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
An historical marker on the city hall square notes that 43,000 head
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
for its yearly convention, and the Western Stock Journal listed Pleasanton
as its place of publication.
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