Historic Terlingua Cemetery

Big Bend Photo Project

Terlingua Texas is a ghost town that has been repopulated in recent years by a variety of folks who drifted in from other places. They are fiercely self-reliant as is demanded by the harsh climate of the borderland. Independence aside, the residents have built a community that looks after itself with a sense of open minded tolerance. That is with a strong streak of frontier ethic.

The town that existed at the turn of the nineteenth century was very different place. It was a company mining town. People there were engaged in dirty and dangerous manual labor. It was a place where you followed the rules and got on with the job of digging, transporting and refining red cinnabar ore into mercury. Every part of the process was dangerous; some such as handling the mercury were deadly. Even so, it was honest work which was a rare commodity in the wild Texas/Mexico borderland.

The historic Terlingua cemetery reflects an earlier era of cultural values than those common today. Walking through the cemetery you see the graves of miners and family members. Most are hand made by relatives or friends of those laid to rest. They are evidence of traditions stretching back into the distant past.

The old cemetery is in the middle of present day Terlingua. It is surrounded in close proximity by the current community. Those living there now maintain the cemetery and keep it safe. The character of the town has changed but a sense of continuity exists that extends to the old graves. Just as in the past, those who rest are still part of the community.

Cleo Texas

Hill Country Documentary Project

The crossroads community that became Cleo was started by an enterprising gentleman named Thomas Riggs when he obtained a post office commission in 1880. However postal service was discontinued after some years in favor of Junction Texas a larger town 10-15 miles away. At that time there were may have been around thirty residents living on nearby farms and ranches.

It must have been difficult for people to travel for miles to get mail and telegrams so postal service was reestablished in 1915. The post office and general store operating from the same premises, remained open until closing permanently in 1974. At that time the population was between fifty and eighty people.

Cleo sits on a quite county road having been bypassed by the US highway connecting the county seat with interstate 10. The 2000 census reported the population as three individuals. On my first trip to photograph Cleo in 2013 there were still three or four people living on a ranch next to the old post office. They were no longer there on my last visit a few weeks ago. However the post office/general store building and proprietors residence were being restored. Most of the surrounding property is now used for recreation and hunting. Perhaps there is another life for the old general store supplying goods for weekend residents.


Someone has decided to sail across West Texas. The square canopy turned lateen sail is made ready for command by an unknown captain. With dry tanks acting as centerboard to steady her forward progress. Fossil fuel turned alternate energy but not eco friendly. The voyage is destined to end badly with Devils River Rough Canyon just half a mile away.

In places the West Texas landscape resembles an ocean of short grass punctuated at intervals by pump jacks and oilfield storage tanks. If you are fortunate enough to own wells then the smell of money is welcome. Otherwise it’s a reminder that fortunes rise and fall with the price of oil. Best to remember the old bumper sticker, “Please God, give me one more oil boom”, then pray not to piss it away.