I picked up a book last time I was down in Lincoln County, at Fort Staunton. It answered a question I’d always had about the Pecos river area.

The background to all the shooting and the Lincoln County wars was that cattlemen and sheepmen wanted to graze on the land, going all the way back to John Chisum, who brought a small herd out to the Pecos from central texas and made himself a cattle king.

My question is why? Or maybe how? Because as you drive east from central Texas the land gets drier. The trees get sparser and smaller and then disappear. The grass is thick and green for awhile, then thick but dry. Right around the New Mexico state line it starts to fade. By the Pecos its mostly scattered sagebrush and other inedibles with a tired fistful of bone-colored gramma grass every 10-20 feet.

They still graze out there, of course. But it takes 5 acres to feed one cow.

The book I picked up was by an old-timer. She came out to the country as a girl in the 1860s.

What she said was that the gramma grass used to grow thick and waist high. She mentions multiple rivers and streams that no longer exist.

So that is why they came.

In my own stomping grounds, on the Rio Grande, my grandmother told me stories of riding the plateau country up to the Manzano mountains with the grass brushing the belly of her horse the whole way. That would have been in the 1930s. Now its sand and sagebrush.

I don’t know why the land changed. Maybe overgrazing. Maybe irrigation. Maybe the buffalo leaving. Maybe the climate changed. I also don’t know what, if anything, could be done about it. You can’t just restore things be reversing the cause of their destruction.

But my superstitious side wants to see it as a sign of some kind. Hard to square that with America’s continued prosperity for decades. But maybe men can run on in their own strength for awhile, until they hollow all the way out.

What I do know is there used to be thick grass here, and now its dry.

We used to be able to put men on the moon. Now we can’t.

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