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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

People

Plains Pioneer Charlie Saigling

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
When Charlie Saigling first saw the South Plains, there wasn't any cotton, or grain fields or "anything."

In 1909, already 32 years old, he had just been handed 14 sections of land by his father, who got it for $4,000.

Saigling, born in Houston in 1876, came to Hale County from McKinney, where he had a hardware store and funeral home.

Before coming to McKinney, he had operated a flour mill with his father in Plano. "My father traded a lumber yard for it," Saigling recalled in a 1969 interview published in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Saigling spent his final years in the old Hilton Hotel in downtown Plainview. At 93, he still got up every morning and drove to his holdings nine miles south of Hale Center.

Sitting in his room on the top floor of the eight-story hotel, gazing out at Plainview's grain elevators and the surrounding agricultural fields, he remembered a time when his part of Texas looked vastly different.

"The foreman came to town and got me in a hack," Saigling said of the day he first arrived.

From Plainview, the buggy creaked along over the open prairie. Finally, reining in the team, the foreman announced they had arrived.

"Here we are," the ranch boss said.

Saigling looked around and noted one dugout, a windmill and a barbed wire fence that stretched on for miles.

His new property did not boast many improvements, but he had plenty of land to work with.

Visiting Lubbock hoping to buy some lumber for a ranch house, Saigling found the still-small town could not accommodate his needs. The closest place he could buy lumber was the railroad town of Colorado City in Mitchell County.

"I had the lumber shipped to Canyon," he said, "then a man hauled it down to the ranch."

When the lumber arrived, Saigling built his ranch house, a structure that still stood six decades later.

"I lived in the dugout until the house was finished," he said.

When he moved in, he took the wooden roof off the dugout and moved it elsewhere on his property. It lasted for years, he said, and probably would have held up longer had it not been for a fire which burned off about a section of his land some years later.

All pioneer ranchers had their problems, but most of Saigling's worries either were of the four-legged or climatic variety. "I never had any problems with rustlers," he said. "There were a mighty good bunch of people up here."

One of Saigling's biggest headaches was the storm of 1918 - Jan. 8 to be exact.

"It was a terrible storm," he remembered. "We had to cut the fences to let the cattle out. A banker from Abernathy ended up feeding my cattle, and I probably fed someone else's."

Snow piled up in high drifts against the fences, Saigling said. Many cattle froze. And the snow kept falling.

Ice covered frozen livestock. Another animal would wander up to seek shelter and die on top of the first one.

"The snow was so deep we could ride right over the fences and dead cattle," he said.

In another storm Saigling weathered, a freighting outfit on its way south to Lubbock got snowed in.

"They just sold groceries out of the wagons while they were there," he said. "Sure beat riding to town."

Most of the time, Saigling concentrated on the cattle business. But once he decided to delve into another enterprise: mule raising.

"I had a world of mules," he recalled. "I think I bought 225 head from a man named Bill Elwood. But I didn't make any money off 'em. I had to trade the mules for a section of land."

Five years after sharing some of his recollections with a young reporter, Saigling died on April 8, 1974 - 98 years old.
Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" - April 27, 2006 column

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