My Prehistoric FriendsMarch 29, 2011

In the mid-fifties I had a good friend named Bill Fyke. He was known around South Texas for three things: he was a good guy, he was a delivery man for the Bruce Pie Company, and he collected stone arrowheads. I loved the guy for all three reasons. Bill’s route took him to all of the little towns and stopping places west of Austin and San Antonio. He visited every gas station and country store that sold anything edible.

And, of course, he always asked everyone standing nearby if they knew of any old Indian campsites in the area. Bill and I were really into collecting arrowheads. He even named his son Flint. Flint Fyke - it has a certain ring…

Now, you might be surprised by what you can get in trade if you offer someone a fresh, fried, pineapple pie. Bill always denied it but I think that’s how he met Ernest Ingenhuett. Ernest had a ranch that started about seventeen miles down a little dirt road south of Boerne, in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas, and it ran for miles. That’s very special country and the Boerne Chamber of Commerce swore that God had a summer place down there somewhere.

Anyway, many of the ranches in that area are so large they are remote by their very nature, and only occasionally does a fence punctuate the mesquite and prickly pear landscape. Even today a lone jaguar might be seen in the southern reaches. Much of that country hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

One hot summer afternoon Ernest drove us in his old Ford pickup to a small creek of water that wandered deep into his ranch. Gentle flooding over the decades had eroded the side of an Indian campsite that had been occupied about 5,500 years ago. We dated it by the stone artifacts that were scattered about: spear points, atlatl dart points, hide scrapers, drills, knives and burins. Charcoal and ashes from early fires were washing out. There were no arrowheads because the bow would not be invented for another 4,000 years.

Castroville Point, ca 5,500 years old

Castroville Point, ca 5,500 years old

Pedernales Point, ca 5,500 years old

Pedernales Point, ca 5,500 years old

After a few minutes a man, woman and three small children approached within about 200 feet, and sat down. Ernest waived them over. He had cautioned us earlier that we might encounter this family and that’s why he wanted to be present when we first met them. None of the five wore clothes. They didn’t speak Spanish or English but they seemed to communicate very well among themselves. They gestured a lot and grunted different tones, each emphasized with a facial expression. Bill and I were utterly entranced and the whole occurrence suggested that we were in the company of an ancient civilization.

Ernest stood aside and watched our awed reactions. He said these folks had been on the ranch longer than anyone could remember and that before the turn of the last century they had numbered thirty or more. To his uncertain knowledge they had not wandered more than a few miles from the creek. Although Ernest held a deed to the ranch we certainly felt like intruders, a thought that still lingers…

Although we never saw a weapon we were told that they ate anything that moved, including insects, but mostly squirrels, opossums, armadillos, snakes, javelina, raccoons, deer and everything that lived in or about the creek. They seemed healthy and the bottoms of their feet were like rawhide. A recent email from Bill’s daughter, Janet Fyke Lewis, refreshed my memory:

“I recall that when my parents and I would visit the ranch, that same mother was mesmerized by my blonde hair and fair skin, and always wanted to stroke my hair and pat my arm.  Her hands, probably much like the soles of her feet, were rough and almost had a gritty feel to them, yet her touch was light and gentle.  I remember Mother not caring much for their presence, but Daddy encouraged me to not be fearful of them and respect that they looked and lived differently.  Looking back on his wisdom, that was a beautiful life lesson for me ... and humbling.  I don’t know the last time Daddy visited the Ingenhuett Ranch, nor its exact location, but it was always one of his favorite places to go hunting.”

As the family curiously watched from a distance, Bill and I picked up a few projectiles from the surface and excavated in the eroding campsite that was mostly black dirt and small limestone rocks. Just being there was an emotional experience.

We quickly became close friends with Ernest, who was from good German stock, and returned a few times to excavate and eat his venison BBQ. The one thing he insisted on was that we not give anything to the primitive family or accidentally leave a tin can or a slice of bread at the site. He said it was important that those indigenous folks stay pure of modern man. We agreed, and promised not to photograph or talk about them when we left.

One time we were sitting on the bank eating pineapple pies and drinking Dr. Peppers when one of the children came up to us with his hands outstretched and a wide-eyed look on his face. He was offering dozens of stone projectiles he had picked up and saved for us. I don’t know when I ever felt more useless.

After a few years Ernest died and so did Bill. I never went back because the moment had passed and the ambience was gone. And I sure didn’t want to learn that my prehistoric friends were no longer living at the creek.

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