Shelby County Historical Society
February & March, 2018 Newsletter
Maggie Casto, Barbara McClellan, Gail Sholar
The Shelby County
Historical Society hosted the first monthly meeting of 2018 on February
20th at the museum. The meeting was opened with prayer and pledges to
the flags by Teddy Hopkins. He then called upon Ann Bowen to introduce
this month’s program presenters. Maggie Casto, William Carroll Crawford
Chapter of the Daughter of the Republic of Texas, then welcomed everyone
to the meeting and explained that the program would be on “Early
Frontier Medicine.” The chapter has what is called the Traveling Trunk
which has a wide variety of items pioneers would have used daily during
the time of the Republic (1836--2/19/1846). The Chapter shares this
information with schools, civic groups or any place that will let them
come in and explain early daily life in Texas history. Barbara McClellan
took it upon herself to develop information on frontier medicine to show
how pioneers managed to stay alive by using trees, plants, herbs, and
items around them to treat various illnesses.
People attending the program
John Chisum, Frontier Cattle King
On March 20th State Historian Bill O’Neal was the speaker at the monthly meeting of the Shelby County Historical Society. O’Neal shared information on John Chisum and information on some of the books he had written including the “fort” book, ‘Frontier Forts of Texas.’
There were many forts in Texas starting with Spanish presidios to protect the missions, private forts such as Fort Parker but the military put more forts in Texas than any other state - about 3 dozen in all. There were no forts in east Texas, however, in the Hill County and far west Texas they were all over the place. He stated he wanted to tell one story about the forts.
They were called fort so and so, like Fort Mason or Fort Davis. They were not fortified; no blockhouse, no stockades. The soldiers knew the Indians; most Apaches and Kiowa would not attack a fort with soldiers. The Indians preferred to hit homesteads and isolated ranches. The Army didn’t worry about having a fortified fort; most were built as military towns except for one, Fort Lancaster, which was in far southwest Texas
Most of the forts were built for 2 troops but in 1867 there was but one understrength cavalry troop stationed at Fort Lancaster, only 40 men. A detail of men took the horses to a stream to be watered and they were attacked by about 400 Indians. Only 3 of the men were killed in the initial attack. The men with the horses made it back to the fort.
The officers got the men out and since they were Calvary the soldiers were armed with Spencer carbine. The Spencer repeaters were a superb cavalry weapon, lever action repeating rifle that carried seven cartridges in the magazine tube and an eighth round in the chamber. The soldiers also carried an item that is like a quiver which could hold 10 of the magazines in it. This meant once a magazine was empty all the soldier did was eject it and ram another one in the rifle. Those 40 men armed with Spencer carbine were able to hold off the Indian attack. This was the only time a fort was attacked.
In preparation for writing an earlier book, O’Neal stated he had gathered a great deal of information on the large ranch of John Chisum. He stated he was aware of the nearly 50 years of research about Chisum done by Harwood Hinton. O’Neal encouraged Hinton to write a book on Chisum, but Hinton wouldn’t. After Hinton's death in 2016, his papers were donated to the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University. These papers had not been cataloged and there were 18 boxes to go through. O'Neal only had from 9-5 as they closed.
He continued with the story about Chisum. His name was John Simpson Chisum and as a young boy he was called “Cow John” for his affinity for the cattle on his grandfather’s Tennessee plantation. After he became an open range rancher, Chisum was plagued by rustlers so he developed a distinctive and easily recognized earmark called the “Jinglebob.” Chisum was soon being called “Jinglebob John” and “Jinglebob Chisum.” As his herd grew he became known as the “Jinglebob King.” He was a genial and prominent man with his New Mexico ranch stretching 200 miles along the Pecos River. His cattle holdings numbered 60,000 – 80,000.
Chisum was destined to become cow country royalty. He began ranching at the dawn of the range cattle industry in Texas. Within a few years his cattle numbered in the tens of thousands. Chisum would soon own more cattle than any other individual in America. His cattle in the West were known by their earmark rather than a brand. He was a true pioneer looking for open range grass farther and farther toward the west. His last ranch in New Mexico was his biggest. He relished his role as cattle baron, serving as a gracious and generous host to one and all.
During 3 decades on the frontier, Chisum endured Indian raids, stock thievery, drought, financial reverses and murderous conflict known as the Lincoln County War which was the war involving several rival cattle barons and Billy the Kid. Chisum met every challenge head-on, hanging rustlers, taking losses of money and even entire herds (both cattle and horses) in stride, forging ahead without complaint.
After 30 years as a frontier rancher, Chisum died at the age of 60 just as his beloved open range was being fenced in by barbed wire. John Chisum has never been forgotten in the world of ranching.
The cattle king was born in 1824 in Hardeman County, Tennessee. John and his sister Nancy were joined by three brothers, James in 1827, Jeff in 1829, and Pitser in 1834. O'Neal mentioned all the brothers because they participate in John’s big cattle operation.
In 1837, John’s father Claiborne moved his family to Texas. John was only 13 at this time. During these early years Chisum helped on his father’s farm, clerked in stores which he applied to a series of ranch supply stores throughout his career as a frontier cattleman. He even decided to try polities and in 1850 ran for the office of county clerk but lost. He ran again in 1852 and won this time. While in office he learned a great deal about property and real estate. John's next step was buying steer and selling them to butchers in Paris. In 1854, Chisum met a man by the name of Stephen Fowler from New Orleans. Fowler had money to invest in the new cattle business and saw possibilities, but he just didn’t know anything about cattle business. Chisum had learned where to buy cattle cheaply and where to graze them. A new partnership was formed. With Fowler money, Chisum brought cattle for $6 per head with calves thrown in. Chisum bought 1,000 head of cattle for $2 a head and talked the owner into delivering the herd to him.
John’s cattle on his first ranch at Bolivar which is about 18 miles north of Denton grazed all the way to Wharton. Also tucked away on his ranch were 11,000 head of sheep which gave 2 payoffs a year, lambs and wool.
Chisum's business model was open range not like Charles Goodnight who bought his own ranch and was reportedly the first Panhandle rancher to build fences of barbed wire. With open range there would be no financial cost for land, except for a small plot for ranch headquarters. Cattle was cheap, grazing was free, and drovers were paid a small amount. Reproduction on the range would increase the herd at no expense.
There were risks but Chisum found himself to be a risk-taking entrepreneur during a wide-open time in American history. He did acquire 200 acres of land for his headquarters and built a large house and named it the “White House.” He loved to give parties and even built a special building just for dancing.
At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Chisum had one of the largest cattle herds in Texas. He was designated a supplier of beef for the Confederate troops. He had no interest in fighting a war, but he had a great deal of beef to sell to soldiers. From 1861-1863, Chisum drove cattle to Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Littlerock. He was paid $40 a head in Confederate money and at that time Confederate money was still worth something in Texas. He put that money to work by purchasing more cattle which was how he accumulated 60,000 head. In 1864 Chisum started driving herds to Concho and Coleman counties which is out toward San Angelo.
This is just some of the information Mr. O’Neal shared on the life of John Chisum The complete history of John Chisum can be found in O’Neal's book “John Chisum, Frontier Cattle King.” The museum would also like to invite anyone interested in learning more about the life of John Chisum to come to the Shelby County Museum to view the CD of Mr. O’Neal’s presentation. The CD was made by our own local historian, Buster Bounds. The museum is open Monday – Friday from 1pm until 4pm.
Laurie Lewis Rogers
G. W. Strong
Donated by Donated By Donated by
Daughters of Republic of Texas Shelby County Historical Commission Charlene Kraemer
William Carroll Crawford Chapter
Willie L. Bowen
Donated by Donated by Donated by
Ann Bowen Donna Thomason Marleta Childs
& Dawn Barnes