Shafter Ghost Town

The Lone Star State has more ghost towns than any other state in the Union, by some estimates as many as one-thousand.

Ghost towns are the decaying remains of yesterday’s progress — of what once was. Each ghost town has its unique story of a time when life coursed through its streets, nourishing homes and businesses and dreams.

People are the lifeblood of any community. But when circumstances force folks to leave behind a place that sustained them, then the pulse of that particular place weakens until its heartbeat can no longer be detected.

Shafter, once known as “the richest acre in Texas,” is just such a place — a ghost town slowly decaying among sagebrush and ocotillo at the east end of the Chinati Mountains in southern Presidio County. Located between Presidio and Marfa along US Highway 67, a handful of folks still live in the vicinity of Shafter.

As the story goes, a freighter turned prospector named John W. Spencer found silver ore in the Chinati Mountains in 1880. Spencer showed his find to Col. William R. Shafter, commander of the First Infantry Regiment at Fort Davis. Shafter had the sample assayed.

When Shafter learned that the sample showed small amounts of profitable silver, he wasted no time in recruiting two army friends to buy the land surrounding Spencer’s claim. However, because they lacked the technical expertise to mine the ore, they struck a deal with a California mining group in 1882.

The mining company then formed the Presidio Mining Company in 1883 and bought out the interests of Shafter and his friends, including Spencer. The mining company recruited Americans, Mexican citizens, and black Americans to work the mine.

The Presidio Mining Company provided housing, a company store, and a company doctor for mine workers — and so the town of Shafter was born. The town was granted a Post Office in 1885. Over the years the population of Shafter grew until it peaked at about 4,000 in 1940.

In 1942, the mining operation shut down for good because of labor disputes, lower grades of ore, flooding in the mines, and a depletion of silver reserves. Once that happened the population rapidly declined. By 1949, the population of the cemetery was far greater than the twenty or so folks who chose to remain in Shafter. In 1976, the Shafter Historic Mining District was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, little remains in Shafter. The Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, established in 1888, is still in operation. Mass is celebrated there on the third Sunday of each month at 2:00 PM. The church is the only building in the area that has escaped the ravages of time.

A small museum housed in a cinder-block building is open to the public and features lots of old historic photos of Shafter through the years. It’s worth strolling through the history of this out-of-the-way place. Lots of interesting stuff here.

The Concordia Cemetery is worth a visit. Like the old cemetery in Terlingua Ghost Town, the names and dates on many of the grave markers have long since faded away.

The waters of Cibolo Creek trickle gently nearby, nourishing a ribbon of green through the stark desert landscape. Beyond the creek, a few homes remain where a population of 11 and maybe a few more folks have chosen to remain among the ruins of what once was the richest acre in Texas.

Terlingua Cemetery

Terlingua is one of the most fascinating places to visit in the Lone Star State. If you want to see this old mining town, then you have to adjust your compass settings to off-the-beaten-path. What remains of Terlingua is nestled between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park in far southwest Texas.
Terlingua RuinsThe name Terlingua is derived from the Spanish words “tres” and “lenguas,” meaning “three tongues.” Some folks say three tongues refers to Native American, Spanish, and English — the three languages spoken in the early days of the region. Others insist that the name refers to the three forks of Terlingua Creek. Either way, Terlingua is a cool name that somehow fits this rugged and hard place.
Terlingua CarAt the turn of the twentieth century, Terlingua became a flourishing mining town that yielded copious amounts of mercury, called quicksilver at the time. Today, Terlingua is a ghost town — the most visited ghost town in Texas. The town still has a few residents who live among abandoned ruins slowly being reclaimed by wind and weather. Visitors will find unique lodging options, a few places to eat, art galleries, a trading company, and a whole lot of vast open spaces and endless skies.
Terlingua Cemetery SignOne of the most interesting places in Terlingua is the old cemetery that dates back to the 1900s. Workers who lost their lives in the mines, victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918, gunfighters who were seconds too slow on the draw, and early residents are all buried there. Every year in November, folks gather at the cemetery to celebrate Day of the Dead and to offer their respect to the departed.
Terlingua CrossesWalking slowly among the old graves is a sobering experience — the kind that makes you reflect on just how hard life is in this remote and rugged land. Names of the departed etched on weathered wooden crosses are no longer legible. Creosote, ocotillo, and cactus cling to life among the rocks that cover the graves. Plastic flowers and miscellaneous mementos placed on graves are the only indications that some of the dead are not yet forgotten.
Terlingua GraveThe Terlingua Cemetery is a time-capsule. Every grave holds secrets and stories that will never be told. Visitors can only speculate about the deceased and what their daily lives must have been like in days when quicksilver turned this region from a sleepy little village into a community of a couple of thousand — and eventually into a ghost town.
Terlingua Cemetery Mask Even though Terlingua is out of the way and far from just about any place in the Lone Star State, it’s definitely worth visiting. And, when in Terlingua, take a quiet and meditative stroll through the historic Terlingua Cemetery. You’ll be reminded that we are only here for a season and then we too will be laid to rest somewhere, maybe even in an old cemetery like the one in Terlingua. As for me, it doesn’t matter where you bury me as long as it’s in Texas.