Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Strong Medicine of Flint

By Natalie Bright

As you drive through the simple brick entrance and journey along the winding blacktop, the sparse trees and stark landscape might not impress you. There is history hidden among the rolling hills and behind scrubby mesquite, and to the ancient inhabitants who once lived here it is a place of strong medicine. The rock found in this area was revered by Native American tribes for generations. The colors of the rock is like no other found anywhere else in the world. Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument in the Texas Panhandle is the source of the rock called flint.

Lying in the northeast corner of the Staked Plains, along the sloping sides of the Canadian River Valley, the national park was considered sacred and neutral ground. It was a place where tribes visited in peace over a period of about 12,000 years until around 1870, to trade and mine the valuable rock. Most traveled to the area on the muddy red Canadian River, which once flowed much deeper and ran year round.

The unique rusty red and colorful striations seen in Alibates flint is a result of a fault. As thermal springs deep underground moved hot water through the fault, it passed around and through the Permian shelves which consists of significant iron content. The silica rich water emerged to form Alibates flint, named after a local ranch cowboy, Allen “Allie” Bates, who disclosed the location in 1906. The flint can be found in abundance on about 60 acres atop a  weathered mesa where it is exposed to the surface.

The park ranger guides visitors along a winding path through yucca, prickly pear cactus and mesquite. Several covered benches provide shade and rest stops. The informative history lecture is ongoing as you work your way to the top of the mesa. The path leads to a mining pit where early inhabitants broke off larger pieces to be toted back to their villages. The small boulders were then worked into useful tools. The rock was treasured for its ability to break into smooth flakes for a sharper, cleaner edge for points, spearheads, scrapers, and knives. This strong and very sharp rock cut deep and played a significant part in survival. It was worked, used and traded everywhere, with pieces of Alibates flint being found and identified as far away as Canada.

Between 1150 and 1450 permanent villages were located in the area. Several times a year small groups are allowed to tour the remains of these dwellings. The rock slab roofs are visible revealing rectangular, semi-circular, or circular shaped shelters with tunneled entranceways and stone enclosures. Most signs of these earliest inhabitants have disappeared, but faint imprints of an active village remains today.

Alibates Flint Quarries is located approximately 35 miles north of Amarillo, Texas on highway 136 north which takes you to Borger. Turn off of 136 before you get to the town of Fritch, and follow Cas Johnson Road to the parks Visitor’s Center.

Bio: Natalie Bright is an author, blogger, and speaker. She is represented by Mr. Stephen Fraser, of The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, NYC, who is currently shopping her historical novels for middle grade readers. She’s on the web at Facebook/Natalie-Bright-Author, Twitter @natNKB, Amazon Author Pages, Pinterest/natbright, she blogs every Monday at, and for articles about the history and people of the Texas Panhandle read Prairie Purview Blog on her website,


judy said...

Enjoyed your informative piece, especially the derivation of the name Alibates. And the photos of the park show not only the rock treasures but also the relentlessly beautiful sky of the American Southwest. Did tribes from other regions also use this location as a resource for material to make tools, arrows, hide scrapers?

Susan J Tweit said...

Great post, Natalie. Thank you--I've always intended to make a trip to Alibates Flint Quarry, and never taken the time. Now I will, and I'll know more before I go!

Linda Broday said...

Oh, Natalie! This is so interesting. Why am I just now finding out about this? You and me need to take a road trip. I sure want to see this. Keep these fascinating historical places coming!

Nat said...

Yes, Judy. Alibates flint was used by many tribes other than the ones that were once in the Texas Panhandle, such as Apache and then Comanche. Evidence, such as pieces and workable tools of Alibates flint has been found all over the country. Thanks for the question.