The passenger, retired Civil War General J.J. Byrne, was shot in the breast and thigh. The driver, Ed Walde, miraculously wheeled the stage coach around and headed directly back to Fort Quitman. Turning a mule driven coach around in the narrow canyon was no easy task especially while under attack by Mescalero Apaches.
As I run the Quitman Pass Rd this morning, I ponder what it must have been like to travel this wild and scenic route before the western frontier was tamed. Towering mountains loom in the distance; the dusty road snaking its way toward the canyon, my destination this morning. Behind me, the moon hovers over the vast expanse of mountain ranges across the Mexican border.
My running partners, Lucy, Sierra, Taz, Quasi (Modo), Harry (Potter), and Bush (not my dog) lead the way. Suddenly, I snap back to the present when a jack rabbit bolts across the road with six hungry dogs in hot pursuit. Don’t worry; they never catch anything, but have the time of their lives out here in the wide open spaces. After seven miles, we reach a windmill where we enter Quitman Canyon, the site of the indian attack.
I think of the brave pioneers who settled here and of John Butterfield who established the first overland mail route from St Louis, MO to San Francisco, CA in 1858. The original route went through the Guadalupe Pass, Alamo Springs, Hueco Tanks to Franklin, TX (present day El Paso). Later, a more southerly route was established that traveled by way of Ft Stockton, Ft Davis, Van Horn’s Wells, Eagle Spring, through Quitman Canyon to Ft Quitman and then along the Rio Grande to El Paso. (click for map of route)
In fact, the road I run today is the same course that Butterfield’s celerity wagons used to carry the mail and passengers until 1861. Other mail lines used the same route and this canyon is where Ed Walde and Gen Byrne were ambushed by, the Apache Chieftain, Victorio’s raiders in 1880.
A.C. Greene in his book, 900 Miles on the Butterfield Trail, quotes Texas Ranger James Gillett as saying, “It was a miracle that Walde, sitting on the front seat, escaped death without a scratch and that both of the mules were unharmed. At old Fort Quitman I examined the little canvas-topped stage and found it literally shot to pieces.” Unfortunately, Gen Byrne did not survive the attack, was buried at Ft Quitman and, per his last will, was reinterred a few weeks later in Ft Worth, TX.
I look around as I run through this wild canyon and come upon a circa 1970 car—bullet riddled and half rusted. All is calm as I pass over several gravelly arroyos. The road becomes steep with sharp curves. I climb out of the canyon to rolling ranch land and discover that my gps reads 10 miles. Time to head back towards Ft Quitman.
As I backtrack through the pass, I take a side trip into a dry a wash to a petroglyph site. The artwork of Victorio’s people? No, probably much older. Native Americans lived in these parts for thousands of years. Some of our relatives who grew up on a ranch near here speak of finding many spear points when they were children.
Shortly after returning to the main road, a modern day stage coach approaches (aka, Honda Ridgeline), the only sign of modern life I’ve seen all day. It happens to be my loyal crew coming to pick up the dogs and provide me with breakfast and some more water to get me home.
|Doesn't this look like a truck advertisement?|
I enjoy the company of my family for a few minutes and, after bidding everyone farewell, continue on my way. It is much lonelier now, but the weather is perfect for running. The slight downhill grade makes for easy going and before I know it, I have logged 20 miles.
|"Watch out for snakes and use common sense, OK?"|
If you would like to run, bike or drive the Quitman Canyon. Take the Sierra Blanca exit (107) from I-10 and head south on FM 1111. At about 7.8 miles turn left to stay on Quitman Pass Rd. The dirt road can be washed out after heavy rains so be careful. Take plenty of water and watch out for snakes. Cell phone service may be nil. A little bit of common sense, goes a long way, I always say.
My next post should be a full race report for the Bataan Death March (Civ. Light, 26.2 mi) that I'm running in a few weeks.
See you on the trail.