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Speaking of Texas: Riding High

By: Mary G. Ramos, Dallas

When the Southern Pacific Railroad was built westward from San Antonio toward El Paso in the early 1880s, the Pecos River presented a major obstacle. The first Pecos railway bridge was a low span completed in 1883 at the mouth of the river, where it joins the Rio Grande.

To access the bridge, trains on the so-called Sunset Route used the Loop Line, a steep and twisty route that dropped some 300 feet from the surrounding plains to the banks of the river below. After crossing, the train had to make its way up the other side by a similar path. The line’s grade and curves required that trains be short and speeds slow. The canyon’s softs and stone walls presented a constant threat of rockslides, and the route was dangerous and expensive to operate, according to the book Building the LoneStar by T. Lindsay Baker.

In 1890, engineers planned another route a few miles upstream that would cut 11 miles off the distance by eliminating the curves and grades, but it required building a high viaduct across the river canyon. Work began in March 1891, with construction of concrete, limestone, and granite footings. Once the foundations were complete, it took just 87 working days to erect the 24 wrought-iron-and-steel support towers to finish the project. The first train crossed on March 30, 1892.

For many years, the Pecos High Bridge stood as the tallest railroad bridge in North America and the third tallest in the world, measuring in at 2,180 feet in length and towering approximately 320 feet above the river.It became a tradition for trains to proceed slowly over it so that passengers could enjoy the spectacular view.

As trains became heavier, the bridge was reinforced at least twice, but with the onset of World War II, railroad traffic increased so greatly that a sturdier, more reliable bridge was needed. A new Pecos High Bridge, about a quarter of a mile downstream, was completed in 1944 and is still in use today (see JPT, pg. 64). The 1892 bridge was dismantled in 1949 and sold piecemeal to various highway departments and state governments across the nation.


RESERVATIONS REQUIRED

By: Aaron Gilbreath, Cave Creek, Arizona 

One of Texas’ earliest attempts at creating an Indian reservation came to a tragically bloody end. In 1854, the Texas Legislature authorized Major Robert S. Neighbors and Brigadier General Randolph B. Marcy to establish a reservation in Young County. For a while, life on the 37,152-acre Brazos Indian Reservation went smoothly: Some 2,000 Waco, Caddo, Anadarko, and Tonkawa peoples grew wheat, melons, and corn on 600 shared acres of land. They ate beef provided by the government and valued the protection from warring Comanches living in a neighboring reservation. But in 1858, racial tensions mounted between the Brazos Reservation Indians and the white settlers living in Belknap and other nearby communities, according to the book Ghost Towns ofTexas by T. Lindsay Baker.

Settlers blamed Indians living on the Brazos Indian Reservation for the Comanche’s continuing raids. The White Man, a local newspaper, furthered the antagonism by publishing anti-Indian articles. Tensions ran so high that some officials feared an all-out war. But by the time Governor H.R. Runnels and General Sam Houston initiated a search for a site torelocate the reservation’s residents, settlers had slaughtered an innocent Indian hunting party from the reservation while they slept.

In 1859, Neighbors had the Brazos Indian Reservation tribes moved north to live with the Wichitas in the Washita Valley in what is now Oklahoma, but the relocation only provided a temporary reprieve.

Three years later, pro-Union Indians from Kansas attacked the pro-Confederate Tonkawa living on the reservation, killing many of the remaining Brazos Indian Reservation people in the process. The few survivors returned to Texas, where they worked as scouts for the U.S. Army at FortGriffin. 


 

 

From the August 2008 issue.

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