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18 chapter 2 “Enough Money to Burn a Wet Dog” Texas is considered by many the original home of large-scale ranching. In part this is confirmed by the 1860 census that reported 3,533,768 domestic cattle.1 Factoring in wild cattle, the actual total was far greater. Cattleman George W. Saunders recalled: “At the close of the Civil War the soldiers came home broke and our state was in a deplorable condition. The old men, small boys and negroes had taken care of the stock on the ranges and the state was overstocked, but there was no market for their stock . . . .”2 While Texas had been left unravaged by the war, the state was impoverished. Money was in short supply, and the cattle trade was largely unprofitable. But the year 1866 was, taking all things into consideration , one of great disaster to Southern drovers. All of the great prospects of marketing, profitably, the immense surplus live stock of Texas, faded away, or worse, proved to those who tried branding a serious financial loss. So the last great hope of the Southern cattle man, for an outlet and market for his livestock, proved but bitter disappointment. Never, perhaps in the history of Texas, was the business of cattle ranching at so low estate as about the close of the year 1866 and during the following year. The cattle producing portions of the State were overrun with stock. 19 “Enough Money to Burn a Wet Dog” The ranges were becoming depastured, and, as a consequence, the unprotected earth became parched by the hot sun, and permanent drouth threatened. The stocks of cattle would not yield sufficient revenue to pay the expense of caring for them -- that is, branding , marking, etc. 3 The trade was saved by Joseph G. McCoy. McCoy envisioned supplying the eastern markets with Texas beef using the railroad and was successful in establishing a railhead at Abilene, Kansas. On September 5, 1867, the first shipment of cattle headed east. The ready market brought the dawn of a new era for Texas, and for nearly two decades herds went up the trail. Fortunes were made and lost during those years. Mason County cattleman John Gamel was recalled by old timers in Dodge City as a “flamboyant, forceful Texan” who celebrated at the end of cattle drives by lighting cigars with ten dollar bills, declaring that he had “enough money to burn a wet dog.”4 As early as 1867, Fritz and Karl Kothmann, Fritz and Karl Lehmberg, and Christel Winkel drove a herd to New Orleans “only to find that the market was off. The men were forced to sell the hides and tallow. By 1869 they had recovered from this financial loss. That year Fritz and Dietrich Kothmann, Karl Keller, Conrad Pluenneke, Daniel Hoerster, Rudolph Eckert, Otto von Lange and Lace Bridges drove a herd successfully from Mason to Fort Union, New Mexico.”5 Mason County, with its abundant grass and natural draws for protection from the cold, was ideal cattle country, and following the war its principal industry was cattle raising. Early Mason County cattlemen included John W. Gamel, Karl Lehmberg, C. C. Smith, George Bird, William Wheeler, Fritz and Heinrich Kothmann, Ernst Jordan, Karl Lehmberg, Heinrich Hoerster, and Conrad Pluenneke. J. Marvin Hunter noted that “many of the drovers became wealthy during their operations” adding that “It was during this cattle driving period that a bloody feud broke out in Mason county between certain factions, during which a number of citizens were killed. This feud is often referred to as the ‘Hoo Doo War,’ and is still fresh in the minds of some of the older citizens.”6 Bierschwale reported that “Except for outside interference the business would have been an easy and enjoyable one; Indians and cattle thieves were the worst menaces of the early days.”7 20 Chapter 2 Texas was open range during the 1860s and 1870s. Cattle drifted as they pleased with total disregard for either range rights or county boundaries, and it proved difficult, if not impossible, to separate unbranded herds. Brand laws were county-based, and in theory two men could record identical brands in adjoining counties such as Llano and Mason. Range law was looser, and mavericking, a practice where any unbranded cow or maverick older than a year belonged to whoever caught and branded it, was both common and legal. McCoy said of the practice: The ownership of the young animal is...


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