There’s a whole lot of Texas between Junction and El Paso, so Fort Stockton seemed good for lunch about halfway across. Wile E. Coyote was nowhere in sight when we pulled in, so perhaps he was intimidated by Paisano Pete, the 22-foot long, 11-foot tall roadrunner who’s been posing full tilt on the corner of Main Street and Dickinson Boulevard since 1980. For 13 years, Pete, the city mascot, claimed top billing as the largest roadrunner statue in the world. But then Las Cruces, New Mexico, erected an apparently unnamed roadrunner at its landfill location to encourage awareness of recycling. Composed of old shoes, cell phones, bike parts and other artist-oriented recyclable stuff, this giant bird is 20 feet tall! Had Bobby and I known he’d been moved to an I-10 rest stop west of Las Cruces, we might have made a quick visit the next morning as we headed for Tucson. I wonder if Wile E. has been over to check out this bird.
Real, live roadrunners are skinny, ground-dwelling birds less than 24 inches from beak to tail and weighing 8 to 24 ounces. Roadrunners can fly, but why bother when you can run 20 miles per hour? According to one online site, that’s fast enough to catch a rattlesnake for dinner. Roadrunners are members of the Cuckoo family, which is probably why Looney Tunes chose a roadrunner as primary prey for their devious coyote.
Before arriving in Fort Stockton, we did an Internet search for local restaurants and settled on K-BOB’s, which described itself as serving “authentic, made-from-scratch lunch and dinner” not only to hungry travelers but also to the town’s high school sports teams and crews coming into town from “the ranch, the rig, or the factory floor.” K-BOB’s didn’t disappoint. We ordered meatloaf, which was as delicious as my mother’s version right down to the chili sauce baked on top. I asked our server how the green beans were fixed (picturing canned in salty water), and she assured me they were picked fresh, then steamed. Yum. Bobby ordered a salad (with a side of Ranch, of course), and that’s when we discovered that westerners frequently serve salads in large, stainless steel, doggie bowl-looking things.
When Bobby made a point of telling our server we’d found K-BOB’s with their website, she smiled and said, “Oh great! If you don’t mind, you could put a nice review online for us. And um, my name is India.” Back in the car, I located the restaurant’s website and left a complimentary statement, making a point of mentioning our pleasant and capable server by name.
After lunch, we explored a little military history across the street from Paisano Pete. The US Army arrived in Fort Stockton in 1858 to protect settlers and travelers heading west. Comanche Springs, with an abundant water supply at that time, made Fort Stockton a logical stop. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops occupied the fort at different times and then abandoned it.
In 1866, Congress passed the Army Organization Act, which included formation of several cavalry and infantry regiments made up entirely of African American soldiers. Fort Stockton’s next residents (from 1867 to 1886) were four companies of the 9th Cavalry who came to be known as Buffalo Soldiers. Their original tasks were capturing cattle rustlers and protecting settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews along the road from San Antonio to El Paso. They also helped control Comanche and other Native American groups in the area.
By 1880, Native American unrest had been “minimized´ in Texas (a simplified description of a much more complex issue), and the 9th Cavalry moved on to what became Oklahoma where their mission was to keep white settlers from settling on Indian land. Buffalo soldiers also fought wildfires and poachers in national parks. Many were billeted at the Presidio in San Francisco during winter months, then served as Sierra Nevada park rangers in the summer. In the 1890s, they were sent to Florida and fought courageously in several battles of the Spanish-American War there and in the Philippines. Buffalo Soldiers also fought for their country in WWI and WWII before the units were deactivated in May 1944.
CAUTION!! Two movies carry the title “Buffalo Soldiers.” Please do not confuse them! The 2001 film, starring Joaquin Phoenix, is a dark comedy set in 1989 West Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It tells the story of a scruffy supply battalion, growing black market deals, and steamy affairs. The 1997 film of the same name stars Danny Glover in a fact-based story about the 9th and 10th cavalry units protecting Western territories after the Civil War.
The east and west approaches to Fort Stockton (south of I-10) feature large, striking sculptures in silhouette by New Mexico artist Brian Norwood. The eastern installation depicts Buffalo Soldiers riding two by two behind their Guidon as they approach Fort Stockton. (I had to look up the word “Guidon,” so I will save you the trouble. It is a pennant that narrows to a fork at its free end.) The western installation represents a small Comanche hunting party pausing to search for buffalo.
Several weeks after our visit in Fort Stockton, I found an email from Google on my laptop. It was informing us that more than 100 people had viewed our review of K-BOB’s. I hope India was pleased.