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 Texas : Features : Columns : Lone Star Diary :

Early Cattlemen
saved Texas from financial ruin

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
After the Civil War, Texas and the rest of the South were in a bad economic situation. The war had drained the resources of the defeated states and when the soldiers returned home, they found it extremely hard to make a living. But Texas had an untapped resource roaming wild on the open range – longhorn cattle provided an industry that grew to become the largest in the state.

Lavaca County became a major cattle producer along with the rest of Texas. In his book, History of Lavaca County, Paul C. Boethel writes that the open range and the low-priced land in the county quickly attracted cattlemen to the area. By 1870, cattle in Lavaca County numbered 56,309. Prominent cattlemen at the time were Lew B. Allen, W.J. Moore, J.M. Bennett, Sel West, Ike West, George West, Bill Gentry, and Willis McCutcheon.

Well-known cattleman, “Shanghai” Pierce is believed to have put together a herd of mavericks in Lavaca County. Cowboys working for Pierce rode the area around Big Sandy searching for “wild brush cattle.” That part of the county was thinly settled and was know for having large numbers of strays. The animals were very wild and would lie up in the brush during the day, coming out at night to graze. Pierce’s men would wait until early morning to begin rounding them up. A good month’s work would usually be about 1,100 head.
Longhorn skull , cowboy and  longhorn
Texas longhorn and cowboy
Cooper's post office mural
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, June 2007
Cattle from Lavaca County were driven up the trail to Kansas markets in Abilene, Dodge City, and other towns as well. From the end of the Civil War in 1865 until 1885, large herds of cattle were sent up the trail. The trek from Lavaca County started at the small settlement of Bovine, on Brushy Creek, and then moved west passing by Peach Creek and Gonzales. The path led on to Austin and from there to the old Chisholm Trail, eventually to end in Kansas.

According to the History of Lavaca County, in 1870, it took A.E. Schiske 64 days to drive a herd of 1,000 head up the trail to Abilene, Kansas. In 1874, cattlemen Leo Tucker, John May, and Joel Bennett drove 3,000 cattle to Abilene. These are only a couple of known drives; many other smaller herds were taken to market, but no records exist as to who drove them or the number of cattle involved.

After the open ranges were fenced, the cattle industry began to slump, only to revive again and by 1900, records indicate that the number of cattle in Lavaca County exceeded 60,000.

The history of the old cattle drives seem like scenes from movies such as “Lonesome Dove” or “Red River” – but the real cowboy’s job was far from glamorous – the work was monotonous and included long days in the saddle. These were the men who had just fought a long and bloody war, hard-working cowboys who did what they had to do in order to survive. And in the process they brought Texas out of a depression into economic wealth.

© Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary July 10, 2009 Column

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