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Michael Barnes

Awesome tales of Sugarloaf Mountain on Rancheria Grande

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1768-map2-lgOn Aug. 7, we shared the story of Rancheria Grande, the large 18th-century settlement of Native Americans who lived near Sugarloaf Mountain on El Camino Real de los Tejas. The sandstone-topped spot is in Milam County and his considered the birthplace of the Tonkawa tribe.

We received several notes from folks who had ridden horses or camped out around that area above the Little River, but none as vivid as this one from Gary Brantley of Cameron. We’ll share the entire note:

“I’m a native of Cameron and was maybe 6 or 7 years old when I first went up Sugarloaf Mountain. After high school, in the early to late ’70s, it was a favorite partying spot for many Milam county kids. Some nights, that sandy county road was lined on both sides with vehicles.

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Sugarloaf Mountain, Milam County. Courtesy of theodysseyonline.com.

One could meet kids there from Houston, Austin or Dallas who had been told of it by parents and grandparents from the area. The site was just beautiful in those days. There were great vistas from every part and there were sitting areas on all sides. The west side ledge afforded spectacular sunsets and having camped up there overnight, several times, I can attest to sunrises just as nice.

On the north face of the “mountain,” halfway up, there was a cave. One could easily walk into it. In fact, quite a large group could huddle in there. The northeast corner of the heights, overlooking the river bottoms, had the most incredible feature of all.

There stood a large boulder, perhaps 15-20 feet tall. It had been styled into a head. All the features of a face were there, and in the open mouth was a smaller skull. There were ears carved into the sides of the large head/boulder that were really Pre-Columbian in style and appearance.

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Sugarloaf Mountain in Milam County before the top was razed. Courtesy Topix.com.

All the way around the mountaintop, was a second level with a pathway. One could stand on that level and stare straight at the boulder.  A large format black and white photo of this boulder did hang in the foyer of a local law firm. I’m trying to find that in order to get a copy made. I think it dates to the 1920s or ’30s after a fire had burned away all the vegetation.

I know that indigenous people in today’s Mexico traded all the way to the Mississippian Mound Builders. A good example are the Caddos of nearby East Texas. Perhaps such a distinctive landmark as the sandstone mountain might have attracted their attention.

There seemed to be open access to Sugarloaf back then. No one was ever bothered by the authorities as long as things didn’t get out of hand (neighbors didn’t complain or the road wasn’t blocked).

As I and my friends grew older our visits up there waned. I took my two children there around 1986 or 87. We encountered several other visitors that day.  Around ’93 or ’94, the property apparently changed owners, maybe more than once.

One group decided to search for the legendary hidden Spanish gold there. They dug up the top first, then finding nothing, brought in a bulldozer and tore away more than half of the mountain. The cave and the “Skull Rock” were now gone. You know, in all of my literally hundreds of visits up there, not once did I ever envision that it could be destroyed.  Gone, and so suddenly.

There was a local uproar over the damage and a group of Tonkawa came from Oklahoma to address a county commission. They claimed it as part of their creation story, just as you mentioned. I believe this was the one thing that stopped further “development” there.

My last trip up there was on New Year’s Day, 1995. It was drizzling rain and my 13 year-old son was with me. I couldn’t believe what I found. I stayed on what was left of the top maybe five minutes. Enough to see what we’d lost.

Well, to see as best I could through my tears. We climbed back down and I haven’t climbed it again. I’m sorry for such a long email, but I felt like you might appreciate knowing a bit more about the place, and what it meant to so many people.”