Monday, June 7, 2010
Palo Pinto Mountains, Hell's Gate, and Possum Kingdom Lake
Let me tell you about the Palo Pinto Mountains, Possum Kingdom Lake, and Hell’s Gate. It tickles me that the fictional name in my book is the one that sounds logical, Radford Springs, the town where Brendan Hunter is a police detective and where Blossom Hunter owns a health food store. In truth, there is no large town near PK. Graham and Mineral Wells are the closest towns of any size, and they're both small towns.
One of my favorite drives is from Highway 180 just outside the county seat of Palo Pinto County south on Highway 4 to Interstate 20. This is a winding road through hills reminiscent of New Mexico’s mountains. They may look like hills overall, but the Palo Pinto Mountains are geologically a genuine mountain range. The scrub oaks which cover the hillsides turn bright oranges, golds, and yellows in fall, which gives them the Palo Pinto name that roughly translates as painted posts. Anglo settlement began in 1842 with the establishment of Peter’s Colony. Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight were early ranchers in the area and Loving is buried in nearby Weatherford. Anyone who wants to know more about early ranching in the area should read PAINTED POLE, The Beldings and Their Ranches in Palo Pinto County: Pioneer Days to Computer Age, by Barbara Belding Gibson, from Sunbelt Eakin Press, ISBN 1-57168-561-8. The Belding Ranch has been continuously owned by a member of the family since 1859 and the book gives a good early look at North Central Texas ranching in the 19th century as well as today. In fact, Barbara and her husband Charles Gibson live in the original home. Rather, the original cedar log cabin has been built onto and around and is now a bathroom for their home. Hard to imagine living in a home eight feet by eight feet, isn’t it? They’ve also incorporated the smokehouse and cool room into their home. I love when people respect the past and preserve rather than destroy it.
To illustrate that crime doesn’t pay, these greedy traders ran into bad luck. One burro broke his leg, so a second had to carry double and soon gave out. The last burro so heavily loaded lost its footing and fell into the canyon below and died. The trappers weren’t making very good time. They realized by now the Comanches they’d stolen from would be sober and awake and on their trail. Smoke signals could be seen and the traders knew their victims were closing in for the kill. They’d reached a point on the Brazos with high limestone cliffs divided by a small creek forming a natural gateway to the river. One trapper wanted only to save his hide. He threw down his heavy load of stolen furs and climbed up the cliffs. The other man was so stubborn and mean that he swore he would go through the Gates of Hell before he would allow the Comanches to recover their furs. The Comanches caught up with the traders and finished them both off. Since then, that point on the Brazos has been known as Hell’s Gate. Who lived to tell the story? I couldn’t say. But the cliff on what is now Possum Kingdom Lake is still known as Hell’s Gate.Of course, since the river was damed, the lake is thirty or forty feet deep at that point. It's hard to imagine climbing those rocks while loaded with a pack of furs.
We don't say o'possum here, just possum. I can't abide killing anything that's not poisonous and threatening me, but possums are not my favorite animal. They have long claws and sharp teeth and can squeeze through the smallest of holes. We occasionally find possum scat in our closed up garage. According to my dad, possums especially love persimmons. Can't blame them for that--I love persimmons, too.
This picturesque area around Possum Kingdom Lake is a favorite of mine and I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about this part of North Central Texas.