The Father of Big Bend National Park Pt.1

The Father of Big Bend National Park Pt.1

   The date is August 31st, 1894. You were tasked with tracking stolen mules; in this search you find yourself weaving within the animal trails of the rugged terrain. In a cascade of oaks and layers of sediment each telling stories from millions of years ago. 

   You eventually reach the South Rim of the mountainous range; an expansive vista presents itself to you. The light from the sun now creeping at the crest of Earth and you draw a breath in awe. You mutter to yourself words of affirmation and take in the site laid before you.

Credit: NPS Worener

Now considered as the “Father of Big Bend”, Everett Ewing Townsend has an extensive history in the Rio Grande area that in hindsight seemed to indicate that he was destined to become the figure is known for today. In the introduction, the reader was placed into Townsend’s point-of-view where he discovered his calling to push for the establishment of what would now be called Big Bend National Park. 

At the Start

   Born October 20th, 1871, in Colorado County, Texas, to a Captain William Wallace Townsend and Margaret Jimmerson Townsend. E.E Townsend, along with his eight other siblings, spent most of his adolescence assisting his father in raising cattle due to his father being maimed for life from a wound suffered during the Civil War. In this time, E.E. Townsend would have his first brush of death at the age of ten. 

   Late one night, E.E. Townsend found himself sleeping on the front porch. His mother and the other children sleeping in their quarters. Captain Townsend was found burning the midnight oil at his desk. In this moment, a strange noise awoke the young Townsend. The trample of horses’ hooves slowly approaching the house, when the sound of hooves stopped, the silence was cut short by the ringing of gun fire. In a single movement, Captain Townsend responses with his own fire unknowing that his son was on the front porch. In the return of fire, Captain Townsend nearly lost his son as the bullet brushed the hair of E.E. Townsend. The captain ordered the family to get to the ground as the shots continued and when he realized E.E. Townsend was on the porch, repeated order to his son. After the shots were fired the assailants retreated.

  Shortly after, the Townsend moved to Rancho Grande on the west bank of the Colorado River. Around this same time, E.E. Townsend would take his first job working as a cattle driver. In terms of schooling, E.E. Townsend only attended two sessions back in Colorado County and now the closest school was located in Wharton. A town that was twelve miles away and separated by a river, which made education nearly impossible. 

Credit: The Portal to Texas History- Herman, Lungkwitz

Life at Eagle Pass

   Captain Townsend would move his family to Eagle Pass, Texas, in hopes of better education for his children. They would arrive in September 3,1884. In this time, at the age of thirteen, E.E. Townsend would get his first job to his father’s declining health. He would find his first endeavor into the work force as a dairyman assistant, working eighteen hours a day for twenty-five dollars a month. After this ended, we would transition to a ranch-hand position for nine-dollar a month with much more grueling work. In this work E.E. Townsend would experience missed meals, long days, and lost of sleep. Regardless of the hardships that Townsend endured, the experience he’d gain in his runs from the Rio Grande and Nueces River would present themselves as a precursor to his next adventure. 

The Texas Ranger

   In 1891, a life-changing opportunity would present itself in the form of the Company E., Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers. Since Townsend was only nineteen at the time, the Ranger Captain suggested to present Townsend as twenty-one. Not that there were laws against age, just more for the sake of a formality. 

   As a Ranger, Townsend would be paid thirty dollar per month which was given in quarterly payments. In this time, Townsend would deal with a variety of criminals. From murderers to bootleggers, Townsend had his work cut-out for him. After eighteen months, he would resign from the position. 

Credit: The Portal to Texas History- Unknown

Customs and Basins

   Shortly after leaving his Ranger position, Townsend would find himself working for the customs service. He describes that the position at the Mexican border appealed to him, as it would provide him the chance to spread good will and friendly feeling between the two countries. On August 31st, 1894, Townsend would be tasked with tracking stolen mules that were smuggled from Mexico to Texas side of the Rio Grande. Although Townsend had been in Presidio County for months scouting over the entire portion of the big bend. This would be his first time he’d visit the Bandera Mesa, placing himself 1,000 feet above the basin. At this mesa, Townsend would have a revelation that would eventually lead into what would become Big Bend National Park. It reached the former Texas Ranger so deeply that he noted in his scout book that it made him see God as he had never seen Him before.  

   While stationed on the Mexican Border at Presidio as a mounted inspector, he would be carrying out his usual duties across Brewster County. On February 18, 1895, during his scouting duties, he would find himself caught in a West Texas blizzard. In this event, we would come across two ladies in a buggy that we would assist during this weather event. One who was named Miss Alice Jones, the one he would fall for. Shortly after their first meeting on November 1st, they would have a wedding ceremony in Valentine, Texas.

   After resigning from Custom Services regarding a political dispute towards the end of the 1890’s, Townsend would find himself in the position as a manager of the Elsinore Cattle Company on July 4th, 1990. In his time as a manager, Townsend would make instrumental changes to ranch and sold 40,000 head of cattle. 

The Life of Brewster County Sheriff

   After his departure from E. L. in 1916, Townsend would invest in a 12,000-acre ranch in Alpine, Texas. This ranch would operate for ten years, after which we sold the cattle and leased the land in 1926.

   Townsend would take the position of sheriff of Brewster County, November 11, 1918. He was elected based on the promise of enforcing laws that were not previously pushed, primarily regarding public gambling. During his time, he would interact with his first case of grand theft auto and whiskey smuggling during the prohibition. 

Editor’s Note: The photo on the right was taken 1971, Townsend was a sheriff much earlier. This was the earliest photo found on record. 

Credit: The Portal to Texas History- Texas Historical Commission

To Learn More

  • Hilton, David Edmond. The “Father” of Big Bend National Park. Big Spring TX: Sprinkle Printing Co., 1988. 
  • Saxton, Lewis H., and Clifford B. Casey. The Life of Everett Ewing Townsend. Alpine, TX: West Texas Historical and Scientific Society, 1958.
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