In the 1800s the area around Terlingua was inhabited by a few scattered Mexican herders, living in a precarious relationship with Apache and Comanche tribes who regularly moved through the wild country. Mercury was discovered in 1890, and soon thriving city of almost 2,000 was devoting its energies to extracting the rich red ore (cinnabar) from beneath barren hills. Millions of dollars worth of quicksilver was marketed before the boom tapered off. The hundreds of wooden shacks are gone entirely; many rock and adobe buildings stand roofless, walls crumbling.
Some modern residents have come of late-leisure homes in the remote desert setting, a country store with grocery staples, souvenirs and mineral specimens, a few motel-type accommodations, a couple of restaurants, and the Terlingua Ranch Resort.
Once a year, on the first Sat. in Nov., some 5,000 "chiliheads" converge on the desolate area for the International Championship Chili Cookoffs. The first, started in 1967 as a contest both of wit and chili between humorists Wick Fowler and H. Allen Smith, has become a cherished Texas tradition. The other contest includes individuals and representatives from the Chili Appreciation Society International.