An estimated 25,000 to 35,000 men trailed six to ten million head of cattle and a million horses northward from Texas to Kansas and other distant markets between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century. Judging from the literary remains housed in range archives and libraries, memories of the experience lingered far longer in the minds of the men and boys involved than did the tracks of bovine hooves upon the landscape of the Great Plains and beyond. Besides drudgery and hardship, the long drive promised excitement and danger for some; for many, a trip across the prairie behind a herd of Texas Longhorns was the most unforgettable experience of their lives. Years later, memories of raging rivers, unpredictable stampedes, and sudden violence still stirred the blood of these now older and wiser men as they clustered together at old settlers'days and county fairs recounting days that would never pass again and yearning for a simpler life in a world grown complex. "Cowboys," observed one novelist descended from a long and distinguished line of Texas cowpunchers, "are romantics, extreme romantics, and ninety-nine out of a hundred of them are sentimental to the core. They are oriented to the past and face the present only under duress, and then with extreme reluctance." The trail drivers of Texas were no exception. As their numbers steadily declined, the history and folklore created by these drovers threatened to disappear as well.
Alarmed at this prospect and determined to preserve for posterity the historical contributions of the trail-riding cowboys, George W. Saunders, himself a veteran of the cattle trail, founded the Old Time Trail Drivers' Association in 1915. The new organization and the heavily attended annual reunions that it sponsored provided members with a sense of community and family as well as a place to reminisce. G. O. Burrow, an active member of the association, remarked that in his old age "the only real enjoyment I have is our reunions of the Old Trail Drivers." Many others apparently felt the same, for during its first year of operation membership in the Old Time Trail Drivers' Association rose to 375 and represented several states. By 1921 the organizational rolls had swelled to more than 1,000.
At the annual convention held in San Antonio in 1917, a crowd estimated at between seven hundred and eight hundred individuals listened eagerly as George Saunders, president-elect of the body, unveiled a plan to publish a book compiled from the members' own recollections of droving. Saunders had been soliciting narratives for at least two years and many in the assembly enthusiastically volunteered to add their stories for publication. Responsibility for editing the volume was offered to A. C. Williams of Fort Worth, who was the assistant secretary of the Cattle Raisers' Association of Texas and editor of the Cattleman.
Problems that "would have tested the patience of Job," as Saunders later put it, plagued the enterprise from the beginning. Few drovers responded quickly, and most had to be cajoled into submitting their stories with follow-up telephone calls, telegrams, and letters. Moreover, neither Williams nor his successor, a columnist for the San Antonio Express, was able to complete the project. World War I intervened and, even more disastrous, the San Antonio firm hired to print the volume went bankrupt and disappeared with virtually all of the previously edited source material.
Undaunted, the determined Saunders embarked afresh on his task, soliciting orders at the 1920 convention for a five-hundred-page volume to be delivered in August. Remembering J. Marvin Hunter, a newspaperman who had shown an earlier interest in the project, Saunders approached him on April 21, 1920, to complete the work. Hunter was dubious about his ability to finish the book in only three months' time. Besides, he had never been a cowboy, although his father had once driven the trail. He took the job, nevertheless, but only because he realized that "it would be a wonderful contribution to the historical annals of Texas, and that the time was ripe for its publication, as the older fellows are passing off the stage of action at an alarming rate and that within a few years not many would be left to tell the tale."
Not only was the time schedule incredibly tight but also the source material was almost wholly lacking. Beginning with thirty-five historical sketches that had arrived too late to be considered for the earlier planned book, Hunter went to work editing and lining up a competent printer while Saunders sought additional reminiscences. Routinely working late into the evening and never getting more than three or four hours' sleep a night, Hunter compiled and edited the steady stream of manuscript material brought him by Saunders. Each day he delivered his previous night's work to the Jackson Printing Company, where he picked up finished proofs to be read and corrected that night. Amazingly, Hunter met his deadline and delivered the completed book to Saunders on July 21. The $500 he received for his efforts paid the mortgage on the Hunter home in San Antonio.
The Trail Drivers of Texas was issued in an edition believed to have numbered a scant one thousand copies. Its favorable reception by association members encouraged Saunders and Hunter to produce an additional volume of perhaps five hundred copies in 1923. By this time Hunter had moved to Bandera, where he had established a small print shop with a linotype machine. "I printed this second volume," he would later write of the crudely produced work, "but it was a piece of printing I was always ashamed of." Following the issuance in 1924 of a corrected and revised version of the first volume with a second-edition imprint on the title page, the whole was combined in 1925 into a single volume of 1,060 pages by Cokesbury Press of Nashville, Tennessee, and presented as the second edition revised. This edition, which is reproduced here, contains information not included in the earlier volumes and thus comprises the best and most complete version to date.
Saunders intended that The Trail Drivers of Texas preserve the role played by the drovers in fulfilling the manifest destiny of the nation. "These pages sparkle," boasted the foreword to the work, "with the lustre of deeds well done by a passing generation, and it is our purpose to keep bright that lustre, that it may not pale with the fleeting years." Saunders vigorously defended the cowboys and drovers with whom he had been associated and frequently commented upon the sterling quality of their characters. Reacting to pulp portrayals of cowboys as wild and lawless brigands, he argued that only a small percentage actually became criminals and that the number was not proportionally greater than one from a comparable sample of college graduates would be. Similar sentiments permeate the volume. Typical was C. S. Broadbent's characterization of the cowboy as "generous, brave and ever ready to alleviate personal suffering, share his last crust, his blanket and often more important, his canteen. He spent his wages freely and not always wisely, and many became an easy prey to gambling and other low resorts. Some among them became leading men in law, art and science--even in theology, proving again that it is not in the vocation but in the man, that causes him to blossom and bring a fruitage of goodness, honor and godly living."
Despite the facts that as many as six thousand former drovers may still have been living at the time Trail Drivers was being prepared and that a drovers' organization of more than a thousand members supported its publication, fewer than 350 individual entries comprise the largest edition of the book. First-person narratives of cattle droving account for less than half of the total number of articles while the rest of the contents can be divided into several broad categories. A number of first-person accounts, for example, relate various frontier experiences but do not touch on trail driving. Several other entries are reprinted from other published sources, including books and newspapers. A few poems also are sprinkled throughout the work. To this list may be added the various individuals who authored tributes to relatives or friends who drove north from Texas. By far the largest number of entries, however, were prepared by Hunter, who concerned himself primarily with portraying the lives of successful cowmen and businessmen rather than the average drover. Many of his subjects already had died. In order to stimulate reader interest, Hunter frequently tagged articles with exotic or sensational titles. For the same reason he included a number of colorful tales of Indian fighting and outlaws having little or nothing to do with droving.
A careful examination of the contents of the Cokesbury Press combined edition reveals some additional insights about the hurried conditions under which the volume was conceived and produced. The vast majority of first-person respondents lived in Texas with only about 6 percent residing outside the state and another 3 percent of unknown origin. Over 60 percent of the residents of the Lone Star State lived within 150 miles of San Antonio and only about 14 percent lived north of a line drawn east and west through Austin. Not surprisingly, the largest number of first-person droving narratives, about 21 percent of the total, came from persons living in San Antonio. Lockhart provided the next-largest number, just over 5 percent, followed by the towns of Del Rio, Pearsall, and Bartlett. The remainder were scattered throughout twenty-one other communities.
Trail Drivers contains many omissions and inaccuracies and must therefore be used with caution as a historical resource. For example, George Saunders once estimated that one-third of the men who went up the trail were black or Hispanic, yet little attention is given in the volume to the contributions of these ethnic drovers. Rarely are they mentioned by name and relatively few Hispanics and only one black, George Glenn, figure prominently in any of the individual accounts. Most of the minor errors of fact are matters of questionable spelling and inconsistent dates. A few, however, are more serious. Perhaps the most stinging illustration occurs in the associational sanctioning of an erroneous identification of the route of the Chisholm Trail. Further problems exist in inconsistent organization, which J. Frank Dobie appropriately characterized as "chaotic."' The quality and the informational content of the articles also vary considerably. Some articles cover only a single trail drive while others are more detailed and comprehensive. Most tend to dwell on a few particularly colorful or otherwise memorable incidents. Despite these shortcomings, The Trail Drivers of Texas offers an interesting glimpse of trail life as well as some intriguing possibilities for cliometricians and prosopographers. By eliminating superfluous narratives and sampling the 157 legitimate first-person accounts of droving, a profile of the men who engaged in this occupation begins to emerge.
The birthplaces of slightly over 40 percent of the sample are unknown. Of those listing a place of birth, just over 40 percent were born in states other than Texas. Of these, Mississippi sired the largest number, followed by Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Foreign-born drovers numbered only four, Germany being the homeland of two and Poland and France one each. The Texas-born part of the sample hailed from twenty-five different counties, led by Caldwell, Travis, Montgomery, and Gonzales. Nearly 60 percent of the first-person narratives mention a year of birth. The range of dates extends from 1833 to 1871, with over 80 percent occurring during the decades of 1840 and 1850. Perhaps surprisingly, only slightly more than 10 percent of the men mentioned their Civil War service and only one of these, Joseph Cotulla, identified himself as a Union Army veteran. These figures do not, however, count a significant number of individuals who may have served on the Indian frontier during the conflict.
C. W. Ackerman remembered that, on his first drive to Kansas in 1873, the oldest man in the crew was twenty-five while the rest ranged between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. Indeed, trail drivers enjoyed a rigorous occupation full of privation and physical hardships that demanded the vigor of youth. While it is not possible to determine with any degree of reliability the age at which nearly half of the first-person cases took the trail north for the first time, about three out of four of the rest appear to have first taken the trail between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. Another 20 percent embarked on their first drive at an older age, while only about 6 percent started younger. Many of the old drovers spoke of engaging in range work almost as soon as they could sit a saddle and one, A. D. McGehee, actually drove from Belton to Abilene in 1868 at the ripe old age of eleven.
The first-person accounts contained in Trail Drivers do not seem to bear out George Saunders' estimate that only about one-third of all drovers repeated the experience. Nearly three-quarters of those responding acknowledge participation in more than one drive and nearly 60 percent mention going up the trail more than twice. Only about 20 percent drove five years or longer and this number dwindled steadily to less than 5 percent at the end of a decade. William B. Slaughter reported the most trips, logging more than twenty.
Men or boys, these drovers regularly pushed Longhorn herds to dozens of different trail termini located in several western states. Many of these cattle were destined for shipment to the beef packeries and butcher stalls of the industrial midwest and northeast. Other herds supplied Indian reservations and military posts through government contracts. Parts of a single drive might be sold or delivered at several different points. As might be expected, mention of Kansas trail heads dominates the accounts in Trail Drivers. Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Indian Territory, and the Dakotas also are frequently listed, followed by Louisiana, Montana, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Iowa, and Mexico.
As deliveries of cattle accelerated during the two decades that followed the Civil War, the droving labor force expanded rapidly to keep pace. Detractors seeking to debunk the mythical cowboy hero point out that the real puncher was merely a hired man on horseback. Indeed, on the range or trail the wages of cowhands rarely exceeded $30-$40 per month and most of the time were less. W. T. Bright reminisced that he had gathered many of the herds that eventually made their way north but that he never went himself because range work paid better than trailing. Besides, he reasoned, "I never liked to get up and herd cattle at night, so never had any desire to go to Kansas." Yet the cowboy experience was only a transient one for most before other jobs beckoned. Said F. M. Polk, another disgruntled ex-drover with loftier aspirations after his last trip up the trail, "On my way home I reviewed my past life as a cowboy from every angle and came to the conclusion that about all I had gained was experience, and I could not turn that into cash, so I decided I had enough of it, and made up my mind to go home, get married and settle down to farming."
Just under half of the first-person accounts in Trail Drivers reveal facts concerning drovers' posttrailing employment and occupational patterns. In an article written about the Old Time Trail Drivers' Association in 1921, the Cattleman boasted, no doubt with some exaggeration, that "hundreds of them are now millionaires," adding perhaps more truthfully, "but luck has not been with all of them." There is, nevertheless, ample evidence that many trail drivers achieved some degree of upward mobility and that a few enjoyed a measure of real financial success. A survey of these narratives also reveals considerable diversity in occupational pursuits. Of those who mention their lives after droving a sizable percentage remained in ranch-related activities, from hand to manager to owner, or engaged in stock farming. Some ex-drovers, such as "Lead Steer" Jack Potter, ended up with substantial holdings in land and cattle. Perhaps a greater number emulated the experience of E. L. Brouson, who, after quitting the trail in the 1880s, acquired a small herd of his own. Brouson went broke in 1903 and repeated the experience so many times that he eventually lost count. Several former cowboys transferred their skills and experience to the stockyards, where they became commission merchants and livestock shipping agents for railroads. At least one put his talents to use in the show arena, where he performed with a wild west show.
The pursuits of those who left the range for jobs in cities and towns were even more diverse. A fuel dealer, a marble yard operator, a ginner, and an undertaker may be counted besides the more common occupations, such as merchant, hotel owner, and butcher. Several trail drivers eventually became financiers. This group included men like J. B. Pumphrey, who made five trips up the trail during the 1870s, and George F. Hindes, a Confederate veteran who delivered herds to Kansas and Wyoming for a decade after 1872. A number of others were like S. H. Woods, Duval County judge between 1896 and 1915, and held such public offices as district attorney, county commissioner, sheriff, marshal, postmaster, city councilman, and Texas Ranger.
The paucity of marriage statistics in Trail Drivers makes it difficult to arrive at any meaningful conclusions as to the effects the institution may have had upon the lifestyle of the drovers. Nearly 70 percent of the first-person accounts do not mention a wife. From the relatively small sample of those remaining, it appears that the economic and social responsibilities of that institution curtailed many droving careers. About one-half of the married men quit droving before or during the year of their marriage. And while only about 20 percent continued droving some did so for more than a decade. The status of the rest is uncertain.
George Saunders, in summarizing the accomplishments and strong character of his droving associates, pauses to acknowledge the contributions of women to the winning of the West. At one point in Trail Drivers he quotes several pages from J. M. Hunter's book A Pioneer History of Bandera County, which noted, "...it is only proper that we should record some encouraging word to her aspirations and advocate her claims to a just and proper place in the history of our great state." Women are treated with reverence and respect throughout Trail Drivers. Several females contributed articles about life on the frontier or wrote tributes to loved ones. Others figure prominently in such stories. Hunter, for example, included the story of Mrs. Lou Gore, the operator of Drover's Cottage, an Abilene, Kansas, hotel frequented by Texas cowboys during the heyday of the town as a cattle shipping point. The popular Mrs. Gore became an honorary member of the Old Time Trail Drivers' Association and was invited to the 1924 reunion. Hunter also wrote several short biographical sketches of the wives and daughters of well-known cattlemen.
Not all the trail drivers of Texas were men. The accounts of several women who took the trail also grace the volume. Samuel Dunn Houston recounted the story of a girl who, dressed as a man, joined his trail crew for four months in 1888 on a drive between New Mexico and Colorado. Association member Amanda Burks of Cotulla provided a detailed description of a trip up the trail with her husband's herd to Newton, Kansas, in 1871, and Mrs. William B. Slaughter wrote ably of an 1896 trail excursion between Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and Liberal, Kansas. (Elsewhere in the volume, her husband remembered the same trip as having taken place in 1901 between Clifton, Arizona, and Liberal.) Mrs. Sallie M. Redus also briefly mentioned a journey she and her baby made with a trail crew.
In Clio's Cowboys, a volume critical of the historiography of the range cattle industry, author Don Walker calls The Trail Drivers of Texas the "richest storehouse of historical information"' about droving and cowboy life written by the participants themselves. He notes the tendency among stockmen during the late nineteenth century, when "moved by a sense of the past," to reflect on their past lives. He warns, however, that a sense of the past and a sense of history are two different things and cautions that "what purports to be a history of the trail and ranch life is often a selective, nostalgic memory."' Walker encourages historians to penetrate the myths of sentimentality, lore, and legend in order to get closer to the truth.
Certainly, The Trail Drivers of Texas reeks of "good old days" sentimentality. Part of the nostalgia most probably stems from the disorientation that some drovers may have felt at the passing of their way of life. C. H. Rust of San Angelo, who drove the trail during the 1870s, spoke for many of his genre when he wrote: "I turn my face west. I see the red lines of the setting sun, but I do not hear the echo come back, "Go west, young man, go west.' I turn my face east and I hear the dull thud of the commercialized world marching west, with its steam roller procession, to roll over me and flatten me out." Not all expressed such pessimism about the future. One greeted the rapid advances in communications and transportation affecting twentieth-century Texas almost eagerly when he remarked, "May we not venture to predict that in another sixty years somebody will have established a trail to Mars or other planets, and our descendents may be signalling the latest market quotations to the cowmen of those parts?" Despite its many weaknesses, historians, bibliographers, and cowboys themselves have always rated The Trail Drivers of Texas as one of the finest works ever produced on the cattle industry. Shortly after the publication of the second edition of the first volume, the Cattleman called it "a book that is destined to become a classic of its kind" and "the "Bible' of every old time Texas cowpuncher."' More recently, one bibliographer termed it "an essential foundation book for any range library."
George Saunders hoped that the sales of the volume would help fund the erection of a major granite monument in Brackenridge Park in San Antonio, commemorating the early Texas pioneers. Although he believed that the necessary funds could be raised as early as 1924, Saunders' campaign to raise $30,000 for the marker still was incomplete at the time of his death following a lengthy illness on July 3, 1933. The year before, the seventy-eight-year-old cowman had led about twenty-five of his old comrades to the site of Doan's Crossing of the Red River, where they placed a marker commemorating the old trail drivers. Saunders' body lay in state in the Municipal Auditorium at San Antonio before funeral services commenced at the First Baptist Church. A multitude of floral arrangements, one of them from Will Rogers, covered and surrounded the casket. Spurs, a quirt, a rope, and a bandana replaced the flowers at the graveside services as the old trail driver went out in style to the strains of "Rounded Up in Glory," a favorite cowboy hymn.
George Saunders never lived to see the marble-and-granite monument of his dreams. A smaller one honoring him and the others who "pointed them north" eventually was placed at a site in front of what is now the Old Trail Drivers' Museum in San Antonio. But in a sense it does not matter. Saunders and his publishing partner, J. Marvin Hunter, already had left a far more substantial legacy embodied in The Trail Drivers of Texas.
B. Byron Price
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum Canyon, Texas