Seminole Canyon (Val Verde County)

By: Solveig A. Turpin

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: January 1, 1996

Seminole Canyon, named for the Black Seminole scouts based at Fort Clark, is a minor tributary of the Rio Grande fourteen kilometers downstream from the mouth of the Pecos River and eight miles east of Comstock on U.S. Highway 90. Seminole Canyon and its major tributary, Presa Canyon, contain examples of every defined prehistoric and historic pictograph style in the lower Pecos River region. The lower reaches of this canyon system form the nucleus of Seminole Canyon State Historical Park, established in 1980 as an archeological and historical preserve. The 2,100-acre park holds seventy-two recorded sites ranging in age from Early Archaic (ca. 7000 B.C.) to Historic, a span of 9,000 years. Prehistoric occupation of the region resulted in material remains ranging from deeply stratified occupied rock shelters with extensive rock art panels, through Archaic stage burned rock middens and hearth sites, to stone circles and cairn burials typical of the Late Prehistoric period (after A.D. 600). The majority of the historic sites can be attributed to the construction and operation of the Southern Pacific railroad, 1881–92, or the early ranching era.

The predominant rock art style represented in Seminole Canyon is the Archaic-age Pecos River Style, exemplified by the pictographs of Fate Bell Shelter, its Annex, and the Panther Cave Site. Classic examples of the Red Linear pictographs, a miniature Late Archaic form, are found at four sites, including Red Linear (41VV201) in Presa Canyon and Fate Bell Shelter. One of two extensive panels in Red Monochrome, a style probably brought into the region in the Late Prehistoric period, lies in the upper reaches of Seminole Canyon; one of the most outstanding examples of historic aboriginal art, Vaquero Shelter, is in upper Presa Canyon. Excavations were carried out in Fate Bell Shelter in 1932 by James E. Pearce and A. T. Jackson and in 1963 by Mark L. Parsons. Seminole Sink, a vertical shaft solution cavity used as a cemetery by Early Archaic and Late Prehistoric people, was fully excavated in 1984 by Solveig Turpin and Leland C. Bement. Four sites on Seminole and Presa canyons have been tested to a limited degree: 41VV84 by Herbert C. Taylor in 1948, Black Cave by Parsons in 1962, and Mosquito and Zopilote by John P. Nunley, Lathel F. Duffield, and Edward B. Jelks, also in 1962. The pictographs have played a major role in rock art studies carried out by A. T. Jackson, Olea Forrest Kirkland, and David Gebhard. Three major surveys for prehistoric and historic sites have included portions of Seminole and Presa canyons. John Allen Graham and William A. Davis recorded numerous sites in their study of areas to be inundated by Amistad Reservoir, Parsons searched for unrecorded pictographs, and Turpin intensively surveyed the park itself before its dedication in 1980. Records from all studies except the rock art documentation by Kirkland, Gebhard, and Turpin are curated at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin. The pictograph collections are stored at the Texas Memorial Museum on the UT campus. See also INDIAN ROCK ART.

Harry Shafer and Jim Zintgraff, Ancient Texans: Rock Art and Lifeways along the Lower Pecos (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1986). Solveig A. Turpin, Seminole Canyon (Texas Archeological Survey Report 83, University of Texas at Austin, 1982). Solveig A. Turpin, "Seminole Sink: Excavations of a Vertical Shaft Tomb, Val Verde County, Texas," Plains Anthropologist, Memoir 22, Vol. 33 (November 1988).

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

Solveig A. Turpin, “Seminole Canyon (Val Verde County),” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1996