Pages Navigation Menu

The Strong Medicine of Flint

Lying in the northeast corner of the Staked Plains, along the sloping sides of the Canadian River Valley, a rock can be found which has long been believed to hold mystical and magical powers. Traded and revered by Native American tribes across the nation for centuries, this particular rock can be identified by its unique color and smooth surfaces. The color of the rock is like no other found anywhere else in the world. Pieces of Alibates flint have been identified as far away as Canada. The place where it was once harvested is known by us locals as Alibates.

I had planned to take a group of authors hiking there this weekend and then blog about our adventures. But as we remain in self isolation because of COVID-19, how about an arm chair trip instead?

The Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is a national park area once considered sacred and neutral ground. It was a place where tribes came in peace for at least 12,000 years to trade and mine the valuable rock, the best source for making hunting points and tools.

The rocks Native Americans mined were valued because of its ability to break into smooth flakes for a sharper, cleaner edge on their points, spearheads, scrapers, and knives resulting in deeper cuts on the game they hunted. “Knapping” means to break with a sharp blow, and the precise blow requires great precision.

Most traveled to the area in canoes on the muddy red Canadian River, which flowed deeper than it does today. Between 1150 and 1450 permanent villages were located in the area. The severe drought and aggressive tribes, probably Apache and Comanche, drove the villagers out of the region. Throughout the Texas Panhandle around the natural springs or scattered under towering cottonwoods you can find pieces of flint, remains of the knapping process.

The unique red is a result of the same fault that was involved in the formation of the Amarillo Mountains which lies deep under the flat, treelans plains of the Texas Panhandle.  As hot water from thermal springs moved through this fault, it passed around and through the Permian shelves which are made up of significant iron content. The silica rich water emerged to form the Alibates flint. The rusty red deposits are unique to this quarry, and can be found in abundance on about 60 acres atop a mesa where weathered flint is exposed on the surface. Unweathered flint can be found a foot or more below the surface.

Harry Hertner, vice-chairman of the Potter County Historical Survey Committee, worked to inform Congress about the importance of the quarry. Letters of support were obtained from noted archeologists, and in 1960, along with help of Senators Ralph Yarborough and Walter Rogers, the Alibates flint quarries were established as a national monument.

Start here at the Alibates Visitor Center. For more information click here.

Natalie Bright is the author of the upcoming book, KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’: The All-American Chuck Wagon Cookbook. With over 100 recipes, cattle drive history, archival photos, and her own Texas ranch photography, you can bring a taste of the old West to your kitchen! Available now for preorder at all online bookstores. She is also the author of the Trouble in Texas series for middle grade readers.