My family and I recently spent a few days at Big Bend National Park. While there, I picked up Big Bend: A Homesteader’s Story in the book store at the Panther Junction visitor’s center. Truthfully, I didn’t know anything about the book but was just looking for something to read about the area.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book is an autobiography of J. O. Langford, a man who, along with his young family, settled in the Big Bend shortly after the turn of the 19th century. Langford purchased three sections of land that include the natural hot springs near the Boquillas Canyon area. Langford chose the springs specifically because his own health was poor and the springs were believed to have medicinal properties. Ultimately Langford developed the springs into an area where travelers would come from all over Texas to bathe in their waters. Over time, he managed to build bath houses, lodging, and a small post office, the ruins of which can be visited today. Like many people of the Big Bend area, Langford was resourceful in scratching out a living, in one example becoming the local school teacher simply to provide additional income for his family.
The bulk of the book is made up of anecdotes from the Langfords’ time in the area, full of examples of the family’s explorations and education in a rough land that over time they grew to love. One of my favorite quotes from the book also sums up my experiences in Big Bend: “There is a strange, mystic beauty about that mountain range, something compelling and mysterious that grips you the first time you see it and never afterward leaves you.”
The book neither gives you a great description of Big Bend today or one of modern homesteading. Instead, it is a fascinating view inside the mind of a man who went to great lengths to restore his health and provide for his family in the remotest of places.
You can get your own copy of the book here: Big Bend: A Homesteader’s Story