Browse the book with Google Preview » In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Spanish Conquistadors introduced the system of ranching to the New World when they brought horses, cattle, sheep, and goats as part of their expeditions—horses to ride; sheep, goats, and cattle for food, leather, and tallow. They also brought people to tend the stock. Because in colonial times the Spanish did not castrate most male animals, every animal they brought was, in effect, breeding stock, which spread throughout the areas into which Spanish colonization efforts extended. Among their various enterprises, ranching was a major focus in order to feed the workers. In areas where mining developed, hides provided bags for ore, and tallow rendered from animal fat furnished candles to light the mines. No outside market existed for beef. The meat was the least important part of the animal. The earliest ranches were situated on huge land grants that were at first awarded to supporters of the Spanish king and later, after Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, to those loyal to the Mexican government. Some of these huge estates extended far into Texas. On these "open-range" ranches were established the practices by which cattle were worked. An open-range ranch usually consisted of a herd of cattle, a crew of mounted herders, and a stretch of grazing land. The ranch was as mobile as necessary to keep the cattle supplied with good grass. Cattle were gathered in the spring for working the calf crop, but were otherwise left to roam the grasslands. Perhaps the most important contribution of the Spanish system was the introduction of mounted herders—the vaqueros—the men who worked with cattle. The vaquero used a rope (the riata or lazzo) and developed protective leather leg coverings today called chaps. He contributed as well to the development of saddles suitable for working cattle. In the 1830s and 1840s with the influx of immigrants into Texas from the southern United States came people familiar with cattle raising in Europe and Britain. Some of these people had been raising livestock in their home states, and many pursued cattle ranching in Texas, where they picked up new techniques for ranching on the plains—techniques learned largely from the Mexican vaquero. Just after the Civil War came the expansion of trail driving, perhaps the most important development of this time. The mounted herder tending cattle on pasture assumed a new role—that of drover. The practice brought immense herds of cattle to railheads in Kansas, where they were connected with markets in the eastern United States hungry for beef. In addition, the vast western grasslands had been stripped bare of native cattle (bison or buffalo) by the demand for hides, and there arose a need for Texas cattle to repopulate the range. The visibility offered by driving herds of 2,500 or more mature steers or mixed herds of Longhorn breeding cattle to railheads and ranges on the northern plains brought the cowboy to the attention of a world that soon mythologized him as the ultimate western frontiersman. The outfit or appearance associated with the cowboy developed during this period—tall hat, high-heeled boots, spurs, and the like. The heyday of open-range ranching lasted until the mid-1880s. Several factors ended that kind of ranching. One of the most significant was climatic. From 1886 to 1888, cataclysmic weather, characterized by drought-ridden summers and incredibly cold winters, decimated cattle herds all across the West. The market was flooded as ranchers tried to cut their losses by selling stock before the animals starved or froze to death. Ranching went into a sharp decline. When the enterprise emerged from this recession, ranchers knew that to survive they must breed more desirable kinds of cattle. In order to accomplish this goal, they fenced their properties to keep scrub bulls away from the cows. Barbed wire spread across ranges ofthe West. Ranchers also realized they had to provide feed for their stock during periods of cold weather and drought in order to see the herds through these critical times. Ranching was conducted very differently after what some called the "great die-up." Also important to the development of the system of enclosed pastures were drilled wells and the use of windmills to pump water to the surface for watering stock. Hence, access to natural sources such as streams was no longer essential. In areas with no subsurface aquifer, the solution was to dam natural draws and scoop out earth to deepen these depressions, called in most of ranch country by the name tanks, not ponds. Teams of mules pulled fresnoes, scooplike devices, to move dirt. In areas without subsurface aqulfers, this became the only water available for man and beast. The bachelor cowboy was still prevalent during this period, living part of the time on the range around the chuck wagon and part of the time in the bunkhouse at the ranch. The line shack—usually a small house and corral with minimal supplies to shelter a cowboy and his mount away from the headquarters—continued to be important, only now cowboys were not pushing cattle back onto rangeland claimed by the ranch, but were checking and repairing fences as necessary. At first, Hereford and Durham cattle, English breeds with desirable characteristics for beef production, proved popular for crossbreeding Longhorn stock. Later, purebred herds evolved as well. During this period, improvements in horse breeding also grew out of the availability of high-quality stallions in private ownership and at government breeding stations. The principal aim was to provide good remounts for cavalry forces. The effort, nevertheless, improved ranch horses. As the railroad system expanded into cattle-producing areas, with it came farmers and other settlers, a development that wrought incredible change to life in ranch country. Despite the expansion of the railroads, however, trail drives continued until almost the end of the 1800s because it was cheaper to move cattle that way than to pay the expense of hauling by train. Large crews of cowboys were stil1 required for this work. In the first half of the twentieth century, after the era of trail drives ended, ranching gradually modernized as transportation improved. A common technique cattlemen used was to haul cattle to the railroad shipping point by truck. For many ranchers, this eliminated one- or two-day drives that could reduce the weight of their stock. The next major change occurred as a result of World War II. Most of the young men were drawn into the war effort, so in order to survive, ranchers relied on wives, daughters, old men, and those unfit for military service. The role of machinery escalated during this time with the advent and widespread use of such tools as working tables to hold the calves to be castrated, vaccinated, or treated for disease. A major advance was the availability of stock trailers, particularly those for hauling horses on the ranch. This allowed ranchers to get by with fewer men and fewer horses. One reason for the proliferation of trailers was the spread of the skill of welding,which some men and women had learned in the ship yards during the war effort and others learned afterwards as a result of G.I. Bill benefits at local colleges and trade schools. The trailer behind the four-wheel-drive pickup became a mainstay of the ranching industry. During this time many ranchers parked their chuck and feed wagons and started using pickups to haul their cowboys and feed around as well as to haul food to the cowboys, particularly for the noon meal. All these developments resulted in a need for fewer and fewer cowboys. Cattle breeders improved their herds by importing the Brahman breed from India, as well as by continuing to depend on two British breeds, Hereford and Angus. The Brahman tolerated the heat, humidity, and parasites common in South Texas, although in Northwest Texas and the Trans-Pecos, this immunity was less of an advantage. King Ranch developed the Santa Gertrudis breed, the first breed of cattle developed in the United States and recognized as such in 1940.The ranch later developed the Santa Cruz breed as well. Horse breeding also continued to play an important role in Texas ranching culture. After World War II, the establishment of the American Quarter Horse Association stimulated the breeding of these horses characterized by strong hindquarters and a blocky build combined with quickness and cow sense. Many stockmen considered Quarter Horses be the best ranch horses, and they established excellent breeding programs built upon famous sires and highquality mares. At midcentury most ranches still carried six to ten horses per man rather than the eight to twelve that had been common during earlier years. Cowboys often lament that from this time on, however, because horses were hauled and not ridden those long miles to and from work, the animals' level of experience has never matched its pre-war excellence. Other changes came to ranching as well. For instance,with the eradication ofthe screwworm, managing a herd of cattle involved less and less daily prowling of pastures to rope and doctor infested animals. In addition, the presence of local auction rings allowed small ranchers to haul their own cattle to market, though the important regional markets in such places as Fort Worth and San Antonio continued to attract large ranchers before finally declining. The Fort Worth market has become a thriving historical district that draws on the mystique of earlier days. Furthermore, many ranches closed down their bunkhouses and relied instead upon a series of "camps" with houses, barns, and pens.The camps were strategically placed around the ranch and manned by married men, whose families lived with them in these sometime remote areas. Ranch families experienced more and more contact with town life as progress brought electricity, telephones, running water, and improved transportation into their lives. The post-war era also saw attempts to eradicate the brush that had long been encroaching in South Texas and had become a problem on ranches throughout the state. By using long, very heavy chains stretched between two bulldozers, ranchers began knocking the brush down to improve the quality of grazing. The bulldozer continues to play an important part in water conservation in constructing surface tanks to catch and hold runoff. The use of cross-fencing (to make pastures smaller and more manageable) expanded, but the most significant development in grazing practices stemmed from the work of Allen Savory, a pioneer in the field. The Savory Cell Grazing method involves fencing pastures into small plots, often a hundred acres or less, putting more cattle on a plot than the land can support, and keeping the stock on the plot for only a short period (a few days or weeks). The animals eat even the undesirable growth, not just the best, and they crush dried weeds and coarse grasses to powder. They also fertilize the plot with manure. After a few days or weeks, the cattle are removed for an extended period to allow the land to recover fully and become even more productive. Today, technology plays an important role in ranching. Many ranchers use computers to track the performance oftheir animals. Medical practices have improved to include more vaccinations and medications to treat sick animals and prevent diseases. Brucellosis, a bacterial disease that was long a threat to breeding herds, has been virtually eliminated. Ranchers have learned to palpate cows that have been bred to see if they have actually conceived. Therefore, the ranch does not waste money feeding a cow that is not going to produce a calf that year. Other technology has played a prominent role in ranching as well. One technique gaining ground is the use of imaging devices to determine the quality of the animal's carcass while it is still alive. Another is the use of videotape to market cattle. Stock sold this way does not have to be gathered and sent to a market but can be shown to potential buyers over a video network, purchased, and then gathered and shipped in large cattle vans straight to a feedlot or pasture, thus avoiding stress on the animals and preventing weight loss. Some ranches have adopted a ranch-to-rail ownership pattern in which the ranch retains ownership through the feeding out and slaughtering of the animal. In that way, the rancher has a chance to make a double profit, still often not a major margin. Ranching continues to change. Individual ranches have tended to become smaller. Estates are divided following the deaths of previous generations. Sometimes land has to be sold outright to pay heavy taxes imposed on inherited estates. Crossbreeding of cattle with European, African, and Asian breeds has become popular, even to the point that the cattle have become too large to thrive on sparse ranges. Horses of excellent bloodlines continue to flourish. Many ranchers, however, choose to buy mature horses of four to six years rather than raise their own. Thus, they eliminate that sometimes expensive and time-consuming activity. This practice also reduces the need for cowboys to ride young, unruly horses, always a dangerous job but one of the traditional tasks of range life. Nig London, aThrockmorton County cowman, noted to me in an interview, "We used to have horses that would try to hurt you. It finally occurred to us it cost as much to feed one of those as it did a good horse, so we just got rid of those bad ones." The use of Quarter Horses for cutting contests and barrel racing—that is, for sport—has grown significantly. Because ranchers hire fewer and fewer hands, the number of horses needed per man has shrunk to sometimes as few as two to as many as six. A common practice is "swapping help" with a neighboring ranch; that is, pooling help on given days, or hiring temporary cowboys, called "day workers." With the use of trailers, less riding time is required, and the two-to-six horses per rider is adequate for many ranches. Modern life with air-conditioning, swimming pools, and the like has come to ranchers just as it has to people in town. Most cowboys these days are married. Some live in town and drive to the ranch each day, or they live in a camp on the ranch, which usually provides much better housing than it did thirty or forty years ago. Improvements to grazing land include periodic controlled burns to eradicate undesirable and parasitic growth.The use of chemicals to control brush, particularly mesquite and prickly pear, also has gained a great deal of favorable attention. As ranch management becomes increasingly complex, ranch managers need more education. For large operations such as Spade Ranches, the general manager mayhave a doctorate, almost always fromTexas A&M University, in one of the agricultural fields. Some managers are graduates of other excellent ranch management schools such those at Texas Christian University or Tyler Junior College. From the time of the great Spanish estancias to the advent of the modern ranch, the methods and techniques of ranching have evolved, but indomitable spirit and deep resolve are still as vital to success as they were three centuries ago. As early ranchers struggled against nature and against other, often hostile, peoples, modern ranchers grapple with holding the ranch together despite various personal, economic, and climatic challenges. The Scope of This Work This book tells the stories of sixteen working ranches in Texas, a state deservedly renowned for its contributions to the development of ranching. The story of each ranch begins with historical details of its founding. The sources of the material on the ranches discussed here are as varied as the history of each. Although the history of many ranches has never been formally recorded, some of this information can be found in printed form. Our generation owes a huge debt of gratitude to those who preserved those early stories and histories. The rest of the material in this book came from oral sources, always a fragile storehouse for facts, and often on the verge of disappearing. At best, the details of the founding of a ranch a century or more old are available only if the information has been passed down by oral tradition within the family. Not all of the ranches included here, however, have been in one family that long. Some have been sold over the years or have been split up in estate settlements over the decades and generations since founding, but they are today in the hands of people still intent on making them productive in the livestock business. Much of the land being ranched is suited for little else, because the better land—more fertile, better watered, and less sloped—has been converted to farming, and land near cities has fallen victim to urban sprawl. In addition to relating their histories, I also have sought to include details of the current operation of these ranches, which represent different regions of the state. This information is available only by interviews and observation, and in a generation or two will constitute part of the historical record. Thus, it is "contemporary" history that will be valuable in the future. I have tried as well to show the geographical diversity of this business in Texas. Ranching practices are strongly influenced by each region's unique features—amount of annual rainfall, depth and type of soil, types of flora, temperature range, and the like. A rancher's chances of survival depend on the ability to adjust to these factors and use them to advantage. Brief discussions at the beginning of each section of the book describe in turn the three large regions included here.These regions—South, Panhandle and Northwest, and Trans-Pecos—are broadly drawn to accommodate the ranches discussed. The first section includes ranches from South Texas, here defined as that part of the state below a line stretching from Victoria on the east to Three Rivers in the central part of the state to Carrizo Springs in the west. The second region, Panhandle and Northwest Texas, includes the Rolling Plains and the lower part of the Panhandle, and lies north of Interstate Highway 20. The third, the Trans-Pecos, includes the Davis Mountains and the desert portions of West Texas along one of the most significant rivers in the state, the Pecos. All lie west of the ninety-eighth meridian, that imaginary line that marks the end of the timber belt stretching across East Texas and on eastward and the beginning of the plains. It is a line running near Fort Worth, Austin, and Corpus Christi. West of this line, ranching was one of the viable options for settlement and development because of the absence of timber, scant rainfall, and soils not always suitable for growing crops. Some ranch operations do not fit neatly into these geographical boxes because several of them have property in more than one region. The important ranching culture in the Edwards Plateau, for example, is also not well represented here, because the Y O Ranch, which lies in this region, is included in my earlier volume, Historic Ranches of Texas. Details of ranch life are important to this picture. Information on the type of cattle or other animals that graze these ranches is significant, as are the kind and number of horses used by ranchers to take care of the stock. The horse is still essential to ranching. I did not encounter a single ranch that uses motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles to herd cattle. However, late one afternoon I did witness a cowboy at the O'Connor Ranch use a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle to round up the horses so that the cowboys could have fresh mounts to use in the early evening to practice roping steers in an arena. The details of the work vary: How the men work the animals, the life routine of the cowboys, and the gear that they use all receive attention. I include information on forage, parasitic brush, livestock diseases, and other issues unique to each region, because these factors determine the routine of life for those involved. I also discuss how the ranchers help the cattle through the winter months. My primary focus is on cattle raising, though sheep and goats also range in some regions of the state, especially the Edwards Plateau, which encompasses the southern part of Central Texas between the Pecos and Colorado Rivers. The breeds of cattle preferred also vary regionally, for reasons explained in the story of each ranch. Some ranches raise horses, cattle, sheep, and goats; the determining factors are the kind of range available to the stock and the desires and preferences of the owners. If grasslands are prevalent, then cattle are likely preferred. If the range produces mainly weeds and brush, sheep and goats may be a wiser choice, but only if predators such as coyotes are not a threat. The test of a successful rancher is knowing what to do and what not to do, and when to act on a particular range. Ranchers who operate in several areas must know the strengths and weaknesses of each one. The ability to do what is right at the right time determines success; the inability to do so results in failure. An old adage warns that it is best to ranch in an area with which the rancher has been intimately familiar over a long period of time. The South Texas ranches included in this volume are the Alta Vista Ranch near Hebbronville, Canales Ranch near Premont, Catarina Ranch near Carrizo Springs, the Ray Ranch west of Three Rivers, and the O'Connor Ranch near Victoria. In the Panhandle and Northwest Texas are the R. A. Brown Ranch near Throckmorton, Chimney Creek near Abilene, the Goodnight near Claude, the JA near Canyon, the Moorhouse near Benjamin, the Nail Ranch north of Albany, and the Renderbrook Spade Ranch south of Colorado City. In the Trans-Pecos are Henderson Cove Ranch near Alpine, Hudspeth River Ranch north of Del Rio, Long X Ranch at Kent, and the 101 Ranch south of Van Horn. Several criteria influenced the choice of these ranches instead of many other deserving operations. Those whose beginnings trace back to open-range days or at least back to the previous century were especially sought because of their historical interest. Prominence in ranching circles was a second influence on choice. People who ranch on a large scale frequently know each other and, more importantly, know the quality of other operations in the state. Effective management and vision attract attention and gain for ranches the reputation of running a quality "outfit." Recognizability proved an important—though not overriding—factor because many significant and large ranches are not well known outside their own areas. Such names as King, Kleberg, Waggoner, Burnett, Swenson, Schreiner, and Goodnight are among the recognized names, and all but one of these I included in Historic Ranches of Texas. Many large, well-managed operations quietly and efficiently continue to operate in the state, all but unknown to nonranching families outside the immediate area of operation. Historically interesting pasts ranked high in the criteria for inclusion because many of these ranches have fascinating stories connected with their founding and operation. For example, the Kuykendall family came to Texas with Stephen F. Austin's original Three Hundred, and descendants continue to operate the 101 Ranch brand established by one of their ancestors. Fascinating personalities played a part as well. George and W. D. Reynolds, two of the most intriguing personalities in the settlement of the West, certainly merit attention in any discussion of ranching in Texas and beyond. So does Thomas O'Connor, whose vision of owning and fencing land led to his becoming one of the dominant forces in ranching in Victoria County. Claude Hudspeth, a legislator and rancher, also left a rich legacy to his descendants. Dolph Briscoe, Jr., of Uvalde was one of the dominant political figures of his day, and Clayton Williams, Jr., of Midland attracted a lot of attention in his 1990 bid to defeat Ann Richards and become governor of Texas. Both men continue strong ranching traditions. The JA and Goodnight ranches are legendary and could not be overlooked. The Jones family in South Texas has long avoided publicity but consented to be part of this project. The Renderbrook Spade Ranch has a strong claim for inclusion because of the family's background and the manner in which the owners continue to operate the ranch. These are but a few of the ranching people inTexas. Geographic distribution was another factor. I wanted to show ranches from diverse areas of the state to illustrate operational variations while still retaining the similarity of background and purpose. In areas where the soil lends itself to farming and where rainfall is plentiful, such as in East Texas, the number of large ranches is small; settlement patterns cut the land into small tracts that would support a family at a time when small farms were a pattern of family life. Once broken up, these smaller acreages rarely were reassembled into large ranches. The largely treeless prairie beckoned to those with ranching dreams. One consideration not to be overlooked is the willingness of ranch management to be included in the project. Ranch people, while often kind and generous, are private and shy of publicity, especially in these days when environmentalists campaign against their livelihoods. In the Davis Mountains, for example, inhabitants of the region perceive a strong federal effort to displace ranchers in order to return land to its natural state or to convert huge portions of it into parks.This has caused unrest among local ranchers and has encouraged them to shun attention. Of interest to readers seeking a comparative study are the regional variations in ranching practices. From the lush coastal plain near Victoria where frost only occasionally kills the forage to the harsher, drier ranges of West and North Texas to the drought-prone ranges of South Texas, ranchers must respond differently to the needs of their stock. In southeast Texas and East Texas, such diseases as foot rot and river fever, as well as serious parasites, must be dealt with far differently from those in the drier climates of West Texas and the Davis Mountains. The kind of feed necessary for the winter, the most favorable time of year to work the calves, the number of acres needed to support an adult cow are among the many concerns that someone must make knowledgeable decisions about in order for the ranch to survive as a business entity. On the Coastal Plain near Victoria, a cow can thrive on three to five acres. In Northwest Texas, it needs twenty to thirty acres. In the West, the Davis Mountains, and on the 101 Ranch, each cow requires sixty acres or more. In the far western regions of the Chihuahuan Desert, these ratios often are stated in number of cattle per square mile or section of land rather than per acre. How much land constitutes a ranch also varies by region. Ten thousand acres is a rule of thumb in Northwest Texas, because with this much acreage a rancher can have a horse pasture, a shipping pasture, and several pastures through which to rotate stock. Some ranchers devote at least part of their operation to pasturing yearling calves, which are bought, grazed for a time, and then sold. To be economically viable as a self-contained unit, a cow-calf operation must have at least three hundred cows. The average cow herd in Texas numbers fewer than fifty head. On most of the ranches included here, numbers run from several hundred to several thousand, depending on the range available to the rancher. Many of the small cow herds belong to people who support their herds and themselves with a job in town. The financial commitment to ranching holds true regardless of the region. Buying protein supplements, minerals, hay, and other necessities cannot be put offuntil a convenient time. Payday for a ranch often comes only once a year when the calves go to market. Livestock must eat every day. Another range adage is that no one can starve a profit from a herd. In fact, each day a cow will eat about 2 percent of her weight in dry forage—more in some areas if the nutrition level in the feed is low. Most of the ranches discussed here are owned by families, but some are part of large corporate operations. Clayton Williams, Jr., for example, operates ranches that he owns and others that he leases. The O'Connor Ranches are all owned by members of the family and operated in conjunction with each other by the same crews of cowboys. The Brown Ranch is run by the third generation of the family. The 101 Ranch is a smaller ranch operated by a familywith little outside help.The owner of Nail Ranch died and left it in a bank trust so that his grandchildren can operate it later. A trust officer oversees the business operation, and a ranch manager sees to the day-to-day operation. The arrangements vary widely, but the purpose is the same—producing quality livestock for market, and at a profit. Ranching is as varied as any other business, one that requires large investments of capital and time. Economics is the watchword, and profit and loss determine whether the operation can continue. The return on an investment of this sort is less than that on a reliable "blue chip" stock and is risky. The romance of ranching disappears quickly in the face of financial reality. Drought is always a consideration. As I began working on this material in 1994-1996, drought gripped Texas, especially West Texas. Ranchers dumped their cattle on the market, prices plummeted from oversupply in the marketplace, and feed prices soared, the result of more dry weather in grain-producing areas. By the spring of 1997 ample rainfall had returned, and ranges produced abundant forage for stock. However, the severe winter of 1996-1997 had created disastrous losses for ranchers on the Northern Plains, losses in the Texas Panhandle numbered in the thousands, and the pastures in Mexico were bare of breeding stock. Fewer available cattle means more demand, and prices rose to meet this market situation. Those with cattle prospered at the expense of those who had suffered the loss. By the summer of 1998, yet another weather crisis hit ranching with the hottest summer then on record. Following a wet winter triggered by E1 Niño, the horrible heat and drought that struck Texas cost the state an estimated $1.7 billion in agricultural losses. By the end of 1999, and throughout the summer of 2ooo, the situation worsened. Ranchers have to exercise creativity or go broke during these times of challenge. Oil has long been important to the success of ranching in Texas. Albany rancher Bob Green said of the importance of oil, "A rancher needs the oil income to keep up his fences and keep his pastures in shape." Millions of dollars of income from oil have offset ranchers' losses on livestock and other agricultural efforts. In fact, oil has driven the ranching business, and many oil people have invested heavily in ranching. Not all ranches have the support of oil. For example, the Long X has no oil, nor does the 101 or Hudspeth. During the late 1990s the price of oil was typically at or below twelve dollars a barrel, well under production costs. By early 1999, it had dropped to less than ten dollars a barrel. As an Abilene geologist observed, there is no longer "an oil business." By 1999, oil prices had rebounded to more than $20.00 a barrel, and in 2ooo the price has continued to climb. Whether with oil or without, ranchers look for ways to generate capital. One method gaining popularity is the leasing of hunting rights for deer, turkey, quail, wild hogs, and other game animals. City dwellers who want a place to go in the fall are willing to pay for the privilege. Abandoned bunkhouses now shelter hunters. Even though having hunters on the land constitutes a liability, ranchers need the income from this activity. Fees paid for other recreational uses—such as fishing or "dude-ranch" arrangements that allow city dwellers to work alongside cowboys—help ranchers through these crises. The following material is presented not as a scholarly exercise in comparative study but instead with the intent of telling the stories of these ranches, all historic but in different ways. The scholar may be disappointed; the general reader and the interested admirer of the way of life will find much to entertain and enlighten. I have depicted realistically what I saw on ranches when I visited. The terminology used to describe activities and equipment is often unique to ranching. The Glossary will provide help to those seeking to understand this world.