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Wharton County, Texas Gulf Coast

U.S. Hwy 59
8 miles W of Wharton the county seat
5 miles NE of El Campo
ZIP code 77467
Area code 979
Population: 49 Est. (2000)

An informal history of
Pierce, Texas:

Containing barely-related facts on
neighboring towns in
Wharton, Jackson and Victoria Counties

Brewster Hudspeth

"There stands Ol' Pierce"
- quote from Shanghai Pierce himself.

Photo courtesy TXDoT >

Editor's Note: Don't look for the statue (right)) of Pierce to be in Pierce, Texas. The staute stands in the beautifully maintained Hawley cemetery just north of Blessing, Texas.
Abel Pierce statue

Pierce, Texas is located along the former railroad tracks, which have been taken up in recent years. The roadbed is still in place although the line had been abandoned in 1940. The towns along this stretch of Highway 59 were named after the Hungerford/ Telferner families.

"Colonel" Hungerford was a Mexican War veteran with two daughters - Edna and Louise.

Louise married, widowed, and had a child named Eva. Her next husband was named Mackay who had made a fortune in mining in Colorado. Louise Mackay took her daughters to Europe where daughter Edna married an Italian Count named Telferner. With Mackay's money and 600 of Telferner's paisanos to do the work, they formed the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway. The locals named it the "Macaroni Line" from the diet of the Italian laborers.

The Count was president of the railroad and "Colonel" Hungerford was vice president.

TX - Pierce Letterhead 1890
Pierce's Letterhead
Courtesy Texas General Land Office

Enter "Old Pierce"

Abel (Shanghai) Pierce was a Yankee from Rhode Island. He arrived in Texas with .75 cents to his name. Some say that the following year he still had 60 cents left. Pierce's self-admitted cheapness was legendary.
(For some amusing highlights, see Ten things you should know about Shanghai Pierce.)

Pierce agreed to take his first year's pay in cattle. When the year was up - Pierce got the culls of the herd - and a lesson in cattle raising. After a year's work in the saddle - Shanghai was the proud owner of a herd of six cows. 30% of his "herd" died shortly after delivery. It was a lesson Pierce never forgot. He became wealthy the old fashioned way - one cow at a time. These were rounded up in a fashion that later came to be called rustling. All of Pierce's acquisitions were in the Matagorda / Wharton County region - land that would later be owned by Pierce.

Pierce became one of Texas' most flamboyant characters. His blustery demeanor and legendary cheapness alone would've earned him a place in Texas history - but for good measure he also possessed an ego that would make Donald Trump look like he had an inferiority complex.

By the time the railroad business was getting started - Pierce already owned most of Matagorda County and part of Wharton. Always a fast learner, Pierce picked up on the town-naming trend and modestly named the three stations planned for his property to be Pierce, Shanghai, and Borden (after his nephew). Only after wrangling with the railroad for two years did Pierce get the railroad to live up to 1/3 of their bargain of building depots.

The towns of Shanghai, Texas and Borden died on the drawing board. Pierce also had a spur for Podo, Texas - a siding named after a former slave who oversaw that portion of the Pierce holdings. Podo was a Zulu and Pierce used to send him supplies via the railroad - including bi-annual deliveries of 40 gallon barrels of whiskey for Podo's private consumption.

Pierce, in his twilight years, started worrying about his legacy. He ordered his full size "likeness" carved in marble from none other than German-born San Antonio sculptor Frank Teich.

After getting Teich to lower his price, Pierce had the statue erected with the inscription: Shanghai Pierce - Born 1834 - Died 1900. He told Teich that Mrs. Pierce would fill in the blank when the time came. The price had been $2,500, but Pierce got Teich to reduce the price to $2,250 (Teich made up the difference by making the hat smaller).

© John Troesser

Pierce TX - Frank E. Borden Home
Frank E. Borden Home in Pierce
"The photo is the house my Grandmother lived in while her father, Frank, worked for his uncle Abel Head Pierce. She told many stories of her life in Pierce. She married and moved to Victoria, Tx. She married the telegraph operator on the train, Walter Vernon Greer. The house still stands." - Edith Smith, September 03, 2013

Pierce Texas Today

Today, the town of Pierce consists of eight or ten houses, a post office, church, and a former post office that is now labeled "The Pierce Country Club". The entrance to the Pierce ranch is just across from where the railroad tracks used to be. Pierce's statue is in the Hawley cemetery near Blessing, Texas.

Church in Pierce, Texas
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, August 2011
More Texas Churches

Pierce, Texas former post office
The former post office, now the Pierce "Country Club"
TE photo, 2001
More Texas Post Offices

Pierce, Texas - Pierce School children, 1910
"Children pictured from the Pierce School in 1910. The school was built by A. H. “Shanghai” Pierce. Pierce Ranch imported the first Brahman herd in the United States around 1900."
Photo courtesy Wharton County Historical Museum
See Wharton County Old Photos

A timeline of significant events in Pierce, Texas
1881: The New York Texas and Mexican Railway lays tracks between Rosenberg and Victoria.
1883: Depot designated Pierce's Station
1884: One of Pierce's steers derails train - Pierce demands payment
1886: A post office was granted under same name
1890: population reaches 40 persons
1894: 160 acres surveyed and town platted
1895: Name changed to simply Pierce, Texas
1900: Shanghai Pierce dies and is buried beneath his pre-ordered monument
1921: Brick school was built
1950: Pierce reaches highest population of 150
2000: Population is reduced to only 49

Pierce had planned to make the town of Pierce the county seat by giving a right-of-way to another railroad - making it a railroad crossroads. He built a large hotel in anticipation, but the deal never came through. A marker today stands where The Pierce Hotel once stood.

Abel H. Pierce Centennial Marker
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, August 2011

The Centennial Marker is at the Pierce Ranch headquarters, about a mile southeast of Pierce.
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, August 2011
More Texas Centennial

Pierce Ranch  sign, Pierce Texas
The sign for the Pierce Ranch
TE photo, 2001

Pierce Tx Church Bell
Church Bell
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, August 2011

Related Topics & Stories:

  • Ten things you should know about Shanghai Pierce

  • Hawley, Texas - Hawley Cemetery and Shanghai Pierce Statue

  • Take a road trip

    Texas Gulf Coast

    Pierce, Texas Nearby Towns:
    Wharton the county seat
    El Campo
    See Wharton County

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