Lajitas, Wax & Thirsty Goats

Next we proceeded on into Lajitas.  Now this tiny town has a storied past. It is at an altitude of 2,200 feet on a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande at the San Carlos ford of the old Comanche Trail, in the northern part of the Chihuahuan Desert and at the southern extreme of the Rocky Mountains.  The region was inhabited by Mexican Indians who were driven from the area by Apaches and later by Comanches during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Anglo-Americans first arrived in the mid-1800s. In the late 1890s quicksilver (Mercury) was discovered near Terlingua, eleven miles from Lajitas, and a rapid influx of people followed.  At the same time a number of cattle ranches and mining enterprises appeared in northern Chihuahua and Coahuila in Mexico.  These activities increased commerce across the Rio Grande into Texas; consequently, by 1900 Lajitas was designated a substation port of entry.  Farming along the narrow floodplain of the river served to bring in more families, and by 1912 the town had a store, a saloon, school with fifty pupils, and a customhouse.  The crossing, a smooth rock bottom all the way across the river, was the best between Del Rio and El Paso.

H. W. McGuirk, the leading citizen of Lajitas from 1902 to 1917, operated the store-saloon, farmed, and helped manage the Terlingua Mining Company.  He also funded the construction of a church and a school.  Lajitas officially had a post office as early as 1901 but closed permanently in 1939.  McGuirk sold his landholdings around Lajitas to Thomas V. Skaggs, who continued farming.  Skaggs also became successful in a candelilla wax business, the Lajitas Wax Company.  (Candelilla is a small brownish shrub found in northern Mexico and southwestern US and the wax is used in lip balm and chewing gum and as a food additive).  In 1916 raids by Francisco (Pancho) Villa’s bandits brought Gen. John J. Pershing’s troops to Lajitas, where they established a major cavalry post.  In the 1980s a motel stood on the actual foundations of the post.

The Lajitas property continued to change hands and in 1949 was bought by Rex Ivey, Jr., who hand-dug a well and installed a generator for the area’s first electric lights.  Due to the closing of the Terlingua quicksilver mines, the number of residents in Lajitas had dwindled to four.  In 1977 Ivey sold part of the Lajitas area to Houston entrepreneur Walter M. Mischer, of Mischer Corporation; Mischer had begun development and restoration of the community in 1976, under the name of the corporation’s subsidiary, Arrow Development Company.

In the mid-1980s Lajitas was a resort town with fifty residents and fifteen businesses.  The old church had been restored, and there were three motels, a hotel, a restaurant, a golf course, a swimming pool, an RV park, and an airstrip. Just east of town was the Lajitas Museum, a large, modern building containing artifacts of the Big Bend area.  The old trading post remained open.  In 1990 the population was still reported as fifty.  In 1995 the Big Bend area was becoming increasingly popular as a site for movie making.  Lajitas, according to one producer, was just about the only place where “you can shoot 360 degrees,” since Santa Fe and Sedona were “used up.”  At that time a TV miniseries, Streets of Laredo, starring James Garner, was being filmed in Lajitas.  In 2000 the population was seventy-five.

For many years the mayor of Lajitas was Clay Henry III, a “beer-drinking” goat.  After 2 replacements of the original Clay Henry, the trading post and stable where the mayor lived is now closed and the goat no longer resides there.  But there is a saloon at Lajitas Resort now called the “Thirsty Goat”.  The whole town is now owned by the resort and there is nothing here but the resort and one small part time General Store, an RV park (part of the resort) and a nice golf course, and small landing strip.  We ended up in Maverick RV Park at the resort and spent 3 nights here.  It was a good spot to access Big Bend National Park and still have some peace and quiet. The first night we were there it was extremely windy with a front blowing in which set us to “rockin”, good thing we weigh about 21,000 lbs hooked up or we would have been in the Rio Grande River.

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