Part one is available at CenizoJournal . com
By James C . Moore
Ann Richards and the Lost Eagle , Pt . 2
This is part two of a three-part serial . James C . Moore has kindly allowed this piece to be reprinted from his Substack , “ Texas to the World : Dispatches from the Center of the Known Universe .”
Slightly downriver from our raft , balladeer and musician Steven Fromholz sat in the stern of his inflatable boat , paddles in hand , guiding Richards into the current . An experienced river guide , he was , I thought , the perfect match for the governor ’ s journey . Richards had given up drink , but Fromholz , a raconteur whose stories were often burnished by alcohol , kept his friend from too much introspection and acted determined to see her openly express enjoyment . “ Let ’ s have us some fun today , Governor .” I heard him across the water as we floated near , and Jerry raised his camera . We drifted into the canyon and the walls began their dramatic , tectonic rise on the approach to Mesa de Anguila . “ Oh Steven , just stop . I know how to have fun .” The water ’ s movement was languid . Previous months in the Conchos River Valley of Northern Mexico had been dry and the snowpack in the southern Rocky Mountains was also seasonally diminished . Reduced runoff left the river slow , which offered more time for observation .
On a gravel bar to the Mexican side , a small group of halfnaked children in ragged clothes stopped scratching in the dirt with sticks , and tracked our passing . No adult was present when two of them stepped into the water ’ s shallows as if they were intent on boarding a raft . The oldest could not have been ten years , and all were shirtless , protruding ribs betraying their daily existence . The governor turned her head to meet their eyes before we left them astern . “ Oh my ,” she said . “ I just don ’ t ….” Fromholz did not let her be troubled . “ Governor , I think we can assume everything ’ s just fine right there . That might all be less complicated than we know . Children are playing in this beautiful canyon . Let ’ s look down the river .”
On both sides of us a hundred million years of rock sediment was reaching up from the inner Earth . A volcanic upthrust had pushed the layers against the river for countless millennia and it had cut the canyon , slowly eroding molecules of stone until monolithic walls stood against the Chihuhuan Desert sky . The geologic striations also created an illusion the river was flowing uphill . Cliff swallows flew against the tall edifices and scattered ocotillo and pinon had found rare and lonely purchase hundreds of feet above our heads .
The air was still and there was almost no sound other than murmured conversations across the water as our small flotilla of rafts moved eastward . Although I tried to avoid the memory , I found myself recalling what had happened a half dozen years earlier in that stretch of the river . I had been dispatched by a Houston television station to report on an assassination in this sacred canyon . My crew and I never made it back into the location , but we gathered information on an almost unbelievable story .
A river outfitter and his two clients had become the targets of shooters with high-powered rifles on the bluffs along the Mexican side . The guide was shot in the thigh , and as his passengers were escaping the raft , the husband took a fatal bullet in the back . Almost unconsciously , I kept looking up at the palisades for shadows and movement that did not exist . I had been robbed of the canyon ’ s comfort by memory of a horror , and then a gust of wind far above us blew a swirl of dust into the sky that briefly refracted sunlight into a bright palette like a ghostly prism .
Our camp that evening was set up on a sand and rock arroyo that rose away from the riverbed . Radiated heat off the canyon walls was not noticeably reduced by the setting sun , though recurrent colors were splayed across the rock strata by the long light arriving at day ’ s end . Our chef was one of the outfitter ’ s boatmen , a slender young man with stringy brown hair who claimed to have spent the last decade taking adventurers down great rivers and Class 5 rapids in the western hemisphere . His veracity was marked by premature lines in his dark , sun-tortured skin , and stacks of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes .
Before Jerry and I had erected our tents , a fire was jumping into the lowering night and frozen steaks were laid upon a grill . Fromholz had begun his evening ’ s libations and was growing dangerously witty as he hovered over a Dutch oven giving off the aroma of an apple cobbler . Unfortunately , silverware had not been packed by the suppliers and we were consigned to eating prime rib with our fingers . A guide who always traveled with a Swiss Army knife offered his utensil to the governor and salvaged a bit of decorum for her as the stars tilted over our tents .
Fromholz sat a rock and picked up a guitar he had packed for the trip . He started and stopped a few songs ; the campfire lit his face with a flickering glow .
Continued on page 11 6 Big Bend Real Estate Guide • May 2023