1883, the Trans-Pecos country of West
Texas was positively tame compared to a few years earlier.
The state's last Indian fight had been in January 1881, the worst
of the man-killing outlaws were either dead or in prison and only
a few stray buffalo survived on the east side of the
But a couple of entrepreneurially-minded Texas Rangers still found
something to shoot at: quail.
Ranger outfit (Co. A, under Capt. George Baylor) was stationed at
Ysleta, down river
from El Paso,
Rangers Joe Deaver and August Fransel noticed the area, as Deaver
later put it, was "over-flowing" with wild game. Farms in the valley
of the Rio Grande below Ysleta and Socorro "were simply swarming
with wild quail."
To frontier tastes, and to many today gourmands today, a quail may
as well be a miniature chicken. As opposed to the dark meat of dove,
a grilled or fried quail amounts to several tasty bites of white
Back then, in the booming railroad town of El
Paso, local butcher Jack Carter happily paid $1.50 a dozen for
fresh-from-the-field quail. Given that the state paid its Ranger
privates only $30 a month, a man handy with a shotgun could supplement
his income substantially by providing Carter quail.
The 24-year-old Deaver, whose parents brought him to Erath
County from his native Tennessee when he was a youngster, was
a fine shot. His apprenticeship as a marksman came in hunting buffalo
before he turned to rangering in 1881.
Dropping a big bison for its hide took a high-powered rifle, but
Deaver knew how to work a scatter gun, too. As a part-time meat
hunter, on a good day, the dead-eye ranger killed as many as 10
dozen quail-half a month's pay.
Despite the pounding his shoulder took in firing his shotgun 120-plus
times a day (surely he missed every once in a while), the young
state lawman and his business partner saw hunting quail as far preferable
to disarming drunks or making long horseback scouts along the Rio
Grande. On Oct. 31, 1883, Deaver and his older partner, who had
first come West as a stage coach driver, left state service and
became full time meat hunters.
to providing El
Paso consumers with fresh quail, the two former rangers used
the Winchester rifles they bought from the state to bring down mule
deer. Happily for the hunters, most folks back then enjoyed venison
just about as much as they did beef. Deaver and Fransel worked out
an agreement with another El
Paso meat house to provide them fresh venison.
To harvest deer, the two professional hunters had to ride down river
to the Quitman, Eagle and Carrizo mountains, late the disputed province
of Texas' last band of hostile Apaches.
For every deer carcass they put on the train to El
Paso, they were paid eight cents a pound. The buyer even picked
up the freight charges.
"We often shipped from 10 to 15 head a day, and seldom less than
three to five," Deaver later recalled.
Average weight per deer was 85 pounds, but occasionally they brought
in a big buck weighing in at 250 pounds.
in Austin, Texas lawmakers
had not yet realized the importance of game conservation and few,
if any, statutes were on the books to prevent the wholesale slaughter
of quail, deer or other wildlife. In time, conservation laws did
get passed, but by the early 20th century much of the state had
been hunted out. Deer, pronghorn antelope, wild turkey and quail
were scarce. It took decades for the state's game animals to recover
the era of unregulated hunting.
Deaver later defended his meat hunting with the argument that wild
animals would be detrimental to farm crops, but both quail and mule
deer prefer rough country, not agricultural land. (He was closer
to being correct in regard to white tail deer, which love to graze
oat crops and people's gardens.)
The two ex-rangers continued their meat hunting for two years. When
Deaver's partner heard that gold and silver could be found near
Sierra Blanca, they stored their guns and took up prospecting.
Indeed, back then the mountain country of West
Texas was believed to hold rich lodes of precious metals. A
reasonable amount of silver ore was found by others near what became
Shafter, but the dream that Texas would equal New Mexico or Arizona
in mining never materialized.
Deaver and Fransel would have made a lot more money if they had
stuck to hunting quail and deer, not gold and silver.
Both men later turned to ranch work. Fransel died at 83 in 1927
and is buried at Sierra
Blanca. His former partner made it until 1940, dying in Nueces
County. He's buried in Robstown.
"Texas Tales" May
11, 2017 column