Western Trips

Monday, January 28, 2019

Sonora Texas / Old West Outlaws and Texas History

A visit to the town of Sonora, Texas offers an opportunity to tour it's downtown area that is rich in history and heritage. Sonora is the county seat of Sutton County Texas and is located about 170 miles northwest of San Antonio along Interstate 10 (about a 2 1/2 hour drive) 

sonora texas history
Sonora, Texas 1898
Sonora is recognized as being located on the western end of Texas' scenic Hill Country. To the west and northwest of Sonora lie
the flat expanses of the Chihuahuan Desert.

There are lots of history to see in Sonora involving ranching, old west outlaws and the transition of a west Texas town moving into the twentieth century. 

Annual events held in Sonora, Texas include the Annual Cinco De Mayo Celebration held on May 5th... The Sonora Outlaw Pro Rodeo is held every third weekend in August...The Sutton County Game Dinner is the oldest and largest game dinner celebrated in the area held in November...,span>The Dry Devils River Music Flood held for a day each October...Sonora’s annual one-day Christmas Market in December.

Visit the sites where history comes alive...

Old West Shootout on Main Street 

On the night of April 2, 1901, William Carver, a member of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch, was shot and killed in Jack Owen's Bakery by Sheriff E.S. Briant and his deputies.
Some accounts say the gunfight occurred outside of the store. With guns drawn on entry, they attempted to arrest Carver and George Kilpatrick on suspicion of the murder of Oliver Thornton in Concho County Texas. One account says that Kilpatrick made a fumbling motion and Carver's gun never cleared the holster before he was shot six times. 

Will Carver was buried in the Sonora Cemetery. There is a gravestone marker that simply shows the date of his death, April 2, 1901. 

 Old Ice House Ranch Museum

ice house ranch museum sonora texas
Old Ice House Ranch Museum
This is a must stop. A the  Old Ice House Ranch Museum which is housed inside an old ice house is a collection of one of a kind memorabilia pertaining to the history of Sonora and Sutton County Texas. 

Exhibits include an array of old artifacts to educate and entertain visitors about ranching in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Sutton County. Included with the relics of Sonora is information about the 1901 shootout by sheriff deputies with Will Carver, a member of Butch Cassidy's "Wild Bunch" gang.  Carver was on the losing end of the gunfight on the streets of Sonora. 

You'll leave this unique museum with a new appreciation of the pioneers that developed this rugged area when the discovery of a deep water well drilling technique opened this parched prairie to sheep, cattle and goats after the bustle of the West had passed it by. 

Sutton County Courthouse

The 1891 Sutton County Courthouse was designed by Oscar Ruffini, a prominent architect from San Angelo, in the Second Empire style. Much handwork is evident in the limestone and dressed stone. 

sonora texas courthouse history
Sutton County Texas Courthouse
Restorations of the courthouse took place where all windows were restored and missing roof dormers and roof cresting were reconstructed using historic photographs. 

The interior restoration brought all new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems including fire protection and accessibility improvements All of these enhancement followed the original design. A non-original tile floor at the first floor corridors and offices was removed and replaced with salvaged wood. Original wood windows, doors, stairways, and wainscot were refinished to match the original stain, and wood shutters were reconstructed at all window openings. Wall colors were restored and a decorative wall stenciling of gold and copper leaf was recreated. All vault door decorative finishes were painstakingly restored. 

The courthouse was rededicated on June 11, 2002.

Old Sutton County Jail 

old sutton county texas jail
Old jail in Sonora, Texas
When Sutton County Texas was organized in 1890, a jail was obviously needed. At the time there were several jail construction companies, mostly located back east. 

The Pauley Jail Building and Manufacturing Co. of St. Louis was hired to build this jail. The project begans begun in Feb. 1891 under the supervision of Judge J. L. Dunagan. The new jail was completed in Sept. 1891. The native stone jail structure was two story and had a jailer's residence in addition to cells for prisoners. Of special historic note, the first prisoner in the new jail was gambler and gunman John Denson, a cousin of outlaw John Wesley Hardin. 

The old Sutton County jail in downtown Sonora stands on Oak Street near the Sutton County Courthouse. 

Additional Western Trips articles found on the links below... 

Fort Stockton Texas

San Angelo Texas

The Caverns of Sonora

Another must stop while in the area is The Caverns of Sonora. Many believe these are one of the most beautiful caverns in the world.
The Caverns of Sonora contains unusual formations, such as bladed helictites and coralloid growths, and is of exceptional beauty. 

This National Natural Landmark is located eight miles west of Sonora. Because of its calcite crystal formations and rarity of helictites, the cavern is considered to be a world-class cave.
The formation of the cave is said to have occurred between 1.5 to five million years ago. The cave is a constant 71°F, but feels like 85°F due to the humidity. During a tour, you can go 150 feet below the Earth’s surface and be mesmerized by all the formations underground.

For detailed information about the caverns and available tours see...http://www.cavernsofsonora.com/tours    Tours of the cave leave the caverns gift shop constantly, with usually never more than a 30-minute wait.

Additiomal photos of Sonora, Texas...

Gun used to kill outlaw Will Carver in 1901     

Another view of the old county jail structure
sonora texas old photos
Sonora during the early automobile years
old west texas town photo
Downtown Sonora during horse and wagon days

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Waco Mammoth National Monument

If your travels take you to or through Waco, Texas, the Waco Mammoth National Monument is a  unique travel stop and one you'll totally enjoy. The site was officially named a national monument in 2015 which also makes it a part of the National Park System.

waco mammoth national monumentWaco Mammoth National Monument is a paleontological site protecting the only nursery herd of Columbian mammoths in the U.S. Visitors enjoy tours and fossil viewing. The national park features fossils of female mammoths, a bull mammoth, and an ancient relative of camels, an antelope, alligator, giant tortoise, and more.

 The national monument is in 100 acres of wooded parkland along the Bosque River. The Columbian mammoth is now extinct. It lived during the Pleistocene Epoch, known as the Ice Age, and lived in North America from southern Canada to as far south as Costa Rica.

For a few decades, what stood at the site of this national monument was essentially a circus tent. What was of special interest however were the elephant fossils below. What was found were Columbian mammoths that were still preserved in their death position which occurred some 60,000 years ago after floodwaters left them buried in mud.

The Site's Discovery 

columbian mammoth fossils
The site was first discovered by accident in 1978, when two 19-year-olds looking for arrowheads along a dry riverbed found mammoth bones. Paleontologists at Baylor University were notified.  The bone was brought to Baylor University's Strecker Museum where it was identified as the femur of a Columbian mammoth, the larger distant relative of the wooly mammoth.

With this information, excavations were undertaken which led to surprisingly rich finds. Within a decade, sixteen Columbian mammoths were foundand lifted out of the ground using plaster jackets. A second excavation located six more mammoths, a camel and the tooth of a saber-tooth cat.

What killed these mammoths so long ago has not been solidly determined. There is no trace of human involvement and the bones do not appear to be disturbed by scavengers. One idea was that the mammoths were caught in some type of flash flood. Another is that they were trapped from rising water from the adjacent Bosque River. It's felt that subsequent floods buried the remains and also  trapped and killed the bull, juvenile and female mammoths. 
Visiting the Waco Mammoth National Monument

waco fossil photosWhat visitors will see today at the Waco Mammoth National Monument is a modern climate controlled dig shelter that could pass for an art gallery. The shelter has an abundance of natural light from all directions and a suspended walkway that provides a terrific overhead view of the mammoths. 

The national monument is managed in partnership by the National Park Service, the City of Waco, and Baylor University. According to the National Park Service, Tour guides will lead you from the Welcome Center, down a 300 yard paved path to the Dig Shelter where mammoth fossils are in situ (still in their original position within the bone bed). During your tour, you will learn about the Ice Age, how the fossils were discovered, and why this site is one of the most important paleontological finds in North America. The tour is educational and interesting and takes a relatively short time, perhaps 30-45 minutes.The Monument is easily accessible via personal vehicle, bus, or motor home.

For more information and a detailed map of the Monument's location see nps.gov/waco/planyourvisit/index.htm

For a list of all the mammoth sites in the U. S. see  nps.gov/waco/learn/mammoth_sites_in_usa.htm 

texas travel ideas

waco texas attractions

(Photos copyright Western Trips)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Visit Cheyenne, Wyoming / The Cowboy Capital of the World

When you think of Cheyenne, Wyoming one of the first things that comes to mind is the old west. Indeed, Cheyenne played a large role during the time settlers spread across western America. Of course today Cheyenne means more than westward expansion during the 1800's but there is plenty to see regarding this in present day Cheyenne and it's very well worth the visit.

cheyenne train depot
Cheyenne's Union Pacific Depot
Cheyenne is located in the southeast corner of Wyoming in Laramie County. Its said that the town's name was given by Native Americans. In the instances of Fort Laramie to the north, Laramie City to the west, and Laramie County it is said that these were named after an early French fur trapper who roamed the region known as Jacques La Ramie.

As a side historical note, Wyoming was the first state to pass women's suffrage. The statue photo further down in this article commemorates this and was gifted to Cheyenne in 2011. The plaque beneath the statue says, "Gifted to the citizens of Cheyenne, WY in recognition of the role of women in settling the west, and Wyoming being the first state to grant women the right to vote."

Cheyenne and the Union Pacific-The Railroad Town 

There is no question that the railroad expanding westward after the end of the Civil War created many a town. Cheyenne's first residents were men who moved west to work on the transcontinental railroad.
The Union Pacific railroad company dominated the Cheyenne railways throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

The transcontinental railroad marked the first large-scale, federally sanctioned construction in the aftermath of the Civil War. The Union Pacific while building their section of the transcontinental railroad originally built their rails through Cheyenne because it was the easiest terrain to cut through. When the UP did this they brought mechanized travel to the west along with commercial development and settlers. The Union Pacific put Cheyenne on the map and during the 1800's brought thousands of passengers to Cheyenne and beyond. Not that the railroads made stagecoach travel obsolete, because there was a great need to transport people from the railroad depots to smaller settlements and to the mines. In fact, The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage Company was established to transport passengers and cargo between the railroad depot and the mines. A historic note of significance is that when electric lights were installed in Cheyenne in 1882, it was the wealthiest city per capita in the world. Quite an impressive fact

union pacific cheyenne
Old Union Pacific Depot and Museum

Cheyenne Depot Museum is located inside the historic Union Pacific Railroad depot. Typically the Cheyenne Depot Museum hosts an annual Steam Train Excursion in July.

Cheyenne Frontier Days

The Cheyenne Frontier Days is considered the world's largest outdoor rodeo and Western Celebration. This has been an event which began in 1897. The first Frontier Days event was held as a cowboy roundup that featured bronco busting, steer roping contests and pony races.
Cheyenne Frontier Days is now a ten day festivalof rip-roarin' excitement, featuring the world's best PRCA rodeo action and Western entertainment. It's non-stop activity and hospitality at its Western best! Cheyenne Frontier Days takes place the last full week of July.

A popular event during the Frontier Days is the Grand Parade. This ninety minute parade is held at 9 a.m. both Saturdays and Tuesday and Thursday of the celebration. This parade is big. There are floats, marching bands, antique carriages, automobiles and horses with riders in period dress.

old town cheyenne wyoming
 Old Town Cheyenne 

Touring Old Town Cheyenne is a walk through it's past. Historic buildings include the old Union Pacific Depot and the beautiful Tivoli Building.The Richardson Brothers put up the Tivoli Building in 1892. It was popular with cowboys who came to Cheyenne for Frontier Days. The building was bought in 1919 by a Polish immigrant and served as a clothing store and after that an upscale bar.

Enjoy the Trolley

Take a tour on the Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley. It operates the second week of May through September. The ninety minute tour includes stops at various attractions, allowing riders to disembark for the attraction, and then re-board the next trolley 90 minutes later.

Visit Fort Laramie

Today, Fort Laramie is a National Historic Site. This famous military outpost 100 miles north of Cheyenne played a major role in settling the west. It was a crossroad to the west.

The site was at first a fur trade post and then became a military outpost. Here, for 56 years successive waves of trappers, traders, Native Americans, missionaries, emigrants, soldiers, miners, ranchers and homesteaders interacted and left their mark on a place that would become famous in the history of the American west - Fort Laramie.

cheyenne wyoming new beginning statue
"A New Beginning"
The park is located in Southeast Wyoming approximately 100 miles north of Cheyenne, Wyoming and 55 miles west of Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

Cheyenne Area Outdoor Activities 

Curt Gowdy State Park is located 24 miles west of Cheyenne, Wyoming and 24 miles east of Laramie, Wyoming. In addition to camping, boating, fishing, Curt Gowdy State Park has over 35 miles of trails. The trails are very well designed and suitable for any skill level. The trails range in elevation from 6800 to 7600.

The park was established in 1971 by the city of Cheyenne and the Boy Scouts. Originally named Granite State Park, in 1972 the name was changed to the Curt Gowdy State Park. The park is named after sportscaster Curt Gowdy who was a Wyoming native and was raised in Cheyenne.

See additional Western Trips articles found on the links below..

Fun Travel in the Mountain West

Mesa Verde National Park

The Pole Mountain section of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest lies just 30 minutes west of Cheyenne. 

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest covers more than 2.2 million. The Pole Mountain section of this very large national forest is just 30 minutes west of Cheyenne. Before 1959, this 55,000 acre area was operated by the nation's War Department for military training. This area is now managed by the US Forest Service. Plenty of great recreational opportunities including hiking, fishing, camping is available. The Tie City and Happy Jack Trailheads provide the most popular starting points for dozens of trails for hikers and bikers of every level of experience. The trailheads are also home to numerous picnic and campground sites.

For up to date information regarding scheduled events and activities in Cheyenne, Wyoming see www.cheyennecity.org 

For detailed information about the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, activities, maps and directions see www.fs.usda.gov/mbr

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)