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History in the Big Bend Country

The rich history of this area can be seen in its Native American rock art and early Spanish settlements.

Painted artwork is on canyon and cave walls created by ancient peoples of this region. Most of this rock art is found at Hueco Tanks and Seminole Canyon State Historical Parks. For thousands of years, different cultures of native peoples lived in the caves and rock shelters along the Pecos and Devils rivers. Their campfires from long ago blackened the ceilings of these places of shelter. The rock art or pictographs show geometric shapes, animals, and human-like figures.

The earliest people, known as the Folsom culture because of the type of stone points they made, hunted big game animals, such as the mammoth. There is no rock art from these earliest people.


About 7,000 years ago, people hunting smaller game adapted to life in the now dry, rocky land. These people were called hunter and gatherers because of the way lived. These people roamed the land hunting and gathering seeds and plants that were edible. These people were the first to create paintings on the walls of canyons, caves, and rock overhangs. The last of the pictographs were done by latter day Apaches, which often showed men on horseback, depicting their encounters with Spanish explorers and other Europeans.

Any rock art sighted should not be touched as it can damage these very old and delicate paintings.

The cliffs also protected artifacts from the rain and sun. Archaeologists have found baskets, sandals, leather clothing, arrows, nets, and other unique items. These artifacts are very valuable since very few things physically remain from early Native American culture except stone tools.

Ysleta mission in El Paso photo by Nancy Herron

El Paso, one of the most important and oldest cities in Texas, sits on the far west border of the Big Bend region. El Paso means “the pass” in Spanish. In this mountainous region, the Rio Grande provides an easy passage between Mexico and Texas. The Spanish missionaries and conquistadors realized the importance of settling down near the pass, and many settlements were built along the Rio Grande near El Paso. In 1680, after the war between the Spanish and the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, the Spanish and some of those Indians came to live in these settlements. The Tigua Indians, who came from New Mexico at that time, still live near El Paso in a settlement called Isleta.

The Big Bend region is a place where wildlife and people have not only adapted to the stark environmental conditions, they have managed to thrive. If those painted canyon walls could speak, imagine the stories they would tell! Ancient Native Americans and the Pueblo Indians, the Spanish, African-American, and Old World immigrants made their mark on the region in different ways, making it the unique cultural crossroads it is today.


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