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Winner, 2020 Al Lowman Memorial Prize for Best Book on Texas County or Local History
There is a deep and abiding connection between humans and the land in Pinto Canyon—a remote and rugged place near the border with Mexico in the Texas Big Bend. Here the land assumes a certain primacy, defined not by the ephemera of plants and animals but by the very bedrock that rises far above the silvery flow of Pinto Creek— looming masses that break the horizon into a hundred different vistas. Yet, over time, people managed to survive and sometimes even thrive in this harsh environment.
In the Shadow of the Chinatis combines the rich narratives of history, natural history, and archeology to tell the story of the landscape as well as the people who once inhabited it. Settling the land was difficult, staying on it even more so, but one family proved especially resilient. Rising above their meager origins, the Prietos eventually amassed a 12,000-acre ranch in the shadow of the Chinati Mountains to become the most successful of Pinto Canyon’s early settlers. But starting with the tense years of the Great Depression, the family faced a series of tragedies: one son was killed by a Texas Ranger, and another by the deranged son of Chico Cano, the Big Bend’s most notorious bandit. Ultimately, growing rifts in the family forced the sale of the ranch, marking the end of an era.
Bearing the hallmarks of an epic tragedy, the departure of the Prieto family signaled a transition away from ranching towards a new style of landownership based on a completely different model. Today, Pinto Canyon’s scenic and scientific value increasingly overshadows the marginal economics of its past.
In the Shadow of the Chinatis reveals a rich tapestry of interaction between humans and their environment, providing a unique examination of the Big Bend region and the people who call it home.
About the Author
DAVID W. KELLER is senior project archaeologist at the Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross State University. He is the author of Below the Escondido Rim: A History of the O2 Ranch in the Texas Big Bend and Alpine. He resides in Alpine, Texas.
“A drive down Pinto Canyon road is now as much a part of the Big Bend visitor’s ritual as the drive along the River Road from Lajitas to Presidio. Pinto Canyon is a much more intimate experience, made more so by David Keller’s In the Shadow of the Chinati’s: A History of Pinto Canyon. The incredible geology and the great biodiversity are immediately visible, but what Keller provides is the rich, but mostly invisible human history of Pinto Canyon. The story he tells is an important one, especially that of the Hispanic culture and families, which often goes untold.” —Larry Francell, author of Fort Davis
— Larry Francell
“A truly masterful Texas borderlands history, polished, precise, elegant, thoughtful, and intelligent.” —Thomas T. Smith, author of The Old Army in the Big Bend of Texas: The Last Cavalry Frontier, 1911-1921
— Thomas T. Smith
“David Keller’s In the Shadow of the Chinatis is not merely a deeply-researched, fine-grained human history of a remote and beautiful canyon of the Big Bend country of far West Texas. Subjecting its real-life characters to novel-like treatment, this book is an original creation, unique in the literature of the desert Southwest. I sense the birth of a classic.” —Dan Flores, New York Times best-selling author of Coyote America
— Dan Flores
“For any serious student of the Big Bend, this book is a treasure. With Keller’s book, the long silent rocks and ruins of Pinto Canyon have finally been given voice.”—San Antonio Express-News
— San Antonio Express-News
"Though his book is an academic work, Keller's attention to prose and style is evident... his portrayal of the families who lived there is touched with such care and heart, the reader only wants to see them succeed. Warning: The reader will be disappointed."—Texas Observer
— Texas Observer