Whatever happened to Beaver Lake?

by Jim Fish

Located about a mile due east of the junction of Texas Highway 163 and Farm Road 189 in Val Verde County, Beaver Lake had been a source of water for Native Americans, Jumanos, settlers, ranchers, government expeditions, trail drivers, wagon teamsters, and many others for hundreds of years. It was also known to be a source for beaver, otter, bear, deer, longhorn cattle, and other wild game for centuries.

Beaver Lake was frequented by various tribes of Jumano and was a Comanche/Kiowa hunting ground for millennia. It has been the site of their lodges, daily life, and their many intertribal skirmishes.

It is believed to be the birthplace of La Niña Lobo, del Rio Diablo, a feral child conceived by a Georgia couple trapping the lake for beaver in the 1840s. The parents died under unusual circumstances, and it is believed the child was raised by wolves. Subsequently, reports began surfacing during the 1850s of a blonde female child who was running with a pack of wolves that hunted and killed settlers’ and ranching interests’ livestock from the upper watershed area of the Devil’s River in present-day Sutton County, south to the Rio Grande at Del Rio.

One of the most notable events regarding Beaver Lake involves a young lieutenant by the name of John Bell Hood, who later became a general in the Confederate Army and for whom Fort Hood was later named and for which this historical marker is erected.

“Texas, Val Verde County, Juno - 2556 – “Hood's Devils River Fight”

“The men of Company G, a small unit of the U.S. 2nd Cavalry, left Fort Mason on July 5, 1857, under the command of Lt. John Bell Hood (1831-1879), in pursuit of Comanche Indians in the vicinity. Traveling northwest, they discovered a fresh Indian trail leading southward toward Mexico. Crossing bluffs near the Devils River on July 20, the men encountered an Indian camp on a ridge about two miles from the stream, marked by a flag. Suspecting an ambush, Hood proceeded cautiously toward the ridge.

“A small band of Indians advanced to meet Hood’s party. Then, throwing down the flag to signal their concealed allies, a group of close to 100 Comanche and Lipan Apache attacked. Outnumbered, and hampered by brush fires set by Indian women, the soldiers were forced into fierce hand-to-hand combat. Outflanked by a force at least three times his number and hemmed in by a wall of fire and smoke to his front, all that Hood could hope for was that superior marksmanship and discipline would prove to be the decisive elements in the fight. The company fell back to reload its weapons, only to hear the loud cries of Comanche women through the smoke.

“Two cavalrymen, William Barry, and Thomas Ryan were killed, and five others, including Hood, were wounded. A relief unit from Camp Hudson (20 mi. S) arrived the following day, rendering medical aid and helping to bury the dead. Pvt. Ryan was buried at the site, and Pvt. Barry’s body was never found. Later reports revealed that nineteen Indians were killed, and many more wounded. Hood and his men were later cited for valor in Army reports. During the Civil War, Hood became a general in the Confederate States Army.”

Additional sources say the Comanche and Kiowa warriors got so close to Hood that they grabbed the reins of his horse and tried to dismount him. After firing his shotgun a few times, Lieutenant Hood suffered a wound from an arrow that passed through his left hand and into his horse's bridle, a wound from which he would suffer for the rest of his life.

Many years later, Hood confided, "We were nigh meeting a similar fate to that of the gallant Custer and his noble band," about the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

Even though Beaver Lake was part of the prized water feature in the area for so long, it has been reduced to little more than a sizeable depression in the dry Devil’s River. Drought, over-grazing, and tumultuous floods allowed gravel and other sediments to settle and block the springs that had been supplying it. The hillsides were said to be covered in Chile Piquín plants and people would gather there annually to gather the prized diminutive pepper pods. However, goats were turned out into the area at some point after fencing sectioned off pastures and ranches and the domesticated stock devoured the plants until they disappeared from the area.

Now, Beaver Lake is little more than an enigmatic feature in the Devil’s River area and fading from the distant memory of those who live there. The living memory of Beaver Lake is about to disappear forever.

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