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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

COWBOY TREE

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Many a Texas town had its hanging tree, an old oak bearing its ugly legends as well as leaves. But on a more pleasant note, Pleasanton may be the only place in the state – and the world for that matter – that had a cowboy tree.

In a way, it’s natural enough that Pleasanton would have such a tree, unnatural as the combination of the words “cowboy” and “tree” seems to be. The Atascosa County community south of San Antonio has long claimed to be the birthplace of the cowboy.

While proving that the very first Texas cowpoke swung into the saddle in or near Pleasanton would be a bit of a stretch, no one can question that the cattle business and the men who made it happen played an important role in Pleasanton’s past.

An historical marker on the city hall square notes that 43,000 head of Longhorn cattle passed through Pleasanton during the first three months of 1873.

Located on the old El Camino Real at an easy crossing of the Atascosa River, Pleasanton had long been a transportation crossroads. When profit-minded Texans began pushing Longhorns up from the South Texas brush country to the railhead in Kansas in the early 1870s, Pleasanton made a convenient stopping place on what became known as the Chisholm Trail.

The Stock Raiser Association of Western Texas frequently gathered in Pleasanton for its yearly convention, and the Western Stock Journal listed Pleasanton as its place of publication.

Pleasanton boomed as a cow town, a place where drovers could replenish supplies and tend to needs other than spiritual. In addition to drinking and consorting with women of easy virtue, cowboys liked poker and other games of chance.

Local lore has it that one saloon keeper got so tired of all the ruckus connected to poker playing that he took an unusual step to separate the rowdy gamblers from his place of business: He built them a tree house to play in.

Being astride a river, Pleasanton does have some big oaks, but it must have taken quite a tree to support a house big enough to accommodate a bunch of wagering cowpokes. While any detail of the structure’s size or location remains elusive, the elevated saloon annex quickly became a popular cowboy roost.

All continued well with the high-rise casino until something bigger than an acorn dropped from the tree – a drunken cowboy. The fall broke the drover’s neck (one assumes fatally, though that detail does not seem to have survived), and the city government ordered the removal of the cowboy play house.

As rail service became more available in Texas, the four-footed flow on the Chisholm Trail waned and then went away. But the cattle business remained robust in Atascosa County, with ranchers raising animals instead of rounding up wild longhorns. Cattle drives continued, but only as far as San Antonio, where stock could be shipped by rail.

Today, while Pleasanton plays on its image as the cowboy’s place of nativity, the story of the cowboy tree house has been virtually forgotten.



© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" December 22, 2005 column, modified August 20 , 2015

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Ranching in Texas

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