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Discovering America: Frijole Ranch House, Texas

I recommended walk for anyone visiting the Guadalupe Mountains National Park is to hike the Spring Trail. However, before starting out on the trail it is best to take a few minutes and check out the historic Frijole Ranch House.  The ranch house and its corresponding trail is only a short 5 minute drive to the east of the national park visitor center:

guadalupe mountains map

Here is a view of the steep stretch of the Guadalupe Mountains that the ranch house sits at the base of:

Picture from the Guadalupe Mountains

When walking through this high desert to the ranch house it is hard to believe that someone could make a living all those years ago in this harsh environment.  However, ranchers not only made a living in this harsh environment, they in fact thrived due to the water provided by these rugged mountains.  The Frijole Ranch House is the best example of how these early ranchers used these precious water resources to ranch this land.  When walking up to the ranch house from the parking lot it is literally an oasis of green trees in the harsh desert landscape:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

The first thing I noticed walking up to the ranch house was that horses are still kept here by the national park service:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

I’m not sure what the national park service uses these horses for, but my guess would be that they are used by the rangers to patrol the back country of the park not accessible by four wheel drive vehicles. From the stables I walked over to the ranch house:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

The house was completely cloaked in the shade of all the trees that surrounded the property which instantly made the scorching summer time temperatures outside drop by what felt like 20 degrees. Here is a view of the front of the house:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

Here is a brief history of this historic ranch from the National Park Service website:

The first substantial, permanent structure at the site was built by the Rader brothers in 1876. These two bachelor brothers operated a small cattle ranch out of their sturdy rock home, which consisted only of the present front or south-facing living and dining rooms of the structure. The house was constructed 40 feet from Frijole Spring. It had double walls of native stone with a filler of mud between; interior walls were also plastered with mud. While the brothers were the first permanent settlers on this side of the mountain range, it appears they never filed a deed on the cattle ranch. They moved on by the late 1800s after which the Herring family took up ranching in the area.

At the end of the Civil War, Major Calvin Herring moved his family from North Carolina westward into Texas where they ended up at the foot of Guadalupe Peak in what is now Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It was here that Major Herring’s daughter, Ida Herring, married George W. Wolcott in 1888. Wolcott family records indicate that the couple’s first home had two rooms, one of which was a dugout, and that this was the early structure at the Frijole Ranch site. Wolcott and his wife remained until 1895. George W. Wolcott then took his family to the Midland, Texas area where he went on to become a prominent rancher.

In 1906, John Thomas Smith filed on the Frijole site as vacant land, referring to the house and property as the “Spring Hill Ranch” until 1912. Mr. Smith had moved from Wisconsin to Texas, where he married Nella May Carr in 1889, in Sherman, Texas. They were married for 63 years and had ten children. The Smiths made a living by truck farming and had a 15-acre orchard and garden east and north of the house. Over the years, apples, peaches, apricots, plums, pears, figs, pecans, blackberries, strawberries, currants, and some corn were grown; the springs providing more than adequate water for at least two plots. Periodically, the Smiths would load up their wagons in the evening, covering the fresh produce with wet paper and linen. They would then travel for two days to Van Horn (65 miles south) where they would sell the fruits of their labor. They also raised cattle, horses, pigs, and chickens.

The Smith family greatly expanded the Frijole Ranch House in the 1920s. A rear kitchen and two bedrooms were added, as well as a second story and dormers . A gable roof with wood shakes eventually covered the house.  [NPS Website]

You can read more about the house at the link, but the Smith family sold the house in 1942 to a local rancher Jesse Coleman (J.C.) Hunter who had created a huge cattle empire along the Guadalupe Mountains.  Hunter was a conservationist who had long tried to make the Guadalupe’s a national park, but it was eventually his son CJ Hunter that would see this dream come true in 1969 when the land was sold to the National Park Service for $1.5 million.

Here is a view of the side of this historic ranch house:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

This house was built right next to a natural spring which the family covered with this structure and then built canals to use the water for cooking, sanitation, and irrigation:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

Here is  water from this spring flowing through one of the little concrete canal towards the outhouse at the rear of the ranch:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

For the Old West this is a pretty good substitute for indoor plumbing.   Here is a closer look at the outhouses that this water flowed into:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

The water also flowed out into the desert creating a snake like shape of green grass through the desert:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

Here is the orchard at the rear of the property that is also supported by water from the ranch’s spring water:

Frijole Ranch House Orchard

Here is a picture of the bunkhouse that was constructed in 1925 that was eventually converted in a school for local children:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

A total of up to 8 children once used this building as a school into the 1930’s.  The teacher that taught the children was paid $30 a month, given a room, and a horse by the Smith family.  Here is a picture of the inside of the school:

Frijole Ranch In the Guadalupe Mountains

Unfortunately the inside of the ranch house was not open for me to check out so I could not get any pictures of its interior.  However, just walking around outside and reading about the history of this ranch was quite interesting.  Strangely despite being able to read quite a bit about the history of this ranch I could find nothing about how the ranch got its name?  Frijole is Spanish for beans so maybe beans were once grown here?  This question will have to remain unanswered for now, since it was time to leave the shade of this pleasant ranch and hike up the Spring Trail and see even more how water has shaped the lands at the base of these beautiful mountains.

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