In earlier times, three Indian
tribes—the Apache, the Comanche
and the Kiowa—used the area to as-
semble and form raiding parties that
swept west, across the Rio Grande into
Mexico. The Indians called the place
Tres Linguas (“Three Tongues”) and
this was eventually Americanized to
“Terlingua” by the local cowboys. In
the 1800s, Terlingua became a boom
town when quicksilver was discovered
in the area. Mines sprung up
overnight and the population swelled
to more than 5,000. When the mines
began to run dry in the early 1940s
the town shrunk accordingly. The offi-
cial population is presently listed as
nine, plus a few goats.
During one hunting trip and
carousing expedition in 1963, the idea
for the Terlingua Racing Team was
hatched. By the time everyone else
had gone home and unpacked, Neale
had whipped up a suitable coat of
arms and Terlingua acquired a per-
sona. Owning a town had its advan-
tages, even if it was a ghost town.
Shelby and Witts lost no time dispens-
ing political patronage positions in the
non-existing municipal government.
Witts installed himself as mayor.
Shelby was, at times, named as the
community’s social director but on
other paperwork he is listed as the dog
catcher. Neale became director of the
Museum of Modern Art and the posi-
tions of Director of Sanitation, Direc-
The SHELBY AMERICAN
Spring 2016 63
During a trip to Terlingua in 1965, several of the principals at-
tempted to find some use for Shelby and Witts’ real estate ven-
ture. Pictured [left to right] are Ford public relations man Tom
Car and Driver
editor David E. Davis, Jr., Shelby, David
Witts and Bill Neale.
The Chiricahua Ranch, circa 1965. Ranch house is in the foreground. The unimproved
airstrip is visible in the background.
A walking tour through the town brought the conspirators past,
appropriately enough, the town jail.