Waco, Texas, Home of Baylor University, had more to see than what we thought at first. Tourists can gawk at a preserved mammoth dig, learn about the Texas Rangers, watch artisans at work, shop for decorative household items, grab a soda at the Dr. Pepper Museum, and enjoy one of the restaurants in town.
We kept busy during our five-night stay at Post Oak RV Park and Cabins in Waco, Texas. We even managed to fit in a drive to Dallas to see the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
All of these locations are too much for one post, so this week we’ll take a look at the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum and the Waco Mammoth National Park and leave the rest for next week.
Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum is located across the parking lot from the Waco Visitor Center where tourists will find friendly helpful staff who possess a wealth of information and are eager to assist travelers.
Although the Texas Rangers weren’t officially recognized in legislation until 1874, several iterations of rangers date back to 1823 when Stephen F. Austin formed a militia to protect settlements against Indian raids. Early rangers were required to supply their own horses and equipment and often worked as volunteers because the government did not always pay them for their services.
We started our tour of the museum by watching the movie that told of the ranger history. The movie didn’t shy away from dishing out stories about the bad rangers along with the stories of the men who are regarded as heroes.
The museum is filled with displays of guns, hats, and boots. What impressed me the most about the museum was the workmanship that went into engraving the barrels and handgrips on the weapons. Unfortunately, the lighting was not ideal for taking photos.
As I walked around reading the various bios of the rangers, one of them caught my attention when I noticed a connection to the San Francisco Bay Area and Apache Pass. The San Francisco Bay Area is where we call home and we had recently hiked at Apache Pass to get to the Fort Bowie National Park in Arizona. I had to learn more.
John Coffee Hays began work as an assistant to a land surveyor at the age of 15 after his parents died. Drawn to Texas in 1836 after the territory declared independence from Mexico, he joined the Texas Rangers and continued working as a surveyor for the next 13 years. During that time, Texas became a state (December 29, 1845), war with Mexico broke out (April 25, 1846 – February 2, 1848), and John Hays was elected as the county surveyor and promoted to the rank of major. He encountered many skirmishes with Mexicans and Native Americans alike while conducting surveys or working with the Rangers.
Like many men throughout the United States during 1849, gold fever attracted Mr. Hays to California. Appointed as US Indian Agent for the Gila River country in New Mexico and Arizona, he led a wagon train of forty-niners to California from Texas, blazing a shortcut between Tucson and Mesilla by traveling through Apache Pass. When he arrived in San Francisco, his reputation had preceded him and residents drafted Hays to run for the newly authorized sheriff position. He won the election handily, but his term as sheriff was not without difficulty. He had to contend with a group of vigilantes and hold prisoners in a makeshift jail. He resigned shortly after his second term began and, with his deputy, purchased real estate across the bay, eventually becoming one of the founders of the City of Oakland.
Some of the stories of Ranger Hays’s exploits read more like a dime novel than a fact-based portrayal. Was it possible for 12 rangers to fight off an attack by 200 Mexican guerillas with no loss of life? Or, was the report of the incident riddled with hyperbole? Either way, John Coffee Hays impressed me with all he accomplished during his life. It seems he earned and deserved all the respect people had for him.
Visit the museum any day from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Entrance fee is $8.00 for adults with a $1.00 discount for seniors 60 or over and military with an ID. The fee for children 6 – 12 is $4.00.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
Now let’s travel back in time 65,000 to 100,000 years ago to the Ice Age when Columbian mammoths roamed North America as far south as Costa Rica. The beasts, standing 13 feet (4 m) at the shoulders and weighing 22,000 pounds (10 tonnes), would barely fit under a typical freeway overpass of today, which stands at 17 feet.
It is hard to imagine that a flash flood could be responsible for the demise of a group of female and juvenile mammoths, but that is what archaeologists believe could have caused their deaths. Did the water rush in undercutting the soil where the mammoths stood and then they sank? Was the water more powerful than the 22,000-pound Columbian mammoths? I wonder if it felt like when I stand at the edge of the beach and let the sand give way under my feet when waves rush in and out.
Back to modern times, imagine stomping around the banks of the Bosque River and stumbling over a mammoth bone. That’s what happened when two men searching for arrowheads and fossils discovered a large bone at the location in 1978.
From 1978 to 1990 the Strecker Museum at Baylor University discovered 16 mammoths (a nursery herd that died together in a single event). Between 1990 and 1997 where a large male, two female, two juveniles and a camel were located.
The site was opened to the public in 2009 when a climate-controlled shelter was erected to protect the bones and allow the general public to view the site.
When President Obama designated the site as a National Monument in 2015, the city deeded the 5-acre dig site to the federal government but retained 100 acres around it for future park-related development.
The City of Waco, Baylor University, and the National Park Service operate the site in partnership, which is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except major federal holidays. The guided tour fee ranges from free to $5.00 depending on grade level, age, or use of available discounts.
That concludes the first installment of Waco, Texas. We’ll be back next week with more sights to see.
*Permission for photo use granted by Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum Source: http://www.texasranger.org/texas-ranger-museum/hall-of-fame/john-coffee-jack-hays/