The Texas Cattle Drives – Shanghi Pierce
The Texas cattle industry and ranching, as we know it today, actually began shortly after the Civil War. No one knows the year precisely but it has been placed around 1866 to 1870.
In 1870, in Lavaca, County Texas a young tall lanky fellow named Shanghi Pierce put together a small band of working Cowhands and rounded up a small herd of Mavericks (wild cows and Long Horns).
At this time the area of Lavaca County, located on the Texas Gulf coast, southwest of Galveston. This area at this time had very few inhabitants and was mostly wide-open prairie. The Pierce cowhands would search the area they call the “Big Sandy” looking for wild cattle we know today as the Long Horn.
The Long Horn were wild, smart and a dangerous animal! They would hold up in the brush during the heat of the day, and then come out at night to graze. Early Morning was said to be the best time to begin a round up of the Long Horns because their stomachs were full and they were not too prown to a fowl disposition early in the morning. That is what they say, but I don’t think anyone ever told the Long Horn this! Some of the round-up figures have shown that Pierce’s cowhands could round up as many as a 1,100 Longs Horns a month. You do this for twelve months and you got some cattle, 13,200 to be exact! You do this a couple of years in a row and you have better than 25,000 head!
Once Shanghi figured he had a good number of cattle, he realized he had to get them to a market. He would have to drive them north overland to the nearest railhead. At this time, late 1860's, the nearest Railhead was in Abilene, Kansas. The drive to Abilene would be dangerous and normally would take around 60 to 80 days depending on the number of cattle you were driving and the amount of trouble you ran into. Trouble, could come in the form of weather, rivers, bushwhackers, or Kiowa and Comanche Indians.
Shanghi Pierce was born in Rhode Island and his original name was Abel Head Pierce. He stowed-away on a Indianola-bound ship and arrived in Texas a tall 6-foot four-inch lad of 19 years with only seventy-five cents in his pocket!
The nickname Shanghi had nothing to with China but was in fact a reference to the Shanghi Rooster. Shanghi roosters were known for being long-legged and scrawny. Shanghi was very tall and scrawny and was said to resemble a Shanghi rooster, especially when has wore spurs.
The first year he was in Texas he worked the entire year for a ranch and was paid in cattle, which would have been the equivalent of $200. They say the few cattle he was given were very old and the price was inflated. But he used these few cattle to start his own herd.
During the Civil War, pierce served in “D” Company of the 1st Texas Calvary. His commander made him the company butcher and with his knowledge of acquiring cattle guaranteed his company was well supplied with beef. Being a northerner originally, he saw the war as merely an interruption in his cattle business plans.
They say he bordered on the theatrical side in his dress and manner wearing broad brimmed hats with a high peak. One story says he orders his grave site statue long before his death just so he would be able to appreciate it. He was said to be a man of tremendous ego and self confidence.
It is also said of Mr. Pierce, that he was a thrifty man. This is a polite way of saying he was pretty tight with his money. One stories was that after he had sold all his cattle on one of his drives to Abilene, he netted over $25,000.00. During the drive one of his cowhands had borrowed pair of socks and collected .50 cents from the man. On the other hand Shanghi could be extremely generous. He once donated all the lumber to build a church.
There is another funny story about branding irons. Cowboys often carried an alphabet of branding irons. One day Pierce spotted one of his cows that had been branded: AHP is a SOB. It amused Pierce and he didn't sell the cow. He let it range for life since he said it was a good advertisement.
In 1870 Mr. A.E. Schiske drove a heard of a 1,000 Long Horns up the trail to Abilene in 64 days. In 1874 Mr. Leo Tucker, John May and Joel Bennett drove a herd of 3,000 Long Horns north to Abilene. There were hundreds of other cattle drives but many were never documented and no records exist of them. The cattle drives from Lavaca County would begin at the small settlement of Bovine, Texas located on Brushy Creek, and then move west passing the Peach Creek. It continued to Gonzales, Texas and on to Austin, Temple Waco, Waxahachie and on into Fort Worth. From there they would head into the Oklahoma Territory, which at this time was occupied by many tribes of Indian including the fierce, Kiowa and Comanche.
Pierce died the day after Christmas, 1900 and was laid to rest in the Hawley Cemetery. Hawley was actually the site of a bridge built by Edwin A. Deming over the Tres Palacios River in 1857 and named "Deming's Bridge". This settlement had been in existence since the 1850s but never had a name until the post office opened in 1858. Mr. Deming was the town’s first postmaster.
In 1903 the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway was headed to this area and Jon Pierce donated land, a section 640 acres, to make sure the railroad would pass through this area. The small town of Blessing, Texas was established that year and Hawley's post office and Masonic Lodge was moved to the new little town. The postmaster came up with the name Blessing after he had turned down the name that Jon Pierce wanted to use which was "Thank God". Afterwards Hawley became one of the many ghost towns that exist in Texas. The only reminder of the town of Hawley is the Hawley Cemetery where Shanghi Pierce was laid to rest. The cemetery has been tended by the locals for many years and is almost like a park. Many locals in the Spring, would have picknicks on or near the cemetery on Sundays after church.
If you ever get to Blessing and would like to say hello to Mr. Pierce, the Hawley Cemetery is located about three miles north of Blessing. If you get hungry you might want to stop in Blessing and check out the old Blessing Hotel. Last time we heard, they were serving some of the best home cooked meals in that part of the county.
This is a good website on the Blessing Hotel "Texas Bob East" for more information. Website I stayed here many times with my grandfather as a little feller back in the 50's. At that time the hotel was a working hotel but was painted white and the beds had cast iron head and foot boards.
This was the first of the short stories I plan on writing on early Texas Ranches, Ranchers and cattle drives. This story dealt mostly with one of the bigger than life personalities of the early Texas cowboys whose name was Shanghi Pierce. In the south Texas cattle country, Shanghi Pierce is considered to this day a legion. But he was only one of the many fascinating Texas cattle legends I plan on writing about.