Frio Canyon Pictograghs: "The Fighting Parson"

Sheltered under dramatic ledges, the limestone walls of the Frio River canyon provided large areas for paintings by native peoples. Rock art in Central Texas is unusual, but much of it may have been lost to erosion. TARL Archives. HE-9

Dimly visible on a canyon wall above the Frio River, a few paintings left by Historic Period native artists still captivate the imagination. Periodically washed by springs seeping through the porous limestone bluff, however, the paintings continue to deteriorate. Fortunately, some of the pictographs were captured in a watercolor rendering by artist Forrest Kirkland in 1937, and they were recently re-documented by members of the Texas Archeological Society field school.

Most well known of the images is a black-painted figure in European garb holding a musket by its barrel. Near him, painted in red, are three red crosses, a juxtaposition that caused the male figure to be dubbed �the fighting parson.� Several other images executed in red also may have represented human figures, but they have faded beyond recognition. Kirkland also recorded an eagle-like bird, with talons extended, next to several geometric designs, all painted in black.

Spanish expeditions, surveying the lower Edwards Plateau for potential mission sites and the San Saba river farther to the north, crossed the rugged canyonlands. Native peoples, seeing the oddly dressed travelers, may have recorded their passage on the bluffs.

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watercolor depicting pictographs
Pictographs of red crosses and a male figure dressed in black were visible on the canyon wall and copied in a watercolor painting by Forrest Kirkland in 1937. TARL Collections.

photo of pictograph
Only the long musket of the “fighting parson” was easily recognizable when members of a rock art recording task force visited the Frio Canyon site in 1990 during the Texas Archeological Society Field School. Dripping springs and other natural forces have caused the paintings to deteriorate. TARL archives.

watercolor painting showing pictographs
A bird and a series of other designs ,some possibly intended to represent human figures, were recorded Kirkland at Frio Canyon. This plate, and dozens of others, were published in The Rock Art of Texas Indians, with text by anthropologist W.W. Newcomb, Jr. Click to see full panel.