The Texan Who Made Big Bend National Park

by Mike Cox

If any mountain or some other notable geologic feature in the Big Bend remains unnamed, by all rights it should honor one Robert M. Wagstaff.

The reason that now little-known West Texan deserves to be remembered with a distinctive landmark goes back to a winter day in West Texas during the Great Depression. Scanning the colorful array of magazine covers competing for attention on the shelves of an Abilene newsstand, the attorney reached for one publication that caught his eye. Its cover featured a yellow map of Texas over a blue background that stood out, well, as big as Texas.

Wagstaff gave the December 1930 Nature Magazine a quick glance, seeing that the whole issue focused on the Lone Star State. Newly elected to the House of Representatives, he figured he’d better see what the publication had to say about Texas, particularly his corner of it. He paid 35 cents for the issue and read it cover-to-cover when he got back to his downtown law office.

The article he found the most interesting was by J. Frank Dobie, a University of Texas faculty member from South Texas beginning to get a name for himself as a writer of history and folklore. The piece, “The Texan Part of Texas,” is what Wagstaff read first. Next he turned to an article by Claude S. Young about the Big Bend: “The Last Frontier — The Big Bend Country of Texas Still Sleeps, Untamed.”

In his article, Dobie —who never lacked for an opinion — expressed his dismay that Texas had squandered most of its once vast public land holdings. And then, he wrote: “Texans of cultivated minds are lamenting with increasing regret that none of the beautiful ‘hill country,’ none of the deep forest land, none of the coastal marshes, none of the wild Big Bend Country, none of the cool Davis Mountains, none of the deep and mighty gorges of the plains — not one acre of the multiplied millions was set aside for parks and public enjoyment as so much federal land has been set aside (nationally).”

Full Story at Abilene Reporter-News

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