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Ben H. English

Ben. H. English Texas

What a difference a year makes. When I wrote this, ‘Out There: Essays on the Lower Big Bend’ was being readied for publication. Moreover, ‘The Uvalde Raider’ was still in development under the working title of ‘Winter Eagles.’

Hit the fast forward button and both books are now in print and doing well. ‘Out There’ turned out to be my first hardbound offering, as well as my first audio book with myself doing the narration. That was one steep learning curve!

‘The Uvalde Raider’ has caused a good deal of social media buzz and holds a near perfect review average on Amazon. Most importantly, many readers have given the book this summation: It made them proud to be a Texan and an American.

Folks, for me it does not get any better than that.

Please keep those reviews coming! Your thoughts and words make for the best advertising any writer could ever have.

Thank you and God bless to all,

Ben“The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast, and you miss all you are traveling for.”
― Louis L’Amour

The remains of nameless paths, trails and wagon tracks from antiquity crisscross across the face of the lower Big Bend in a bewildering maze of forgotten individual histories. Each had their own reason, their own purpose, and their own special direction and way. For each one you find on any map, dozens more run unmarked, waiting for the curious as well as the observant to rediscover them.

And so it was on this day.

I was on the scout swinging a loop past Gano Spring, named for the Gano brothers who established the first ranch in what is now Big Bend National Park. ‘Big’ is a relative term, but in this case an understatement as their holdings extended from the Chisos to Anguila Mesa, and from the river to the Agua Fria. The ranch was called the G4.

The Gano Spring area is a clash among eras and cultures, but also with a continuity that is only found in spots of this desert providing a reliable source of water. Nearby are the remnants of Indian camps, shelters, diggings and what is left of a later ranch once known as the Culpepper. All dissimilar, yet all now joined together as fading testaments of what once existed here.

Then there are the natural features, as bizarre and dissimilar as created by man’s hand but on a far grander scale. This photo was taken a bit below the spring itself and illustrates well why this land had such a hold on my ancestors, and on me. Majestic mountains and canyons, rich grasslands, rocks and boulders of every size and description, arid desert and eroding badlands where the scarce, hardy vegetation fights a daily battle just to survive.

Take a closer look at that photo; those are not fence lines, folks …

God bless to all,

Ben

Ben H. English
Alpine, Texas
USMC: 1976-1983
THP: 1986-2008

Author of ‘Yonderings’ (TCU Press)
‘Destiny’s Way’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
‘Out There: Essays on the Lower Big Bend’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
‘The Uvalde Raider’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
Facebook: Ben H. English
Webpage: benhenglish.com
‘Graying but still game’

The Stable Performance Cars
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Ben H. English

Ben. H. English.

“And then we Danced”
Catherine Eaves July 2021

Bianca slowly opened one eye as she sleepily scanned the surroundings of her room and squinted at the intruding rays of sunlight beginning to stream into the adobe house. Realizing that she was already late with her chores, she quickly swung her long, thin legs out of the bed. Her feet barely hit the floor and she was dressed and eager to start the day. Tonight, there would be dancing at the rock circle on top of the hill. Grabbing a few bites of some canned fruit and securing her long dark hair into a bun she was out of the door in no time. She had plenty to do with taking care of the chickens, goats, sheep, and the family’s two milk cows. She also had to tend to the food crops, scooping down to pull the weeds with her bare hands and checking them for pests before going to school. Not far in the distance was Poppa Joe and Sally Humphrey’s house, which also served as the local school. Sally Humphrey was a natural beauty with dark, dancing eyes that were lit with the brightest of light from within. She was a kind woman who loved children, although very strict in the classroom. She expected her pupil’s full attention and dedication as they went through their daily lessons.
Days were long and often hot as the sun beat down on everything below. Life was not easy, nor for the fainthearted, in Terlingua del Abajo in 1905. Survival was day to-day. Disease, drought, famine, and death were part of daily life. Being bone tired was the normal human condition for the villagers and for Bianca, a dark-haired, green-eyed beauty.

Occasionally there was a respite from the struggles of living, some time to enjoy the simple fact that she was alive. Tonight would be one of those times. Everyone from the surrounding area would hurry home at the end of the day. Washing their faces and combing their hair they would quiver with excitement. Donning their best Sunday dress they hurried to the rock circle, a Threshing Circle or Arrastra, where stalks of grains would be placed around the outer part of the circle and mules or donkeys would be walked around the circle to loosen the grain from the stalk. But tonight, it was a place of celebration, a place to socialize and dance. A place to rejoice that they are alive, they are survivors. Bianca had her eye on a handsome, strong young man with dark soulful eyes a few years her senior for some time now. She hoped that this young man, Roberto, would ask her to dance. As her favorite song, the Blue Waltz filled the cooling, clear air and reverberated on the starry sky above he walked toward her, her green eyes gleaming with anticipation.

Roberto asked if he could have this dance. She was so excited, she felt as though her soul left her body. With Santa Elena Canyon in the distance, they danced. In her later years, Bianca fondly recalled this day with glimmering eyes to her great-grandchildren. “This was when your great grandfather and I fell in love. Life was hard and filled with sorrows, we struggled to survive and then we danced.”

The photos below are on an adventure led by Ben English at the beginning of June 2021. My dear friends, Cheryl and Art Hailes and I had the pleasure of visiting Terlingua del Abajo with Ben. As we walked in 105-degree heat to the site of the Humphrey School I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who lived here over 100 years ago. Cheryl and I kept lagging behind Ben and Art as we would stop so that we could take it all in. The story is fictional, a depiction of where my imagination took me although the Humphrey’s and their school are real. I spent many hours researching the area and trying to find as much information on Joe (Poppa) and Sally Humphrey as I could. I couldn’t locate much on them other than they reported seeing the Marfa Lights in the late 1800s and they lived in Terlingua del Abajo from 1903-1919. Sally taught school out of her house which you now see in ruins in the photo below.

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Ben H. English

Ben H. English ~

And the winds against his face,
Were soft as the touch of a lover,
In a world of sky and stone;
Sometimes he was up there all alone,
But he was lonely—never”…
–Dave Stamey, ‘Dan Was a Packer’

Sometimes when prowling through the lower Big Bend, lyrics and lines of songs and poetry drift through my mind like the comings and goings of my own wanderlust.

Seldom are they complete in form, and on occasion will play in my head incessantly, like a worn and scratched phonograph record that repeats itself until the internal spring winds down, or someone resets the needle.

Today was one of those days, and the lyrics above were what came to me.

And for good reason.

I had started out near where Oak Creek crosses under Study Butte Road, saddling up and pointing my nose roughly southeast, heading for Ash Spring. Though the Chisos and surrounding regions had two good snows this past winter, rainfall had been scant to none. These springs are nature’s barometer as to the relative dryness of her arid reign.

Rock walls and unstable slides rose up on either side as I entered the canyon, and near endless piles of every kind of rock, stone and boulder littered the floor as I made my way forward.

It was not an easy route, and the dry holes where water once collected told a dismal story as to just how dry it really was. The lack of sign for wildlife coming to and from underlined this sad circumstance; while the far too seldom bee, wasp or fly searched futilely for the wisplike liquid gold.

For if insects could pray, their wings cried out for rain as plaintively as some of the Psalms of David in the Old Testament.

Knowing the actual head for the spring was still ahead, hidden among yet more heaping mounds of jumbled up rock, and that my last spot to exit out of the canyon was passing me by, I elected to climb out while the opportunity existed.

Up the steep slope and sunbaked slides I went, topping out and being welcomed by a desert breeze that cooled my sweat-soaked shirt and clothes. Picking out a likely spot, I dropped pack and gear for a nooning.

The seating wasn’t much, but the scenery made up for any shortcomings in whatever comfort most folks might clamor for. After having a quick meal, consulting my maps and filling my spirit in the surrounding scenery, I made ready to push on.

That is when I took this photo.

And that was when the lyrics to ‘Dan Was A Packer’ started playing in my head.

Ultimately that song would stick to my consciousness while swinging a loop from Ash Spring to Oak Spring, then in my return past Gano Spring and back to where I started that morning.

I saw the remnants of history and a hundred sights worth remembering, from Indian camps to cactus flowers, muley deer, birds of all sorts and the last rotting fenceposts for ranches including the G4, the Rooney and the Homer Wilson.

Even had one of those twelve inch rains, the kind where big drops promise much but deliver nigh nothing, falling to the parched ground at twelve inch intervals.

My shoulders ached, my feet hurt and my calves warned me of a possible rebellion in the form of charley horses.

But I kept going, mesmerized by all that was around me.

And the words to that same song continued to carry me along.

But maybe it wasn’t in my head after all.

It was in my heart…

Ben H. English
Alpine, Texas
USMC: 1976-1983
THP: 1986-2008

Author of ‘Yonderings’ (TCU Press)
‘Destiny’s Way’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
‘Out There: Essays on the Lower Big Bend’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
‘The Uvalde Raider’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
Facebook: Ben H. English
Webpage: benhenglish.com
‘Graying but still game’

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