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Have you ever tasted a memory?
by Bill Clough
May 03, 2012 | 754 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Balde Galvan has spent most of his life wandering the thousands of acres of the San Domingo Ranch. He uses the Internet and a metal detector... but mostly his senses. By his best count, within the borders of the ranch north of Beeville are the remnants of five separate settlements ­— maybe more. One day, earlier this week, he invited BEE-PICAYUNE reporter Bill Clough to accompany him on a tour.
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Since he was 10, Balde (stands for Baldemar but no one uses that) Galvan has explored this ranch, southwest of Normanna.

At 46, he is on intimate terms with the nearly 5,000 acres of it. He has lived here all his life.

Today, he does whatever tasks a ranch hand is expected to handle. “Just call me the ranch gardener.”

In three decades of exploring, has found enough artifacts to make many a museum envious.

In a room adjacent to the ranch house, hundreds of them from five settlements are laid out on a table, separated into categories: Irish, a pre-Civil War battle, Spanish and North American Indian.

“Here’s a broken piece from a Leibrandt and McDowell stove,” he says, “and this is part of a Hall and Speery plow. This is an old iron (it weighs more than 12 pounds).”

He fingers a silver-colored object of two curved pieces of polished metal bound together. “This, I don’t know what it is.”

On another part of the table, placed precisely on colored cloth, a silver part of a Spanish bridle harness. On another, a pottery fragment labeled “W. M. Adams and Co., Tunstall England.”

And on two separate panels, scores of arrowheads and flint, worked into tools. They all are clues to a puzzle; if only they could speak.

Some could say Galvan’s interest in archaeology, history and the secrets of the land comes naturally. He’s a Lipan Indian. Apache.

“I call myself the ‘Last San Domingo warrior.’”

While proficient as a museum curator, it’s in the field where he best demonstrates his skills for the ranch’s dedication to the land.

“Preservation is the most important thing we do here,” he explains, driving an ATV on the bumpy back roads. “No one is allowed to hunt here. We’re trying to save the animals, save the land and save the artifacts.”

And to educate.

Galvan coasts to a stop: between the tire ruts, what seems to be nothing but weeds.

He reaches down and pulls a few.

“This is called Aztec tea,” he says. “Whenever I felt like I was getting a sore throat, I’d boil this into a tea. The next morning, it was gone.”

A few minutes later, he points to a yucca. “Did you know you can eat the petals when it blossoms?”

Another stop, another plant.

“This is horse mint. It’s like oregano. Indians used to season rabbits with this. They also used to boil it to dress wounds.”

A third stop: “That’s Dragon’s Blood. In the fall, you cut into the leaf and the sap turns red. The Indians used it for dye.”

It’s precious lore.

“I was raised by the elders,” he says. “My grandfather worked here. I grew up listening to their stories and learning from them. But they’re all gone.”

Galvan’s mission is to preserve and share their knowledge. He frequently attends an international children’s festival in Hampton, Va., where he performs native dances and passes on the stories from those lost but revered elders.

“I ask them, ‘Have you ever tasted a memory?’”

Tastes, like scents, become time machines, bringing people back to the first time they encountered them.

Not that he is in favor of abandoning technology. When he patrols the ranch he carries a cell phone. On his belt is a pistol. “I’ve never had to use it.” And much of the information about the artifacts he finds is gleaned from the Internet.

Galvan drives to an obscure, little-traveled part of the ranch.

“This is where I first got interested in the history around here,” he explains, as he walks to a shady spot surrounded by mesquite and prickly pear cactus serving as condominiums for huge, green grasshoppers.

Almost lost among the trees and bushes is a stone-cased well, 15 feet deep, beside rotting timbers that used to support a wooden cistern.

Nearby, the land abruptly drops a dozen feet into a ravine.

“This is where the settlers here first drew water,” Galvan speculates, pointing to a flattened and rusty bucket. Later, he figures, they dug the well.

But only hints of a homestead: a plank or two covered by leaves, a few chunks of limestone.

“I need to get out here with a metal detector,” he says.

The land has so much to teach, he says. And he has never stopped learning. He has sought out the Amish to learn beekeeping, and — just in case — has become a certified air conditioning repairman.

“I always wanted to make wine,” he admits. “So last year a colleague taught me how to make wine out of the mustang grapes that grow around here. I made 13 bottles.”

He starts to return to the ranch house, then changes his mind.

“I want to show you a spiritual place. I’ve never taken anyone there before. I call it ‘White Sands.’”

Down a road, through a fence, then another. He is miles away from the ranch house. He stops the ATV in a creek bed.

Nothing to see but a forest of mesquite and huisache, seemingly for miles.

But then, by climbing up a dry creek, a brilliant expanse of white soil, unlike any other place on the ranch.

“I know that for my ancestors, this was a special place,” he says in a subdued voice. “God gave me this gift; I can just feel it.”

The sun is high and the white sand makes dark glasses mandatory; Galvan never uses them.

But the best time, he says, is at night — a night of the full moon.

“This whole area then is just aglow. Sometimes I just sit down over there and wait. You hear things you’ve never heard before.”

He seeks a moment of shade.

“The ground will tell you a story, if you know how to look, no, not just to look, but to see, and to listen.”

He grows quiet — the last San Domingo warrior — tasting a million memories.

Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.
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