Moseying: History of the Southern Llano Estacado
Artifacts tell stories the tale of a Chinese coin found near Deadmans Cut
June 14, 2006
Earlier this year UTPB history graduate student Brandon Young was hiking on his hunting lease near Penwell and found a Chinese coin. When he researched its provenance he discovered it very well could have been a coin brought by the workers that built the T&P railroad through West Texas in 1881. His lease is only a mile or so from the railroad, and he could see Deadmans Cut, where five Chinese railroad construction men died.
Young had come to the Sibley Nature Center to do research for a paper on the history and changing role of naturalists over the last 200 years. After he had exhausted the resources in the library at Sibley we visited for a while. Young worked at the Sibley Nature Center in 2000 and 2001, but I had not seen him since the Permian Basin Historical Societys spring 2006 meeting. We caught up on the activities of our spouses and friends, and then talked about recent field trips that each of us had taken. Young has an incredible eye to spot small artifacts on the ground, and over many years has accumulated an impressive collection of junk that tell a story.
A couple of months ago, Carlsbad, New Mexico resident Terry Gregston, a Bureau of Land Management environmental regulations inspector, and author of An Introduction to Federal Environmental Regulations of the Petroleum Industry contacted me about some of my essays about Lipan Apaches. Gregston shared a story that she had written about a trip during which she searched out historical sites of Lipan Apaches. As Young told about the coin, I remembered a narrative device she used to describe what might have happened at a site. She meditated while holding a stone from the site and let the stone tell the story.
I pretended to hold the coin and let my imagination create a story
Du Fu had walked alone into the darkness, away from the camp after his friends bodies were buried. They had come to the United States at his urging. After he had lost his wife to fever, his sorrow and anguish led him to want to leave the village where he had lived since birth. But he had been too afraid of the unknown to go alone, so he had convinced the five younger men that it would be a grand adventure, and that their parents could have much better lives as a result of the money they would send home.
He had walked aimlessly for an hour, wandering among the creosote bush, littleleaf sumac, hackberry, and lotebush growing out of the cracks of the bedrock of the Mescalero Escarpment at the western edge of the Llano Estacado. As he walked he drank from a bottle of rotgut whiskey that he had purchased from the camp sutler and grew increasingly remorseful. Anybody that joins their fortune with me dies, he kept telling himself. The more he drank, the more he felt the pain. I should not be alive I carry death with me.
His inebriation impaired his ability to gauge his footing to the point that he stumbled, and tripped when he stepped into one of the shallow mortar holes left long ago by Indians grinding bristlegrass seeds.
Staggering and off balance, he fell onto an 18-inch tall yellow-spine cholla. Wailing in pain, he brushed off the cactus with a long dead juniper limb, but the sheaths of a hundred spines remained in his skin. Cactus spines accumulate salts from the soil, and the salts intensify the pain of the penetration.
He yanked his shirt off, and when his money pouch (hung from his neck under the shirt) scraped along the tops of the spine sheaths buried in his skin, he pulled it off and tossed it away without noticing where it went. It landed in the branches of a hackberry, with its drawstring hanging down. One coin was jarred out and fell to the ground, and then rolled along the ledge of rock, finally dropping off to rest under a clump of side-oats grama.
It took almost thirty minutes before he finally removed the last of the spine sheaths. After the removal of every fifth spine sheath, he took another sip of the whiskey. When he was finally done, he was feeling no pain. The relief he felt and the numbing effect of the whiskey made him collapse and stretch out on his back when he was done, and he stared up into the nighttime sky at a full moon almost overhead.
A refrain of the Tang Dynasty poet Li Po (701-762 A.D.) came to his mind unbidden. He stared at the moon and recited:
Amongst the flowers is a pot of wine
I pour alone but with no friend at hand
So I lift the cup to invite the shining moon,
Along with my shadow we become party of three
The moon although understands none of drinking, and
The shadow just follows my body vainly
Still I make the moon and the shadow my company
To enjoy the springtime before too late
The moon lingers while I am singing
The shadow scatters while I am dancing
We cheer in delight when being awake
We separate apart after getting drunk
Forever will we keep this unfettered friendship
Till we meet again far in the Milky Way
When Du Fu awoke in the morning he decided he could no longer stand the sight of anything to do with a railroad. He caught a ride on an empty wagon headed to the Pecos River valley that hauled hay for the mules that pulled the fresnos that leveled the bed of the railroad. He settled in Roswell, New Mexico where he operated a chili joint until 1894 when J.J Hagerman extended the Pecos Valley Railroad to the town. Still unable to bear being near a railroad, he moved to the 4 Lakes ranch house (near Tatum, New Mexico) on Phelps Whites LFD ranch to be the cook. He died there in 1911.
Fresno a metal box with a blade that pulled dirt around a roadgrader before the internal combustion engine