PART ONE: THE CONCHO RIVER AND ITS PEARLS
We will start with several views of the Concho River in downtown San Angelo:
Naturally, official buildings and some very nice residences --like this one-- are built along such a scenic river:
The river would be just a trickle in the dry season were it not for several dams, of course, but where there is water there is scenery:
If you are only interested in photos and could care less about the pearls found in this river and its reservoirs and the animal that produces them, then don't read the rest of this page but go on the next page (linked below).
The last two photos were taken at the Visitors Center, which is featured on the next page.
I was told the river Concho was named after the fresh-water mussels that can be found in that river, ones that often produce pearls, some of gem quality with a purple tinge.
Of course it is and is not quite like that.
Conch is a word for the shells of animals, including snails and mussels and several others.
It is the Tampico Pearly mussel that is of interest, it does do what is described, often makes pearls and some are fantastic quality. You can buy them, and with a Texas fishing license you can hunt for them yourself. You will be following in the footsteps of Spanish explorers hunting for treasure, as described in this very nice, somewhat humorous, and comprehensive article on the Conchologists of America, Inc. website.
The article describes the history and current status of seeking for the sometimes gem-quality freshwater pearls advertised to be for sale, or for self-harvesting, in San Angelo:
The Tampico Pearlymussel (Cyrtonaias tampicoensis) Shades of the Old West
by Robert G. Howells
Editor's note: Undeniably those vulnerable and fascinating mollusks we variously call freshwater or pearly mussels, naiads, unios, or river clams are becoming scarcer by the day due to agricultural, residential and industrial pollution, habitat destruction, dams, poaching and over-fishing. But those of you who just got interested or thought freshwater musseling opportunities were going the way of the typewriter and boy-calls-girl just haven't checked out Texas. Bob Howells of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Heart of the Hills Research Station in Ingram, Texas, actually approached us about interesting collectors in 'his' unique mussels.
Shell collectors often venture far and wide in pursuit of unique mollusks. Yet travelers to the other side of the planet after that special shell may be overlooking an especially unique species right at home. Long before Lyndon Johnson carried his dog around by its ears, before Davy Crockett ever fired Old Betsy at the Alamo, and before the Yellow Rose of Texas first rolled in the hay with Santa Ana, early Spanish explorers ventured into western Texas in search of the Tampico pearlymussel (Cyrtonaias tampicoensis; family Unionidae) and the gem-quality freshwater pearls it frequently produces.
Clemmens (1981) reported how Hernan Martin and Diego del Castillo arrived in 1650 near what is now the city of San Angelo on the Concho River (river of shells) in western Texas. Pearls they obtained there were sent back to Sante Fe and caused enough excitement that in 1654, Diego de Guadalajara was also sent into the area to locate as many pearls as possible.
Some reports suggest excessive harvest of mussels and others mention enlisting the local Indians in the pearl-harvest efforts. Most agree the number of pearls obtained were apparently well below Spanish expectations.
At least in part because of the Tampico pearlymussel and its pearls, Spanish attention was drawn to this area. Missions were constructed and ultimately the present city of San Angelo developed. Although Spanish colonial days have long ended, San Angelo, the Concho River and Tampico pearlymussels endure. A fishery for the mussels and the pearls they produce also continues.
Tampico pearlymussel occurs from northeastern Mexico into the Colorado and Brazos Rivers of central Texas. Although many, if not most, members of the family have declined dramatically in recent years, Tampico pearlymussel numbers have held up rather well. It evolved as a riverine mussel (there were no natural lakes within its range in Texas); however, it has adapted well to man-made impoundments.
TO READ MORE, please go to the Conchologists of America, Inc. website, my source for the above quotations.
Go to Part Two: THE "DOS ANGELOS" STORY
Go to Part Three: THE LILYPADS STORY
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