Legendary Terlingua

Deep in West Texas, upon the Southernmost reaches of the Rio Grande’s Big Bend, resides a ghost town called Terlingua.

A mining company was founded there, if legend serves, by a speculator from Chicago named Howard Perry, upon the premise that a wealth of Mercury-bearing ore lay buried just benieth his feet.

Perry called his operation the Chisos Mining Company, built a Company Town around it, complete with a Chapel, School, General Store, Theatre, Jail and Mansion (all of which remain to this day), and got to the business of mining and smelting Mercury.

And if legend serves, Perry won the lot on a Poker hand.

Perry’s wife, Molly, arrived Alpine, Texas from Chicago, Ilinois via rail (three weeks), Terlingua by Stagecoach (a sweltering three-day trek from Alpine), and departed the following day, in reverse order, to return to Chicago.

Seems the Mansion and Theatre couldn’t trump the isolation, ambient temperature/lack of humidity, or Hydrogen Sulphide gas emissions spewing from the primitive smelting operation utilized to render liquid Mercury from Cinnabar (Mercury ore).

Anyway, fortunes grew, fortunes declined, and in due time, Mercury lost its shine.

Eventually the Chisos Mining Company was scuttled, the Company town abruptly abandoned, and ironworks salvaged by some opportunistic gang from Houston, 600 miles away. Brown & Root, I believe.

So abrupt was Terlingua’s evacuation that The Company Store (now the Terlingua Trading Company), when decades later the Company Store’s door were breeched, the shelves were still stocked with mining supplies, Carbide Mining lamps and the Carbide to fuel them, canned goods, blasting caps, sewing needles; the immense Adobe structure was a veritable time-capsule of the moment the bottom fell out of the Mercury market.

In time, a local Mountain Lion Trapper and Handshake Entrepreneur named Rex Ivey bought the 80+ acres known as Terlingua on a hunch, and for a song, but not after a spirited bidding war with his son, Bill. Rex has passed. Bill has not.

Almost simultaneously, Carroll Shelby of Ford Mustang/Cobra fame bought several thousand acres North of Terlingua as a testing ground for his cars, and NASA utilized some of the landscape to train future Astronauts for the rigours of Lunar Geology and the operation of the Lunar Rovers.

That territory is now known as “Terlingua Ranch“.

Decades passed,  then Chili was discovered in Dallas in 1969 by Gentlemen Culinary legends, Frank X. Tolbert and Wick Fowler.

Rather abruptly, Terlingua was reborn as the home of TWO World Champion Chili Cook-offs; Tolbert-Fowler and CASI.

A handful of urban refugees abandoned the comforts of city life for a desert landscape of Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, Tarantulas, Bobcats, Mountain Lions, Coyotes and Bears, opting instead for the beautiful desolation of Deep West Texas, “South of the Cattle Guard”.

More interestingly still,  Terlingua gradually evolved into an Arts Mecca, largely due to the influence of a hearty pack of adventurers and artisans including Dale Jenssen, Mark Eyeball Kneeskern, Butch Hancock, Pablo Menudo, Angie Dean, Sarah Bourbon, Beth Garcia, Colly Ryan, Al Barlow, Anna Whiteley, Dave Huff and Bill Ivey, to name but a few.

Bordered by Big Bend National Park to the East, Big Bend Ranch State Park to the West, the Rio Grande and Mexico to the South, Terlingua is arguably the most breathtaking wedge of dirt in Texas. Period.

And I have the images to prove it.

Look around.

Prove me wrong.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *