Faver historical marker vandalized with word ‘colonizer’ in Shafter

A historical marker was marked with the word “colonizer” in Shafter last Thursday.

SHAFTER –– A historical marker vandalized in Shafter last Thursday has left local and state officials pondering what to do about repairing it or possibly moving it to another site and replacing it with something more historically specific to the ghost town south of Marfa.

Someone used red spray paint to write “colonizer” across the bottom of the marker, a gray granite stone erected for rancher Milton Faver in 1936 as part of a series of markers placed around the state celebrating the Texas centennial. Faver was a Virginian who moved to the Ojinaga area in the 1840s before settling on tracks of land amidst the Chinati and Cienega mountains in 1857. He eventually established a thriving sheep and cattle trade, and his holdings became the Cibolo Creek Ranch, about 33 miles south of Marfa on Highway 67. The “colonizer” epithet was likely spurred by the marker’s notation of Faver having the “first Anglo-American ranch in the Big Bend,” along with mention of the three forts he built “as a defense against hostile Apaches.”

It’s unclear exactly when the marker was vandalized, but reports from Shafter residents say it was likely last Thursday afternoon with one resident posting a photo of the sign by early evening. The marker sits adjacent to the ruins of mine buildings on Cibolo Creek Road off the main highway with no residents living in clear view of it. Some 1,100 Texas centennial markers dot the state, and although they are different from the new iteration of metal sign markers that began in 1962, together they number more than 17,000 and all are regulated by the Texas Historical Commission.

Bob Brinkman, coordinator for the THC’s marker program, said the Shafter vandalism spurred a memory of other recent markers hit with spray paint. “Even that exact word, ‘colonizer,’ I remember it seemed to be part of a series of vandalism that was done years ago,” he said. Brinkman recalled painted markers in Llano County, and news reports confirmed that three markers were painted in February 2017. One marker noting the “last Indian battle in this region” was covered with black paint writing, “white history celebrates genocide,” while another was shot with bullets, and yet another marked with “decolonize!!!” 

“I guess I could look at the picture and do some handwriting analysis, see if it’s the same person,” Brinkman said. Regardless of whether vandals are ever caught, the incidents set in motion a process to repair the markers, usually a consultation with local historical commission members to assess what to do next, he said. THC doesn’t have a budget for repairs but can sometimes find funding with its nonprofit arm, Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, or local donors.

Rod Ponton, Presidio County Historical Commission chair, also was alerted to the incident and wondered whether some paint thinner might be a simple fix. He said he will be discussing options with the THC. While unfortunate, he said the vandalism at least comes at a time when there’s an opportunity to offer a better historical perspective of the area, particularly near the giant boulders north of Shafter known and marked with a highway sign as “Elephant Rock.”  Many local historians, particularly those focused on early inhabitants in the region, think the rocks look more like a bison.

“I’ve been talking to the marker people with the Texas Historical Commission,” Ponton said. “And they’re talking about wanting to put up a marker at Elephant Rock that talks about how Elephant Rock is really Cibolo Rock.” 

The Cibolo were a group of Indigenous people — and eventually part of a Jumano clan — that settled in the area just north of and around Shafter. “Cíbolo” translates to “bison” for some Spanish speakers, but the exact origin of the word is unknown. Ponton said the logical thing to do is move the Faver marker closer to Cibolo Creek Ranch, erect a Cibolo marker, then get approval for another marker for Shafter that speaks more to its specific history, including mining.

Brinkman said the content of historical markers like the Faver memorial can be changed. But since the centennial markers like these are usually short in content and intended to just mark a place, there’s often a better way to more accurately portray historical context with the newer markers or full installations of signage.

Vandalism carries a charge from a class C to a class A misdemeanor, depending on the damage. But since markers are state property, perpetrators can be charged with a state jail felony. Presidio County Sheriff’s Deputy Marco Baeza said he will be investigating the incident.

This article was updated to clarify that it was three forts that Faver built in the area.