"A grant for Chambers County Museum at Wallisville has been provided by Humanities Texas and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the federal ARP Act. All opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication) (program) (exhibition) do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities."
The National Endowment for the Humanities and Chambers County Museum at Wallisville together: Exploring the human endeavor.
Many folks have, at one time or another, been captivated by the romanticized tales of cowboys, cattle drives, and life on the range, but this was, and remains today, no easy life. It involves sweat, tears, up before dawn, late night hours, disrupted sleep, sore muscles, too much rain, not enough rain, choking on dust and mosquitoes, and just plain exhaustion coupled many times with grief and loss.
Our great state of Texas was shaped by the vision, courage, and fortitude of just such men and women of the range, who, despite what it cost them, persevered because of an indwelling love for the land and deep abiding sense of stewardship to leave it better for the next generation. The progenitor of this lifestyle in Texas was J. T. White of Chambers County, a lifestyle passed down to him by his grandfather, James Taylor White of Virginia.
Stay with me as we wade through some statistical data to lay the groundwork for the White family’s pilgrimage from Virginia to Texas.
TEXAS, where the legacy of James Taylor White, the “Cattle King of Texas,” is older than the great state itself.
James Taylor White of Virginia is the first American born James Taylor White. He was born in Orange County, Virginia, and descended from James White of Isle, Hampton, England. The White’s left Virginia in the 1750s, possibly for two reasons; Indian trouble and saturation of the population (they always seemed to be chasing wide-open spaces). They relocated their family of six children in South Carolina and then moved to North Carolina when political unrest became a problem. James probably died there in 1777.
Photo Courtesy of Bobby Scherer. Found on Ancestry by Angelina Davis
Gifford White, in his book, “James Taylor White of Virginia,” records that James’ sons, John and James sold their assets in North Carolina and after loading all they owned onto a flatboat, traveled down the Tennessee River, arriving in Natchez Mississippi in 1782. In 1785, John sold the Natchez, Mississippi land grant he had received and by 1790 the White family had moved to Vermillion Parish, Louisiana, purchasing cattle upon their arrival.
“Everywhere the White’s went they were in the cattle business,” said descendant, Bill White of Stowell, TX.
Photo Courtesy of Mary Kathrine White Moursund
Tradition records that John and his brother James (J.T) were in Texas as early as 1807. A letter from Governor Colonel Antonio Cordero, in 1807, stated they had stopped a Juan Whaite (Wite) on 17 June of that year, who had a passport, but they expected it was fake and deported him. Bobby Edwards, of Stowell, said he remembers it being said that Juan had a Tiago (Portuguese for James) with him.
“A passport was required in Mexican owned Texas after Thomas Jefferson negotiated a treaty with France, known as the Louisiana Purchase,” said Bobby. He purchased the Louisiana Territory for the sum of $15 million dollars.
This Juan and Tiago could be the sons of John White, who died on the 8th of January that same year. After their father's death, the cattle land was shrinking in Louisiana due to the westward expansion. Many believe this led J.T. to scout new land further west for the possibility of relocating their family, being lured by the wide open spaces and the irresistible call of the Texas cattle.
J.T.’s sister-in-law, Amelia “Amy” Comstock White, settled in Texas in September 1824, four years ahead of J.T.’s family. She was the widow of his brother, William, who had died in Louisiana in 1821. Amy emigrated to the provincia de Tejas with her children at the urging of her brother-in-law, Humphrey Jackson who had arrived one month earlier. She settled on 4,428 acres of land situated on the eastern bank of the San Jacinto River. Her family’s land grants were connected on the southern border of Humphrey’s. Humphrey was the husband of Amy’s deceased sister-in-law Elizabeth White.
In 1828, J.T. emigrated with his family to what is now Chambers County, TX after settling the estate of his mother, who died that year. It is not surprising that he left Louisiana, as the area of Lafayette had taken an economic downturn during the years leading up to his departure.
It is believed that he had already prepared the land and built a home for his wife and children before he brought them to Texas. One historical writing stated, “For two years he labored, clearing his homesite and building a house from native trees which he found in abundance in this new country. Two years later he went back to Louisiana for a short period and returned, to be followed by his wife, who made the journey by water from New Orleans to Anahuac, and with her husband, continued the journey to her new home on horseback.”
An unknown traveler, who visited J. T., in March of 1831, wrote: Mr. Taylor White, one of the wealthiest inhabitants in this part of Texas, has settled on the prairie about five miles from Anahuac…Mr. White’s home stood a little in advance of a tract of woodland, which skirted a small stream or bayou. It was, of course, of logs, and faced the north, with an extensive prairie scene before it, on which cattle, innumerable at such a distance, were straying among rich and abundant pasturage, sometimes singly, and sometimes in considerable droves.
The outhouses (outbuildings) belonging to this dwelling were such as to show that the owner had a number of laborers and carried on a very extensive business as a cattle raiser. His dairy, as usual, was comparatively small and ill furnished, being chiefly in the open air….
Mr. White informed me that, although he had only been in the country but three or four years, he had between three and four thousand head of which, but a small part were in sight. The great majority were straying through the bottoms and prairies for many miles off towards the east, along the route to Nacogdoches. He sometimes sends out three or four men to collect and mark them.
James Taylor White, the "Cattle King of Texas"
All of J. T.’s cattle bore the “Crossed W” brand that was willed to him by his father in 1806, and this brand is still being run today by the White’s, making the “Crossed W” the oldest Texas cattle brand in continuous use.
I recently visited with Bill White of Stowell, TX, to chat about the history of the White Ranch in Chambers County. Bill White is the Gr. Gr. Gr. Grandson of James Taylor White, the Cattle King of Texas. (Because there are so many James Taylor White’s, for clarity the “Cattle King” is referred to as J.T.in this paper.) As we sat at the table of the Bill and Evie Edwards homestead Bill’s cousins; Bob Kahla, Susan Bollich, and Bobby Edwards joined the conversation. I sat enthralled as they reminisced about their memories of the legendary White Ranch.
“My mother put together a leather bound scrap book filled with news articles on the history of the White Ranch, and I sat down to read it when I was about 8 or 9,” said Bill.
This man, who is the epitome of a tough seasoned cowboy, was instantly filled with emotion as he said, “When I read it something just happened inside of me, and I’ve never gotten over it.” That ‘something’ was a sense of pride and love for the family heritage that had been passed down to him from generation to generation and it continues to fuel the passion that still burns within.
“I’ve had people ask me, “Like, what do you do?” cause most people who have cattle they actually have a real job to support their cattle habit,” said Bill with a chuckle. “I had a girl ask me, “Mr. Bill, what do you do?” and I said, “I don’t do anything, I’ve never had a job.” And I haven’t, well, it’s not work when you love it. I’ve always been fortunate enough to do just exactly what I’ve wanted to do.”
“J. T. had traveled to Texas before looking for a place to settle, and this was like a gold mine, it’s sitting there waitin’ on you and all you have to do is go get it and claim it.” said Bill White. Bill does not know exactly how many cattle J.T. brought with him to Texas, but he believes he probably just brought enough dairy cows to provide milk for them. J.T knew there were plenty of cattle already in Texas roaming the range and free to claim. When the priests abandoned the missions and the fort 25 plus years earlier, they turned their cattle loose.
“They abandoned the missions,” said Bobby Edwards, “shortly after Spain acquired Louisiana from the French. This used to be a frontier requiring a fort and a mission, but now there was no more frontier.” The cattle would have multiplied greatly by that time and were free for the taking. W. T. Block in his paper on the Opelousas Trail wrote, “In 1773, the Spanish abandoned their missions at Presidio LaBahia and El Orcoquisac (Wallisville), along with 40,000 branded and unmarked cattle at the former site (Goliad) and 3,000 more at Wallisville.”
There was no market in Texas for beef because they were so abundant, but J.T. knew there was a market in Louisiana. “The meat wasn’t worth anything here; it was the hide and the tallow that was worth money,” said Bill. “They had a plant (Jones & Co.) in Liberty where they pickled the beef,” he said. Bobby Edwards added, “They put it in drums and shipped it to the Caribbean Islands where it’s still a popular dish today, salted beef.”
“They could take the cattle back to New Orleans and get 5-10 times more than they were worth here. He wasn’t the only one doing that,” Bill continued, “Other ranchers were putting herds together too. There was some issues of them robbing them ‘cause they knew they were coming back and had money. They say that Taylor White put his money in the bank in New Orleans. The story I heard was that he had over $200,000 in gold and this was in the 1830s. That was lots of money,” said Bill.”
W. T. Block wrote that J. T. began his cattle drives to Louisiana during the early 1820s, so perhaps he was rounding them up and driving them to Louisiana long before he settled his family in Texas. The process was no easy task, as cattle had to be gathered over many miles of open prairie.
Dr. David Charlton Hardee, who visited the White ranch several times between 1838-1842 wrote of J. T., “For purely Spanish cattle he had perhaps the finest and most extensive pasture grounds that could be found anywhere. The Gulf on his South and Galveston Bay on his West formed boundaries for his herds. Many square miles of government lands lay in this great cove upon which his stock continued to multiply. Taylor White at the time I was there was the richest man in Texas.”
The White’s drove their cattle eastward on The Opelousas Trail, also called “The Old Beef Trail,” the oldest and longest surviving cattle trail. This was an arduous journey for both cattle and drover, facing such perils as alligators, snakes, wolves, panthers, and mosquitoes so thick they would suffocate the cattle.
Jim Bob Jackson records in his book, They Pointed Them East First, that the cattle would cross the Neches River at the Tevis Ferry located at the foot of Calder Street in Beaumont and from there move on through Vidor, TX. After crossing the Neches, the drovers would stop at various lodgings, including those of Baptiste Pevito, the Patillos, or John Harmon, before attempting the Sabine River and the swampy marshes.
Photo Courtesy of Mary Kathrine White Moursund
Photo Courtesy of Mary Kathrine White Moursund
W. T. Block wrote, “The swimming of cattle was a dangerous occupation for the ‘cattle crossers,’ one of whom was a pioneer settler named Sterling Spell of Beaumont. A biography of Spell in the Beaumont Journal of April 11, 1908, described the brute strength he expended in that effort, as follows.” “Sterling Spell was an extraordinary man in some respects. He was six feet and six inches in his bare feet, and his usual weight was 256 pounds. . . The stock raisers here would employ him when driving beeves to the New Orleans market to assist them, and it was related to this writer by an eye witness that when the drove arrived at the Neches River, Spell would take off his outer clothing and go in among the cattle and seize a big 1,000 pound, four-year-old steer by the horns, back him into the river, turn him around, hold to the horns by his left hand, and swim across the river with him. The other steers of the drove would follow. No other man was known to have attempted that feat of strength.”
To cross the Sabine River, the drovers headed to Ballew’s Ferry, south of Niblett’s Bluff, LA. They would swim the cattle across and move up the east side of the Sabine on the natural levee to avoid the swamps. They would pen at Granger’s Place and head the next morning to the Calcasieu River, making the Bagdad Ferry, owned by Reese Perkins, in one day. Mr. Perkins kept swimming steers to lead the cattle across the river.
Once the drovers reached Butte La Rose in the Atchafalaya Swamp, they had to reserve a spot on a steamboat to cross the swamp and another to take them into New Orleans where they would be pastured until sold.
The legendary Cattle King of Texas died in 1852 at the age of 62. His wife, Sarah Cade White died 9 days later, possibly due to contracting cholera during a trip to Galveston, but no one knows for sure.
The legacy he began continues to flourish in Chambers County with Gr. Gr. Gr. Grandson, Bill White, and wife Katherine holding the reins.
Bobby Edwards stated, “People didn’t really own much land other than their homeplace, everybody just had a home place that they owned and then they just used the land, it was open range. People didn’t actually start buying much land until about 1879 onto about 1900. They had to start purchasing land that they had been using for free before. I’m sure it was a very traumatic time for them,” said Bobby. “Well, when you say purchasing,” said Bill, “They weren’t giving a whole lot of money for it. But money was pretty hard to come by back then.” “The White’s had been using open range for two generations,” said Bobby, “Before they were forced to buy land.” No one can say how many acres they actually owned at one time, but Bobby said, “I remember seeing an oil lease on the White Ranch that was 100,000 acres in the early 1900s. It could have been the entire ranch, I don’t know.”
“Bob Kahla said, “My grandpa brought his cattle out and put them out north in a Winnie pasture and finally in ’25 or ’27 he leased the Crawford sections, there was two sections. In the summer he and his brothers would drive the cattle 45 miles from Bolivar to Stowell and put them in the pasture. When my grandpa died, Acoms or Atkins, whoever owned it, offered to sell it to my dad for $28 an acre. He said he didn’t want to buy it, because he could lease land for 50 cents an acre.”
Monroe White Recalls Pioneer Days on Range
July 2, 1933
Veteran Gulf Coast Ranch Owner Still Getting Thrill From Riding Ponies at 76
Sturdy Old Gentleman Cattleman Is Eldest Of Third Generations of Whites In Lone Star State
By DEAN TEVIS
This is the story of a man, who, born on what was southeastern Texas' greatest cattle ranch, whose feet grew in stirrups and whose legs came quickly to fit the salt-grass bellies of mean little bundles of Texas horseflesh, will end his days aboard them. At 76, Monroe White, tall, straight, active, throws a nimble leg up and over the big plains saddle which old "Mike," his range mate wears, wheels the pony swiftly with an imperceptible motion of loosely held reins, and is off on perhaps his fifteen-thousandth ride across the far reaches of White's ranch under the almost motionless gulf clouds of lower Chambers county.
He has ridden the ranges between the Neches and the Trinity since he was 4 or 5. "Mike" himself, snow-white pony in whose escutcheon is written the story of the tricky little Castillian, which Cortez brought to the new world, and in whose blood is a trace of the big Arabian introduced in Texas by U. S. Grant--"Mike" himself has seen more than 30 years of hard service.
To those Texans whose pulses race at the thought of the new disappearing open cow range, who thrill at the dimming pictures of vast herds of moving longhorns, or who will sit late while gray ashes heap themselves like flaky sea-shells at an open fireside while old-timers tell of days when a fence was a novelty, well--that sort of Texan looks upon this man as his seventy seventh birthday approaches, with a deep respect . . . Monroe in the saddle or out is the old Roman of the range.
Only he and the handful of his gray-haired contemporaries--Perry "Mac," Uncle Steve Pipkin, and a few others--can tell the tales of the fenceless range days, of unbelievably large herds, of solid seas of longhorns, and a multitude of famous Texas brands and the trail drives.
West of the sleepy little cow town of Winnie, where the highway curves to make its takeoff for Anahuac, is Monroe White's home under the oaks, Here is a long, wide gallery--a veranda to an easterner. The shade is deep, cool. It is the hour for coffee--a custom which crossed the Sabine with the pioneers in the 30s.
A sturdy old figure rises from the recesses of a large wicker chair, two of White's tanned young grandsons, 12 or 14, retain their reclining positions on the soft cushions of the porch divan. What is, they retain them for some few moments . . . But grandfather is in a mood to talk . . . grandfather is telling the story of James Taylor White, his own grandfather, who came to south Texas in the misty days of 1819 . . . The mail was to have been brought from the village. That is a delectable chore, for you saddle the ponies and ride in. But somebody else goes for the mail today, somebody who isn't the great-great-grandson of the first rancher between the Sabine and the Trinity--the first man to brand a cow, to drive the trail, to build a ranch home . . . to form a cattle dynasty. In fact, nothing is said about the mail this afternoon.
Monroe White, son of the late James Taylor White the second, builder of White's ranch to its once great position, leans back, recalls clearly the story of his grandfather, and then traces the tale of White's ranch on through the days when he, himself, built the first fence in the territory--21 miles long--and ran a bellowing, nervous, colorful herd, numbering fully 20,000, long horned herd.
The tale he tells is the word picture of a moving epic in south Texas' story. It begins as the tradition has been handed down to White, in 1819, when his grandfather, sturdy, far-looking, fearless alike of Indian and Mexican, bore across the reaches of the little-known Mississippi valley from Mississippi. There were ox-teams. The picture is not unfamiliar. But in this caravan were cattle that the Elder White, at the head of a pioneering family, had picked up in Louisiana and was driving into then Spanish governed Texas.
Histories tell you the year of the coming of James Taylor White was 1828, but White fixes it, from the tale his father told him many times, as a full decade earlier.
In this old-school rancher, eldest of the third generation of Whites in Texas, you think you see James Taylor himself. James Taylor White had four sons and four daughters. He settled on what came to be called White's Bayou, built a home, was frugal and ambitious, and accumulated two leagues of land, about 400 acres in Stephen F. Austin's first colony.
There he established the "W" brand of the Whites. At first there were no neighbors save the people of the village of Liberty, and for years the nearest house was miles off. Wolves howled and attacked his cattle at night on the prairie as even a few do today. He often saw droves of deer, a hundred head, trailing off in the distance. He saw the last of the cannibalistic Karankawas and met the Alabamas from Tyler county when they came to hunt there. One of the children married into the Jackson family of Double Bayou, and thus the then two most famous cattle brands of the curving coast of Texas were joined.
The cherished tradition of the Whites is that General Santa Anna spent the night at James Taylor White's ranch house on his way into the United States. When the self-styled Little Napoleon was captured by Houston, he was held prisoner in Texas. Upon his release he made his way to Washington, D. C. Under escort the reduced Mexican hero traveled overland from Houston, heading, in all probability for New Orleans, where he probably took ship.
It was then a long day's travel or two from the Texas capital to the capital of the ranges--White's--and so he remained there the night, it has been handed down, and the next day made his way across the prairies and marshes, creeks, and rivers, to Beaumont.
On the site of the first White home James Taylor built a second where Monroe was born. It still stands a quarter of a mile off the High Island road at the flag-stop marked "White's Ranch." Off in the distance in every direction, seemingly stationary brown, and gray dots on a veldt of soft green, graze the White cattle, as they did a century ago. James Taylor died some years before Monroe was born.
White's ranch fell into the hands of Monroe's father. He began accumulating more acres, for he inherited his father's ambition to build. Constantly had the first White, so old newspaper and other accounts give it, put his profits back into cattle. He probably failed to add to his land because there was little incentive for that. The prairie, to the horizon and beyond, was open--free to every cattleman to graze his herds who would live up to the primitive, but hide-bound code of the open, virgin country.
James Taylor White the second, first added 1280 acres. He purchased lands adjoining from the T. and N. O. Railroad--known as school lands. Presently the name of White and grown in importance. The son of the pioneer had accumulated an even 100,000 acres and presently 20,000 beeves were wearing the White "W" and "JW" on their flanks.
Here was a prince's domain in truth. On the south lay the gulf beaches. On the horizon were white sails. On the east was Star lake in the peculiar green marshes where wild birds set up a din at dawn. The north boundary was East Bay bayou.
For years the White's, these old kings of the range--with Monroe getting ready to assume charge--knew no boundaries--no fences. They trod the earth and looked at the sky, fearing only the gray prairie wolves and storms. Then Monroe White, who just here steps briskly into the picture, riding a stout Spanish pony, reins in hand, rope on the saddle pommel, built a 21-mile-long fence, under the direction of his father.
. . . And that was the first cattle fence in southeastern Texas, possibly the first in the domain known as south Texas--certainly the first east of the Trinity river. He built it with cypress posts, most of which still stand. Wire was high priced in those days, but White skimped little and they built it with four stout strands. That was in the year '83 (1883) Monroe and his father, big Texas hats shading large Texas faces, big frames erect, who could ride from sunup to dark, were the first to ride the fence. They were proud . . . and yet that was the beginning of the end of the range, and they probably saw in the splendid shadows of the cypress posts trailing far out of sight the thing that was to come--the settler, the farmer.
The famous fence ran from Big Hill, later to be known as the Dutch Joe country, and now under the domain of the McFaddins, cattle imperialists of today, clear to East Bay bayou on the west. It skirted the entire north line of White's ranch. It cost $100 a mile, and the White's thought the price was high.
So, the year '83 marked the closing of the big White pasture. Just prior to that through the 70s and the 80s, before the towns of Hamshire, Winnie, Stowell, and High Island had sprung up, fully 100,000 head of longhorns with some new bloods, roamed the flat reaches and the low rises from the salt grass to the summer pastures of the north line.
They ranged from the bank of the Neches, long before rice was dreamed of, clear to the Trinity. The second to fence their lands were John and Jim Jackson. All of the country under discussion was once included in Liberty county. Even the country east of Big Hill was open, free grass.
The principal cattlemen in those days were the Heberts, Barrows, McFaddins, the Jacksons, Burrells, and of course the White's.
Somehow the sketches of southeastern Texas along the coast fascinated the early cattlemen. For one thing their beeves liked the salt grass, to be found only near the coast. So began the long migration of the cattle, south in the fall, and north in the spring. The farthest north line of grazing country in Jefferson county now is just south of Spindle Top, though in Liberty county it extends farther north. For years there was no driving, as there was no dipping for ticks, but the big droves of beeves, through instinct, moved when the time came for them to change their feed.
The Whites and McFaddins and others could have gone into west Texas where the bulk of the cattle were grazed, and where lands were even freer, but they took to the lowlands and established the chief agricultural industry--if it may be put in that column--of the counties of southeastern Texas, with a population today of probably 200,000 head of animals.
"Generally," the old cowman said, "It was a pretty peaceful country."
"Cattle stealing?" "Yes, some, but not to the degree, or in the same way it was done further west. We had a family here who defaced brands. That, of course, was bad business. In fact, it created so much trouble for a time that we sent for the Rangers, and they sent one down here. Before the thing was done with, there was one killing."
"They'd slaughter the beeves and ship them to Galveston." The fact of the matter is, though the thing's kept from the bright light of publicity, that there is more cattle stealing going on today, with less cattle in the country, than there was back in the palmy days of Monroe White, as he explains it.
The means of transportation were limited. Wagons and teams, as against automobiles of today. Today the cattle thief kills his beeves in the night, throws them in a truck, and is gone. Thirty minutes later you'd have a hard time catching him. The thing's simple.
Whiskey, in Monroe White's youth, was 50 cents a gallon. That was for good whiskey. He recalls that when they held the big dances for which the south Texas ranches were famous, when the belles came for miles perched up behind their boys on horseback, or rode alone, there was always a barrel of whiskey placed conveniently for the guests to help themselves.
"But do you know," he said, "that there was no drunkenness. I remember one party at White's ranch which lasted four days. They held it that long, I guess, because they came from so far away. Way up north of Liberty, and from Beaumont, and down at Moise Broussard's. One fellow got--well, a little one sided, but that's the only case of the kind I can recall."
Mrs. White, listening to the conversation, shuddered to think of what would happen today at a party where they left a barrel of whiskey for anyone to help himself.
He himself rode 40 or 50 miles to many a dance. He was a guest at the affairs at Broussard’s on Sabine Pass ridge. The old house, with the peacocks painted on its wooden walls, is still there.
Monroe White doesn't like the big, bully looking Brahma with the funny hump. Oh, yes, he tolerates him, but give White another breed. You feel that he thinks back to the great herd of what they called native cows, the Longhorns or Spanish cattle.
The first longhorns in Texas were a pair left by De Leon the conquistador, on the banks of either the Brazos or Trinity in the year 1689 when he marched far into east Texas. These and the wild Spanish ponies, famed in stories and songs for generations, were found by the first Americans across the Sabine.
Monroe White gives his favor, among the cattle breeds on the ranges here, to what he calls the Devon, a red critter with a white tail. When he was a youth his father bought a Devon bull.
“Uncle Steve Pipkin,” said White, “used to cut the Devon calves out of the herd without looking at their brands. He could tell them by their color alone.”
Who rode the free grass with Monroe in the old days? A legion of riders, many of whom have taken their final departure from the range. There was Seth Davis, Perry McFaddin and his father Bill, S. W. Pipkin whom they called Steve, J. J. Burrell and James Jackson and his brother John, now 83 years old, the cowman patriarch of Double Bayou.
Nope, no chaps in those days. Ropes and ropers, for a certainty—the best this side of the Pecos—but no chaps. They used them mostly, in the early day, in the sagebrush country, and where there was a likelihood of meeting up with a rattlesnake. Pistols? Yes, some carried them. You can check on that from my friend Tenau Arceneaux of Hamshire, who will tell you how the cowboys parked their artillery on a bed while they danced the night away at Moise Broussard’s place on the ridge.
The latter-day cowboy of southeastern Texas, not to be outdone by his more colorful brother of west Texas, not to mention Montana and the Dakotas took on the chap. The high-heeled boot, however, was always an appurtenance of the cowman.
Before ’67 when the Southern Pacific, in its second and successful attempts to negotiate the coast country, came through Beaumont, marketing cattle was no small job. When the average person thinks of the Texas cattle trail, he thinks of the famed Chisolm. There was the El Paso-New Orleans trail, coming through this country. Buyers came from New Orleans and other points in Louisiana, bought the cattle, and drove themselves to various points east of the Sabine. Many central west cows were driven through here.
Jefferson and Chambers county ranchers drove many a herd across the Neches and Sabine themselves, swimming them most frequently at Collier’s ferry just north of Beaumont. In the El Paso-New Orleans trail through Beaumont there is a story to be written.
In the story of his life Monroe White sees few thrills. It’s been a work-a-day one to him, but to one who observes it in swift panorama as he recites it on the cool, shady, gallery at Winnie, it is a moving, picturesque tale, this tale of a man who has spent more than 75 full years in the saddle, who knew the ranges where deer were plentiful and when the Redman still trekked south to the salt grass country for his venison. He remembers the Civil War, Spindle Top hill as a Confederate cantonment, Beaumont as a village, and southeastern Texas as a country with barely 2000 people.
You could, if you wanted to, caption this as the story of the man who drove cattle down Calder avenue in bunches of a thousand or more. Picture that! A thousand head of longhorns destroying the azaleas on the M. F. Yount lawn or trampling the grass of such estates as that of Mrs. Frank Keith.
Of course, that was before he roped “Mike,” who bore no name then, from a half-wild pony herd years ago, and tamed him to his will and made him like it. “Mike,” incidentally, came originally from the Mayes stock.
We heard the story of the time Monroe White, as a youth, roped an alligator in Elm bayou.
One of his grandsons, all ears on this particular afternoon, wanted that story to come out.
It seems that his elders had cautioned Monroe against attempting to rope ‘gators from the bayou. He couldn’t see it their way. There was too much fun involved. One day, alone with his pony, he cast his rope about the middle section of a big fellow. But he couldn’t get the ‘gator out and had to tie the rope on the bank and finally cut it.
You see, the trouble was that ropes in those days were indeed ropes—scarce and costly.
Probably the greatest fear held by the White’s and their fellow ranchers along the coast were the fierce gulf storms. Monroe White recalls one in ’75, and another in ’86. The historic blow of 1900 at the turn of the century, and then the worst so far as the White’s were concerned in 1915. In every one of the storms, they lost cattle, but in 1915 there was a loss of a thousand head. Dead beeves littered the prairies for miles on miles. Many of their carcasses were floated out to sea and then back again.
Charbon has taken its toll, so have the wolves, and cattle thieves, but the most feared enemy—the one which took heaviest tolls, were the hurricanes from the Caribbean.
A ranch like the White’s had from 10 to 12 “hands,” or cowboys. Some were negroes, but majority were white men. Any ranch in the territory could have put on its own rodeo. West Texas held no monopoly in good riding and roping.
Recreation! Plenty of it, and of a sort that men would travel far to participate in. There were the big prairie wolf hunts, and deer kills, the round-ups themselves, the dances. Life wasn’t dull then.
The White ranch proper today has 24,000 acres. It is in charge of nephews of Monroe, J. T. and Kyle White. He holds 7000 acres himself, and he has a nice string of beeves on it. You think that Monroe White couldn’t very well live and breathe, unless he had a horse to ride, miles of unfenced country to ride him on, and beeves to look at, and brand and sell, and doggies to speculate over.
No, sir, Monroe White’s a poor walking man. He likes to trot—aboard “Mike,” and then, with the good feel of leather under him, to wheel and cut a critter from the bunch, just as the first James Taylor White did, as his father did, as his son does today, and as the two husky grandsons will—unless they cut the ranges into smaller and smaller pieces until cattle raising becomes a sort of inflated parlor pastime.
You don’t think he wants to be here when that time comes. He is very fond of looking at the fine picture of his father, in his living room. You think he feels that his father was the greatest cowman southeastern Texas ever produced. You feel that way when you see him looking at the picture.
To him the long years seem to be condensed in just a little space of time. It was but yesterday that he helped drive a thousand head of bellowing, figgety, hair-trigger longhorns across the Trinity and as far west as the Indian Territory—the Oklahoma of today.
He knew the glorious free range when it was open from Bolivar Point clear east to Sabine Pass; when it was open country from the McFaddin ranch house in Beaumont to the gulf—when the horizons of southeastern Texas were unbroken lines—when roads were narrow little dust trails—when the scene, if done in oil, would have had its foreground just above a frame of gold-and-red blanket flowers, and when the sole figure in the picture would have been a lone cow puncher on a Spanish pony.
. . . Incidentally like as not that figure would have been Monroe White, and the pony one of “Mike’s” mean little ancestors of the salt grass prairie.
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