The history of Texas prior to the Alamo might be even more fascinating than all the cattle drives and railroads and tech startups that have contributed to the state’s legend. The stories, little told but epic in scope began mostly in a region around Presidio known as La Junta de Los Rios. The fertile valley where the Rio Conchos flows into the Rio Grande is believed by archaeologists to be possibly the oldest continually occupied spot in North America.
A new historical project called “La Junta de los Rios por El Camino Real” will attempt two archeological digs on both sides of the Rio Grande, a documentary, and a book to capture and tell the broader story of an area critical to the history of Texas and the American Southwest. A formal kickoff for the three-year endeavor will be the weekend of May 21 and 22 in the cities of Presidio, Texas and Ojinaga, Mexico and will be attended by the Miguel Angel Mazarambroz, Ambassador of Spain and the country’s counsel general in Houston. Numerous officials from both cities, Mexico, Texas, and Spain will also include Andy Cloud, Director of the Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross State University in Alpine.
“People often think of our community as out of the way,” said Brad Newton, Director of Presidio’s Municipal Development Department. “But history has shown the exact opposite is true. We are, and always have been, a crossroads of commerce and culture that have led to the development of this region. We are joined by rivers, not divided.”
The public is invited to attend the kickoff meeting for the project at Fort Ben Leaton, east of Presidio on Highway 170, 1:30 pm, Saturday, May 21. The scientific and diplomatic delegation will visit Genevieve Lykes Duncan archaeological site on the 02 Ranch, the Millington site at Mission San Cristobal, the city of Ojinaga, and the Guadalupe Mission.
The La Junta region, an oasis in the midst of the Chihuahuan Desert, was one of the first locations where Spaniard explorers established a presence that led to Catholic missions. Cabeza de Vaca was the first European to travel through La Junta in 1535, and he described small villages with farms as well as hunting and gathering peoples, probably the indigenous Jumanos.
The present day location of Ojinaga and Presidio was an important historic crossroads on the Chihuahua Trail, and is increasingly relevant to Texas and U.S. commerce. New pipelines and railroad crossings to Mexico are being constructed, and Presidio has become the gateway to Big Bend Ranch and the national park, both accessible along the River Road. While talk of walls dominates national political news, residents of the two cities in La Junta de los Rios continue to demonstrate how to live in mutually beneficial communities with trust and prosperity.