Since we last visited over ten years ago, the Museum of the Big Bend has moved to its new permanent home. The museum has blossomed in its new space. The collection of artifacts and the displays they are placed in has expanded to better cover the history of the Big Bend Region industry, agriculture, ranching and peoples.
After parking, visitors walk around to the back of the building and enter the museum through the gift shop where they are asked to sign the guest register. Walking into the exhibit area, my eyes were drawn to the stuffed black bear. The display confirms that black bears were driven out of Big Bend over 100 years ago. Only in recent years have Mexican brown bears, in low numbers, migrated across the Rio Grande River and taken up residence in Big Bend Ranch State and Big Bend National Parks.
Before the Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca “discovered” Big Bend around 1535, native peoples lived in villages along the Rio Grande River at La Junta de los Rios (Junction of the Rivers near present day Presidio, Texas). In and around the Big Bend region lived many other nomadic groups.
The Europeans brought huge change to the region. in 1590, the above cart was the first wheeled conveyance in the new world.
Many of the early Europeans to Big Bend were Missionaries. Friction between early Europeans and Indians occurred followed by issues with nomadic tribes like the Apaches, who had rapidly developed horse based culture and technology.
Spanish missionaries setup missions guarded by presidios (forts) to protect the newly converted Indians from nomadic raiders on horseback.
After the exhibit covering mercury mining in what is now called Big Bend National Park, there was a well done exhibit on Big Bend National Park. Walking into the space, I was reminded of the many reasons why the park is a favorite of mine.
Cowboys, railroads and commerce came next. While writing this post, it was fun seeing the canned goods in the general store. They remind me of our Saturday evening discussion with the Fort Davis National Historic Site Ranger (Dutch Oven Demonstration) about what types of canned and dried foods were available to the soldiers stationed at the fort.
When I saw the Railroad Pass for the Texas Ranger, I wondered why I didn’t see one of those in the Texas Ranger Museum at The Buckhorn Saloon & Museum in San Antonio, Texas. It makes sense for Rangers to be able to ride the trains at will.
Some display space was given to Fort Davis and the Buffalo Soldiers. The fort was in place, in part, to protect the stage and railroad lines from Apache raiders.
From a timeline standpoint, the museum did jump around. However, it did a good job of exploring themes.
In the special exhibit hall, there were photographs taken by artists in the Big Bend Region. Prints of the photos were for sale. I didn’t see anything I couldn’t live without. However, in display cases inside the exhibition hall, were old cameras. I naturally gravitated to the Canon cameras and tried my best to get an overhead shot of the display case.
Partly why I am interested in the above display case is how they remind me of my first SLR camera, a Canon TLB I bought in 1974. The TLB was the little brother to the EF (1973) camera, second from the left. The picture has waves in it because I took it using my iPhone in panorama mode. I couldn’t slide the iPhone evenly or smoothly across the top of the case.
Finally, I found the historical map room downstairs. The exhibit, called “Before Texas Was Called TEXAS,” shows the historical progression of European map representations spanning three centuries.
It was easy to see the changes in detail and accuracy as Europeans’ understanding of mapping technology and the land being mapped improved.
So how did Texas come to be called Texas? The 1690 Caddo Indians, when asked by the first Spanish missionaries what they called this place, the Indians responded by saying “friend” in Caddo. “Friend” in Caddo is “tejas.” Eventally, “Tejas” or friend, got shortened to Texas.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!