Cattle Rustling in the Archives

Portions of brands found in Spence Brothers Herd

At the Southwest Collection, we acquire more materials than we can describe in a thousand of these blogs. Some collections span nearly 1,000 linear feet, some a mere wallet-sized box. The Charles M. and James E. Cree Papers are one of the latter. Ranging in type from correspondence to cattle brand identification and stock counts to financial statements, the collection might at first glance inspire little interest. A closer examination, however, reveals over a decade of cattle-rustling and vandalism on a New Mexico ranch at the end of the 19th century.

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James E. Cree was a Scotsman who owned of a distillery in Edinburgh, Scotland (his son, Charles, whose name the collection also bears, was born years after this tale.) He founded the Angus VV Ranch in the 1880’s on Little Creek near Angus in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Cree and his partner Brandon Kirby are credited with introducing the Angus breed of cattle to New Mexico. Pat Garrett, former sheriff and noted slayer of Billy the Kid, at one point served as ranch manager on the VV ranch. (Although in this context, that is just some fun trivia.) The numbers of calves on the VV and other ranches are noted in the document above, as is the certification of the VV brand, below.

Brand Certificate August 30 1886-1

Report of Agent of South Eastern New Mexico Stock Growers Association 1894-1

Why do those administrative cow counts matter? Well, according to the report above as well as several related documents, someone in the Lincoln County area had been cattle rustlin’, specifically “Slick” Miller, Allen Hightower, and the Spence Brothers. From secluded spot to secluded spot, Miller and Hightower had driven the cattle stealthily until the Spences bought them at $4-5 a head. This tale was summarized by an unnamed Agent of the South Eastern New Mexico Stock Growers Association, the report of whom can be seen above, after extensive investigation and testimony.

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Louis Herrera, a ranch employee, provided at least four separate statements at least four separate statement to investigators, a portion of which can be seen above. In other instances, only a portion of the testimony survives. The statement of J. F. Allison, below, is one such. He was involved in the arrest of “old man Eaker,” another rustler who plundered the VV.

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The conclusion of these investigations is not immediately apparent. Some rustlers were certainly arrested; others appear only once or twice in the documents. It is also possible that because these records span over a decade, other instances of cattle rustling are being document here. Perhaps some intrepid researcher could piece the entire story together using the Charles and James Cree Papers along with other SWC collections, or even collections from other archives. So take a look through the papers for yourself, and feel free to get ahold of our Reference Staff. They’re here to herd you through the process if needs be.

The Southwest Collection’s 2015 Highlights

2015 is coming to a close, and the SWC is looking back at some of its favorite images of the past year. (Also, because no one is in the archive for the holidays, we shamefully admit to the necessity having to recycle content!) So here they are – the best of 2015!

The year is wrapping up, and so we bring the SWC’s favorite images from 2015!Back in July we noted that archives have nigh innumerable boxes. But when the Ag Movement tractors and I asked our Registrar to come up with a box-related joke, he replied “If they wanted us to use good grammar they should have made it more easier.”He stands by that statement to this day.

For example, back in July we noted that archives have nigh innumerable boxes. But when the Ag Movement tractors and I asked our Registrar to come up with a box-related joke, he replied “If they wanted us to use good grammar they should have made it more easier.” He stands by that statement to this day.

Less silly but equally entertaining is this footage of our Earth as seen through the first color satellite footage ever taken from space! Well, the footage of the earth is real. As a savvy user pointed out, however, the background and its immobile stars probably aren’t…

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Every other Wednesday around here is dubbed “Western,” y’all, but sometimes we eschew the rodeos, cowboys, and ranching for a classic Ford Fairlane station wagon.

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In January, we installed an exhibit on Texas Tech’s Dairy Barn, a 90-year-old symbol of the campus, still preserved today just yards away from the Southwest Collection. Here’s a photograph of it today, surrounded by our crowded campus, and then, surrounded by…pretty much nothing!

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While every other Wednesday is “Western Wednesday” around here, all the remaining Wednesdays are “Map Day!” One of our most popular maps this year was, curiously, this 1988 map of historic homes and buildings in Lubbock, Texas, produced by the Lubbock Heritage Society and some of their partners.

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We see many bizarre advertisements in our newspaper collections, but few are like the one we found in the spring of 1974: an obsession with streaking in Texas Tech University’s University Daily. No one knows how it started. Some say that streaking had been popular on campus for years already. Others claim that Ray Stevens’ hit, “The Streak,” which debuted in March 1974, was responsible. All we know for sure is that by the time the campus got good and warm, t-shirts featuring the logo above were widely available.

3.l-54.80 female and baby in rebozo beside removable plank door- near village of Wawatzerare

Finally, we have an image from one of our favorite blogs this year. It described our photograph collection of the Tarahumara, a people of the Sierra Madre Mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico, who’ve weathered centuries of attention by Spanish, French, and Mexican governments. They still hold on to many of their original cultural traditions. In the village of Wawatzerare, for example, this woman still carries her baby in a rebozo. This shot was snagged by Father Luis Verplancken, a Jesuit who served in Chihuahua for decades, and who created all of these photographs.

So there you have it: a taste of our favorite images of the year. Keep an eye out for next year’s stuff. It’s bound to be as good (or even better!)

Elmer Kelton’s Papers at the Southwest Collection

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The Southwest Collection is home to the papers of a number of prominent fiction and non-fiction writers, but few among them were as prolific as Western fiction writer Elmer Kelton. Born in 1926 in Horse Camp, Texas (a name that destined him to do something related to West Texas…), Kelton was raised on the McElroy Ranch near Crane, Texas, where his father worked for over thirty years. This experience among a host of others throughout his life shaped the ensuing five decades of non-stop composition.

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After a stint at the University of Texas at Austin from 1942 to 1944, then 1946 to 1948 (sandwiching two years of service in the army during World War 2), he acquired a journalism degree and returned to West Texas where he spent over a decade writing for local newspapers. Kelton’s work appeared primarily the San Angelo Standard-Times, but pieces appeared throughout the region, such the one above from the Big Spring Daily Herald.

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But it was the authorship of more than 30 novels that made his reputation. The resulting accolades are almost too many to list (but we’ll try). 3 Western Heritage Awards, given by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center; 7 Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America; the Barbara McCombs/Lon Tinkle Award from the Institute of Texas Letters; a lifetime achievement award from the National Cowboy Symposium; and the first Lone Star award for lifetime Achievement from the Larry McMurtry Center for Arts and Humanities at Midwestern State University. Oh, and in April 1997 the Texas Legislature declared an Elmer Kelton Day.

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Novel-writing and award receptions had to be scheduled around his other career. Kelton spent five years as Sheep and Goat Raiser Magazine’s editor, twenty-two as associate editor of Livestock Weekly, and of course, the diligent newspaper work that he continued until the 1990s. The excerpt above is an excellent example both of his prose and the sense of humor that permeated it (as well as a host of entertaining ads for the upcoming local rodeo).

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As a longstanding member (over 40 years) of the Western Writers of America, Kelton often found himself collaborating with other writers. The letters below and above, dating from 1972, concern a project wherein several writers would compose a story by passing it from writer to writer, each of whom would add to it before giving it to the next. Although the outcome of this project wasn’t apparent from a brief search through the boxes of correspondence in his Papers, we suspect a dedicated researcher might find the answer someday.

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Elmer Kelton’s catalog continued to grow even after his passing in 2009, with Texas Standoff, a novel in his Texas Rangers series, appearing posthumously in 2010. But honestly, our 500 words of description are hardly able to do justice to the man’s colossal body of work. His novels are widely available in libraries (including ours) and you’d do well to pick one up and read it through. Or, if you’d like to research further into the nuts and bolts of a famed Western writer’s process, our helpful Reference staff would be happy to get Kelton’s papers into your hands.

 

When the Matador Ranch Came to the Southwest Collection

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The Matador Ranch was established in 1879 by Alfred Britton, Henry Campbell, and their associates. It covered one and a half million acres in Motley, Cottle, Floyd, and Dickens counties of Texas. In 1882 the founders sold their cattle and range rights to a syndicate based in Dundee, Scotland. And it is there that the story of one of the Southwest Collection’s first and greatest collections begins.

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With rare exceptions, such as during periods of drought, Matador stockholders received substantial dividends. In 1951, however, they sold their shares to Lazard Brothers and Company. Many of the ranch records that were now no longer needed were quickly given into the care of the Southwest Collection. The Matador Land Book, pages of which can be seen above and below (and here!) was one such item. Another was a Payroll Ledger that names every cowboy in the employment of the ranch. These are only 2 among thousands of treasures that were donated.

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But one thing continued to plague Dr. Seymour V. Connor, the director of the SWC when the records arrived. Although many items of interest to researchers–such as the map of Matador lands provided to the Texas Pacific Railroad (below)–were now housed at Texas Tech, the remaining records remained in Dundee, Scotland, home of the ranch’s international administrators. As long as these documents lay overseas, they remained out of the hands of eager researchers. And so Dr. Connor set out to bring them back to Texas. Years of heartfelt, patient negotiations with past and present Matador investors and their families paid off in 1957 when, at long last, boxes full of Dundee records rejoined their brothers in our archive.

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Some at the time hailed the now-complete Matador Records as “one of the most valuable collections ever received by a college in Texas.” Its contents back up this assertion: reams of legal documents, payroll records, herd books, range diaries, and international correspondence can be found alongside mile-by-mile accounts of herds driven north. Detailed outlines of time-tested methods used by ranch superintendents to manage herds are also present. How much money would a top hand (or significantly lesser hands) receive in wages? The Records can tell you. They even noted the location of lands set aside for community projects, such as the Lee County School Lands shown below. As the news program “Texas in Review” declared, the Southwest Collection could now boast “a complete portrait of one of the most fascinating ranch stories in history.” We may be a little biased, but it’s hard not to agree!

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Folks interested in the Matador Ranch’s history should contact our Reference Staff who are always eager to help get these items into curious hands. Also, The Handbook of Texas has published more in-depth online biographies of the Matador Ranch and the Matador Land and Cattle Company.

Anson, Texas’ Cowboys’ Christmas Ball

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This drawing is used annually in Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball promotions. It depicts the instrumentation described by Larry Chittenden in his poem, as well as depicting dancers performing a quadrille.

The Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball is a nearly unbroken Texas musical tradition held every December in Anson, Texas (in Jones County, roughly 25 miles northwest of Abilene). The event began with a grand ball thrown at Anson’s Star Hotel in 1885 in honor of the cattlemen of the region. William Lawrence “Larry” Chittenden attended that night and was so impressed by the festivities that he immortalized them in poetry. “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball” was first published in the Anson Texas Western in 1890 and subsequently in his Ranch Verses of 1893. He describes his Ranch Verses as being “born in the idle hours on a Texas ranch.” Chittenden’s ranch on which he lived for almost two decades was located seven miles outside of Anson. For more information, check out the Texas State Historical Association’s biography of Chittenden.

Chittenden’s “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball” was dedicated “To the Ranchmen of Texas,” and paints a vivid picture of a holiday celebration. He describes the hotel as being “togged out gorgeous” and decorated with candles, mistletoe, and “shawls” (which many have interpreted as blankets placed at the windows to insulate the hotel better). Lead by “Windy Billy,” who sang and called the dances, the crowded Star Hotel saw a very “lively gaited sworray” that evening in 1885. Chittenden even describes the original instrumentation: bass viol, fiddle, guitar, and tambourine.

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Larry Chittenden

Though the hotel would be lost to a fire in 1890, Chittenden’s poem immortalized the spirit of a cowboy Christmas celebration for generations to come. Many folklorists reprinted his words through the years (including John Lomax first in his Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads in 1910. Lomax eventually attended the Ball in 1939). Even to this day we see the Chittenden’s poem in pop culture. Anson Texas would see some Christmas celebrations similar to the ball held irregularly in the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until 1934 that the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball was reborn.

In 1934, an Anson schoolteacher and local folklorist named Leonora Barrett helped stage the first re-enactment of the 1885 ball in the school’s gymnasium. Once again, people from Anson and surrounding communities joined in to celebrate the Christmas season. Sadly, Chittenden passed away in September of 1934 and would never get to see the ball reborn. Barrett insisted that the reincarnation of the ball retained the original dances, music, and customs of the first ball. This tradition, which includes men removing their hats on the dance floor and women only allowed to wear skirts, is kept to the present day.

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Photo from the Frank Reeves Collection (http://ow.ly/rOf5t). We believe this to be a rare image of Cowboy Christmas Ball founder, Leonora Barrett at one of the 1930s balls.

Barrett, along with Hybernia Grace (another local historian), meticulously researched the conditions surrounding the original ball and worked diligently to preserve as much local history as possible. For example, another tradition kept to this date is one suggested by Mrs. Ophelia Keen nee Rhodes, whose father owned the Star Hotel in the 1880s. She wrote a letter to Barrett that was then published in the Anson newspaper Western Enterprise of December 19, 1935. Keen remembers that one of the early Christmas balls celebrated a wedding, and so at the ball each year, you will see a newly-wed couple lead the grand march at the beginning of the ball. The grand march is one of eight dances that are traditionally performed at the Ball; others include the Paul Jones, the Virginia Reel, a polka, Schottische, two step, waltz, and ‘put your little foot’.

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Several couples dancing at the Ball in the late 1940s or early 50s. The Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball Association members emphasize that the event is a recreation of an 1885 celebration, and therefore have rules about dress. Men must not wear hats on the dance floor, nor should they wear spurs. If women are on the dance floor, they must be in skirts but no split skirts are allowed. Because of the spirit of the event, many participants attend in period attire. Notice in this picture the attempt for historically accurate western clothing. But also notice the many onlookers in the background; pioneer hall has plenty of seating for those who just want to watch the festivities and not dance or dress up.

Soon after its rebirth, the Ball became part of the Texas Centennial festivities in 1936, and in 1938 Anson residents danced on the lawn of the White House during the National Folk Festival. The Ball was expanded from one night to three, with a parade of historic vehicles even being featured in the late 1930s. Because of the Ball’s continued success, Barrett helped to copyright the reenactment, as well as creating a board of directors, who are now known as the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball Association. Pioneer Hall was built in 1940 as a permanent home of the three day festivities. The Hall was designated a historic site (and the Ball a historic event) by the Texas Historical Commission in 2010, after 75 years of re-enactments.

From the 1940s up until the 1990s, few records exist of the ball. We know it was a successful event based on newspaper articles, as well as the few surviving photographs, film reels, and one amazing ledger. The Southwest Collection is proud to house the original ledger started by Leonora Barrett in 1934 on the occasion of the first re-enactment. Each year she details noted guests, hosts, broadcasts made by radio stations, the leaders of the grand march, and other pertinent details. The ledger was kept updated until 1994 and is one document that allows scholars to see the completely unbroken tradition.

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The ledger that Leonora Barrett started with the first re-enactment of the Cowboys’ Christmas Ball in 1934 and was kept until 1994. This is the first page of the ledger, which details some of the earliest Cowboy Christmas Ball activities and participants. The original ledger is kept in the Southwest Collection, and the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball Association displays a facsimile copy at the ball each year. (Click on the image for a larger version!)

The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball was reborn in a sense in the early 1990s, when Michael Martin Murphey began performing in Anson as the annual headliner. In 2010, Murphey began donating his materials to the Southwest Collection’s Crossroads Music Archive. It was also at this time that he put the archive in touch with the organizers of Anson’s Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball. In 2014, Texas Tech professor emeritus Paul Carlson’s book on the Ball will be published through Texas Tech University Press.

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Cowboy singer and songwriter Michael Martin Murphey has been the annual headliner at Anson’s Cowboys’ Christmas Ball since 1993. Here he performs one of tunes with his daughter, Sarah.

Though the music has been electrified and grown beyond four instruments, and historical dress is not required, attending the ball is still a festive step back into an older tradition. Each year, the ball is held on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday prior to Christmas. If you would like to attend this year’s Cowboys’ Christmas Ball, it is this weekend! December 19th, 20th, and 21st. Michael Martin Murphey will be performing on the final evening.  For information on tickets, times, and directions, visit the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball website.

by Elissa Stroman, Southwest Collection Audio/Visual Department