Indian Petroglyphs

The following is an excerpt from the Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora and Chihuahua, 1850-1853 by John Russell Bartlett. This book is a valuable source of information for students of early exploration of the southwest. Many early emigrants used it as a guidebook on their trek west.

Now available as a free e-book, Volume 1 of this historic document
Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora and Chihuahua, 1850-1853, by John Russell Bartlett.
Illustrated version, 2.1 MB
Text only version, 378 KB
Volume 2 is in preparation, expected to be finished by November, 2008

Petroglyphs at Waco mountain, near El Paso

March 28, 1851

Made up a little party of nine persons, besides the cook and servant, for an excursion to the Sierra Waco, about thirty miles distant, the last stopping place on our journey from San Antonio. It was so interesting a spot, and our stop there was so short, that I determined to take an opportunity to revisit it, in order to make a more thorough examination. We left at eight o'clock, a.m., with my carriage and one wagon for camp equipage, cooking utensils, and provisions, all the gentlemen going on horseback or on mules. After a very tedious ride over a sandy road, we reached the tanks at four in the afternoon, and encamped near a natural cavern in the rocks, where we found excellent water. As this was a favorite place of resort for the Apaches, we did not feel safe until we had climbed the rocks which overhung our place of encampment, and searched for "Indian sign." We found man traces of visitors, such as the marks of mules, on the very summit of the rock, but none recent. A party had evidently been there some time before us, which, for concealment, had taken their animals to the top of the rock in preference to leaving them below.

March 29, 1851

The night had been cold, but today it was quite warm. Rambled over the great rocky mass to see what could be found of interest. Discovered several pools or tanks of clear and beautiful water, where it had collected from rains, or the melting of snows. The formation here is granite in place, rising from 100 to 150 feet above the surrounding plain, and covered with huge boulders piled up in every imaginary form. Along the sides and base these great boulders also lie; whence the inference seems natural that this rocky mass existed before the mountains in the vicinity were heaved up, as there are no boulders on the adjacent hills. As might be supposed in such a heap of gigantic boulders, there are many cavern-like recesses which seem to have been the abode of Indians, and in some instances long used by them as places of habitation. At one portion of the southern mass, nearly half a mile from the road, there is an overhanging rock extending for some distance, the whole surface of which is covered with rude paintings and sculptures, representing men, animals, birds, snakes, and fantastic figures. The colors used are black, red, white, and a brownish yellow. The sculptures are mere peckings with a sharp instrument, just below the surface of the rock. On the shelving portion of the place in question are several circular holes in the solid granite from twelve to fifteen inches deep, which the Indians have made and used as mortars for pounding their corn in; similar ones being found all over the country where the aborigines have had their habitations. There were other places where they had sharpened or ground down their arrows and spears. The accompanying engravings show the character of the figures, and the taste of the designers. Hundreds of similar ones are painted on the rocks at this place; some of them, evidently of great age, had been partly defaced to make room for more recent devices.

Bartlett, Petroglyph 1

The overhanging rock beneath which we encamped seemed to have been a favorite place of resort for the Indians, as it is at the present day for all passing travellers. The recess formed by this rock is about fifteen feet in length, by ten in width. Its entire surface is covered with paintings, one laid over the other; so that it is difficult to make out those which belong to the aborigines.

Bartlett, Petroglyph 2

I copied a portion of these figures, about which there can be no doubt as to the origin. They represent Indians with shields and bows, painted with a brownish earth; horses with their riders; uncouth looking animals; and a huge rattlesnake. Similar devices cover the rock in every part, but are much defaced.

Bartlett, Petroglyph 3

Over these are figures of late travellers and emigrants; who have taken this means to immortalize their names, and let posterity know that they were on their way to California. Near this overhanging rock is the largest and finest tank or pool of water to be found about here. It is only reached by clambering on the hands and knees fifteen or twenty feet up on a steep rock.

Bartlett, Petroglyph 4

Over it projects a gigantic boulder, which, resting on or wedged between other rocks, leaves a space of about four feet above the surface of the water. On the under side of this boulder are fantastic designs in red paint, which could only have been made by persons lying on their backs in this cool and sheltered spot. One of these, a singular geometric figure, I copied while resting in the same position secluded from the burning sun.

Bartlett Petroglyph 5

March 30, 1851

Accompanied by a party of six, well armed and mounted on horses and mules, I left camp early in the morning to visit the great Waco Mountain. The mountain was about five miles distant, and the route lay through the very pass which we traversed on a former occasion. Stopped at the place where we let the carriage down by ropes, of which I took a sketch. It was one of the most grand and picturesque scenes I had witnessed on our journey up. There was much more vegetation here now, and Mr. Thurber made many additions to his collection of plants. It is in the beds of these mountain torrents or ravines, that the flora presents the greatest variety. Although the plants found here are adapted by their nature to these parched and desert regions, they nevertheless appear to seek the more secluded spots, which afford them a little protection from the scorching sun. Very few birds were descried. On reaching the great plain east of the mountain, we found several flocks of quails, of a different kind from those seen near the Rio Grande. These latter were all gray, like the northern quail; while those on the opposite side of the mountain are the blue or California quail, with a top-knot on its head.

California Quail, USFWS photo

California quail, USFWS photo by Lee Karney

Got a few specimens. As there was time enough to ascend to the top of the mountain, which is accessible from the east, we went around and struck the road which passes on the opposite side. This is the route taken by wagons. It is four or five miles longer; and although very hilly and tortuous, the narrow defile and perpendicular descent of the opposite route is avoided. Yet I would prefer the latter, even for loaded wagons, if the rock at the place referred to was cut away, a labor easily accomplished. After making a circuit of the mountain, and collecting some specimens of insects, reptiles, and plants, we reached our camp under the rock at 4 o'clock, p.m., well pleased with our little jaunt. The following day we returned to El Paso.

Now available as a free e-book, Volume 1 of this historic document
Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora and Chihuahua, 1850-1853, by John Russell Bartlett.
Illustrated version, 2.1 MB
Text only version, 378 KB

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