Moseying: History of the Southern Llano Estacado
Magoosh and the mountain lion at a salt playa
February 15, 2006
I have written of Magoosh before a Lipan Apache born and raised along the Balcones Escarpment near San Antonio, then lived on the Nueces, and later near Nasciemento, Mexico, and finally dying on the Mescalero Reservation. In August of 1875 some rangers caught up to him and some other Apaches near Big Lake. After one or two of his fellow tribesmen had been killed, the rest scattered to meet up again later.
What follows is a reconstruction of Magooshs personal journey before he arrived at the meeting place the little waterhole north of Castle Gap that Crane historian Joe Allen found by retracing the daily report of an Army patrol. When Magoosh skedaddled, he had gone north, hoping that the rangers would follow. He knew of very little water past the last draw filled with junipers (present day Centralia Draw.) If they would follow him beyond there he would pull them into the Lacy Draw region (near present day Garden City) and then hide the tracks of his horse the best he could and slip off to the west where the southernmost salt playas are (north of present day Midkiff.)
They did not follow the Ranger Captain D.W. Roberts did not want to chance it. When the two met many years later it was not a particularly friendly meeting Roberts would not shake his hand. He remembered Magoosh as a treacherous renegade who would not stay put on a reservation. Magoosh traveled quite a bit in those days, trying to convince more of his people still living in Mexico to move to the reservation in New Mexico.
On this particular trip the group had decided to kidnap the pubescent German immigrants Willie Lehmann and his brother. The brother got away but Willie did not in fact, Willie hid from the rangers during the brief attack and later traveled alone to the meeting place, as well. Willie believed all of his relatives dead, didnt speak English, and was confused about what he was supposed to do and was just going along with everything. Carnoviste, the partys captain, had formed a bond with him. Chiwat liked the kid, too and Chiwat was Magooshs acolyte as a shaman.
Magoosh stopped on the north side of Centralia Draw to wait for the Rangers to catch up. They didnt ever show up, so he dropped back down in the draw later that night, and stole a fresh horse from the stage station in the quietest hours of the night, when the dogs were sleeping. Magoosh, a man in his late fifties, had the most amazing skills of being invisible. When he wanted to have it happen, his presence was not remarked upon by the animals and birds that usually react to a human that is too close no squawks or barks of surprise.
He reached a salt lake north of present-day Midkiff about noon. In a little rocky draw on its southeast corner was a spring. It was a blistering hot day, so Magoosh decided to rest until at least dark, and maybe even well into the night he would just see how he felt. The watershed of the playa had received an isolated thunderstorm a week before, so about half of the floor of the lakebed had a skim of water on it. He could see hundreds of migrating sandpipers poking around in the mud.
After he and his horse felt saturated, and the horse had rolled a few times in the saltgrass, Magoosh led it to the big bluff on the south side of the lake. Above him was thirty or forty feet of chalky clay soil and since when it erodes the substrate melts from saturation, little caves, strange hoodoo spires capped by big clumps of Alkali Sacaton, saltbush, and pickleweed made the surroundings just a little bizarre.
Magoosh chose a fine spot with a carpet of saltgrass and pulled out a stake out of his roll of blankets, pounded the stake in the ground, and tied the horse to it. He looked out across the water. Heat waves coming off of the flats and the water made the distant sandpipers wink in and out of view. He made a tunnel with both fists and looked through them it helps with long distance viewing, you know. After isolating an upside down mirage image of a blacknecked stilt with its red legs and feet running on the sky, he yawned and stretched out. Within minutes he was asleep.
Near sundown, and in a cave on the bluff to the northeast, another creature woke up. When it spotted Magooshs horse, it began to feel a hunger pang. As the sun set, the mountain lion gazed across the playa, contemplating its chances. Normally, when the lion stopped on his hunting circuit at the playa, he could find a band of wild horses and several small herds of pronghorn coming in daily to water at the spring. None had come all day, not even before Magoosh arrived. The lion had arrived late in the night and had headed directly to the cave after getting a drink.
After dark, the cougar jumped from ledge to ledge to the top of the bluff and headed north to the top of the ridge above the playa. About half way up, he found the reason game had not come he sniffed at the base of a big old mesquite (part of its trunk is in the Sibley Nature Center) and investigated the scent of three young lions just weaned and still traveling together. He could detect in the smell of the urine that they were hungry. The three had probably tried to make a kill and failed, spooking the game.
With that knowledge, he set out an easy lope around the playa, covering the two miles in just a few minutes. He eased along the bluff above Magoosh and the horse, analyzing the situation, plotting out how to kill the horse. The heat from the playa still radiated up and away, out of the basin of the salt lake, so the horse could not smell him.
Magoosh awoke while the lion was still thinking. It might have been a dream that filled him with a need to be on his way, or it might have been the fact that Magoosh admired mountain lions, wore a necklace of lion teeth, kept his arrows in a lionskin quiver and just woke up knowing what was happening. Without wasted movement he rolled up the blanket hed been sleeping on, yanked the stake out of the ground and swung up on the horse in less than a minute and was kicking it into a trot.
The lion watched Magoosh ride off. It sat back on its haunches and screamed its otherworldly cry, which echoed back and forth across the playa.