No one bothered to record or otherwise memorialize one of the most unusual events in the history of cattle ranching in Southeast Texas. James Jackson the owner of the JHK Ranch in Chambers County, called all of his cowhands together one day in the late 1880's. And so, they gathered, black and white, poor, and not so poor, joined together by little more than their affinity for the land upon which they stood and the cattle which was their joint responsibility. With his full white beard, Jackson looked a great deal like one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. He cleared his throat and announced that he was putting day-to-day operations of the ranch in the hands of one man. He looked each man squarely in the eye with an intensity that underscored his words. The ranch foreman, he said, would be Montie Humphrey. The actual words, as we said, were not recorded, but the gist of the message has been handed down." If Montie tells you to do something, I expect you to follow his orders just the way you would follow my orders." What makes this moment extraordinary is the fact Montie Humphrey was a black man.
Mike Searles, a history professor who has been studying black cowhands in Texas for the past several years, says he has never heard of any other black man of the last century being elevated to the rank of foreman on a white man's ranch-at least not in Texas and not for a ranch as large as the JHK. In that sense, Humphrey was unique. What James Jackson needed was someone who knew and loved the ranch as well as he did, and someone he could trust completely. Montie Humphrey fit that job description exactly.
Humphrey was tall and lanky in the manner of many cattlemen, and his features were almost wholly African unsullied by Caucasian blood. His hair was brittle, almost unruly, strained by the humid climate and constant exposure to the elements. He carried himself with an intensity easily revealed in his photograph. He had dark, penetrating eyes and a temper that was both electric and legendary.
Ralph Semmes Jackson, in his book "Home on the Double bayou," offered this description of Humphrey: "(He) had been born a slave on the Jackson Ranch and had spent this entire life breaking horses and working cattle on the old homestead. Montie was a prideful man whose love for the old ranch was perhaps greater than that of the owners. He stood on his feet and sat on a horse as if his backbone was made of steel. He was a forceful talker-all of his adjectives were cuss words, and his cuss-word vocabulary was full and complete. It is my honest that in many years since Montie's death. I have not heard a single cuss word that did not belong to his colorful vocabulary. Montie was almost speechless in the presence of my mother because he would not, upon the pains of death, utter a cuss word in the presence of Miss Bertha."
After the death of James Jackson, in 1895, his son Guy Cade Jackson Sr. took over operations of the ranch. Montie (which is pronounced "Monuntie") continued in much the same capacity. "In the absence of my father (Guy Cade)," wrote Ralph, "he was in charge of the cattle work, and we boys jumped to his orders as quickly as to our father's commands."
Montie Humphrey, a son of Wash and Melinda Humphrey, was born on the ranch May 14, 1862. He was married first in 1883 to Margaret Fanner. His second marriage came in 1899 to Lydia Louisa Johnson, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Johnson of Double bayou. Montie Humphrey died on, July 20, 1939, and is buried in the Jackson-Godfrey Cemetery at Double Bayou.
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