For an account of 'real cowboying,' this book is superb.
The Cattlemenis a personal history of Wade and Roy Reid who ranched in the Davis Mountains of Texas during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Written by a native Texan who worked during part of his lifetime with the Reid brothers, the book recalls the life of "real cowboys" of a bygone era, "when the word cowboy meant something entirely different than it does today" (p. i). The Reids worked astride horses, mended fences, treated cattle for worms, and often slept in a bedroll on the ground. Life was tough, but "their struggle to build a ranch from scratch never left them bitter or hard" (p. vi).
Their ranch was the Eleven Bar 11 located in the Barrilla Mountains about 25 miles northeast of Fort Davis, Texas. A semiarid area, beset with droughts and blizzards, the ground yielded its wealth reluctantly. Hit, too, by the Depression, Wade and Roy nonetheless persisted and established themselves when many others quit.
It was the Reids' value system - hard work, honesty, and fair play - that sustained them. Indeed their sense of values unfortunately belongs to a bygone era as much as their daily routine of tending cattle on horseback. Therein lies one of the significant and likely to be overlooked parts of the book: It recalls a morality and sense of commitment that is rapidly fading away. Despite the seriousness of the subject, the book is entertaining because the author makes his point artistically: He does not seek to explain, but lets the anecdotes and personal recollections act alone. For an account of "real cowboying," this book is superb.
D. Clayton Brown, Journal of the West
I recommend this book to anyone interested in West Texas history, ranching, or just a good story. It's informal, easy to read, entertaining, and surprisingly informative.
Billie Sol Estes keeps cropping up in the news, but I never expected to find reference to him in a book about Davis Mountain cattlemen. He's there, though, big as life, (in) The Cattlemen by W. R. McAfee.
Seems some Pecos Valley farmers went to Marfa looking for a loan for fertilizer tanks from the Production Credit Association, which Wade Reid, subject of the book, served as president for 15 years.
"They said this man, Billy Sol Estes, had a million dollars worth of collateral in fertilizer tanks. Wade turned them down flat," Russell McAfee Jr. said. "I asked Wade why. He said, 'Nobody could make a million dollars in Pecos, Texas, with fertilizer tanks'."
Pecos is mentioned several times in the book, as are Balmorhea and other area towns. But brothers Wade and Roy Reid lived in the Panhandle and attended school in Tulia. The first few chapters describe life in country where I spent my first 18 years, so it is fascinating reading for me.
In fact it turns out they are distant relatives by marriage. Relatives or not, I can identify with the lives they lived on a ranch, because my Daddy was a cowboy of that era. I've heard him talk about the same ranches they worked on - the XIT, JA and the Matador among them.
It was 1909 when Wade and Roy left their herd in the Panhandle with a brother and headed south, traveling through Lubbock - a small railroad spur at the time - Seminole, Monahans and Pecos. They turned down six sections of land west of Monahans "because it wasn't worth our hard-earned money," and laughed about it later when it became a part of the oil-rich Permian Basin.
Looking for land that couldn't be plowed, because they hated farming, the Reid brothers found it in the Davis Mountains. "The grass was good and there were springs everywhere," Roy said. "All the draws and creeks ran freshwater. I think if we could have made the kind of land we wanted, it would have been just like the Davis Mountains."
They spent their first night with the McCutcheon family at the Jeff Ranch. They worked for the McCutcheons through the years while building their own ranches by buying or leasing a little land here and a little there and spending their wages to stock it.
Roy tells of those early years in his own words, with sidebars of Wade's stepson, Jack Scannell, professor of history at Midland College, Lou Reid of Alpine, Wade's sister-in-law; Bob Reid, an older brother; and other family members.
Part II tells about the Reid brothers as others remembered them, and it is perhaps the most colorful section of the book.
Russell McAfee Jr. made his first trip to the ranch in 1928, when he was eight years old. He remembers that the Bankhead Highway (U.S. 80) was the only paved street in Pecos. "They had watering troughs with bit catfish in them at every intersection on main street in Pecos," he said. "I remember looking in and wanting to catch one." The road south through Balmorhea was dirt, he said. "Truth is, there was no pavement in Jeff Davis County period."
Wade and Roy had just build the ranch house that summer. Until then, they used a two-room wood shack that they cooked out of and kept their feed in. "They told me they just slept out on the ground unless it was raining," he said. "But when Wade married Aunt Happy, they built the ranch house."
Russell details the daily rides he made with Wade and Roy to "ride all their mountains. When you got in from those mountain pastures after dark, there was no doubt in your mind you'd put in a full day's work, too," he said.
A little spring in the high country watered all their mountain pastures by gravity. Wade had laid the pipeline out by himself because he couldn't afford a surveyor or engineer. He used a pressure gauge to see if he had enough pressure to push the water over the next rise.
The Headwater Springs was the noon stop, and Roy made coffee with the fresh spring water. The chuck box was restocked often, and other provisions were carried on their saddles.
"It was usually a can or two of meat, red beans in a lard can, and maybe a potato or two," he said.
Much of the day was spent roping and treating cattle for worms. The Reid brothers knew all their cattle and watched for newborn calves, which could be eaten up by worms in a few days.
The author devotes several chapters to his personal experience with Wade and Roy and their Davis Mountain ranch, where he spent his summers.
Historical pictures of early ranching from 1880 to 1930 include roundups and chuck wagons, wagons and buckboards, couples, ranch women, children, families, groups and cowboys and first cars.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in West Texas history, ranching or just a good story. It's informal, easy to read and entertaining. And surprisingly informative.
Peggy McCracken, The Pecos Enterprise
The core of (this) book is unbeatable as a chronicle of true Texas grit.
Author W. R. McAfee worked for the Reids in the 1950s as a teenager. Years later he tape-recorded interviews with Roy and with others of the Reids' generation. These first-person accounts form the substance of "The Cattlemen."
The lasting impression that results is of men who possessed great business sense, but who also were borne along by indomitable spirits and a love of adventure that carried them headlong into danger. Broken back, broken neck, broken ribs, broken arms, broken legs, broken hips and frozen feet were just some of the injuries one or another of the Reids sustained and survived - often without medical assistance.
Roy and others tell their stories in straightforward, matter-of-fact fashion. The style is generally dry, but a wry wit lurks beneath the surface, as with Roy's mule story:
"Now we'd broke those mules just like they used to break stagecoach mules, which was by harnessing them up and letting them by-God run flat out for two or three miles, resting them for a few minutes, then letting them run again. Time we got to Alpine they had enough, too, and was good and tired. Anyhow, an old boy running the dairy there in Alpine saw our mules - they was good-looking animals - and said he wanted them. So we sold them to him. He put them up to rest for a day or two, then hitched them up to his milk wagon one morning. I think he finally got them stopped somewhere down around Marathon. Someone told me those mules kept Alpine out of milk for a week."
The late Russell McAfee Jr., a relative of the author's who cowboyed for the Reids during the early part of the century, was among those interviewed. His is the best portrait of the Reids as others saw them:
"Of the two, Wade was by far the better rider, going away. And when Wade got on a horse, he was there. He was strictly business on a horse, up there to get a job done. And he expected his horse to help him do that job. If the horse didn't or couldn't he got rid of him and broke him another one that would. He just didn't have time to waste on a bad horse.
"Roy, on the other hand, liked to fool with horses and seemed to have a natural touch with them, wasn't the least bit afraid of a horse. Any horse. He just believed a horse wouldn't treat a man mean. And he'd baby those horses and talk to them all the time like they was spoiled children or something. When he got where he thought one was pretty gentle, why he'd just step up on him. I don't know how he kept from getting killed.
David Pickering, Corpus Christi Caller-Times