Big Bend National Park - 1948

The Texas Story Project.

Our family lived in San Antonio, Texas. Our father, Peyton Waddill, was a Presbyterian minister and was a popular guest pastor to many churches in central Texas. The year he had been invited to lead a week long revival styled preaching meeting for his good friend and fellow pastor Ernie Dimaline. At the end of that week our mother took my sister, Lanelle, and me to visit the Dimalines and to bring my dad back home. We had only one family car and we needed the transportation that week.

We had a great surprise when we got to my dad. He and his good friend, Ernie, had decided to organize a camping trip to the mountain country of west Texas, to a new place called Big Bend National Park. None of us had heard of it, but to hear dad and Ernie’s description, it sounded exciting.

Plans were made to leave from our house in San Antonio. We had two families, in two cars, nine people and an open make-shift camp trailer for our very limited camp gear. My folks were very resourceful when it came to making do with what they had and since the two family breadwinners were both preachers, there was not a lot of money to spend on anything.

The main utensil for cooking was an iron skillet inherited from my dad’s mother. Plus, a big spoon for stirring and a butcher knife for cutting and for a make-shift weapon if we needed it to ward off “wild things” at night. I found out our mom slept with the knife under her pillow! Not sure how much sleep she got!

Once we got underway, it took us two long unairconditioned days to get to the park. We camped the first night near the famous Langtry, Texas, Judge Roy Bean’s fortress. It was a one table roadside picnic spot. Good news was a freshwater well was nearby to cool us down.

The second day, we arrived at our destination, which was the park’s headquarters. The road into the park basin was all gravel and uphill the last 80 miles; it was a huge strain on our automobiles. We made it, stopping several times to let our cars “cool” down. Barrels of water ever so often saved us and our cars from boiling over.

We were greeted by a park ranger. He informed us we were the only campers in the park and told us what to expect and to be cautious about wild life. He told us of a mountain lion which had wandered through our campsite a few days earlier. That got my attention. The ranger pointed out the famous “Window” through which the sun sets daily. He gave us the names of the mountains and which ones were the tallest. The 7,000 ft. elevations caused us to love the wonderful mountain air. What a nice change from August heat in central Texas.

We were awakened at dawn by the singing of the birds, and, of course, dad frying bacon, treating us to breakfast from the skillet. After breakfast, it was decided we would head for Casa Grande Peak. There was adventure everywhere we looked. We were ill prepared for mountain climbing for sure--not enough hats, inadequate shoes, no snacks for energy and very little water. My sister, my dad and I had one glass quart jar of water. Half way up, I dropped and broke our only supply. I cried because I was afraid.

My brother Ed (15), my sister Lanelle (13), me (Doug, 6), my uncle Prentice (21), my dad’s friend Ernie and my dad all made it to the top. My uncle tied a white handkerchief to a tree limb as a signal of our success for all to see from our campground headquarters. The two mothers, Mary and Margaret, and 2 year old Suzy Dimaline had stayed behind to wave their encouragement from the campground.

The park was only four years old and just getting underway with development. Most hiking trails were nothing more than animal tracks worn down by time. That was okay for me because it made it seem more rugged. We poked around in all directions as our time would permit.

We went to an old mining town, Terlingua, Texas. No one was in town because of a gun fight which had taken place the day before. It seemed like a western movie set. Someone said the candles were still warm in the adobe chapel.

We camped our last night in the park on the Rio Grande River bank. Hiking along the river’s edge, we saw many mysterious animal foot prints.

Santa Elena Canyon is where we swam to cool down. However, it’s not real cool anywhere in the desert’s edge.

Our last morning, we were treated to one more visit from our ranger. He was on horseback, armed with a pistol and rifle, which caught my eye. He told us there had been several mountain lion sightings in the canyon area. He knew we had headed that way and wanted to make certain we were okay.

What an exciting ending to a treasured experience.

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