The first historical markers in Texas date back to 1856, when the state purchased a pyramid of stones from the Alamo to display at the San Antonio Courthouse in commemoration of that battle.
In 1909, the Texas State Library and Historical Commission was formed, and the following decades saw a flurry of granite markers and statues placed at significant locations and graves throughout the state, including every five miles along the Camino Real or Old San Antonio Road by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Totaling 123 pink granite markers, most of them are still intact.
1936 was the height of the Great Depression; however, it was also the centennial year of the Texas Revolution and the Republic of Texas, and the Texas Centennial Commission placed over 1,100 historical markers and monuments throughout the state to as a commemoration.
The current program that places and maintains markers is the Official Texas Historical Marker Program, which began in 1962. In the past six decades, the number of markers has swelled to over 16,000 in Texas.
The Trans-Pecos has its share of these snippets of history, scattered like gems along the highways and byways.
MARATHON (Highway 90, one mile east of Marathon, 1965)
“Fort Pena Colorado, the last active fort in this area, on the old Comanche Trail, about 4 miles to the Southwest was established in 1879.
“Marathon was founded in 1881. Named by an old sea captain, A.E. Shepard, for the plain of Marathon, in Greece, of which the hills here reminded him.
“Cradle of West Texas Cattle Industry. Among the first noted ranchers here were Mayer M. Halff and brother, owners of the famous Circle Dot brand.
“Original gateway to the Big Bend National Park.”
It was in fact Mayer Halff and his brother, Solomon, who leased the land at Rainbow Springs to the U.S. military as a camp. Halff’s ranch near Pena Colorado was 100,000 acres, but his total holdings were over 1,000,000 acres and extended in scattered parcels from west of San Antonio into eastern New Mexico.
Born in 1836 in Alsace, France, to a family of cattle industry workers, Halff came to the United States in 1851 to join his older brother Adolphe in Galveston. When his brother was lost at sea in a shipwreck in 1856, Solomon emigrated to join his older brother and the two became business partners.
Halff was a prominent member of the Jewish community in Texas. At one time he was the third-largest cattle owner in the state. He was also the owner of the Quien Sabe ranch near Midland, which was a holding of 300,000 acres and one of the largest remaining open range ranches in the Southwest. He died in 1905.
LOS CABALLOS (Highway 385, twomiles south of the Marathon Border Patrol Station, 1970)
“Highly deformed rocks in the Ouachita fold belt, a northeasterly trending range, uplifted about 275 to 290 million years ago. The intricate folding is shown by whitish rock bands—called caballos (the Spanish word for horses)—exposed on both sides of this highway. The Ouachita fold is comparable in age to the uplift that formed the Appalachians in the eastern part of the United States.
“The northwesterly trending Del Norte-Santiago range (southmost extension of the Rocky Mountains) forms the southwestern skyline. The rocks of this range were deposited in a sea that covered the Ouachita fold belt after erosion had reduced the highlands and a later submergence lowered the area. Santiago Peak (named for a local man who was killed by Indians and buried beneath the peak) is the high, flat-topped mountain to the southwest. It was once a mass of molten magma that cooled and hardened underneath the earth’s surface and was uncovered by later erosion. The Del Norte-Santiago range, uplifted and folded 40 to 60 million years ago, is not half the age of the Ouachita fold. This is a remarkable fusion of “old” and “young” mountains—and is unmatched at any other site in North America.”
To truly understand how bizarre the caballo novaculite of Brewster county is, one must consider the vast difference in age between the mountains. When the Ouachita fold was formed, it preserved fossils from the Devonian period, an era that spanned 419 million years ago to 358 million years ago. These fossils would be fishes (the Devonian period is known as the age of fish), plants and terrestrial arthropods (basically ancient bugs). The Devonian period is when life began to move from the oceans to the land, diversifying rapidly and changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere.
To give a clearer understanding of the difference in time between the Ouachita formations and the surrounding igneous formations, the Ouachita fold occurred about 30 million years before dinosaurs existed, and the Del Norte-Santiago range came into existence after dinosaurs became extinct. To have geologic formations with such a huge age disparity be visible side-by-side is a geologist’s delight.
In this one tiny area, the young and vigorous Rocky Mountains terminate, shaking hands with the very tail-end of the ancient Ouachita fold, which stretches through Oklahoma and Arkansas before meeting the Appalachian Mountains in the northeast of the continent. Two ranges representing vastly different eras and processes come to rest in West Texas, poking their heads out of the ground to be studied and enjoyed.
Look for more Historical Markers in upcoming issues of the Cenizo.