Contributed by Jane Austin Bruckner - his Granddaughter
Wiley Byrd told this account of his early life in Tom Green / Coke County as Eva Byrd made this handwritten copy of this story during the winter of 1936.
Wiley and Eva Byrd moved in 1950 to Silverton, Texas to be near their daughters, Jessie Byrd McCracken and Della Byrd Word. Wiley Byrd died September 19, 1953 and is buried in Silverton Texas Cemetery. Eva Nunn Byrd died March 19, 1969 and is buried beside her husband in Silverton Texas Cemetery. On September 26, 1971, the Coke County Historical Committee placed a Texas Historical Grave Marker on James Franklin Byrd's grave honoring him as a Confederate Soldier and West Texas Pioneer.
In 1879 my parents sold our home in Gonzales County, bought cows and calves at ten dollars per cow and calf before we started west for free range, with the cattle, two negroes and my father and me to drive the herd. A month before, my uncles and families left Gonzales County to go there.
A man who lived in Burnett County, Bill SIMS, decided to herd his cattle with ours. He also hired a negro to help with the cattle drive. Bill was the boss of the herd from Gonzales County to Burnett County where he cut out his cattle. The two negroes and I managed to herd the cattle the remainder of the way from Burnett County to Tom Green County, north of San Angelo, now in Coke County. My Father, who was in bad health, gave the orders, drove the ox-wagon pulled by two yoke of steers, which was filled with our household goods. Mother drove a span of ponies pulling a "Peter Shuttler Wagon" which we called the chuck wagon. I rode my horse to help with the cattle.
When we reached Mess Box Creek in Tom Green County (now Coke Co), with our 150 head of cattle, we met up with two of my uncles who were camped there with their families and cattle. They had come ahead just a month or so before us. There we stayed through the winter. One of my uncles was JOHN GLOVER and his wife was ANNA BELLE BYRD GLOVER (my father's sister). The following year (1880) Glover and his family moved back to Brown County. The other uncle, ROBERT MELLARD and his wife Della MAY MELLARD (Della was my mother's sister) sold their cattle in 1880 to a younger uncle of mine, William A. JOHNSON, a single man.
Without these uncles and their wives, my Mother, Father and I were the only ones of the family left in Tom Green County and decided to build a house near a big pecan grove or mott on Mountain Creek, five miles north of present day Robert Lee. Here we moved and located for life. During the 1880's my Father's sister, Nannie Frances BYRD and her husband, Wylie T. CARAWAY came with their family and settled near Hayrick.
At the time we reached Tom Green County, this was a fine country. Plenty of tall grass and unsurveyed land here. You could just pick out your territory and claim it. In 1880, settling at the Pecan Mott on Mountain Creek, we got our mail at Fort Chadbourne about once a month. Fort Chadbourne was about 15 miles northeast of us. The nearest families were Jordan and Arminta AUSTIN east of Sanco, the YARDLEY'S who lived in a canyon near Nipple Peak, a round mountain about four miles west of the Fort. The BAW Ranch was southwest of us on the Colorado River, about three miles west of Robert Lee. There were cowboys there, but I never saw a Mr. Baw. Later it was sold to L.B. HARRIS. They were our nearest neighbors for a while.
When we were coming into this area in 1879, there was not a pasture between here and Austin. The nearest railroad was Abilene, and it was a terminal of the Texas and Pacific Railroad Co. San Angelo was then known as Fort Concho and had lots of soldiers stationed there to protect us newcomers from the Indians. We did some of our trading at Fort Concho and some at Abilene.
When we arrived here this country was alive with antelope, which ran in herds of 25 to 75. You could see several herds any day you rode out. There were many wild turkeys on Mountain Creek; as a rule when a roost would be found there would be from 75 to 200. There were also herds of deer.
The Colorado River was much deeper than it is now and had lots of fish in it. We caught all the fish we wanted in an hour or less, any evening. Mountain and Yellow Wolf Creeks were running streams and they had lots of small fish in them. Other animals were wolves, prairie dogs and snakes. There were a few Mexican lions, bears and panthers. The buffalo and the Indians left the year before we came.
In the Fall of 1883 we saw this county had been over stocked and my Father knew our cattle would die that winter without food. So we gathered the cattle, about 150, and started herding them west for grass. We drove them to the line of New Mexico and turned them loose on NEWMAN's Ranch and returned home. Our cattle wintered there managed by Jim Newman and Taylor. Most all of the other peoples stock died here during the winter. I had worked cattle all over this county and adjoining counties before we moved our cattle to New Mexico that winter. The year I was fourteen I took ten saddle horses and went to Newman's Ranch to work our cattle. Newman's Ranch was about 12 miles from Portales, New Mexico. At that time there were a few small ranches of some kind, 40 or 50 miles apart, on the old trail from here to Portales. I worked for Newman for five seasons and wintered in Coke County which was Tom Green Co. at that time. There were plenty of antelope and mustang horses on the plains at that time, but not a town or a farm on the plains above the caprock at the time I was working there.
On this old trail I mentioned that led on into Arizona, there were some real outlaws who made their living on that trail delivering stolen horses to one another. Back and forth they rode this trail. Luckily, they never bothered our ranch horses. Some real outlaws, using fictitious names worked on some of those ranches. They did not stand back in telling us boys they were toughs and they would be hanged if the law had it's way. These men made good cow handlers. They seemed to always be on the look out and in dread. They advised us boys, who were not in trouble, to stay out of all trouble. Some of the boys would have fought a bunch of Texas Rangers before they would have given up anyone in their outfit. That was done at two different time when the Rangers tried to make arrests, which I know of and no arrests were made. I was not with either outfit at the time and was just in my teens. I do not know what became of the officers but they never made any arrest. I knew it would be dangerous for an officer to stick his head up out there. It was considered a darned sorry outfit that would not fight for their own bunch. So we all stuck together like brothers and had all the fun we could under the circumstances. If one of these toughs broke the rules, and there were rules, spoken and unspoken, we wore him out with a six-shooter belt or a boot leg. It was all right with him as soon as it quit hurting. He considered his friends did the job.
During the five years that I was cowboying on the Plains, there were only three or four families that I knew of. There was a man by the name of SINGER, with a wife. They ran a store and Post Office: the name of the Post Office was Lubbock. Mr. Singer's two nearest customers were on the trail. The mail came in once a month. The most of the time there was a family living at Yellow Houses, the headquarters ranch of the Syndicate Ranches. Dave Taylor and wife with two small children lived at White Lakes, about twenty miles northwest of Lubbock Post Office. Old man Cage Stone and family lived on a creek four miles south of Portales, NM. During the time I was working our cattle on Newman's Ranch we got our mail at Yellow House Ranch once a month unless we were off on a round-up.
Our cattle scattered over quite a lot of the plains south to the Pecos River, one hundred twenty five miles. Our groceries and freight came from Colorado City and Sweetwater. We measured miles then by the strength of a saddle pony. We called it 250 miles from Colorado City to the line of New Mexico. We shipped our beef cattle from Colorado City. We would bring down Newman's steers, three or four hundred, four year old steers each fall to ship. These steers grew on the plains and were the largest ones I have ever seen. In those days they netted less than $40.00 a head. He paid his men in those days $30.00 a month and that was high wages. I worked on the DZ Ranch, a few months, but drew no wages. I worked my own cattle with him. I mounted myself with ten saddle horses. Believe me, we rode our horses, sometimes day and night.
After herding our cattle on the plains five years, I had built them to a nice bunch of cattle. My Father's brand was BYRD and my brand was: diamond A diamond. By 1891 my Father and I closed out our interest in the cattle to Delaney Brothers at Sweetwater.
My Father went into the Mercantile business and went broke. It ended in a lawsuit which broke him. After lawyer's fees and all expenses were paid I got out with $1400 cash. I was under eighteen. By that time I had sown some wild oats and had never handled much money. So I placed $1000 in the Colorado City Bank and put $400 in a checkbook in my pocket. I figured I was pretty well hooked up. Money was scarce those days and whiskey was plentiful and cheap. I mounted Brownie, my favorite saddle horse and started home, I supposed to finish the job. At any rate I was broke before I was 21. Whiskey had caused (cost) me about all the trouble and hard work I had had up to that time. It deprived me of an education and society. I decided to get married when I found a beautiful girl, Eva Wrice NUNN, daughter of Thomas M. and Isabelle Conger Nunn. We were married January 15, 1891, at their home on Kickapoo Creek near Bronte. Eva had come by wagon train with her parents in 1888 from the state of Oregon so her father could have a school to teach in. I had a hard time stopping drinking because whiskey was plentiful with open saloons and most of all my associates were drinking. Well, I just kept trying to quit and with the help of the Almighty Power and Eva, I quit. We lived with my folks until we made claim on a section of school land.
Settling down meant I bought 400 head of good young sheep at $4 a head from Bob HAMILTON. I had to put up every thing I had including my buggy and team. Didn't have a blooming thing left but my horse and saddle and my wife. I had handled cattle all my life and I hated a sheep. But Uncle Wiley CARAWAY talked me into buying them as that would be the fastest way to make some money. I had free range and herded them myself. They stayed around $1.00 a head for about three years. In six years I had 1000 sheep and had been selling fat mutton for $1.25 a head and wool for 4 to 5 cents a pound. In six years sheep went back up to $2 a head. I sold out, paid all my debts and had $1,440 left. We know there is money in sheep these days, but boys you can have the sheep. I understand cattle and how to tend them.
The free range played out. In fact we never had any range. As long as it was "free range" that was the trouble. I herded those sheep all over this country and to the Double Mountains fork of the Brazos and back, hunting free range with grass on it. There was very little grass to graze on.
You can all talk about a man should have made money in an early day. My wife and I experienced that time. If we had to make another stake we would choose these times and prices to make it in now, than in the early days (before 1900). When I sold my sheep I took the check to the First National Bank of San Angelo for deposit. I told old man George WEBB I was on my way to Llano County to buy cattle as I had a letter from a friend down there saying I could buy good stock cattle for $10-12 a head. I asked George Webb if I could make arrangements with him at the bank to get more money. He said he didn't think that I could buy cattle at that price, as they were about $15 a head here. He asked me if I knew what a good cow was. I told him I had handled cattle from Gonzales County to the New Mexico line and if I knew anything, it was a cow. I had handled them since I was nine years old excepting six years I was in the sheep business. He remarked, "well, if you have been in the sheep business the past six years, you are a stay-er, so go ahead, when you use up your money on good cattle at $14 a head you may draw on this bank for $700 more." So when I reached Pack Saddle Mountain, fourteen miles below Llano town, the roughest, rocky country, I bought 101 head of good cattle in one bunch at $12 a head. I then bought another 70 head at $10 a head and herded them back to Coke County. They had a drought on down there.
Now I had a claim on a section of school land on Indian Creek, south of Hayrick. I leased two more sections of land and fenced them in. Dug a well and put up a windmill and I don't want any more free range. I began to farm a little. Eva and I planted a garden and had chickens. I have lived peaceably at home every since quitting the range riding.
The winter I rustled my sheep on the Double Mountains trying to keep them alive as they were all we had, I left my wife and baby with my parents. When I left for Llano to buy cattle, I left my wife and three small ones on our claim on Indian Creek to hold possession. I returned in about six weeks. Our nearest neighbors were about a mile away.
The first five years I was married we lived with my parents. Then in January 1895 we moved to Indian Creek. We later bought the School section of land we located on from the State. We later bought a section of Railroad Land joining on the west.
My Father died July 9, 1915 and was buried in Hayrick Cemetery, Coke County, Texas. He served in the Confederate Army. In January 1929 we sold some land to Walker McCutchen because we had built a house in Robert Lee a few years before so the children could live near school. We were living on my Mother's place on Mountain Creek as she was frail, later fell and broke her hip. We have lands joining my Mother's and run some cattle which we hope to never have to give up. Mother died May 7, 1929 and is buried in Hayrick Cemetery beside my Father.
Eva and I have six children whom we have given a good education. 1) Ida Adella Byrd b. 1892 married James Baker. 2) John W. Byrd b. 1894 married Etta Williams. 3) Jessie Byrd b. 1896 married Bill McCracken. 4) Brown Byrd b. 1902 married Euphemia LaGrone. 5) Lila Byrd b. 1908 married Isham Austin. 6) Lois Byrd b. 1913 married Jack Dixon.
Submitted by Jane Austin Bruckner
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