Monday, October 8, 2012

The Llano Estacado-The Staked Plains of Texas

I grew up Levelland, on the South Plains, which is a portion of The Llano Estacado, or The Staked Plains in the northwest portion of Texas. There, on the flat table-top Caprock, where the sky looked like a big blue bowl turned upside down on a sea of green cotton or brown plowed soil, our roots ran deep and strong and firm. There was something sacred about it, holding the clean, pure air and sky and land in our hearts.
The Llano Estacado lies at the southern end of the High Plains section of the Great Plains of North America; it is part of what was once called the Great American Desert. This geographic area stretches about 250 miles north to south, and 150 miles east to west, a total area of some 37,500 square miles (97,000 km2), larger than Indiana and 12 other states. It covers all or part of 33 Texas counties and four New Mexico counties.

Spanish conquistador Francisco Coronado, the first European to traverse this "sea of grass" in 1541, described it as follows: "I reached some plains so vast, that I did not find their limit anywhere I went, although I travelled over them for more than 300 leagues ... with no more land marks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea ... there was not a stone, nor bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by." He named the region after seeing the cliffs of the Caprock Escarpment from the north. They appeared to be an impenetrable defense for the land, and he called it Llano Estacado, Spanish for "Palisaded  Plains."

The name is often mistranslated as "staked plain," giving rise to fanciful stories to explain it. Some allude to yucca stems, others to stakes driven into the ground as landmarks, and still others to similar, even less plausible objects. None of these has been proven the reason for the name.

The Llano Estacado was the last area of Texas to be settled.
Mary Alma Perritt Blankenship and her husband were in the last group of settlers to obtain land on an area called "the strip."
The families drove to the area in wagons loaded with all their earthly possessions. They faced hostile big ranchers who wanted to keep the range open, lived in a dugout, and burned cow chips for fuel in order to obtain land--the most valuable possession of pioneers.
She said in her memoirs: "We had plenty of time to be still and know God. He was out nearest neighbor."

In the early 18th century, the Comanches expanded their territory into the Llano Estacado, displacing the Apaches who had previously lived there. The region became part of Comancheria, a Comanche stronghold until the final defeat of the tribe in the late 19th century.
In the latter part of the 19th century, the Llano was a refuge for the bands of Kiowas and Comanches who did not wish to be confined to reservations in Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. One of their last battles against the US Army was fought in bitter cold on
December 2, 1874 in Palo Duro Canyon.
 Because of its difficult conditions, the Llano Estacado today has an extremely low population density. Most of the area's population is localized in the principal cities of Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland and Odessa, Texas. The vast majority of the area is rural, covered by large ranches and irrigated farms. Several small- to medium-sized towns do exist, however, including Levelland, the town in which I grew up and married.

Today, the Llano Estacado thrives with oil wells,
Cotton and Wind Turbines,
Higher Education-Texas Tech University,
And wineries.
Llano Estacado Winery
In my re-issued novel Texas Promise, Jo and Dalton King ride horses up the Escarpment to the High Plains of the Llano Estacado to Amarillo. This is a portion of their journey from Austin to the mountains of New Mexico. I enjoyed writing about this journey because of my familiarity with that part of Texas.

The novel is now in print for the first time, and also available in ebook. Both can be found on Amazon under Celia Yeary, as well as B&N.



Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
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  1. All very familiar, Celia. Nice to have you share West Texas with readers.

  2. Awesome post, Celia. I still get sick to my stomach about the battle of Palo Duro, and the U.S. Army's slaughter of more than a thousand Comanche horses. Took 8 hours, they say, and some of the Cavalry, in their respect for horses, refused to shoot them. Sheesh. I can't even imagine the animals' terror.

    I love info about the Staked Plains. It's fun to imagine how and why the name came about!

  3. Beautiful photos. I always wanted to visit Texas. You're so lucky to live there. Thanks for sharing them.

  4. I've learned a little more about the state of Texas. I've been there three times. Once when our son graduated the Air Force boot camp and then twice in the Austin area where my sister-in-law lives. My dad and his family lived on a ranch outside of Wichita Falls when he was in High school.

  5. Celia, this was a wonderful lesson in Texas history for me. I knew nothing about this part of Texas until now. And the pictures made it even more interesting. My, you make me want to see and experience all of this myself.

  6. I love reading these history posts. You have a way of making history come alive, Celia!

  7. Very timely! We've just come back to the UK from visiting friends in the New Mexico end of Llano Estacado. They have an alpaca ranch and she took me to the homestead site where her grandmother, as a single woman, staked her claim. Alas, the high grasses she drove her wagon through from the rail stop have all gone in the current drought - which is biting ever deeper.

    Do mention the Ranch Heritage museum site in Lubbock. I found that fascinating.

  8. Caroline--I knew you would recognize it all! Thanks for checking Monday on my post. I'm home now.

  9. Tanya--Palo Duro Canyon has mixed blessings, and different memories for each person. Most people, even in Texas, know nothing of Col. MacKenzie and the battle that took place in the canyon. It was either shoot the horses or the people--a hard choice, but the colonel had orders.....Any military person understands that.
    However, the many times I have read about the Comanches and Texas, I we go again...mixed messages about the Comanche. I once wrote a NA story--which still sits in my files--and submitted it to ____ for their NA series.It was rejected for several a Comanche could not be a sympathetic hero--too vicious; two: a young lady from Spanish royalty who lived on a hacienda just across the Rio Grande would never be allowed to fall in love with a Comanche.
    But I followed the guidelines very well, down to the dates, what happened in Palo Duro Canyon..and got shot down myself on many points. I still this day..I was right. And so, the story of a young Comanche brave who escaped from the Palo Duro battle and made it to Mexico (which some actually did)was deemed as unbelievable as well.
    Now? I was born in the county over from Caroline, and we know all about the history of the Comanche in N. Texas. And so, I read and saw a different side of them, and made one a hero.
    Sad tale for me that my story was rejected.
    Thanks so much for your comment...I always know you have done your research. I know you love horses...and makes me, sick, too.

  10. Kathy--thanks. I don't live there now, and haven't for decades. I grew up there and married, but like many young couples moved away to bigger and better things! It still holds a special place in my heart, though.

  11. Paty--you do have connections to Texas! More than one person has told me she lived in Texas once...because of the military. Texas does have bases, that's for sure. Thanks.

  12. Linda--thank you. You know that our memories and early perceptions are different from the present. I remember it in the eyes of a fifties girl...I wouldn't care to live there now. It has it's good point...for sure...but Central Texas is home now...and I wouldn't live anywhere else. Except...maybe Paducah, KY!

  13. Maggie--thank you. I know you love history, too...Georgia history. We have to know our home base to write a good story.

  14. Linda--you did? Wow!!!! The grasses disappeared before the
    30s, the Great Depression. The great drought actually began in Colorado and spread down through Texas. The Colorado ranchers and farmers scoured the earth and plowed it under, which created the massive sandstorm--The Dust Bowl era--and it spread south. The native grasses still survive in very small patches, and if protected, will come back. Hard to do when cities and pavements covers everything.
    Here in Central Texas, we live on 3 acres of wooded land--live oaks and mesquite--and it once was coverd in Buffalo Grass--the native grass..My husband cleared the acres of trash brush, etc. and began to mow. After the first couple of mowings and the new grasses appeared, I found 3-4 small patches of Buffalo grass. I instructed him--do not mow here--I marked the areas--until this grass goes to seed. Yea! We have small patches still.
    Thanks for your interesting comment....hope you enjoyed your stay.

  15. Celia, what a wonderful family history you have in Texas. I only lived in Texas a little over a year in Killeen when my husband was in the service way back in
    1970. We made a lot of road trips around Texas, but it would have been even more interesting if we had had you for a tour guide.
    Texas Promise sounds like a terrific story.

  16. I am the third cousin of Cynthia Ann Parker, the 11-year-old who was kidnapped in the raid on Ft Parker by the Comanches, married a Comanche and was the mother of Quannah Parker, pictured on this page. Other than Quannah's later life, the story was unmitigated disaster for everyone except one participant. His name was John Richard Parker, Cynthia's younger brother. He was kidnapped as well at the age of five. At 10 he was ransomed and returned to his family, but disliked it so much that he escaped back to the Comanche. He grew up raiding with them as that was their lifestyle. On one raid into Mexico they raided a ranch for horses, and also kidnapped a 12 year old girl named (as far as I have been able to find) Doña Juanita. After traveling about a day John became sick, and the Indians, as was their custom, left him off with food and water; they also left Juanita with him. Rather than return home, she saw him through the sickness, and when he was well enough, they returned together to her parent's ranch. They were later married, and he built up a cattle ranch nearby in Mexico. He joined Texas in the Civil War, and finally died in 1915 with a large family around him.

    My father grew up in Placid (McCulloch) Texas and Aspermont. He traveled the Llano Estacado several times by mule cart to and from Artesia, NM; in fact he was born on one such trip. I have a journal of such a trip in 1920 written by a cousin of his.


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