- Abandoned -
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
Chapter 39: San Angelo, Texas
The drive from Austin’s Bergstrom-International Airport to San Angelo took Father Mark and his friend over six hours, including a stop in Fredericksburg. Fortunately, a member of his diocese had a business appointment in Austin that morning and had volunteered to pick him up at the airport. Images of Vrindavan, Rama, and his new friends were still fresh in Father Mark’s mind—the exotic flavors of the food, smells and sounds all pleasant memories.
From Fredericksburg their car seemed to be headed on a straight line due west, but in fact, highway 87 also meanders its way north—slowing to a crawl at times through little towns such as Mason, Brady and Eden. After Eden, the last 45 minutes of their journey witnessed the end of the Texas Hill Country, sending their car down into a massive plain, filled mostly with mesquite trees, cotton fields, an occasional farm house and of course, cotton gins. Some of the farms are abandoned—remnants of long forgotten homesteads from the Great Depression. As far as the eye can see the land is mostly flat.
Times Gone By
photo by: Ronald E. Boutelle
Even though Father Mark was a history teacher, eighteen months ago he wouldn’t have even known that the earliest history of San Angelo could be traced to the start of the 17th century, penned by a Franciscan monk who reported that in 1632, ten thousand Christianized Indians were gathered within the present day city limits of San Angelo asking to be baptized! That piece of history he had discovered right before his trip to India and inwardly he was still reeling from it. Why was that never taught to me? Mark had asked himself that at least a half dozen times.
No, instead of going back that far in time, Father Mark started his history classes on far more familiar ground, telling his students that in 1867 the United States government established Fort Concho to protect the frontier from the savage Indians. It was from this same fort that Col. R. S. Mackerzie and his famous 4th Calvary rode out of in 1874 and essentially brought an end to the Comanche Nation. For Father Mark, this was where his official lesson planner started. Next he would have mentioned how the fort became famous for its Black Cavalry, known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Following the establishment of Fort Concho, the first proper buildings in San Angelo began to appear and the city soon underwent rapid expansion after the arrival of the Santa Fe Railway in 1888. Main Street became famous for its brothels, saloons and gambling. Then during the 20th century, the small city saw continued growth, spurred on by various influences. For example, a tuberculosis outbreak across America brought about another influx in her population as people moved into San Angelo’s dry climate. This was followed in 1928 by the establishment of San Angelo College and after that, Goodfellow Air Force Base. Before long, large deposits of natural gas and oil were also discovered, triggering even more growth. Actor Fess Parker grew up on a ranch near San Angelo and the country music giant, Ernest Tubb lived and worked there for several years.
The history of San Angelo with her dashing young officers at Fort Concho is certainly colorful but as Father Mark discovered, nothing about this West Texas city can match the story of its original inhabitants who lived there long before the fort was ever built. Even the two Spanish priest who first visited San Angelo were amazed at what they saw and surely, they, too, wondered what had really happened there. After all, this vast area is considered by historians as being unexplored until the late 1650s when Hernan Martin and Diego del Castillo first arrived. Unless, of course, nearly 100 years earlier, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado (1510-1554) and his expedition to Texas had visited San Angelo, but had somehow forgotten to mention it. However, this is highly unlikely because Coronado was required to keep meticulous records.
Regarding Martin and Castillo, their interest were rather unique and strictly focused on the freshwater mussel shells of the Rio Concho river and the pink pearls that can be pried out of them. These two men were in San Angelo strictly for the money. In fact, Concho pearls from this era can still be found in the possession of Spanish royalty back in Spain. Even today, as the author discovered, if you take a walk along Main Street, inside the Legend Jewelry store you can still buy a pair of pearl earrings, harvested from the same freshwater mussels that were discovered in San Angelo over 350 years ago.
No, what makes this story so interesting is that instead of the incomplete history that most people read about, Father Mark had accidentally discovered that a more accurate account tells that the first Spaniards to step foot in San Angelo were not the two pearl merchants—and not even the two Spanish padres mentioned earlier, who were the honored guests of the Jumano Indians. No, there was another person involved and this was a great mystery that had to be solved.
Again referring to Spanish records, not only did the Indians from this unexplored territory (San Angelo) know the exact location of the San Agustin Mission in New Mexico, along with the priests who lived there, they also knew about water baptism and the basics of Catholicism—and they all carried small wooden crosses. Even more astounding, they also spoke lovingly about their spiritual guide—but that was a person who would have been strictly forbidden by Spanish law to be living anywhere in the New World. So this is a short introduction to the actual history of San Angelo that had shaken Father Mark to his very core.
* * * * * * * *
Mr. Penrose—Mark’s father—sat in his favorite chair next to his phone at the Rio Concho Manor where he had moved to after his wife, and Mark’s mother, had passed away. As an only child, his son was really all that he had left in the world, besides a few acquaintances at The Manor and around town. When you reach 81, going on 90, most of your family and friends have passed away.
View from The Manor’s 9th Floor
photo by: Ronald E. Boutelle
But Mr. Penrose considered himself one of the lucky ones. Other than the constant ringing in his ears from all the years he had been around aircraft, Mark’s dad felt that he was still in pretty good shape. He also felt that selling his large house on South Harrison had turned out to be a great decision, freeing him from all the headaches involved when you own your own home at an old age. Plus it gave him more than enough money—plenty to pay for his son’s trip to India.
For less than five hundred dollars a month, Mr. Penrose had everything he needed at The Manor, without any of the clutter—bills paid and two square meals a day. Downtown was literally a 3 minute walk from his front door and with his binoculars, the rectory where Mark lived was clearly visible from the window of his 9th floor apartment. And to get around town and beyond, Mr. Penrose could always rely on his 1989 Isuzu Trooper.
Rectory is to the right of bell tower
photo by: Ronald E. Boutelle
Checking his watch, Mr. Penrose expected his son to knock at any moment. He had not seen Mark since he had left for India and they had a lot to talk about. It had been a long time since Mr. Penrose had been so excited to see anyone. The knock on his door came about 4:30 in the afternoon.