The Terlingua Inn, the one-room jail, the church and the old Perry Mansion still stand more or less as they were at the turn of the century, when Chicago promoter Howard E. Perry had the spot jumping. The opera house next to the inn is four walls and sky. Several dozen crumbling adobe and bleached mud structures protrude in ruins from the scrubby hills, and one corner of town spills off into an 850-foot open mine shaft, where the town met its final irony: early miners abandoned Terlingua because of its heat (up to 120�) and its drought; their successors quit because the richest vein of all was submerged in an underground lake 850 feet below the earth's surface.
The town is laced across a jagged mesa sunk between the Chisos (pronounced to rhyme with Jesus) Mountains to the southeast in Big Bend National Park, and the Christmas Mountains to the north, where some prospectors "got lost and didn't get out till Christmas." In early times three Indian tribes—the Apaches, the Comanches and the Kiowa—would gather here, form raiding parties and sweep west across the Rio Grande into Mexico. The Indians called the place Tres Linguas (three tongues) and the cowboys corrupted that into Terlingua.
An old Indian named Marcos Hinojosa sometimes appears and sells warm beer to tourists who find their way to Terlingua. Hinojosa says that everything in the Big Bend "sticks, stings or stinks," but nothing really stinks now that the mines are closed. Dry lava beds curl through the dusty green sagebrush, through the century plants and Spanish daggers. There are no trees. The tallest living thing is the ocotillo, a desert shrub whose thorny ash-white arms reach higher than the head of a man or a bear. Mountain lions, bobcats, jackrabbits, rattlesnakes and enormous centipedes and scorpions have the land to themselves. The nearest center of commerce is Study Butte (pronounced Stewty Butte locally), five miles to the east. There a single resident named Maggie-Maggie operates a gas station-general store-beer hall. She wears ankle-length Indian dresses and carries a loaded pistol in her long bloomers for when the boys come to town. Tooter and four other cowpunchers who work the Terlingua spread do their regular drinking at Maggie's because the next closest center of civilization is Alpine, 79 miles north and across the Del Norte Mountain Range.
Nearly a full week before burn of if time, H. Allen Smith mysteriously appeared in Alpine and checked into the Ponderosa Inn. There on Thursday night he met Fowler for the first time.
"Mr. Smith let Mr. Fowler do all the drinking and most of the talking," reported Cocktail Waitress Jean Page. "Then Mr. Smith picked up the check."
Friday at noon Fowler's backers threw a cocktail party at the Holiday Inn near Dallas' Love Field, then herded their chili heads and a band of newsmen and cameramen into three chartered planes for the flight to Terlingua. Two hours and 30 minutes later, while a four-piece country and western band brought in from Fort Stockton played in the swirling dust, the planes touched down on the graded runway they call Terlingua International Airport. By Saturday there were 20 private planes parked in the brush. Shelby had flown in with his own contingent from Los Angeles. It included a bogus monk introduced as Father Duffy, and a young man wearing the cap of a Los Angeles policeman.
Father Duffy arrived fortified with two women friends. This appalled the Dallas delegation, which had piously insisted the junket be stag. CASI delegates feared their wives would find out. They did, anyhow. A group identified as the Terlingua Women's Auxiliary chartered a small plane, which buzzed the Terlingua Inn at the close of festivities, spraying the ghost town with 16,000 yellow cards. Engraved on the cards were such messages as: "Congratulations, you get the children" and "We'll arrange the alimony to fit your budget." One wife also told
The Dallas Morning News
she put crumbled crackers in her husband's sleeping bag.
CASI members pride themselves on enduring traditional frontier hardships: hot chili isn't the only pain they bear. Sleeping bags and toothbrushes were the only luggage permitted aboard. Several members carried pocket knives, and one Dallas attorney wore his duck-hunting suit. An enormous supply of beer was flown ahead. Witts and Shelby furnished other liquid refreshment at ranch headquarters, and Walter Jetton, Lyndon Johnson's personal barbecuer, was hauled along to do the cooking.
The delegates clambered into two bar-equipped red school buses which would ferry them first to the ghost town, then to the ranch where they would make camp. The trip from Terlingua to the ranch is 35 miles and takes about an hour. One bus barely missed a mountain lion. The other bus encountered no lions, but CASI members counted one horse, two cows, a Pearl beer can and any number of rabbits, hawks and eagles. A Dallas photographer smuggled along a length of rope because he knew that rattlesnakes will not attack a sleeping man who is surrounded by rope, then abandoned the idea when it was called to his attention that scorpions love rope.
Nights in the Big Bend are cold and damp, and the ground is hard. Animals move in the night. By Saturday morning it was assumed at CASI Camp that H. Allen Smith was dead, but the room clerk at the Ponderosa Inn assured the sore, red-eyed chili heads that that wasn't the case.