didn’t have a particularly feminine sounding name, but the old heifer they called
Pecos sure came branded with a good story. |
The tale came to light in the
fall of 1928, when W.E. (Will) Pruett of Santa Rita, NM showed up in Alpine
and Fort Davis looking
for old acquaintances.
His father, Philip H. Pruett, had been one of Fort
Davis’ earliest civilian settlers. He and his family had arrived at the small
town adjacent to the frontier cavalry post in what is now Jeff Davis County in
the summer of 1880.
Forty-eight years later Will Pruett found only two
people still living in Fort
Davis who had been around during his youth, and only one person in Alpine
. But at some point during his visit he ran into a newspaper correspondent who
interviewed him and wrote a story about him for the Dallas Morning News. (The
journalist may have been Barry Scobee, who came to Fort
Davis in 1917, but the piece does not have a byline.)
1876, Pruett related, his father took the family by train from White County in
Arkansas to Trinidad, Colo. From there, Philip Pruett carried his wife Martha
and five kids (then eight-year-old Will was the oldest child) in a wagon to Santa
Fe, NM. That fall Pruett bought a herd of 40 shorthorn cattle and with his family
and three cowboys left New Mexico for West
All they had was one wagon and two horses. Along the way, they
had to melt snow to provide drinking water for themselves and their stock.
On New Year’s Day 1877, they finally reached Ben
Ficklin, at the time the seat of Tom Green County. The 500-plus mile trip
in the dead of winter had been hard on man and beast.
“After our long
and perilous journey,” Pruett recalled, “all of our herd died of the Texas fever
[a tick-borne illness] except four dogie calves and one 2-year-old heifer.”
That sturdy heifer was Pecos, named after the river the Pruetts had to cross mid-way
on their journey from Santa Fe to Texas.
yet named, Pecos joined the herd about a week before Christmas. The Pruetts and
their herders sat in camp on the north side of the river near the present town
of Pecos when a rider approached.
The man, who worked on a nearby farm, offered a two-year-old heifer to Pruett
in exchange for a pound of coffee.
“Father told the Mexican that he had
no saddle horse and that the heifer was wild and that he couldn’t keep her with
the bunch,” Pruett remembered.
The visitor said he would stay with them
until the heifer settled down.
“So my father told him that he would give
him the pound of coffee for the heifer,” Pruett continued. “Then the Mexican went
from the camp and in a little while came back with the heifer roped.”
The man tied her to a mesquite bush for the night. The next morning they formally
made the trade, cow for coffee. Soon after, presumably, the previous owner of
the heifer enjoyed a hot cup of Joe on a cold December day.
Not long after
acquiring Pecos, the Pruetts ran into a caravan of traders on their way to Mexico
down the Chihuahua Trail. Their wagons were loaded with dried buffalo meat.
After that, Pruett said, they did not see anyone else for 19 days straight, the
time it took them to travel the stage coach road from Horsehead
Crossing on the Pecos
to Ben Ficklin.
Pruett family stayed in the Concho country until 1880, when the elder Pruett decided
to relocate to Fort Davis.
They pushed a herd of Longhorns into that high country, according to Will Pruett,
“the first bunch of stock cattle ever driven west of the Pecos.”
lived two miles up Limpia Canyon, initially making a living by selling milk and
butter to the military garrison. Later the family moved to Musquiz Canyon, where
Pruett continued to run cattle. The pioneer rancher also played a role in setting
up one of the area’s first school and helped blaze the road from Fort
Davis to the new railroad town of Murphyville, later renamed Alpine.
Pruett kept Pecos, the heifer he got for a pound of coffee, for the rest
of her long life. He had made a sharp trade. According to Will Pruett, Pecos lived
for 23 years, giving birth to 19 heifers and one steer calf.
ran to more than 200 head in a few years,” Pruett said in his 1928 interview.
“One thousand dollars profit on the pound of coffee is a very conservative estimate
of what the initial investment brought.”
© Mike Cox |
July 17, 2008 column
More Places & Stories: Texas
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Mike Cox's "The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821-1900," the first of
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