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Determining the Facts

Reading 4: A Frontier Border Trading Post

When Cartledge and Perry decided to go into the mercantile business in 1918, there had already been at least two small stores in operation in the Castolon area for nearly 20 years. By 1918, however, the rapid development of ranching, mining, and farming in the area had yielded a considerable increase in the population of the lower Big Bend. In addition, the store’s location adjacent to a vast region of the northern portions of two Mexican states, isolated from the interior of Mexico, gave it a large clientele from the northern part of Mexico.

La Harmonia Store sold not only merchandise, but also bought furs and candelilla wax, a natural wax derived from a desert plant. The business of dealing in hides, skins and furs continued at a lively pace until about 1940, when the dwindling supply from Mexico made it unprofitable. From 1920 to 1940, especially in the winter months, La Harmonia often looked like an old western fur trading post with hides, skins, and furs stacked in every possible nook and corner.

The management at La Harmonia soon learned to stock only those items which had a ready sale with the clientele of the border and the laborers on the farms and ranchers in the southern part of Brewster County. In addition, there was a limited demand from the occasional tourist for items such as blankets, glassware, pottery and other items. The majority of items on display for sale at La Harmonia were things needed by the people of the area. This is a partial list: pocket knives, barb wire, windmills, plows, harnesses, saddles, screwworm medicine, nails, sugar, coffee, meal, beans, salt, crackers, spices, karo [Karo] syrup, sardines, prunes, raisins, American cheese, salve, Quinine capsules, ointment, diarrhea pills, toothache drops, liniments, patent medicines, broad-brimmed hats, shoes (mostly work shoes), shirts, trousers, socks, underwear, lace ribbon, ladies’ dresses, mens’ suits (sometimes), bridal wreaths and veils, candies, beer, shoelaces, toys, and miscellaneous furniture.

Questions for Reading 4

1. Make a list of things you might buy if you were going to the grocery store and the mall with your family. Next, use a Spanish-English dictionary to look up at least 10 of your items and write down the words. (Spanish-speaking students might want to reverse this process.)

2. How many of the things you wanted to buy would have been available at La Harmonia Store?

3. What could you have substituted from the store and what could you have done without?

4. Where would families in Castolon have obtained goods like fresh milk, vegetables, and eggs?

Reading 4 was excerpted and adapted from Clifford B. Casey, "Castolon," unpublished manuscript, 1967, Research Library, Big Bend National Park.

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