Tuesday, April 24, 2012
After reading the first few chapters in Cordia Sloan Duke and Joe B. Frantz's book "6,000 Miles of Fence," you start to get a bit of understanding of how intense life was for people who lived and worked on the XIT. With around "150 COWHANDS" and some "150,000 cattle" at any one point during the XIT's operations all spread out over some "3,000,000 acres" you bet work was done (Duke 8). One of the stories told in these chapters is of a cowhand named W. A. Askew, Askew was around the age of twenty when he first came to work for the XIT and did not have a ton of ranching experience (9). Askew started off with plenty of "odd jobs" that were necessary and hard facts of life on the XIT, such as "rescuing cattle bogged in quicksand" (9). This job was certainly not easy or enjoyable, but through many "trying experiences" he found out the proper ways to work the cattle (9). The big reason why so many cattle would get stuck in the quicksand was because of the "heel flies" that attacked the cattle, the cattle would try to escape the flies by going into water or mud and eventually getting stuck (9-10). Another young worker named Bill Benson tells his stories about the tedious job of "drilling wells" (10-11). Drilling watering wells was crucial to everyone and every things survival, and the process of properly drilling wells was long. Benson tells of how it took "over a year" to finish one well and get back to working on another well (11). J.S. Beasly tells his story of hunting and killing "wolves and lobos," "no mercy was shown to wolves" because of they were the ranches biggest enemy (11). Killing of the wolves also provided extra income from the county or boss (11). The process of branding is told as well showing the amount of time and man power it took and needed to properly label the cattle. The labor included, "two ropers, two bulldoggers, two men to handle the irons, and two men to use the knife (for earmarks and so forth)" and "usually some several hundred head were rounded up at a time" (14). The story of S.R. Cooper is quite an amazing tale; leaving home at the age of "sixteen" to find work he found himself at the XIT Ranch (16). With no ranching experience and only a bed and saddle to his name (no horse), he just walked up one afternoon to some workers and asked for a job and was granted one (16). Cooper goes on to tell of how strenuous the first day was but that night thinking it over in his bed he thought, "we got the full benefit of dust, smoke and noise of it all but I was enjoying it as I was now a cowboy and on a big ranch" (17). Some aspects of the ranch were very mentally draining as well, such as the windmill jobs. Earl Davis tells his story about how he "wouldn't see anybody for eight to tend days," and how lonely most men got while having to camp out alone for "months" at a time to watch over the windmills and make sure they would run properly (18-19). A young lady at the time who lived on the ranch recalled seeing the living quarters of the windmill men and seeing "poetry written by cowhands eaten by loneliness and boredom" (18). Imagine being alone in the middle of no where with nothing more than maybe a horse and the wild around you, it would be easy to lose one's mind. Many men could not take even the more lively jobs just because of the amount of work and enviornment that came with the XIT. A cowhand named Blue Stevens was quoted saying, "It took a boy with 'guts' to stay in those days. Those that stayed were the best cowboys I ever saw. I loved them all" (22-23). From unpredictable weather to unforeseeable events that led to constant labor, it took a special breed of man to work on the XIT. For those who stayed and worked on the XIT they would have found themselves doing any number of activities over their lifetime even if they never had any experience in the field, they would learn quick and on the run. There are many more stories in Duke's book that go over many more amazing struggles of work that took place during the years of the XIT. Hopefully these stories will give you a better understanding of the type of people who made up this part of history.
Duke, Cordia Sloan, and Joe Bertram Frantz. 6,000 Miles of Fence: Life on the XIT Ranch of Texas.Austin: University of Texas, 1961. Print.