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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

George West,
Cattleman and Town Founder

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

Located in Lavaca County, the little community of Sweet Home quietly exists between the cities of Hallettsville and Yoakum. It is a pleasant place where the residents can reside in a country atmosphere without being too far away from the grocery stores, hospitals, and other services provided in the nearby towns.

According to the Handbook of Texas Online, Sweet Home once served as a winter camp for freight and cotton wagon trains hauling supplies from Alleyton to Brownsville during the Civil War. The first post office was established there in 1852 and a fellow named George West established a store and a hotel in the community in 1860.

Because he built the first major businesses in town, George Washington West is credited, by many, as being the founder of Sweet Home. However, the Sweet Home we know today was not the original community, because in 1887 the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway built tracks about five miles south of town.

George West was smart enough to realize that being near the railroad would be mighty profitable to him - with this in mind, he sold his buildings in what would soon become known as "old town" and moved his establishments closer to the railroad tracks.

Other settlers joined West in his move and by 1890 the new community of Sweet Home had six stores. The railroad abandoned the town in 1937 but the place still grew some and by 1948, it was reported to have 12 stores, a recreation hall, and a church. The population stood at 350 in 1948 and by the year 2000 was only reported to have 360 residents.

After founding Sweet Home, George West went on to lead a mighty interesting life. Born in Tennessee, West moved his family to Lavaca County, Texas, in 1854. The home he established in Sweet Home became a stage stop and the community sort of grew up around the establishment.

It seems that West was one of the first men to drive longhorn cattle from Lavaca County to the railheads in Kansas during the years 1867 and 1868. Records indicate that in 1870 he landed a government contract to deliver 14,000 longhorns to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Montana.

This cattle drive from Lavaca County, Texas, to Montana could qualify as one of the longest on record because the destination was only 100 miles from the Canadian border. What is also amazing, even though he was the youngest man on the drive, West was the trail boss. During the 1870s, he made many more drives to Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

In 1880, West and his wife, Katherine, moved to Live Oak County. It was only the two of them - they had no children. While living in the county, West purchased a 140,000-acre ranch and 26,000 cattle. He founded the town of George West which was part of that ranch. In 1882, West had a herd of 80,000 cattle when a terrible drought hit the area - he lost so many cattle in the drought that he had to sell half his ranch.

Author J. Frank Dobie said that West told his cowboys to chop off the left horn of every dead steer and pile them up at the ranch headquarters. It is said that the pile grew higher than the gate post and the number of dead cattle was estimated to be up to 20,000.

George Washington West, the founder of Sweet Home (Lavaca County), would go on to many other endeavors. Around 1900, he sold off the last of his ranch holdings. Being a generous man, he supplied the funds to build a $75,000 courthouse and a $50,000 school - West is also credited with paying for highways, bridges, public utilities, and even a hotel.

In 1904, West moved to what would be his final residence in San Antonio. He died there on Feb. 16, 1926.

Murray Montgomery January 22, 2019 Column
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