TexasEscapes.com 
HOME : : NEW : : TEXAS TOWNS : : GHOST TOWNS : : TEXAS HOTELS : : FEATURES : : COLUMNS : : BUILDINGS : : IMAGES : : ARCHIVE : : SITE MAP
PEOPLE : : PLACES : : THINGS : : HOTELS : : VACATION PACKAGES
Texas Escapes
Online Magazine
Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

The Days of Big Ranches

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Predicting the demise of something – a way of life, a business, just about anything short of bananas – is a risky undertaking.

A good for instance is a story on the front page of the July 22, 1905 edition of the Kerrville Mountain Sun. The first deck of the story’s headline, “Thousands After Texas Public Lands,” was true enough, but the sub-head put the newspaper out on a pretty thin mesquite limb: “Believed to Mean End of Big Ranches.”

While the Hill Country editor at least couched that assertion with a qualifier, well more than a century later, Texas still has plenty of big ranches. What Texas doesn’t have is nearly as much public land as it did in the early 20th century.

Back then, the state still owned 18 million acres of undeeded land, but the General Land Office was getting ready to sell off 6 million of those acres for a minimum price of as little (at least by today’s standards) as a dollar an acre.

“There promises to be lively bidding for the state lands which are to be placed upon the market September 1,” the Mountain Sun story began. “Thousands of letters of inquiry concerning these lands and the method to be followed in purchasing them have reached J.J. Terrell, State Land Commissioner, during the past four weeks.”

To put the scale of that pending land sale in perspective, the story noted that the entire state of Delaware consisted of only 1.2 million acres. In other words, Texas would be selling the equivalent of roughly four Delawares. Or two Connecticuts. Or a chunk of land slightly more than the size of either Massachusetts, New Hampshire or New Jersey.

Not surprisingly, some of the letters the land office received came from would-be buyers in those states. Not to mention just about every other state in the union.

At this point in the story, the editor sticks his figurative neck out and predicts the demise of big cattle ranches in Texas. On paper, the premise seemed logical enough. Much of the land the state intended to convey to the highest bidder had been leased to ranchers in West Texas. But many of those leases were expiring.

“There are many stockmen who will be unable to carry [on] their business after the expiration of leases of the land in question,” the newspaper said. “Some of them are seeking new locations in Mexico; others are going to Arizona and New Mexico.”

While some ranchers did move part of their operation out of state, what the newspaper said next proved a bit overbroad, to say the least: “The day of big ranches in Texas is over. The irrigationist and the stock farmer are taking their place with a rapidity that must be really alarming to the old time cowman.”

Not only did the article in the Kerrville newspaper say that big ranches were headed for their last round up, cattleman had even been sent through the chute by the railroads. Apparently, the corporate transportation giants did not believe they made enough of a profit in shipping cattle.

“Judge T. J. Freeman, general attorney for the T&P [Texas and Pacific] Railroad, in his argument before the Interstate [Commerce] Commission recently on the subject of freight rates on live stock, frankly stated that the T&P did not care for cattle traffic; that the road would prefer that no shipments of live stock from the big ranches be made over it…,” the newspaper reported.

Paraphrasing the Tennessee-born lawyer, a man who had come to Texas not long after getting his legal training, the newspaper said the railroads had come to believe that “the big ranches and large cattle shippers belong to the times that are past. They must go the way of the buffalo and Indian and give room to the advance of the agricultural and stock farmer.”

Of course, as Freeman pointed out in the article, Texas cattlemen were “contesting every inch of their ground…”

No matter Freeman’s view, and despite the fact that in 1911 the lawyer became president of the railroad, his line and its competitors continued to carry Texas cattle to stockyards in Fort Worth, Kansas City, Chicago and other points until the development of paved highways allowed the trucking industry to get into the cattle-shipping business.

And while a lot of land changed hands when all that public acreage went on the market, in the long run, Texas cattlemen and their ranches proved more enduring than railroads as the various lines went out of business, fell into court-ordered receivership or got consolidated into larger operations.

Today, only two major rail lines serve Texas, while the Texas Department of Agriculture estimates the state has nearly a quarter-million farms and ranches covering more than 130 million acres.


© Mike Cox - October 23, 2013 column
More "Texas Tales"
See
Texas Ranches & Ranching
Related Topics:
People | Columns | Texas Town List | Texas

Books by Mike Cox - Order Here
 
Related Topics:
Columns | People | Texas Town List | Texas
Custom Search
TEXAS ESCAPES CONTENTS
HOME | TEXAS ESCAPES ONLINE MAGAZINE | HOTELS | SEARCH SITE
TEXAS TOWN LIST | TEXAS GHOST TOWNS | TEXAS COUNTIES

Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast
TRIPS | STATES PARKS | RIVERS | LAKES | DRIVES | FORTS | MAPS

Texas Attractions
TEXAS FEATURES
People | Ghosts | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Texas Centennial | Black History | Art | Music | Animals | Books | Food
COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

TEXAS ARCHITECTURE | IMAGES
Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Rooms with a Past | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Stores | Banks | Drive-by Architecture | Signs | Ghost Signs | Old Neon | Murals | Then & Now
Vintage Photos

TRAVEL RESERVATIONS | USA | MEXICO

Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
Website Content Copyright ©1998-2013. Texas Escapes - Blueprints For Travel, LLC. All Rights Reserved