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BY MARIE HUGHES
As the sun sets on the western border of Mont Belvieu and we scan the skyline dotted with “Cat-Crackers”, cooling towers, and pipe racks, it’s hard to imagine a time when the area was not dominated by refineries. Oil production has been a major player in the Mont Belvieu area since the turn of the twentieth century, but it was not the rich black gold sleeping beneath the earth that drew Samuel Barber west in the early 1800s.
Not unlike his contemporary, James Taylor White I, Samuel arrived early in Mexican Tejás, around 1812, probably to scout out the area. There were many reasons the early pioneers headed west, but it appears the ones who settled in and around Chambers County were drawn by the promise of land . . . lots of land. Samuel returned to Louisiana and married Elizabeth Barrow on November 24th, 1813, with whom he had eight children. In 1829, Samuel loaded his family and belongings and headed west. Elizabeth’s brothers, Solomon, Reuben, and Benjamin Barrow along with Elizabeth’s sister, Sarah Barrow and brother-in-law Elisha Henry Roberts Wallis, had made the move ahead of them in 1823, arriving in present day Wallisville, January 1824.
The Barber family settled first on the western bank of the Sabine River, where Elizabeth gave birth to their youngest child, Laura Elizabeth “Eliza” Ann, on February 17, 1830. The following year they moved to their final residence on the banks of Old River in the approximate vicinity of the present day Cherry Creek subdivision. Samuel petitioned for and received a league and labor of land. F. Hardin spoke on his behalf and showed proof he had emigrated with his family in 1831.
Amos Barber was a rancher and a cattleman, starting in 1841 with 65-head of cattle. His land eventually totaled 1265 acres with his cattle ranging from 300-600 head. Most of the major ranches in West Chambers County can trace their genesis back to their connection to the Barber family either directly or through marriage: Barrow, Fisher, Fitzgerald, and Lawrence to name just a few.
He was the oldest of Samuel and Elizabeth Barber’s children, and only seventeen years of age when his family arrived in their new home in 1831. In 1848, he married Susan Hodges Fitzgerald, widow of Francis Marion Fitzgerald who drowned during a bad storm in 1846, leaving Susan, who was 4 months pregnant with son, Francis Marion Fitzgerald, Jr., and one-year-old daughter, Adaleasa.
L-R: A Barber Boy, Charles Lawrence, seated is Addison Barber, Frank Barber, Unknown Boy, seated is Ann Barber, Unknown Man, Mrs. Elkins, Mary Barber, Emily Barber, Susie Elkins, Unknown Man
The following year Amos purchased 100 acres, referred to as “Big Hill” from Hugh Jackson, eldest son of Humphrey Jackson. Upon this hill he built his home, becoming the first resident of Barbers Hill, so named thereafter for him. He erected a double pen dog trot log house where he and Susan raised twelve children, her two Fitzgerald children and ten of their own. His son, Amos Joshua Barber said, “In the fall of 1849, he hauled logs with yokes of oxen from the Welch place (later the Gus Buck place,) to build the first house on Barber’s Hill, as it was called in his honor.” When the first post office was opened in 1890 by Zachary Winfree, Zachary changed the name of the town to Mont Belvieu, a French phrase meaning “Beautiful View,” but to this day most residents still refer to it as Barbers Hill, a fitting tribute to its first settler.
On this same hill, in 1889, Elmer W. Barber, 2nd son of Amos and Susan, and husband of Amanda Fisher Barber, encountered inflammable gas while digging a 65-foot water well near the top of the “Hill,” a discovery that led to the “Oil Boom” of the 1900s that forever changed the landscape and industry of Barbers Hill.
Josh Barber stated, “I began riding the range in 1875. The following year, 1876, I was hired as a regular hand. We began in February to gather 800 steers for a Kansas man. We went down to the old Sam Houston place at the mouth of Cedar Bayou, we ran them out and rounded them up, and began cutting out the steers, most of them from 5 to 12 years old,” he said.
“After we got our 800 out,” he continued, “we drove them over to Old Man Dunk’s and penned them. It rained on us all night and (we) had nothing but a wagon and wagon sheet, so we sat up most of the night with our slickers on to keep dry. Next morning it quit raining. The cook got out his things and cooked us breakfast. We turned them out and took them across the San Jacinto River and took them to Dunman Prairie and counted them out to the Kansas man. We didn’t get through that day, so we had the little bunch to herd. It cleared off and came a cold norther, so we built a fire. Robert Barrow and I were on the first watch, but we went to sleep as we didn’t sleep the night before. Buffalo Joe (Dugat) came on the second watch, the cattle were all scattered about, and found us and our horses right in the middle, asleep. He told us to go on into camp, and then he took charge. Ed Pruett, of Dayton gathered 800 steers the same time for the Kansas men, he brought his own hands and drove them up the trail to Kansas.” Josh said.
“About July or August 1877, we started working cattle at Hickory Island (woods cattle were wild.) Frank Elmer, Robert Barrow, Taylor Winfree, Larry Mackey, Joe Larry Dugat, Amos Lawrence and I gathered for three days, got 65 of those big woods steers, spoiled and hard to handle. Some of them had such huge wide horns we couldn’t rope around both horns and had to rope one horn and his neck. After three days we had 65 fierce wild things in the pen. One day we turned them out to water and graze them, about 4:00 p.m. we started to put them in the pen. Taylor Winfree was the boss this trip but didn’t know anything about cattle, he was raised on a farm and never worked cows before he married Mary Fisher. He kept saying, “Crowd them boys, crowd them,” and they’d slip right out past us, so we penned only 18 of the 65—the others got away. The next day we took the 18 to Dayton then up the Trinity woods up to Loose Bayou—gathering all the time. Crossed over to the Huffman Settlement, back to Emhoff’s, Head of Cedar Bayou, then William’s, then Wolf Island down to the railroad at Ed Pruett’s pen at Dayton. We had about 400 big old longhorns. Pruett was having a big horse penning and about 25 hands were there, they all came out to help us. With so many around the cattle nearly scared them to death, but we didn’t lose a one. The next day Pruett sent about 10 hands with us to get the steers through Trinity bottoms. We took them in the woods between Pruett’s and Old Man Day’s, which was a sweet gum thicket and just cow trails, most of the trees and rattan vines wrapped around them and it was almost impossible to get through here anyway.
“After we got through the open bottom, something went wrong with the head cattle, either stepped on a stick or yellow jacket’s nest, they all stampeded, whirled and started back. We all had to get out quick ahead of the cattle. We were fortunate not a horse fell or got tangled in that rattan thicket. We got out first and rounded them up out in the prairie and took them down below Day’s house into the bottom where it was more open, drove them up the bottom to the swimming pen where we would cut out a few at a time and swim them across the Trinity. Some of our hands would cross over on the ferry and be there ready to herd as they swam across. It took us until 4:00 p.m. to get them all across. We drove them up to Devers prairie, counted them, and delivered them to Jack Cole and Simmons who disposed of them in New Orleans.”
“Another time we were trying to cross some cattle, about 100 head of one and two year olds, at Lynchburg, but didn’t have a swimming pen there. Sol Barrow had some marsh cattle that were mostly wild Brahmas and we were trying to get them in the river to swim them across when they turned and ran. Sol Fisher was off his horse and right in the middle of them—to save himself he turned to run with them and grabbed a big steer by the tail. He held on and the steer took him through safely—it was a funny sight.”
“After Mrs. Lula Barber (wife of Julian R. ‘Krout’ Barber the grandson of Amos Barber) got in bad health I took over running the ranch for her, I’m married to her great niece, Glenda Brown. I have many fond memories of working with David Griffith and his dad, J. D. at the ranch at Barbers Hill. That was a learning curve for me because, at the time, I was working at the bank in Barbers Hill. The man who was working for Mrs. Barber was old and in bad health and cattle kept getting out on the road, so I went from a suit one day to blue jeans the next, as I had to quit the bank and start tending to the ranch. We had about 400-head of mother cows, not counting the bulls and calves. I cannot recall how many acres we had all together, but we had land in Liberty County on Hatcherville Road that they called the Hunting Club. Gordon Speer bought that from my wife after Mrs. Barber passed away. We had the land on Hatcherville Road from what is called the Crosby-Barbers Hill Road where Enterprise is today up to Boots Nelson’s place. The Siever (sp) Canal came through part of it. We also had land over on Highway 146, Krout had extensive land holdings. Their home was back behind where Maranatha Church is today. I began to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew when I took over the job.
“On our cattle drives we would round the cows up and cut the pairs off and drive them to the headquarters on Hatcherville Road. It was there we would sort the calves that were to be sold. We had to take all the cows that were kept at the Hwy 146 pasture across the Siever Canal to get them to the pens. We had to educate them on crossing the bridges. The first two times was a lot of fun,” chuckled Lloyd. “The cattle way up on Hatcherville Road in Liberty County, where we had a cutting ground, on the Hunting Club property, we would bring into the corral and sort and ship from there. We brought all the cattle in the pasture across from where Slim Troxell used to live down to the headquarters, a distance of about two miles at least, and once we finished, we drove them all back to the pasture again. It would be a lot of fun when we were driving them down the middle of the road and a vehicle would come trying to get through,” said Lloyd laughingly. “It was quite an ordeal. David Griffith could probably tell you some tales, ‘cause his dad rice farmed with Slim Troxell in Liberty County on the Barber property there. I imagine David grew up working those cattle,” added Lloyd.
“We always tried to be up at the headquarters by 7:00 a.m. or shortly thereafter, I lived out on 3180 across from the Epperson’s place, so Mrs. Barber would arrive at the headquarters before I could get there, ‘cause I would always have to get my horse and hook the trailer up. She would be up there ready to go. When we worked over at the cutting grounds on Hwy 146 she would always ride over there in the truck with me and she would sit in the truck and watch us work the whole time. She never missed a day that I can remember. She always loved to go up there and she would say, “Now this is the way Krout worked those cattle.” I told her, ‘Well if that’s the way he did it and that’s the way you want it done, that’s the way we will do it.’ And we did until the day we liquidated the herd about 1975, we worked them the way she wanted them worked,” Lloyd said with respect.
“When we worked the cattle at the headquarters on Hatcherville Road they always brought lunch to the cowboys. They had a little house there for us to eat in and that’s where they served lunch. Slim Troxell’s wife and J. D. Griffith’s wife came up and helped. The old feller who worked for Mrs. Barber would always barbecue a sheep. I think he arrived about 5:00 a.m. and he had the sheep going when we got there. We would be so full and then had to get back on our horses to work some more. J. D. Thompson was a good cowboy who used to come and work with us on the ranch. He could really handle a horse. Those are some fond memories of everyone sitting around eating together and working the ranch,” concluded Lloyd.
Although the oil industry dominated the forefront of West Chambers County economically, Temple Savage Fitzgerald, step-grandson of Amos Barber and son of Marion Fitzgerald, Jr., continued to carry on his profession as a rancher into the 1900s. In 1934, however, he sold a large section of his land to an oil company in Liberty County. The Yount-Lee Oil Company had drilled 25 wells near the Esperson Dome oil field by March 1934. Temple had to move 1,400 head of cattle from the Neil Esperson Ranch, in Esperson, TX near Dayton to the Jackson Ranch in Double Bayou, a distance of about 40 miles.
Temple Savage Fitzgerald – 1885-1957
The Cattleman Magazine stated in their 1935 March edition, “Four days were required to trail the cattle and four bodies of water had to be crossed: Old River, Lost River, Trinity River, and Turtle Bayou. The Houston Chronicle wrote in their 1934 article, “The undertaking was reminiscent of the days of the overland cattle trail when hundreds of thousands of Texas longhorns traveled on the hoof to Abilene or other Kansas railheads for transshipments to markets largely at Kansas City or Chicago.
Photo by Jess Gibson, Houston Chronicle staff photographer. Temple Savage on Horse.
The Cattleman Magazine stated, “At the start of the drive with Mr. Fitzgerald were G. O. Stoner, inspector for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, with headquarters in Houston, J. R. and Buck Barber, George Gilbert, H. D. and Jesse Stayton, and other cowhands. At Old River they were met by Bun and Josh G. Mayes and their cow outfit, including horses. The Mayes’, on account of their familiarity with the terrain, took charge of the drive and delivered it at its destination. The cowboys would drive the cattle into the water and then made sure they kept moving forward as their natural instinct is to return the way they came.
“Usually a number of horses are used to lead the cattle into the water and swim ahead of them to the opposite bank. Very little trouble was experienced at Old River, however, at the next crossing at Lost River, some two miles from Old River crossing marshes and the swimming of cattle required two days’ time and about 12 head were drowned. About two hundred head had to be roped and led across by cow hands who forsook the saddle for safer rowboats. There was little trouble crossing the Trinity and Turtle Bayou.”
Steve Fitzgerald, grandson of Temple Fitzgerald and son of Carl, said once they arrived in Double Bayou his grandfather wintered the cattle in the salt grass marsh. In the spring, he drove the steers East down the Old White Ranch Road, which was just a dirt road at the time, to the cattle pens at F M 1985 and Hwy 124. There they were loaded onto railcars and shipped to the sale.
Steve said his daddy bought their land from Emma Jackson of Houston and Steve continues to farm and ranch on the same land today, running about 300-350 head of cattle on about 3,800 acres.
“We run crossbred cattle on registered Charolais bulls and a few registered Angus bulls. We love it down here where we are, it’s quiet and we’re not bothered by anybody, we can just farm and raise our cattle,” concluded Steve.