Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Plazitas, ca. 1876

by N. Bright

The Buffalo were thinned out, the last holdout of Chief Quannah Parker’s band had been defeated, and cattleman had not yet staked their claim on the flat, treeless Texas plains. It was during this time that sheepherding compounds dotted both sides of the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle. These plazitas were the center of a carefree, hardworking life for Spanish and Mexican sheepherders. 

In 1876, following old Comenchero trails, Spaniard Casimiro Romero brought fourteen wagons; painted bright blue, each pulled by four-yoke oxen, and stuffed with his family and worldly possessions. Joining him was friend, Agapito Sandoval, and all seven of his children. Pastores drove thousands of sheep behind them. They camped along the Canadian River that winds its way through what is now the Texas Panhandle.

Jose Romero was five at the time. He remembers, “It was a beautiful stream, no sand bars at all. It was hardly more than 20 feet wide, and had deep, clear, living water in most spots. Its banks were fringed, along practically the entire distance we traveled, with many bushes: wild chokeberries, plums—great big plums, too—wild gooseberries and grapes. There were many cottonwood mottes scattered along its banks.”

They circled their wagons under a grove of cottonwoods, building wind breaks with tree limbs and brush. The first wintering-in site allowed them to explore the surrounding area looking for the perfect locations for their compounds and they begin to stockpile adobe brick.
Romero decided on the area which would later become the wild west town of Tascosa. Sandoval settled about eight miles away near a cottonwood protected natural spring on Corsinio Creek. For their homes, the two men used thin layers of sandstone, cemented together with adobe. Cottonwood logs and sod made the roof. 

The Trujillo, Garcia, Valdez, Salina, Chavez, Montoya, Agua, Briggs, Kimball, Borrego, and Tafoya families soon followed as word reached crowded Mora County, New Mexico. The hospitable Borrego Plaza was thought to have grown to 24 houses, minus stores and saloon like the Romero compound. By 1880 the Tascosa area supported 300 souls. Miles away bustling San Antonio and Austin cared little about what went on in the “useless” Llano Estacado. I wonder if the politicians were even aware of the existence of these early settlers.
The plazitas were central to life, with each days work bringing thoughts of the anticipated “baile” or dances. Guitars and fiddles provided the music for night long celebrations with plenty of liquour and spicy foods for all. Neighbors rode from miles and miles away when word reached them about an upcoming baile.

As you gaze over the stark, treeless landscape occasional trees disrupt the horizon. With endless sky and pasture, it’s hard to tell if these might be clumps of squat mesquite or cactus. As you get closer, you discover they are tops of towering cottonwoods, shading a fresh water seep in a deep arroyo. As the arroyo widens and turns into a small canyon portions of original plazitos remain hidden from the plains above and protected from the chilling north winds.

These low, solid rock walls rise from the flat plains and provide the first evidence of buildings surrounding a compound. Remnants of the Sandoval plaza dot the immediate area around the spring. Although the adobe brick have long since crumbled away, some rock walls remain. Doorways and missing roofs hint at the people who once cared for thriving sheep herds in this desolate place. As you walk among the orderly layout, it’s easy to imagine a time of simple existence and of rugged people. 

By the 1880’s railroads and cattle ranches cut into the sheep lands. Ramero returned to New Mexico in 1897. His son Jose, is buried in Llano Cemetery in Amarillo.

REF: Panhandle Pilgrimage by Pauline and R.L. Robertson, or Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle by Byron Price and Dr. Frederick Rathjen.

Natalie Bright is an author, blogger, and enjoys speaking about history and story craft. Her stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications, most recently this March “A Cowboy’s Life” will appear in Appleseeds. She is represented by Stephen Fraser, of The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, NYC, who is currently shopping her western novels for middle grade readers. She holds a BBA from WTSU, her husband is a geologist and cattle rancher, and they have two teenaged boys. She’s on the web at Facebook/Natalie-Bright-Author, Twitter @natNKB, Amazon Author Pages, Pinterest/natbright, and she blogs every Monday at

Thursday, January 15, 2015

January Member News

Andrea Downing, Dances of the Heart, Successful, workaholic author Carrie Bennett lives through her writing, but can’t succeed at writing a man into her life. Furthermore, her equally successful but cynical daughter, Paige, proves inconsolable after the death of her fiancé. Hard-drinking rancher Ray Ryder can find humor in just about anything—except the loss of his oldest son. His younger son, Jake, recently returned from Iraq, now keeps a secret that could shatter his deceased brother’s good name. On one sultry night in Texas, relationships blossom when the four meet, starting a series of events that move from the dancehalls of Hill Country to the beach parties of East Hampton, and from the penthouses of New York to the backstreets of a Mexican border town. But the hurts of the past are hard to leave behind, especially when old adversaries threaten the fragile ties that bind family to family…and lover to lover. Also available on Amazon.

Gail Jenner A western love short story, “Valentine Angel” will be included in the upcoming anthology, Cowboy Kisses,( Prairie Rose Publishing” targeted for Valentine's Day. Available on - Kindle/paperback.

Gail has been interviewed for and will be appearing this spring in an episode of “MysteriesFrom the Museum”, on the State of Jefferson movement in Northern CA/Southern OR in 1941,  and also appeared in a PBS episode of “Oregon Experience”, on the State of Jefferson movement (Nov. 2014).

Gail also writes three historical essays a month for PBS/Jefferson Public Radio, which is heard all over Southern Oregon and Northern California. Link: and an historical profile/article for the regional monthly publication, Jefferson Backroads.

C.M. Mayo, Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project: Exploring Marfa, Texas & the Greater Big Bend Region of Far West Texas in 24 Podcasts, including "Gifts of the Ancient Ones: Greg Williams on the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands" and  "Tremendous Forms: Paul V. Chaplo on FindingComposition in the Landscape".


This is the story of the murder of Texas Ranger John Green by Cesario Menchaca, one of three Rangers of Mexican descent under Green’s command. Immediately word spread that the killing may have been the botched outcome of a contract taken out on Menchaca’s life by the notorious Gabriel Marnoch, a local naturalist who had run up against the law himself. But was it? 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December Member News

Lots of possibilities to add to our last-minute Christmas shopping list! Congratulations!

Susan Wittig Albert  A Wilder Rose
Brilliance Audio will bring out the audiobook edition of this historical novel, to be published at the same time (March 17, 2015) as the Lake Union reprint edition. The book tells the true story of the mother-daughter collaboration (Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane) that produced the Little House books.

Janet Jensen’s new release Gabriel's Daughters (Jolly Fish Press) has also won a silver award in religious fiction from Readers Favorites. The novel wrestles with issues of polygamy, homosexuality, and modernity through the lives of the large, loving, and polygamous Martin family. The story is told primarily through the eyes of Zina Martin, a young girl who, upon discovering she is impregnated by her "sterile" teacher—and will soon be married off to a man three times her age—escapes the enclosed polygamous town of Gabriel's Landing, Utah. Zina then embarks on a journey full of self-discovery, yet she can never completely escape the longing she has for her family and even the controversial and outdated lifestyle she once lived.

Leslee BreeneThe Christmas Gift”, an Ebook short story for the holidays. In 1883, Miriam Cole travels to Denver at Christmas to deliver her orphaned baby nephew to her married sister. The sweetness of his touch upon her cheek makes her heart tighten. When the time comes, how will she ever let him go? “With both verve and delicacy, Ms. Breene reminds us that miracles are indeed possible.” ~ Jane Choate RWA author of Keeping Watch – Harlequin

Diane Gardner, OregonState Penitentiary (Arcadia Publishing)  As the only maximum-security prison in the state, the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP) has housed some of the most violent criminals on the West Coast, including brutal serial killers Charley Panzram in 1915 and Jerry Brudos in 1969. Sixty men have been executed inside OSP. The prison was originally built in Portland in 1851 but moved to Salem 15 years later, after Oregon became a state. From that time forward, the Oregon State Penitentiary grew from 23 prisoners in 1866 to 1,912 by 1992. 

B J Scott The Rail Queen, fifth novel in his Tales of Strong Women series. This novel, set in 1884, tells the story of Montana schoolgirl Ryka Sundstrom's unquenchable dream to build her own railroad. Her struggle is interwoven with the blossoming of the American railroad as it knits together the east and west coasts in a brief glorious period when all things were possible, even for a teenager with an outlandish dream and the will to pursue it.,

Penny Sidoli The Intersection of Daydream and Driving Slow is a collection of short stories by, with the setting of the contemporary American West. The book is available on as either paperback or ebook.   “A collection of wildly original tales packed with descriptions of the broad landscape of the American West, and lively characters who jump off the page into your heart.” 

Patricia Grady Cox Chasm Creek A hangman's noose stands between Morgan Braddock and the family he loves. Esther Corbin clings to a marriage with a man who has abandoned her and their four children. Ruben Santiago scorns his native heritage after being kidnapped from the Navajos and raised in Mexico as a Roman Catholic. Three unlikely friends. Three lives based on lies. Until ghostly visitations and violent confrontations shatter their illusions, and each must find their place in the merciless Arizona Territory. Chasm Creek incorporates aspects of the Navajo Long Walk into a story of love, loss, and fates entwined.

Deanna Dickinson McCall Mustang Spring Stories and Poems  won Poetry Book of the Year at the annual Western Music Convention and Awards in Albuquerque NM. Mustang Springs is a book about the real people of the West. Their stories are told in poetry and prose that will make you laugh and cry. She also won the Georgie Sicking Award for an individual poem, “Cow Country Code.

Anne Schroeder's break-out novel, Cholama Moon, has been named favorite non-traditional Western novel in True West's List of Favorites for 2015. Cholama Moon is a gritty historical romance set in California's Central Coast.

Karen Casey-Fitzjerrel, ForgivingEffie Beck is a finalist for the 2014 EPIC Award for Historical fiction. In this Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award-winning work of fiction. Mike LeMay, a Federal Writers’ Project interviewer arrives in a small Texas town days before the town eccentric, Effie Beck, is reported missing. While conducting his interviews, Mike learns that the enigmatic, elderly Miss Effie has moved through the lives of the town’s populace "like brown smoke" after having suffered a harsh childhood under the discipline of a cruel father.