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Episode 1: A Wild Place
October 18, 2021
On Lico Miller and Paso Lajitas
Lico Miller’s story
Lico Miller’s story, the entire one, literally could be the subject of its own podcast. The details about what happens next in his life (and that of his brother) are extraordinary–searching for his father, then fleeing to Sonora in Western Mexico to dig for gold with his brother. They are too lengthy to detail here, although I might add additional notes later.
But first, the setting. Paso Lajitas can be thought of as “past Lajitas.” Lajitas is the little town west of Terlingua, Texas, that is now a resort. So, Paso Lajitas used to be a community of 30 or so houses on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. “Paso” in Spanish can mean a variety of things, but key to this location is “crossing.” “Lajitas” means flat rocks. So as noted in the show, you often could drive a truck (or even a car) right across the river. Mimi Webb Miller (See Episode 2) was infamous for driving her red Checkered Cab across to visit Mexico.
A boatman also rowed folks back and forth, mainly to get supplies as the Lajitas Trading Company. However, after 911, many informal border crossings were shut down–both with Border Patrol enforcement and changes to the land that made driving across impossible. Since the city of Ojinaga is a 2 to 2.5-hour trip from Paso Lajitas on rugged roads, the closing of the crossing spelled the end for the small Mexican Village, which is pretty much abandoned now.
Origin of the story
Regarding me saying, “I had first heard about their story years ago, as some local gossip told at a dive bar.” That would be none other than the Lost Horse Saloon, Marfa’s favorite watering hole. Here’s a bit more on the origin of the story.
Rod Ponton, attorney for Robert Chambers
Here’s Rod starring as the cat lawyer, just in the unlikely case you never saw it. I wasn’t super clear that Rod now is the Presidio County Attorney, so he gives legal advice and representation to the county government. And he has served as an area district attorney and city attorney for various cities in the region throughout time. While we portrayed him as a quiet country lawyer–which is pretty much true today–he has been involved in his share of controversy over the years. (A search of his name will give you some indications of that.)
I highly recommend The Confession Killer on Netflix, which gives a brief account of Rod’s work with “serial killer” Henry Lee Lucas. On a bizarre note, Rod commissioned a life-size portrait of Lucas from a Dallas artist. Can you believe when I discovered this I never followed up to see what happened with that work? I’ll ask him next time we talk.
Rod is also proud of his early interest in film and is quick to remind you that he was a grip on the crew for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Melissa del Bosque, the border journalist
Susan Woodward Spriggs, Alpine-area native, briefly girlfriend of Robert Chambers
Susan has the warmest laugh, which you hear quite a bit of in the story. I was lucky to run into her at a bar in Alpine a few weeks back, and we had a lot of fun. One thing we didn’t mention was that her family ranch south of Alpine was a world-famous destination for rock hunters. (Most of the ranch was sold and is no longer open to the public.) Here’s a Texas Highways piece featuring her brother, Trey, and another, and one from the Austin Chronicle with a photo of Trey.
Susan continues to make beautiful creations with rocks and crystals.
Nancy Burton, Alpine resident, briefly girlfriend of Robert Chambers
Nancy has a big heart and regularly fosters and cares for dogs. Nancy has a load of stories about her early days–some of them connected to Lico Miller and Mimi Webb Miller. But indeed, I had to speak and talk to her off the record for a significant amount before she opened up completely. What’s so refreshing about her is her exclamations like, “I thought he was a dumbass.” Although she told me recently, “I didn’t realize–until I listened to the podcast–that I cuss so much.”
Pablo Acosta, drug lord
Of course, if you’re interested more in Acosta, the definitive work out there is Drug Lord, by Terrance Poppa, which outlines his life and death in detail. His book (and actually Narcos Mexico) are the backdrop for my story–what was taking place across the border. Poppa told me he didn’t really know anything additional than what was reported about the Thompson/Chambers case.
In the book, Poppa does portray a scene of Sheriff Thompson meeting Acosta on the river (each on their prospective sides) and pretty much telling the drug lord to keep the violence on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. I’ll have plenty more to say about Acosta in future show notes.