Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What would it be like to LIVE THERE? Homer Wilson Ranch in Big Bend

Homer Wilson Ranch house far off in the distance
from the scenic overlook from Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
in Big Bend National Park (click on the photo for
a closer view!)
Dwarfed by the majestic scenery, there's a historic ranch house standing in Big Bend National Park that is enormously effective in capturing our imagination.  What was life like on this wild land in the late 1920s when Homer Wilson established his ranching operation here?  Self-reliance, was a life requiring moxie and strong, strong character.

Even today, those characteristics are required of the backpackers who include a stop to the ranch house on the park's Outer Mountain Loop.  It is a three-day, 30 mile trip on a strenuous primitive trail and significant elevation changes.

From Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive pull-off, the ranch house looks like an oasis.  What was it like?

From the 1975 nomination form to place the ranch in the National Register of Historic Places:

Original Appearance: 

Although Homer Wilson maintained Oak Canyon as his headquarters, he "erected at this location (Blue Creek) a secondary and very substantial ranch house..."! "This house was 24 x 60 feet with 16 x 60-foot screened porch on the south side of the house. The house proper consisted of 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, and a large living room near the middle of the north wall. There is a large fireplace in which the mantle is made by very artistic placement of long slabs of stone placed horizontally. Some of these slabs are up to 8 feet in length and placed in a colorful arrangement.

The double roof is supported separately by large poles. The ceiling is made of reeds in the pattern that has been used for centuries by the inhabitants of the river. The story goes that Mrs. Wilson wanted the reed ceiling with the adobe mud on top, to-which Mr. Wilson agreed. However, since such a roof would leak, he used a 2-inch concrete mixture in place of the adobe mud and above that a sheet metal roof, thus making the house leak-proof. This arrangement not only accomplished its purpose but in addition made the house much cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, as it created an air space between the metal roof and the ceiling. It was a very satisfactory means of insulation.

The interior walls carry little if any support for the roof, as this was done by sturdy poles set in cement and holding up the weight of the ceiling and roof. Practically all materials for the construction of the house came from the area. The stone, sand, and gravel came from Blue Creek Canyon, the timber from the Chisos Mountains, and the reed from the nearby Rio Grande. Thus the Blue Creek line camp ranch house may be said to be indigenous to the area. The floor of the house was made of well-selected flags while that of the porch was 'concrete.

In addition, to the house in the Blue Creek complex,  a small 1-room house for living quarters for additional ranch help, a small storeroom, an outside barbeque fireplace, a cistern to catch and hold fresh rainwater, a circular corral with a snubbing post for the training of young horses, and a nearby dipping vat and chute. There was also a chemical outhouse, a small chicken house, and a combination rock and tin structure likely used for the storage of salt and other equipment and tools,

Access to the Blue Creek house was over a reasonably well-maintained dirt road which came up the valley from Oak Canyon along the flats between Burro Mesa and the Chisos Mountains and then over the ridge into Blue Creek Canyon.

Present Appearance: Of the structures described above, all but the chicken coop still remain* Except for the storeroom and toilet, which are in poor condition, all are "structually sound, but deteriorating in detail."

More about Homer Wilson from the same document:

Homer Wilson was born in Del Rio, Texas, in 1892, studied mining and petroleum engineering at Missouri School of Mines, served in Europe during World War I, and returned to the Rio Grande country after the war. 

In 1929 he purchased ranch land west of the Chisos Mountains, and ultimately expanded his holding to include 44 sections to operate this vast tract he established his home and headquarters at Oak Springs. 

Later he moved part of his operations to Blue Creek. Wilson developed the ranch and raised his family-there during the years up to 1943 when he died suddenly. In 1942 he deeded the land to the State of Texas during-the early days of park land,-acquisition. 

The family moved from the ranch by the agreed deadline of January l,1945.  As one of the largest ranches in the Big Bend area, the Wilson Ranch has local significance. Its structures along with the natural setting provide opportunities to interpret twentieth century ranch life for this area.

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