I was not particularly enthused about going to Sanderson. It’s not a county I could have really gone to on the way somewhere else. It’s over an hour from Alpine or Fort Stockton. It’s two hours from Ozona. It’s almost three hours from Del Rio. It’s basically completely and totally out of the way from everywhere and I knew it was going to be a complete and total pain in the butt to visit. But I was out here and it needed to be done so I started driving through the mountains. On the way, I stopped in the tiny town of Marathon for Delorme reasons that were ultimately not necessary. My most current Delorme guide would require it, but the one for that particular challenge would not. It was nothing special, a toolbox at the town library. Quick, easy, and back through the mountains.
Arriving at the courthouse in the rain, I began taking photographs of the monuments when I ran across this one of the eagle from the top of the original courthouse. Normally I really wouldn’t think twice about it, but, if you can, take a good look at the plaque on the plinth. “From original courthouse constructed in 1906. On reconstruction of courthouse in 1934, eagle disappeared. After 65 years, found, ransomed, and returned on July 4th, 1999.”
Wait. RANSOMED? What? There’s a story here!
I bounded inside and asked the first person I saw if hey knew anything about the “ransom”. She asked another person about it and neither of them knew what that was about. One of the asked the other “Wasn’t Sago [sic] around back then? He might know.” So one of them took me to find him, asking me if I was in a rush because he might talk my ear off. We invariably found Sago. Turns out that “Sago” is short for Santiago. And Santiago happened to be Santiago Flores, County Judge of Terrell County [UPDATE 01/08/22: This used to point to this link but there’s a new Judge now]. After introductions were made, he said he had to finish up a bit of paperwork, but after that, in say half an hour, he’d be happy to tell me all about it. Sounds like a great time to go get a cache to me!
The cache itself was four blocks away at a local museum, a micro in a tree. Did I forget to mention that that tree has inch plus long thorns? It was poking me through my gloves and everything. The log was full and hadn’t been replaced in forever so I did some maintenance as all good cachers should.
I returned to the courthouse and received a tour from the Judge of Terrell County. He started, if I may paraphrase, “I’m going to tell you a story. Not all of it will be entirely factual, but all of it will be true.” He told me about the building, introduced me to a few other county officials, and eventually showed me to this photo of the old courthouse. He told me about how the eagle had been found and recovered at a fortuitous time, just before the beginning of a new century. He also mentioned that, based on the proportions of the photo, one might intuit that maybe the eagle out front might be a little smaller than the original. There are two ways one could look at it. One could think of it as an attempt at marketing, trying to generate attention for the county. One could also think of it as the return of a piece of history and spirit to a community. Though I might usually be considered a cynic, I know which one I preferred. In fifty years, nobody would remember the former, but the latter will be talked about for a long time. I told him about the the Ship of Theseus, a famous thought experiment. If the Argo sits in port and has its rotting beams replaced one by one until no original beam is left, does it cease to be the Argo? And if so, at what point does it cease to be? The story is what will be remembered and retold, and is far more important than any reality that might have been. Besides, this is the West. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Unfortunately, an emergency cropped up that needed to be attended to so the Judge had to go. We parted genially, understanding each other and the power of stories. I may have been reticent about visiting Sanderson, but if I ever spoke an unkind word about the place, I heartily take it back. It was a lovely afternoon of distraction in lovely little town. But I needed to hit the road anyway. The weather was getting worse and it would be getting dark sooner because of it. I decided to begin the trek home. Had the weather been more agreeable, I might have taken a longer route home that would have involved a couple more counties. The skies looking as they did, that was out of the question. But there was still one more adventure before I would see home again, caused by my own lack of foresight…