From the Annals of the Llano Estacado – In 1871, former slave Britton Johnson was killed by a band of Kiowa who attacked his wagon train. Johnson had been a slave of Moses Johnson, but was treated more like the foreman of his ranch and allowed freedom of movement and to raise his own livestock. In October of 1864, Indians killed his son and kidnapped his wife and other children in the Elm Creek Raid. Johnson pursued his relatives and became somewhat legendary for his exploits across the Llano Estacado that eventually resulted in the ransom of his relatives. After the Civil War, Johnson worked as a teamster hauling goods between Weatherford and Fort Griffin. On the fateful trip he and two other black teamsters were ambushed by a band of about 25 Kiowa four miles east of Salt Creek in Young County. A group of teamsters from a larger train of wagons discovered the bodies and reported that it appeared that Johnson died last in a desperate defense behind the body of his horse. Other teamsters who found the mutilated bodies of Johnson and his men counted 173 rifle and pistol shells in the area where Johnson made his stand. He was buried with his men in a common grave beside the wagon road.
In 1541, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado wrote to Charles I, King of Spain, describing for the first time the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains. The Llano is a high tableland extending across much of the Texas panhandle and eastern New Mexico. In Texas its eastern boundary is marked by the impressive Caprock which runs hundreds of miles across west Texas. Coronado was overwhelmed by the vastness of the Llano Estacado. As he wrote, “I reached plains so vast that I did not find their limit anywhere I went, although I travelled over them for 300 leagues.” He further describes them as having “no more land marks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea. There was not a stone, nor a bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by.” He was also the first to write about the incredible herds of cattle (bison) that he encountered and the first to describe the various plains Indians that he encountered. Of course, he never found the Cities of Gold that he was looking for.
From the Annals of the Museums– In 1933, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum opened in Canyon. The PPHM claims to be the first state museum in Texas. The museum first began to take shape when an educator named Hattie Anderson moved to Canyon to teach history at West Texas State Normal College. She saw an opportunity to preserve the quickly vanishing history of the Llano Estacado. By early 1921, Anderson and L.F. Sheffy (the head of the college’s history department) joined seven other faculty members and around thirty students to organize the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society. Together they began to collect and preserve the human and natural history of the region. They began soliciting support for their efforts, in the form of society memberships. By 1932, the group had enough funds to begin construction of Pioneer Hall still the main building for the museum. The Art Deco limestone structure features fine decorative stonework and, on its façade, carvings and bas reliefs depicting Western themes as well as Panhandle-Plains flora and fauna. More than 75 famous West Texas cattle brands surround the entrance.
Red personally recommends the PPHM as the best historical museum in the State. A must see if you visit Canyon and expect to spend at least a couple of hours touring the excellent exhibits.
From the Annals of the Conquistadors – In 1540, the Spanish Viceroy of Mexico, Antonio de Mendoza, commissioned Francisco Vázquez de Coronado to lead an expedition to search for the Seven Cities of Cíbola. The Spanish were intrigued by the report of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca who had described the cities after finding his way back to New Spain following his long wandering through Texas, New Mexico and northern Mexico. Another explorer, Marcos de Niza, later confirmed Cabeza de Vaca’s report. Coronado and 1,000 men set out from Culiacan April of 1540 and he did not return for more than two years. He found Cíbola – but they were the Pueblos of western New Mexico and there was no gold. Undaunted, he was induced by the captive El Turco to search for gold in Quivira located somewhere in present day Kansas. Quivira turned out to be a village of the Plains Indians eking out a subsistence living. in his wanderings, Coronado did explore the Llano Estacado in the Panhandle and Eastern New Mexico and “discovered” Palo Duro Canyon and the Caprock in West Texas.
Photo from the top of the Caprock in Caprock Canyon State Park.