A cow camp grew up from a cattle trail crossroads.
Picture Horsehead Crossing of the Pecos River with a herd of parched cattle stampeding to the water along its steep banks after a dusty 75-mile slog from San Angelo. It’s two years after the Civil War and this is the first of many cattle drives on the Goodnight-Loving Trail.
The drovers lost crushed cattle at the river crossing, and calves were left behind on the trail from San Angelo. Ultimately, they succeeded in driving the Texas longhorns to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and Colorado.
“That first cattle drive was around the Fourth of July, and it must have been hotter than hell,” Texas historian Kirby Warnock said.
That dramatic chapter in Western history was the basis for Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove.
The Pecos County Historical Com-mission considers Horsehead Crossing the second-most iconic historical site in Texas, just after the Alamo. It was also a crossing for the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach in 1858-61 and a stop on the Comanche Trail.
The commission is sponsoring a Horsehead Crossing Celebration at the Pecos River ford on October 27-29. It’s a rugged campout at the remote site.
The nearby town of Pecos, northwest of the crossing, was a cow camp established with the arrival of the Texas & Pacific Railroad in 1881.
Today, Pecos is a town of 13,000 that celebrates its frontier West Texas history. The chamber of commerce and visitor center are in the 142-year-old railroad depot that also houses a Rodeo Hall of Fame.
Pecos claims its West of the Pecos Rodeo, first held July 4, 1883, is “The World’s First Rodeo.” It has run continuously since 1929.
The West of the Pecos Museum occupies an 1896 saloon and the 1904 Orient Hotel. The three-story hotel has exhibits of Native American artifacts and rodeo, ranching and railroad memorabilia.
Centennial Park in Pecos is home to a recreated Judge Roy Bean saloon and courthouse. Bean was a corrupt justice of the peace who dispensed frontier justice out of his Jersey Lily saloon in Langtry, 180 miles southeast of Pecos. He proclaimed himself “the only law west of the Pecos.”
The saloon had no jail. Judge Bean sent prisoners to Fort Stockton, the county seat of Pecos County, said Warnock, Pecos County Historical Commission secretary. The city of Pecos is in nearby Reeves County, which causes confusion for outsiders interested in West Texas history.
Visitors to Pecos may want to check out the historic attractions in nearby Fort Stockton, including the historic fort and the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum. Also worth a visit, just a 90-minute drive from Pecos, is Fort Davis National Historic Site, which was founded in 1854 to protect early travelers on the San Antonio to El Paso Road.
In Western culinary history, Pecos is also home to the Frying Pan Ranch Chuckwagon. Stop by the West of the Pecos Museum to see the historic Scarborough/Linebery family’s chuckwagon. It was used by the Scarborough family for more than a century. Evelyn and Tom Linebery donated the working chuckwagon to the museum.
Pecos visitors also might want to explore the city’s Boot Trail. It includes nearly two dozen, larger-than-life-size boots that have been decorated by different businesses and organizations.
Stop by the chamber of commerce office to pick up a Boot Trail Guide. Find all of the boots and get a stamp at each of the sponsoring businesses. Bring back the Boot Trail Guide with all the stamps in it to pick up a Pecos prize.
Lastly, don’t miss the 77th annual Reeves County Fall Fair the weekend of October 7.
Where History Meets the Highway
Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center in the Texas & Pacific Railway Depot, 100 E. First Street The depot also features a Rodeo Hall of Fame.
HISTORIC HOTEL HOUSES MUSEUM
The West of the Pecos Museum is in the former Orient Hotel and the adjacent No. 11 Saloon.
JUDGE ROY BEAN’S REPLICA COURTHOUSE
Pecos’s Centennial Park features a replica of Judge Bean’s courthouse/saloon, created in 1935.
GET YOU SOME TEXAS BBQ
Locals crave the brisket at Pody’s BBQ, which made Texas Monthly’s list of Top 50 Texas barbecue joints.
WEST TEXAS OASIS
For over eight decades, the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool at Balmorhea State Park has offered visitors a place to swim, snorkel and cool off in the soothing waters of the San Solomon Springs.