“And across the trail a stream runs,
All but hidden in the grasses;
‘Til it finds an emerald hollow,
Where the ponies come to drink…”
–Henry Herbert Knibbs


We were working our way down the middle parts of Tornillo Creek, those where the banks rise and the water cuts through to form a bewildering variety of bluffs in every size, curvature and color. From here to below Banta Shut-in one follows upon another while fingers and runs rush in from either side, adding to the variety and grandeur.

Along the way are numerous pockets of green grass and small copses of cottonwoods, carved by eons of floodwaters and filled with deposits of those same forces of nature. Shielded from harsh weather and providing good grazing, they give sustenance and shelter to deer, elk and numerous other forms of wildlife.

And sometimes, to those who just wish they were still wild.

For the past several weeks I had been hearing reports of horses along the Tornillo, mostly in the upper watershed where Persimmon Gap road runs through. First there were three and then there were five, and Julie B Childs managed to get a photograph from a distance; they appeared to be a bay, a sorrel, a near dapple gray, a black and a grulla.

No one seemed to know where they came from, word was sent out by park authorities to any and all who might know with nary a reply. But they surely seemed to have found a new home and were definitely setting up squatter’s rights, equine style.

Now, that area where they were spotted might be fun for a few hours of frolic, but it wasn’t the spot to stay come adverse weather. When the cold winds blow those horses wouldn’t be out in that flat, but in some tucked away place with plenty of water and fodder.

Standing there with this scene in front of me and one of those small pockets off to one side, I knew I’d found at least one of those spots. Their sign left from there in every direction and fresh horse apples were scattered about in abundance.

Seeing this and the running stream of water before me brought to mind an old poem more than a century old, ‘Where The Ponies Come To Drink.’ Those lyrical lines flowed through my mind from memory and I had to smile, both within as much as without.

Since that time ownership of those horses has been claimed and they were taken back to Mexico. The Rio Grande is fifteen miles away if you follow the Tornillo down from this spot, where it empties into the river at Hot Springs.
Mind you that is as the crow flies, and once this creek gets near the McKinney Hills she starts twisting and turning like a frightened angel.

Yet something inside tells me those horses will return again, because this is the special place where the ponies come to drink.

God bless to all,


(If you would like to hear this poem in its entirety, recited by Texas Poet Laureate Red Steagall, click on the link below. You’ll be glad you did.)


Ben H. English
Alpine, Texas
USMC: 1976-1983
THP: 1986-2008
HS Teacher: 2008-2010
Author of ‘Yonderings’
‘Destiny’s Way’
‘Out There: Essays on the Lower Big Bend’
‘The Uvalde Raider’
‘Black And White: Tales of the Texas Highway Patrol’
Facebook: Ben H. English
‘Graying but still game’