barbed wire crisscrossed Texas, the general
roundup was a fundamental part of the cattle business.
Every fall during the free range days, cattlemen pooled their resources
and rode out to gather their stock. Cowboys checked each steer's brand,
cutting out each head that belonged to his outfit. After that, ranchers
either drove their cattle farther south for the winter, or shipped
them to market.
One of the biggest spreads in West
Texas was owned by the Concho Cattle Company. The ranch covered
major chunks of Concho, Runnels and Coleman County.
The history of the ranch is well told in a master's thesis completed
in 1939 by Irene Henderson, a graduate student at what was then Southwest
Texas State Teacher's College in San
Marcos, now Texas State University.
Unlike most graduate research efforts, Henderson managed to work a
lively story or two into her thesis. In large measure, that came from
her interviews with one of the principals of the ranch, John Franklin
Henderson (1864-1945) -- her father.
One of the stories Henderson told his daughter concerned an early-day
instance of what now would be termed forced arbitration.
tale centers on Bob Price, another of the Concho Cattle Company principals.
By all accounts Price was a heck of a cattleman, a boss who proved
a fair hand at playing Solomon.
Price was in charge of 10 to 15 cowboys out looking for cattle along
the Concho River "this side of San
Angelo," as Henderson related.
While his men rounded up cattle, Price rode up on two cowboys locked
in a heated argument over a steer with a poorly-burned brand. Most
of the time, a poor brand was the result of a botched job during spring
branding. Sometimes, a hard-to-read brand meant some hide burner had
altered the original brand to facilitate a clandestine change in ownership.
In this particular case, no one suspected an attempt at cattle thievery,
but trouble was building like a thunderstorm on a hot, sticky afternoon.
Neither cowboy could make out the brand on the steer's flank, but
both cowboys claimed it for his owner.
Sometimes a brand could be successfully read by skinning off the hair
over the mark with a sharp knife. Whether that had been tried or not,
no one was backing down in his contention that the steer in question
belonged to his boss. The only other way to determine ownership was
to peel back the hide and read the brand in the tissue below. But
that could only be done after the animal was dead -- a conclusive
but costly procedure.
that similar disputes had led to killings, Price feared that the situation
was getting out of hand. Close as they were to blows or worse, the
two wranglers at least had sense enough to ask Price, who had a reputation
for fair dealing, to help settle the dispute.
"Whatever I do, you men will be satisfied?" Price asked.
Both said they would abide by his judgment.
At that, Price drew his six-shooter and put a .45 slug in the steer's
head. With no other word, he wheeled his horse and rode off. Their
ears ringing, the two wide-eyed cowboys had no further cause for argument.
The only remaining issue was whether anyone wanted to cut some steaks
or leave the carcass for the coyotes. But two hard-headed cowboys
lived to ride another day.
© Mike Cox
15, 2014 column, originally published March 25 , 2004
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