Our Huff Wagon Train Diary
Wednesday , January 5, 2005

Hueco Tanks State Historic Site

Excerpt from Huff's Diary, Sunday, July 15, 1849: ...we ascended to the top of Sierra Waco [sic]. The top of Sierra Waco gradually ascends to the south to a height of perhaps fifteen hundred feet. At its base where we are camped it is not more than seven or eight hundred feet in height. Its top is a basin hollowing in every direction to the northwest end where there is a rent or seam which conducts the rainfall into its great cistern or hollow tanque from which it derives its name. From the top of Sierra Waco looking south and west a prairie plain apparently almost level stretches its lonely bosom to the Rio Grande....On the east a rugged rock-bound elevation running nearly north and south with its mountain peaks peering above it in the background is all that meets the gazing eye, and close by on the north is the Sierra Alto or High Mountain with its spires and almost snow-white peaks reaching up to the skies. Its strangely formed outline presenting grotesque figures of singular shape with moats and ditches, ramparts, parapets, and perpendicular walls of solid granite which requires but little imaginary power to paint them as things of art instead of nature. The most remarkable thing about Sierra Waco [sic] is its Tanque or natural cistern. As you enter the main pass there is an opening on the left. The opening leads to a stone wall. On the right is a lone cedar tree. Climb over the rocks in front of the cedar tree and there just inside of the base of the mountain is the Tanque or Cistern. The cistern has capacity sufficient to hold fifty-thousand gallons of water. The water is cool and pure. The solid granite wall all around the cistern is worn as smooth as glass by the visits through time of the Indians.

A mantle of legendary story hangs over and around this place that has long and often been dyed in human gore, and here life has been taken and life has been sacrificed on the altar of revenge....Here is the spot where the sixty Comanche warriors after their chief had fallen, were surrounded and hemmed behind a rock wall by Mexicans until starvation began its work and finally resulted in the death of the whole band.

From Karina, Krysta, Sharon, Taylor:

This morning we woke up and some of us packed up sleeping bags and cots and then we realized that we were going to stay there tonight. Taylor's cot broke! It was so cold at night that hardly anybody slept. Oh, we miss our warm houses! But we still want to be on this trip.

The mountains were really pretty. When we woke up we saw the mountains were right there. The hills are really steep. There are two boulders with one rock in the middle supporting it. It looked like an avalanche waiting to happen!

We had egg burritos and fruit and cookies for breakfast. Mr. Gonzalez's mother made the cookies (called bizcochos - Mexican sugar cookies) and they were soooooo good. Mr. Gonzalez is a teacher at Slider Middle School in Texas.

Mr. Coate read to us from Huff's Diary about his journeys at Hueco Tanks. Some of us kept taking pictures of the diary. Mr. Coate asked us to smell the diary. It was pretty nasty but it looks like an antique. Huff had perfect handwriting and it was on a straight line like someone had typed it. In Huff's diary, we learned about the different groups that went together on the trail. He also talked about the water in the Hueco Tanks. Mr. Coate said that "hueco" means a hollow. The Hueco Tanks are rocks where water collects. There was a story about Kiowa Indians and how they got trapped in this cave by the farmers and they couldn't get out. They tried to steal horses and cattle according to Huff.

We are going on a hike today to explore and find out the authenticity of what Huff wrote.

We split into two groups to go on our hike. One of us had Wanda as our guide. The other had Peter, who was German, as our guide. On the hike it was steep and slippery. There were what looked like bowls in the rocks. A volcano erupted and created the Hueco Mountains. The lava had gas bubbles in it. The bubbles burst to make the bowls.

Wanda read from Huff's diary where he described Cerro Alto. He described the outline of the top of a mountain. We looked around and think we found it. We also saw another drawing from the past and could tell where that traveler went.

On our hike, we saw pictographs (these are painted on) and some petroglyphs (chipped in). Some are red and some are white or black. Black are from grease, but it was rubbed into the rock. The red and white were from different minerals and different tribes. Joronda-Mogollon, Mescalero Apache, and the Kiowa painted pictures. There was a long snake on the curves on the rock that made it look like a snake moving. The snake was a symbol for water. There was a really big horse painted on one of the rocks. There was a picture of a farmer who was holding a staff away from him. This means that he lost the battle and his power. We found one of the 49er's name on one of the rocks. It said W.C.A. 8yrs 1849 c.a. and it was painted in axle grease. Our guides taught us how to decipher the pictographs. Two black dots meant poisoned water. If the staff is really big they are the leader. And if the legs are curved like bow legs, that means that they were injured or can't walk.

There was one story from the Kiowa about an Indian who was seriously wounded. The people thought he wouldn't make it one more day. The Kiowa's met some Indians and asked them to bury him but the Indians found him better than ever. They said the reason was that the coyote laid on him to give him warmth, and an eagle caught a rabbit and gave it to him for nourishment. Maggots cleaned out his wounds. This story was painted on the wall so we think it was real.

Then we saw the cistern. We climbed rocks to get to the cistern. We had to slide between rocks on our stomach to see it. There was also writing that said "Water Here." Huff said the cistern held 50,000 gallons of water. We couldn't see the bottom so we couldn't tell. It looked small from where we were. Wanda said the water was tested and that it was found to be clean to drink. We did not drink any water there, though. The rock around it was slippery. We slid down the rocks like a slide because the Apache Indian kids would go there to slide.

We decided that maybe Huff actually did go through there because it was the only entrance or pass through the mountains and we could see things that he wrote about.

When we got back we wrote in our journals and worked on our copy of Huff's Diary and then had some free time.

Today was Hannah's birthday and we had birthday cake! We sang to her. She was four today. Hannah is the great great great great granddaughter of William P. Huff.

Karina: It was cool to see all the pictographs because they are drawings and stories!

Krysta: I can't believe I kept slipping and fell on my hip trying to see the cistern. They were right -- the rocks are very slippery!

Sharon: I had fun on the hike because we got to see a lot of cool stuff like the pictures on the rocks.

Taylor: All you Californians should be happy that you're over there because we're freezing!!

The following is a photo gallery from the trip. If you have questions, please contact us at education@tpwd.state.tx.us

Daily Life around Camp

Lessons on the Trail

Hiking Hueco Tanks


This educational project is a partnership venture of Madera Unified School District, Madera, California; the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; the Texas Historical Commission; and the many generous and gracious communities along the route.

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