By Kevin D. VanDuser
Wherever I travel people snicker at me when I tell them where I live.
“Possum Kingdom? Where’s that?” they ask.
“You know,” I reply, “over by Hell’s Gate.”
“Oh yeah, I know where that’s at,” they say.
It seems that almost everyone has heard about Hell’s Gate even though they don’t know it’s located at Possum Kingdom Lake. Maybe it’s because there are other places in the country called Hell’s Gate. If this be the case, I’m sure our local pastors would rather we call it “Heaven’s Gate”.
Anyway, here is a condensed version of how Hell’s Gate got its name:
Back before the white man had total control of the Texas frontier, two fur traders were making their way down the headwaters of the Brazos. Their pack animals were loaded down with trinkets and rot-gut whiskey to use as barter in case they met up with any friendly Indians with a thirst for fire water and an eye for beads and mirrors.
On the first day of a rainy spell they came upon an encampment of friendly Comanches who had an ample supply of deer meat and smoked buffalo and were eager to do some trading.
After several days of bartering, the two traders noticed that the best furs were in the Indians pile. Being perfect shysters, the traders decided it was time to give out complimentary samples of whiskey to the Indians. Late that night all of the members of the tribe had passed out and were sleeping it off while the traders slowly and quietly loaded up the Indian’s furs on their pack burros and headed south down the Brazos.
They had gone only a few miles when a burro broke his leg. Another burro had to then carry a double load and soon gave out. Finally, the last burro, so heavily burdened, lost its footing and fell into the canyon below and perished. By this time the traders realized that the Indians they had stolen from would be sober enough to come after them to reclaim the furs and scalp them alive.
Smoke signals could be seen from a short distance and the traders knew that the Indians would be closing in for the kill. They finally reached a point on the Brazos where high limestone bluffs were divided by a small creek forming a natural rock gateway to the river.
Thinking only of saving his own hide, one of the traders threw down his heavy load of stolen furs and made his way up the high cliff. The other trader, however, was so stubborn and mean that he swore he would go through the Gates of Hell before he would allow the savages to retrieve their furs. The band of enraged Indians finally caught up with the traders and finished them both off with a shower of arrows. Henceforth, that point on the Brazos became known as Hell’s Gate.
*Used with permission © Kevin D. Van Duser, Possum Kingdom Journal, Volume 1, 1994. Copies available at the Trading Post and PK Chamber of Commerce at Possum Kingdom Lake.