Cows, Cotton, and Rangers: Exploring the Way of Life in Texas
Today we gathered our Texas Trails authors to get a few insights into their books. Here are some interesting facts and traditions you might not know about life on the Texas trails!
Texas Rangers have mythological stature in our culture. Which of us doesn’t remember The Lone Ranger and Walker, Texas Ranger?
Steven Austin, the “father of Texas”, recruited the first Rangers when “Tejas” was part of Mexico. The Rangers were known by various names and were called and disbanded as need arose up until the time of the Civil War. One writer’s description of the Rangers as men who “ride like a Mexican, trail like an Indian, shoot like a Tennesseean, and fight like the devil” demonstrates the reputation the Rangers acquired. Their ranks were peopled by the same mixture as the general population—Southerners from Kentucky and Tennessee; immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland; Mexicans. Promised wages were often never paid.
Thanks to Reconstruction, the Rangers were disbanded. The military had solved the Indian threat, but lawlessness continued unabated. In 1874, the legislature reestablished the Rangers as the “frontier battalion” and a troop of special forces. Today’s Rangers are their direct descendants.
And the marvelous 5-pointed star badges? The earliest authenticated badge only dates back to 1889. Some rangers had jewelers custom-make badges, but it wasn’t specified as part of the uniform until 1935!
From Susan Page Davis, on Cattle Trails
Branding was a complicated process. Each owner had to register his brand with his state or county, giving him exclusive right to burn that particular emblem on a particular part of his animals (shoulder, rump, etc.) and also cuts or chipping on the ears or dewlap. This was called the “mark” or “earmark.”
When an animal was sold, it might receive another brand from its new owner. Sometimes a “counter brand” or “vent brand” was also given to indicate that the animal had been sold (a written bill of sale was also given). And when livestock was taken on a cattle drive that was to extend beyond one county, a “road brand” was given. Some areas of Texas also had required “county brands.” Some of those poor cows were pretty scarred up by the time they reached the stockyards!
Rustlers sometimes used baling wire or telegraph wire as makeshift branding irons. They could fold it up and hide it easily in a pocket or saddlebag, and they could easily bend it into the shape they wanted to modify a brand.
On the trail drive, cowboys on night duty, or “night herders,” worked shifts of two to four hours and usually serenaded the cattle. This helped keep them calm and gave a sense of normalcy. The cattle knew their voices and that the riders were not intruders.
One of the biggest challenges on the trail drive was crossing rivers. The cowpunchers had to convince the leaders to go leave off drinking and go on into deeper water and not head back.
From Vickie McDonough, on Cotton in Texas
I’ve always heard that ‘cattle was king in Texas’. And if not cattle, then oil. But it wasn’t always so. Before the popularity of cattle and the discovery of oil, cotton was king in Texas.
Why is that? Cotton needs 200 frost-free days to grow. Cotton can grow in areas with very little water. Cottons grows best on level ground or gently rolling hills, and Texas has plenty of flatlands. In the early 1800s, slave labor was cheap and used for harvesting cotton.
Up to the Civil War, cotton was Texas’s main crop. After Civil War, continued cotton production in the South began to depress prices. Shortage of banks and credit after Civil War lead to a decrease of the big land-hogging plantations and the increase in sharecropping, tenant farming, and the crop lien systems. Prices of plantations dropped tenfold, so small farmers were able to buy a portion of a plantation.
Between 1870 and 1880 cottonseed overtook flaxseed as the chief source of vegetable oil in the United States. The first major market for the oil developed in the 1870s in Europe, where manufacturers had learned to mix cottonseed oil with olive oil to mask its flavor and then marketed the hybrid as olive oil. When Italian olive growers learned of the ruse, however, they succeeded in imposing a high tariff on cottonseed oil about 1881. United States exports, which had accounted for three-fourths of the country’s oil production in the late 1870s, plunged. Fortunately, a new market was formed in the meantime with the invention of oleomargarine by a Frenchman in 1870. Oleo production began in the United States by 1873.
After 1900, the boll weevil reduced cotton crop production by up to 50 percent, but that didn’t stall cotton production for long. Today, some say that cotton is Texas’s number one export, while others argue that it is cattle or produce. I challenge you with this thought: football players enjoy games each fall in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, but have you ever heard of the Cattle Bowl? Next time you think of Texas, think cotton.
Thanks to Susan, Vickie, and Darlene for today’s Texas trivia, as well as to Wikimedia.org, where these images were found. Remember to keep an eye out for the 5th book in the series, Cowgirl Trail, coming out in April 2012!