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TEXAS FIRST CATTLE KING
James Taylor White

By Archie P. McDonald, PhD

Taylor's JTW brand became widely known, as was
his reputation for innovation in ranching practices.
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
Those of use who learn our history from the movies know that John Wayne, using the name of Tom Dunson, led the first cattle drive from Texas to the railhead in Abilene, Kansas, just after the Civil War. Well, alright, Wayne was headed to Sedalia, Missouri, where Texas drives had reached in the 1850s before the war, but then his foster son Matthew Garth commandeered the herd and took it to Abilene instead with the help of Cherry Valance and even old Grout because he believed there was a railroad there even if Wayne did not. Wayne bellowed a lot, but in the end, he approved.

Whoa. That is "reel" history. The "real" history is different. Likely the first cattle drives from Texas went south from border rancheros established along the Rio Grande in the 1740s by Jose Escandon. And just as likely, the first cattle drives from Texas in the other direction went not to Sedalia but to New Orleans, and the cattle belonged to James Taylor White, East Texas' first cattle baron.


White was born in 1798 into a family that had raised cattle in locations from Carolina to Louisiana. At age thirty, Taylor moved on west along the Opelousas Road to Texas and first settled in the area of Anahauc, near the Gulf of Mexico. And he brought the start of his herd with him.

Taylor's first spread was located on Turtle Bayou, and the resolutions adopted by Texans protesting the arrest of William Barret Travis and Patrick Jack by Colonel Juan Davis Bradburn in Anahauc in 1832, were signed near his home.

White moved on to another site near a newer community named Liberty. This spread covered over 4,000 acres and soon supported over 1,000 head of cattle. They represented a good deal of money if the herd could be delivered to market.

In some respects, the Texas cattle industry was still limited to harvesting hides and tallow, which could be shipped via coastal packet, without spoilage. But if a rancher could drive the cattle to market, the whole animal could be harvested and yield a greater profit.

So Taylor began driving his cattle to New Orleans, the first market for this first East Texas cattleman. Taylor's JTW brand became widely known, as was his reputation for innovation in ranching practices. In time, the cattle trails Taylor pioneered began growing more numerous to other Mississippi ports, then to Sedalia, Abilene, Dodge City, Ogalalla, even New Mexico.

Taylor led the first of them from East Texas like he led the first cattle drive across the "Red River."


All Things Historical Feb. 22, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.

See Cattle & Ranching

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