Paint Rock

By: Arturo René Muñoz

Type: General Entry

Published: October 1, 1995

Paint Rock, two miles northwest of the city of Paint Rock in Concho County, is one of the major rock art sites in Texas and is certainly the premier site in Central Texas. There appears to be little, if any, connection between the rock art at Paint Rock and that of the Lower Pecos region, its nearest neighbor. The site is composed of hundreds of pictographs painted onto the limestone that forms a cliff seventy feet high, 150 to 200 yards north of the river. There are an estimated 1,500 paintings spread out over a distance of one-half mile. The site is on private land owned by Kay Campbell. The range of time covered by the pictographs is fairly long, extending from the dim prehistoric to the early historic period. Dating the pictographs precisely has not been possible. Several artifacts and prehistoric features have been found, however, in association with them that help in establishing a rough date. Sherds of Leon Plain ceramics and burned rock middens suggest a date of 1,000 years before the present. No evidence has been found that would suggest an earlier date. Most of the figures at Paint Rock are "small and appear to have been painted as individual designs rather than part of a large cohesive mural. Geometric shapes, animal and human figures, and negative and positive handprints predominate." Tally marks have also been found. The colors red, yellow, orange, black, and white predominate. The red, yellow, and orange pigments were derived from oxides of iron containing ochers, while the black and white are respectively carbon and chalk. These materials were all available locally. Several of the pictographs depict scenes that are unmistakably historic in nature. Horses, a devil, and a mission recall the early Spanish presence at Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission, which was near the site of present-day Menard, forty miles south of Paint Rock. The mission was established in 1757 for the Lipan Apaches, so it is quite possible that the artists of these pictographs were Apache. With this one exception, the tribal or ethnic affiliation of the Paint Rock artists is, for the most part, unknown. The mission is depicted as a long rectangular building with two cross topped towers. Clouds of black smoke are drawn near the mission, perhaps commemorating its burning the year following its construction. In 1865 Alice Todd, age fourteen, was kidnapped near her home in Mason County. At Paint Rock, pictographs of two crossed lances and two long haired scalps record the killing of Alice's mother and a slave woman. Near this pictograph is another of a woman drawn horizontally, a typical depiction of captivity. These scenes record the raid on the Todd household and the kidnapping. Alice Todd was never heard from again.

Paint Rock has never been excavated, and there are few published descriptions of the site. Published sources are limited to stories printed in popular journals such as Texas Highways and newspapers. Paint Rock is something of an enigma as to why this spot was chosen for decoration or what the symbols mean. Unlike the rock shelters in the Lower Pecos, this area never served as a place of seasonal or extended occupation. Evidently it was only a resting place for wayward Indians or perhaps a crossroads for hunting parties and the paintings only a way to pass the time. The almost singular exceptions are the depictions of the presidio burning and Todd's capture. The other pictographs may certainly have once held some meaning, but we are now unable to interpret them. Like most of the large rock art sites in Texas, Paint Rock was visited by Lula and Olea Forrest Kirkland in the early 1930s. They made watercolor paintings of a great many of the pictographs here. The Kirklands visited Paint Rock in 1934, their first expedition to a rock art site, and it provided their motivation to record rock art in Texas. The paintings done by Forrest Kirkland remain the best effort at recording the pictographs to date. Like a great many of the rock art sites in Texas, Paint Rock has been victimized by vandals who seek to leave their mark by despoiling the aboriginal art with their own names or initials. This practice has been somewhat curbed in recent years because of the careful maintenance offered the site by Kay Campbell, but in the early part of the century and in the latter part of the nineteenth century, such vandalism was rampant. Damage to the site was caused by graffiti, smoke and soot from fires, and bullets from rifles. When the Kirklands visited the site in 1935, they reported that sixty-one single designs and forty-one complete groups had been destroyed beyond recognition-an estimated 25 percent of all the pictographs at the site.

Candace Beaver, "Stone Age Art Gallery," Texas Highways, July 1988. Forrest Kirkland and W. W. Newcomb, Jr., The Rock Art of Texas Indians (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967).
  • Archeology
  • Land Sites

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Arturo René Muñoz, “Paint Rock,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995