Let the Tours Begin

By Lisa Milewski

On Saturday, October 12, 2019 the Rancheria Grande Chapter of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association conducted a tour of several significant, certified sites along the El Camino Real in Milam County. 

Local history buffs John Pruett and Geri Burnett discussed county and trail history along the route. 

The tour started in Cameron at 9:00am and ended back in Cameron at the Milam County Museum at 5pm.   

Dr. Alston Thoms, Professor of Anthropology at A&M, and Dave Cunningham provided rich and insightful commentary about Sugarloaf Mountain and the surrounding area.

Dave Cunningham

The Tour began with an introduction by Dave Cunningham on the Sugarloaf Bridge as well as a brief history of the area.  Sugarloaf Mountain is privately owned and permission is needed for tours/hikes. 

Sugarloaf Mountain

Texas Master Naturalists, Patrick Still and Lisa Milewski, from the El Camino Real Chapter were tasked with monitoring the tourists/hikers and, yes, they all made it there and back safely and enlightened by all the fascinating history.  It was well worth every step!  Master Naturalist Catherine Johnson and her daughter Rosie Johnson were also on the bus and Lisa’s husband, David Milewski assisted on the hikes.

The opening talk

Over the Little River…

…and through the woods….

… and up the mountain…

Hey, how did they get up there so fast and where was that short cut?  We were right behind them!

 I think I can, I think I can….

At last, we all made it to the top!  Yes, bird’s-eye view!  We had light rain on and off, but it was so beautiful that it didn’t matter. 

Dr. Alston Thoms

Once we reached the top of Sugarloaf Mountain for a spectacular view, Dr. Alston Thoms gave a history of the area, telling us about Native Americans and their travel paths to gather for trade and social gatherings as well as what they ate such as deer, wild onions, yucca roots, mushrooms, how they cooked, why nuts and berries were not their primary diets (think about it). They would cook in pits with rocks that would stay hot for hours or days and slow cook the deer, rabbits, fowl and caramelize wild onions or add mushrooms for flavor. They would also brew roots from yucca or yaupon holly to make potent drinks.  The party is on! 

This is how far we hiked once we made it to the top.  You can see the bridge we started from and trust me, it was further than this picture depicts:

It’s a long way down!
Contemplating the hike back.
And, back down we go…

After a wonderful, sustaining lunch at the Cedar Hill Ranch, owned by Mike and Joyce Conner, we began our next hike from Cedar Hill Ranch to the adjacent property owned by Elaine and Gene Baumann, EB Ranch. The hike led to the most documented certified village site in the Rancheria Grande, after Mike and Joyce discussed the history of the area:

Dr. Conner pointed out swales through the woodlands along the way.  Amazing to be right there walking along those very paths of the Native Americans. 

Dr. Michael Conner

We continued our journey hiking along the swale that led up to Elaine and Gene Baumann’s archaeological Rancheria Grande village site excavated by archaeologists Sergio and Melinda Iruegas. 

Rosie brews controversy by asking Dr. Thoms for a second opinion about one of the artifacts.

Once we reached our destination, Steven Gonzales discussed the archaeological findings and we were able to view and examine some of the artifacts that were in display cases of arrowheads that were discovered.  There were many different sizes and shapes that had specific purposes, depending on how they were going to be used, such as., hunting, fishing, cooking, tools, etc. 

Wow!  This was better than any history class I have ever had. Our children would find history more interesting if they went on hikes like this and were taught about the Native Americans in our area, how they lived, what they ate and how they cooked, traded, socialized, etc. Yes, field trip! 

Seriously, it gave me chills walking along those very paths, knowing they were right there!

Happy trails to you, until we meet again…

1 thought on “Let the Tours Begin”

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