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  • The Lost Canyon and the Impossible Buffalo June 25, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    This fine ‘lost valley’ story comes from Texas, but the tale of the shepherd who accidentally walks through into a hidden dell or stumbles up, while chasing a lamb, onto an unknown plateau is probably as old as our Neolithic ancestors. This particular version was collected by J. Frank Dobie at the end of the nineteenth century.

    West Burton of South Austin and I were on a hunting trip  down below San Antonio. The talk had been, as usual, on  old days and lost mines and trails. I brought up the subject of  Lost Canyon. ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘I have heard of the place many  times, but I never believed that it existed till I met an old  prospector in Mexico who had once been in the place. This prospector was a broke man when I saw him, broke  in more ways than one, but he could tell his story straight. He  was prospecting down the Rio Grande in a skiff or canoe, putting  in at various canyons and gorges to examine for minerals. At  a certain rapids his boat got snagged so that he could not fix  it, and there was nothing for him to do but to strike out afoot.  He made up a small pack of a blanket and some provisions, and  with a rifle struck north up a steep ravine, intending somehow  to reach the Southern Pacific Railroad.   The ravine that he took up was so narrow and rough that  in some places he could hardly travel, but after a while it began  to open out, and imagine his surprise when it spread into a  kind of basin that stretched out farther than he could see. The  grass in it was as green as a wheat field, though there was a  drought on, as usual, and there were springs of pure, sweet water;  but the thing that made him rub his eyes was a herd of buffaloes,  perhaps a hundred or more.

    The crucial point to note is that buffaloes are not known and have never been known in this part of Texas.

    The prospector killed [a buffalo] for meat,  and camped for two or three days by a spring, while he got a  good fill of the meat and jerked as much as he could take with  him. Then he set out towards the north again.  He found when he tried to get out that the basin was rimmed  in by a high bluff up which there was apparently no trail. But  after he had trailed himself around a good deal, he discovered  a kind of gorge that he climbed out through. No buffalo could  ever get out or in through it, he said. When he got up on top  of the rim he was in the Chisos Mountains, unfenced, even unclaimed, some of them, I guess. He was in a country that no  outpost of a range rider ever comes into, that no trapper has  ever entered. There’s no reason why a human being should go  into that country. The wonder to me is that this prospector  tried to make his way over it. His way was crookeder than a  devil’s walking cane – if you have ever seen one of them. They  are about the only things that grow in that country, you know.  But he kept on generally north. He nearly perished for water,  and only the moisture of the jerked buffalo that he had had  sense enough not to salt kept him from parching to death. He  threw away all of his pack but that jerkie.   Finally, somehow, by the help of the Lord, he reached the  railroad somewhere between Sanderson and Marathon, and as  luck would have it, he stumbled right into the camp of a construction gang. The cook of the outfit was an old Mexican who  had worked for his father and knew him. This cook gave the  prospector only a little beef broth and would not let him have  that except in sips. And so in a few days he got over his terrible experience.

    But the hidden valley can never be found again.

    From the camp he went on to Sanderson and actually raised  an expedition to go back and find the canyon of buffalo. But he  never could find the way back across to it. He says that he  knows now that the only way ever to reach it is to enter it from  the Rio Grande, up that narrow gorge.

    There are lots of hidden valleys in folklore and quite a few in fiction. Are there any other, though, factual presentations of this type: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Chris S, 30 Jun 2017: Reading the Lost Canyon and the Impossible Buffalo made me think of the Moberly–Jourdain incident where two women had a time slip in France. Maybe this cowboy found a path to the deep past, like 10kya, when seas of bison ruled the continent. The lost valley being a when rather than a where. Just a thought.

    Southern Man, 30 Jun 2017: I was thinking of some parks in Africa where animals are preserved in low lying areas and where particularly giraffes are not capable of mounting the slope. Is this so very incredible for Texas and buffalo?