- James W.
Source: American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the
Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940, Gauthier, Sheldon F. ,
Tarrant Co., Dist., #7,
- James W. Mathis, 65, was
born Feb. 1, 1873 at Logan Co., Ark. His father migrated from Ark,
Logan Co., Texas, in the year of 1885. He settled on a tract of
land located 60 miles N. W. of Austin, adjacent to the Colorado
River. The tract of land belonged to John
Sherly, grandfather of James, who conducted a cattle
- William Mathis and John
Sherly became partners in the operation of the Sherly cattle
ranch. James Mathis then 12 years old, immediately went to work as
a cowboy, which work he followed until 1898. He then quit the
range to engage in farming and moved to Tarrant Co., Texas,
settling on a tract of land located at Diamond Hill, now a part of
the city of Fort Worth.
- His story of range life follows:
- "I was born in the State of Ark, Feb. 1, 1873. My father was a
farmer and he cultivated land located in Logan Co. Father sold his
Logan Co, farm in 1885, and started for Burnet Co, Texas, with his family and
household goods loaded in a covered wagon. The outfit was pulled
by a team of oxen, so we had plenty of time to view the country as
we passed through it.
- "When we arrived at the Washita River in the Indian Territory
(now Okla.) my brother became very sick and the boy's condition
caused my father to change his plans. Father decided to travel the
remainder of the way by train and he sold his oxen and wagon to a
party at the river crossing. The sale deal called for the buyer to
deliver the family and our personal goods to Clarksville, Texas,
which was done and there we boarded a train for Austin.
- LONG TRAIN RIDE
"The ride from Clarksville to Austin was enjoyed by all of us,
more than usual, because of our wagon and ox team trip. When we
arrived at Austin [??] to another railroad for our trip to Burnet.
Well, that was a train ride which will stick in my mind so long as
- "The distance from Austin is around 60 miles and it took that
train seven hours to make the run. Yes, sir, it was seven o'clock
in the morning when got aboard that narrow-gage railroad train,
and we lit in Burnet at two o'clock in the evening. There was no
rock, washout, or broken track. The only interference that the
train encountered was an occasional bunch of cattle or sheep which
were on the track and had to be chased off. Outside of stopping so
the train crew could chase the critters off of the track, that
train proceded steadily, except to take on fuel, discharge
passengers and such other routine work as is usually done.
- "Along about at half way father began to worry about our fare.
There were four of us children all entitled to half fare because
of our ages. While discussing the speed of the train with mother,
father said to her, 'I wouldn't be surprised if we are called upon
to pay full fare for these children, because they all will be over
12 years old by the time we arrive at Burnet. The conductor
questioned my age when he took up the tickets, and I was a triffle
large for my age, but father told the conductor that 'He may be
over the half fare limit now, but wasn't any fault of mine; the
child was under the limit when we got on the train.
- "There was one good feature about the train and that was its
rocking. Two of the children were under three years old and the
two young lads slept nearly all of the way, because they reckoned
that they were in a cradle. However, mother didn't fair so well,
she became sea-sick and claimed that the rocking caused it, but
father maintained it was due to mother being reared in Arkansas,
where folks never rode in anything but wagons pulled by oxen.
Therefore, she was only overly excited from the train's speed.
- "We had been traveling for about an hour or so when the train
stopped and we were in the open country with not a house in sight.
After the train was again on its way, and the conductor came
through the coach, father inquired of him why the train stopped.
The conductor said, 'a bunch of critters were on the track and the
fireman had to chase those animals off to prevent running into the
lot'. In about 30 minutes after the train started it stopped again
and when the conductor came through father again asked him about
the cause of the stop. The conductor said:
- "'It's the same trouble, cattle on the track again'".
- "'Impossible! replied my father. 'This train couldn't have
caught up with those critters so quick'".
- "Every hour, while running that 60 miles, the train stopped
once or twice while the train crew chased critters off of the
track. Looking out of the train's windows, all that one could see
was herds of critters.
- "We were headed for the cattle ranch belonging to my mother's
father, John Sherly. Father went there to join him in the cattle
- MILKING IS WOMEN'S
"Mother said to father, while on the train and looking at the
herds of cattle through the window: "'we can be sure of one item
of food and that is milk. "When we arrived at grandfather's place
mother couldn't find one drop of milk or a speck of butter
anywhere about the ranch nor a cow that was being milked. Mother
couldn't understand how folks would go without milk and butter
while surrounded with thousands of cows. She asked grandfather
about the milk matter he told her that it was disrespectful for a
cowhand to milk a cow and none of his men would lower their
dignity to such extent. However, it was considered fitting for a
woman to do milking and that she could do all the milking that she
wished to. Father cut out a couple young mother cows and we had
plenty of milk, cream and butter in a short spell of time. It took
a week before father could gentle the animals to stand for being
- "The Sherly ranch was located in the section of Burnet Co.
touching the Colorado River. The North end of the ranch was where
the Colorado River Dam is now builded. There were around [200?]
head grazing on an open range that later was fenced.
- The Sherly ranch [heradquarters?] had a small tract of land
adjacent to it that was cultivated and fenced against the cattle.
On the tract of land vegetables, wheat and corn was raised for
family use. The meat supply was at hand on all sides and a fat
yearling was butchered when a supply of beef was needed. In
additon to beef, we had an abundance of wild game that could be
hunted easily and we had wild game meat when we hankered for it.
- RANCH LIFE FOR A
I was old enough to work when we settled in Burnet Co,
consequently, I started at once to learn the cowhand's jobs.
First, I had to learn how to ride a hoss and that did not take
long. Inside of a month I was pert enough at riding to handle an
ordinary hoss. I learned to handle a rope while getting my riding
knowledge and at the end of a month's time I took my part as a
hand on the range.
- "Except during the roundup, we lived at the ranch house. We
waddies would be in the headquarters every night, but our work
took us during the day for quite a piece, at times, and then the
boys would carry snack for our noon lunch. We rode over the range
keeping our eye peeled for bogged and injured critters. When we
came upon a bogged animal, we would put the loop on the critter
and the hoss did the rest, by pulling with the rope tied to the
saddle horn. Screw worms were another thing we had to watch for.
Worm would often get into cuts that the critters received and we
had a salve concoction that us waddies applied to the cut which
killed the worms.
- "When a bunch of critters were wanted for the market we would
cut those out and hold that herd until delivered, and with such
herds was the only night riding we did. What I have [chined?]
about the work was the regular routine the year round, except the
- "During the spring roundup all the outfits ranging in that
section would unite their crews and work the range together. The
crews worked as one outfit and the reason for so working was due
to critters belonging to the different ranches being mixed, more
or less. One of the waddies would be put in charge of the roundup
and the waddies would be divided into several crews for the
various jobs. Some did the gathering of the cattle, some did the
herding after the critters were gathered, some did the cutting
out, and some attended to the branding. Of course, in addition was
the cooks and the hoss wranglers.
- "The crew which did the gathering took a section of the range
at a time and hunted out all the critters, drove the those to a
centeral point during the day and then at the end of of the day's
work drove the herd into the branding camp. At the camp the herd
was turned over to riders that rode the line holding the critters
until the herd was cut and branded, after which the animals were
turned loose to run the range again.
- "The cutting crew had mostly calves to deal with, but
occasionally a maverick would be found. The cutters were mounted
on the top hosses that were in the remuda and would change mounts
about each hour. The cutters would ride into the herd looking for
unbranded critters and those found would be cut out, roped,
hogtied and then branded with the critter's proper brand. The
mother cow always gave the cue to the brandmen as to what brand to
burn on the calf. When a cutter looped a calf it would start
bawling and its mother then would come a-running to it. What ever
kind of a brand the mother carried would be the brand burnt on the
calf. It always has been a wonder to me how a mother cow could
tell the bawl of its calf out of the hundreds that would be in a
herd. When it came to branding mavericks, those were rotated, sort
of divided among the outfits, because there was no way of telling
which ranch owned the [marvericks?].
- "Among the outfits that took part in the roundups with John
Sherly were Jim Beaman, John Croft and several small outfits that
came and went so gave a different lineup each year. Sherly and
Beaman united their chuck wagon outfits and did the cooking for
the whole outfit at the roundups.
- "It took between 30 and 60 days to cover the whole range
section and during that spell we did our sleeping rolled up in a
blanket and if it rained we threw a slicker over the blanket.
- "When the weather was pretty we all spent enjoyable hours
around the camp fire before doing our blanket roll. Of course
there was night riding to do, but only four to six men did riding
at a time and riding crews were changed every four hours. Night
riding was necessary at the roundups, because the herd had to be
held until the cutting and branding was done.
- "Outside of the waddies riding the line, all of the waddies
could engage in some kind of pass-time, before [rilling?] in for
the night's shut-eye. Some of the waddies would play poker, some
would tell stories and some would be sitting around a fiddler
listening to [catgut?] agitation, and perhaps to sing to the
- "My father was an agitator of the [catgut?] and he always had
an audience. I have forgotten nearly all the words of the songs
them waddies sang. I'll try and give the words of one song that
was often sang.
"As I was a walking one morning for pleasure,
- I spied a cowbuncher riding along.
- His hat was thrown back and his spurs was
- a-jinglin'. as he aproached he was singing this
- Whoopee, ty yi yo get along little dogie.
- Sing 'er out my bold coyotes, lether fists
- and leather throats. Tell the stars the
- way we rubbed the haughty dawn.
- We'er the fiercest wolves a howling and it's
- just our night for prowling.
- [??] a-riding up the rocky trail from town"
- STORY TELLING
"What interested me was the story telling. Now, when them
waddies were all bunched together and started to telling about
their experiences, cattle were herded from the Rio Grande to the
Canadian boarder, stampedes were handled in hurricanes, ferocious
beast were roped and hogtied single handed and wild stalions, of
extreme beauty, were busted and genteled to household pets.
- "If a fellow wanted to become educated in the cow business,
all that was necessary for him to do was to sit and listen to them
old rawhides rattle off hot air.
- I shall repeat a story that I still can recall that was told,
which will give one an idea of the stories of experiences which
were told at the camp. The story was told by an old waddie who had
[worked?] in all section of the cattle country, and here it is:
- "'One spell I spent a couple of weeks in Amarillo, after
working the roundup for the 'T Diamond' outfit. It was back in the
days when Amarillo's business places were mostly pizen jionts,
gambling joits and [?]-pens.
- 'There was one pizen joint that run a louse nest in connection
with its bar and the place bunked you in those nest for a two-bit
piece, but guaranted nothing and a buckaroo just took his chances
on what ever would happen. I patronized this louse-nest for my
spells of shut-eye and drank most of my pizen at its bar.
- "'At the end of the second week, one night, I rolled into the
nest for a spell of rest. I awoke after being asleep for some time
and heard the knob of my door moving. I squinted at the door and
saw it slowly opening. It opend fully and then I saw standing on
the threshold a human dressed in the garb of a woman. However, by
its looks I couldn't tell for sure that it was a human. The hags
face had no nose, her face was simular in shape to those of a
rat's and I couldn't see a mouth, where the mouth ought to be at,
and her eyes glistened like two pieces of glass.
- "'Not a sound did the hag utter, she just stood gazing at me.
It had me plum loco, but I finally yelled, 'get to hell out of
here, and do it pronto".
- "'The door then began to slowly move to and closed without any
- "'Now, you waddies know that a short visit by such a person is
too long and more visits than one is too many, so I got out of bed
and bolted the door and calculated that I had forgotten to attend
to that chore when I rolled into the nest.
- "'I had a bottle of stimulating pizen and quaffed a shot of it
to settle me nevers, then crawled into the nest for some shut-eye.
- "'That shot of pizen got to doing its duty and I was feeling
quite pert, when again I heard the knob of the door moving and the
door slowly opened. By God! there stood the caller staring at me
again. That put me plum riled and I threw down on the hag and shot
three times. Now, you fellows may not believe this, but the shots
never fizzed the hag. I then saw that shooting couldn't get me
anywhere as I was in a gopher hole. However, the door slowly
closed again after the shooting and that settled the matter for
the time being.
- "'It came into my conk to go down to the bar, then the idea of
meeting the hag in the dark put leaving the room out of my head. I
hit the pizen again to settle my nerves. It was a chilly night,
but drops of sweat were standing all over me. I tried to figure my
proper move, but couldn't see any way out except to wait for
daylight, so there I sit with the bottle of pizen for company and
- "'I received two more calls and each were a repetition of the
others. At the first break of day I left the room for the bar. The
prop' was there and I told him what kind of a place I calculated
he was running. The prop' sez to me, he sez, 'fellow the place is
in top shape. Now, here is the layout. A pizen salesman dropped in
here a short spell back and sold me a barrel of pizen, guaranting
it to be of good taste and flavor. The price was half that which I
usually pay so I took a chance on the stuff. There is only one way
I can test liquor and that is by having some one drink it. I used
you for the test and I reckon the pizen is alright, because it
took two week for it to put you loco.'"
- RUSTLERS, INDIANS, and
"The cattle rustlers caused aditional work for the waddies.
There was a spell of time when rustling was real troublesome in
Burnet, Co, and adjoining territory. It was said that if Jim Beaman, "Uncle"
Alex Coft and John Sherly were
taken out of the county there would be nobody but rustlers left.
In fact, Beaman was put out of the cattle business at one time by
rustlers. He became a wee bit careless about watching his herd and
the rustlers took nearly all of his stock.
- "There was many fights between the rustlers and [?], and many
men were hung up to dry [?] branded for the eternal range. There
was an organization formed by the [?] element that was called the
vigilants and when a party was known to be a rustler, a notice to
leave the country would be delievered to the such person. If the
pary ignored the notice then the vigilants would make a call.
[???], Dave [?] had a brother who received a notice from the
vigilants to which he paid no mind. The day after the time set for
him to leave, as set up in the notice, his hoss came home without
its rider and the saddle was covered with blood. A short time
after this incident Dave received a notice demanding that he leave
the country in three days. [?] read the notice [?] said; 'The
varments 'llows me three days to drag out o'here, but I'll give
'em back two and half days[?] and he did by getting out pronto.
- "The Texas Rangers came into the section and did a clean up
job, after that things became more orderly.
- "The Indian trouble was about over with when we lit in the
country. There was only one raid which took place after we arrived
there. A family living at the Pack Saddle Mountain district were
wipped out. The family's name was Whitlock
or Woodlock, I can't recall which of the two names is
- "If we leave out the rustler trouble, all the tough times in
the cattle business took place before my family moved to Burnet
Co. The work became easier after we came to the country. About the
second year after our arrival fences began to appear. John Sherly
was among the first to fence the cattle range with wire and after
the range was fenced the work was a great deal easier. We did not
have to worry about the cattle drifting off. When a bad norther
was on its way, and after it hit, the herd would drift for
shelter. If the herd was not watched it would drift for miles
during a bad spell of weather. The fence took care of the drifting
trouble, however, riders had to be riding the line at all times,
watching for breaks, some of which were caused by the rustlers
cutting the wire. The rustlers would cut a gap so the cattle could
drift through and then the rustlers would pick the critters up.
- "After Sherly completed his range fence, We had only one run
in with the rustlers during my stay there. The rustlers were spied
picking up about [25?] head that had drifted through a gap in the
fence, which they had cut. My father, Sherly, my brother Frank and
I took out after the three fellows. They sighted us comming when
we were about a mile away and then the rustlers poured their
guthooks into their mounts. We dashed after fellows and it was as
pretty a hoss race one would want to look at for about five miles.
The rustlers were mounted on good hosses, which were equal to
ours, and we had a pert time trying to keep in sight of the boys.
It was late in the evening and the rustlers hit for the Colorado
River bottom. With darknesscoming on, it was useless for us to try
catching them, so we turned back, but we got our cattle back.
- "I left Burnet Co. in [1898?] and came to Tarrant Co. I
settled at Diamond Hill, that is now a part of the city of Fort
[Worth?], and I farmed a tract of land there. There was not much
farming around Fort Worth at that time. Just here and there a farm
settler could be found. Most of the territory around the town was
a cattle range. The territory [?] at Diamond Hill and extending N.
to [Sagnaw?] was then the Daggett ranch.
- "My last work as a cowhand was dragging to Parker Co. with a
small crew, and driving a herd of cattle to Frank's ranch which
was located East of Fort Worth. That was in 1899, and from then on
I devoted my life to farming.
[The biography of John Shirley and
his wife, Eliza Ann Box is in the
Burnet County History, Vol II, page
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