Along the eastern banks of the Tornillo just west of the bare, roughhewn hills of the Cuesta Carlota, sit the rotting remains of a man’s dream from a century and more before. His name was Max Ernst.
If that rings some distant bell in the memory of those who know something of the history of this area, there is ample reason for that. To this day you hear references to Ernst Tinaja and the Big Tinaja store. On multiple topographical maps you will see words denoting places such as Ernst Valley, Ernst Canyon and Ernst Basin.
Yet Max Ernst’s greatest efforts occurred in the immediate acreage illustrated by this photograph. Now known to most as the abandoned community of La Noria, it once was noted on maps as Boquillas, Texas.
A side note to this story, if the reader will. Like other locales in the lower Big Bend, there has been more than one Boquillas. Of course, the best known by far is Boquillas, Coahuila, near the entrance for Boquillas Canyon.
Yet there were two other places at different times with that same name on our side of the river. The first is where Rio Grande Village is presently situated. The second, as mentioned above, was also known as La Noria.
That name change can be attributed solely to the energy and desire of Max Ernst. A German immigrant who came to the lower Big Bend in search of a future as well as a challenge; Ernst became a well-established businessman, a county commissioner, a justice of the peace and the local postmaster, among the holding of other offices and duties.
It was as postmaster that Ernst managed to move the name of Boquillas from the Rio Grande Village area. As proprietor of the Big Tinaja Store, it allowed him to consolidate all of his various capacities under one roof. It also allowed him to pursue his dream for the opportunities and potentials he saw in the community.
That was when the population of his dream peaked, roads came and went in every direction bringing commerce and people to share in his vision, and to help in the realization of that dream. The new Boquillas, Texas was growing.
Then on September 27th, 1908, that dream was dealt a death blow from a single .44-40 bullet. Max Ernst was murdered from ambush enroute to the old Boquillas while on official post office business. For many years afterwards, the spot where he was shot was called Dead Man’s Curve.
No one knows who fired that fatal round. Suspicions and rumors ran rampant throughout the country but no one was ever brought to trial. But whoever did it not only killed a man, he or she also killed an entire community. When Max Ernst was buried, his dream might as well have been buried with him.
After his unsolved murder, the community became known as La Noria again and the population began to decline. A brief stay in this occurred when the Army began sending troops into the area around 1912, and the locals provided supplies as well as services for the rotating units.
Many of those who have heard of these encampments tend to believe they were only utilized for military operations. That is not exactly true, as they were also used as refugee camps for Mexican nationals fleeing their homeland because of famines, epidemics, religious persecutions and the near genocidal violence of the so-called ‘great’ revolution.
This helped in keeping up the local population numbers. But when the Army finally packed up and left, and those refugee camps were closed, La Noria was placed in a grave just like the body of Max Ernst.
Now all that is left are ruins, eroding rifle pits, near gone trails, rubbish heaps and this decaying cemetery. That and the cactus and mequite, which sing the song of the desert when an arid breeze happens to pass through.
For those who have read my first book Yonderings, you might recall one of the chapters entitled Land of Broken Dreams. What happened at La Noria was a main motivator for me in choosing that title.
Broken dreams are abundant along the banks of the Tornillo, as well as the occasional murdered one.
Ben H. English