All Steamboaters know about the Yampa Valley Curse. It turns out the “will always return” curse is also alive and well in Bandera, TX. The way the curse is told here, the Apaches passed the Medina River curse to the Comanches who passed it to white settlers. I am sure this curse is also alive and well in many other parts of our beautiful country, but it was such a surprise to see it in writing, in almost the same words. We are quickly losing our hearts to the Hill Country of Texas, and especially Bandera, just as visitors do with Steamboat Springs, CO.
The first week in a new place is a week of discovery. We spent the week getting to know Bandera, its history, the fun places to go and a little about the rest of the towns in Hill Country.
Bandera is a music hub with several music venues scattered about town. One of the busiest is the 11th Street Cowboy Bar. From the front no one would suspect there is room for a large crowd. When we checked into the Pioneer River RV Park, the woman at the front desk filled us in on things to do in town, and the one thing she said that everyone goes to the 11th Street Cowboy Bar on Wednesday night for Steak Night. It’s a bring-your-own-steak (or whatever) night where you pay $7 for salad and a baked potato and the opportunity to cook your own meat alongside cowboys and bikers. She said that nearby towns even bus people in to attend. There is a live band and a huge well-used dance floor. Of course we had to go, just to see what a big deal it is. They do this steak night EVERY Wednesday all year, sometimes inside (which really is much bigger than it looks from the outside) but always outside if the weather is good. Drinks are reasonable but you can also bring your own libation. (WHOA! REALLY?) Yes, really. The bar still makes a killing. Hundreds of people attend. It was a fun evening.
The Story of Bandera
We are always curious about why a place was settled where it was, why it is named what it is, and the cultural history of an area. We went to the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera to see if we could get the info we were looking for. While the museum was interesting and is full of odd artifacts (shrunken heads, lots of knives, and some jewelry), it really doesn’t tell the story of Bandera and the county, at least as far as we could see. Maybe one has to sit and read the books on display. Frontier Times was a publication put out in several editions, like a newspaper or magazine, to capture the stories, but who has the time to sit and read all that? The bound editions reminded me of the old Three Wire Winter magazines the students at Steamboat Springs High School used to do each year under the tutelage of history teacher, Bill McKelvie.
Later that day I took a walk along the Medina River through Bandera City Park and came upon a retired gentleman feeding the Muscovy ducks (odd-looking ducks!) and a family of some kind of geese. (He told me what kind, but I don’t remember). He was a wealth of information and was able to answer all of the questions I expected to be answered at the museum.
The word “bandera” means flag. According to my “history mentor”, the Spanish hung a white flag at the entrance to Bandera Pass, the pass between Bandera and Kerrville, to let whites know that beyond that line they were in danger of retaliation by Apaches, and let the Apaches know vice-versa. Because of the flag, they were able to live in peace as long as neither crossed “the line”.
The first settlers chose Bandera County for its numerous cypress trees growing along the flowing rivers, the Medina River in this area. They used the trees to make shingles for their homes and outbuildings. They established a cypress shingle mill to supply the growing population in the area, including Austin, San Antonio and all the communities popping up in Hill Country. These majestic trees are still plentiful and offer wonderful shade as they arch over the rivers. And they are soooo tall!
Colorado has the pine beetle problem. Here is is oak blight and oak beetles. Throughout the landscape at these magnificent skeletons of dead oak trees. It is so sad and kind of eerie. They also have this stuff called “ball moss“, what we used to call “air plants”. Its a bromeliad that doesn’t have to be in the dirt. It is everywhere, hanging from the overhead wires, in lots of the trees, and all over the ground. It is kind of like mistletoe in that it attaches itself to a host, but supposedly it doesn’t contribute to the death of the tree or host. People seem to have given up trying to remove it from their properties. That would be a full-time job.
Mayhem on the Medina
For the past three years, there has been a “cowboys and Indians” re-enactment event in Hill Country, this year in Bandera. While it was not a big event, it was extremely interesting for us. The characters were dressed in the garb of the 1800’s and took on the persona of characters, either whites or Native Americans, of the era. A small Apache village was set up with teepees and a small old west town with storefronts a short distance away for whites. We found the Apache village the most interesting and actually learned quite a bit from the characters there. In one of the teepees was Apache Castro. He had photos and stories of his ancestors, telling about what his family had to endure when whites were taking over their homelands. Apaches are reputed to be violent and aggressive, but Castro explained that the Apaches were only reacting to the takeovers. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, I guess. The stories shared by the whites were the other side of the story.
What I found most interesting was the demo of Native American foods and how they were eaten. An Apache woman shared roasted mesquite beans (kind of sweet and more like nuts) with us. An Apache “brave” showed us how to clean and eat prickly pear pads (raw, they have a very crisp and kind of cross between cucumber and asparagus in texture with a fresh taste all their own). We also learned how to use a matate (with a mano grinder) and how to cook tortillas on rocks. Loved that demo!
It has been an interesting week of exploring the county, driving the back roads and enjoying all the beautiful wildflowers that Hill Country is known for, and especially the wonderful bluebonnets Texas is known for. Here are some closing shots of those wildflowers. Lady Bird Johnson was known for beautifying the roadsides of Texas through a program to scatter wildflower seeds along the backroads. There is even a wildflower farm (Wild Seed Farm) in Fredericksburg that we plan to visit in the weeks to come.