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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-


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.