use a hunting range, learn its song. To learn the song of a hunting range, a person must not only know the lay of the land, but also the secret and hidden places. A person must learn the rhythms of the seasons, when animals move and why, where the best browse is, and where the hidden waters are.
You three have done the right things many times. You treat the mottled rock rattlesnake you named Callahan with respect. We always spoke politely to snakes for us they are taboo to kill. You sensed some of our graves in the canyon above what you call the Blackhole Tinaja, and you turned around and left. You do not camp at the Overhang of the Pictographs, realizing it was a holy spot. You were able to recognize this camping place as the best, by recognizing that the shrubs under the trees are plants that we used for food and medicine. The plants are here because we were here.
You were able to see the face in the rocks just down the canyon from this camp and named it The Watcher we saw it too and believed that we were safe upcanyon from it. You placed the old bighorn skull above your cache of camp gear and dried food, giving it a place of honor. When you build a fire, you place the meteorite you found beside it, in honor of its fiery entrance into this world.
You have awoken to the intricacies of awareness that connect a person to a place. By learning our stories, and the stories of those that came before us, you honor this place. Because you offered such respect, you have been shown the bighorn (supposedly long gone from the range) and were visited by the mountain lion, and you have heard the song of the barking frog of which scientists have only found calcified bones in one of the many caves. It still lives in that sawgrass seep across the canyon. By naming the landmarks, learning the old stories, and by developing your own stories of this place, you have engaged your souls.