The Pilkington Slough Ranch off of Farm Road 1095 and on CR 365 Oyster Lake Rd. South of Collegeport, TX in Southwestern Matagorda County has been a landmark on the Eastern shore of Tres-Palacios Bay throughout the twentieth century. Originally, the owners of the bulk of this land were three brothers who fought in the Texas Revolution--Daniel, Elias and Erastus Yeamans, who together owned one league of land, which they had obtained through their land grant certificates in 1829. Elias and Erastus were killed in 1836 at the Battle of Goliad. That league of land on which Pilkington Slough Ranch is situated was held by the Yeamans heirs until 1880.
The Pierce brothers, Abel H. “Shanghai” Pierce (1834-1900) and Jonathan E. Pierce (1839-1915) began amassing vast holdings in this area at that time. These lands were held in partnership in 1880 and by 1889, tax records show that Jonathan Pierce owned the land where the ranch is today.
Further to the south, in 1838 at the junction of the Tres Palacios Bay and Matagorda Bay, a settlement called Palacios Point was established in hopes of developing a port. Later, George Burkhart (1828-1887) laid out a townsite, and built several houses, one that he used as a summer home and named “Paradise.” A conflict developed over title to the land where Palacios Point lay, and the port failed to develop. This and the storms of 1875 and 1886 caused the settlement to be abandoned and later revived as Portsmouth by land developer, Burton D Hurd (1868-1936).
The late Abel B. Pierce (1874-1940) of Prairie Center stated that the storm of 1886 destroyed Palacios Point, and that in 1889, Jonathan Pierce had the Burkhart home and lumber salvaged from damaged buildings shipped by barge on the Tres Palacios Bay and up Pilkington Slough, loaded on oxen cart and hauled to a site picked out by his cowboy Robert D. “Bob” Murry (1868-1936) for his summer home, his foreman’s home and sheds.
In an Affidavit of R. D. Murry dated October 5, 1907, Murry says after first being duly sworn, “I am familiar with the lands embraced in what is commonly known as the A. B. Pierce Ace of Clubs Ranch. I have known such land for more than 25 years; that said lands, together with other lands owned and controlled by J. E. Pierce were fenced by a good substantial fence, segregating said lands from the surrounding territory in the early ‘80s, that is the fence extending along the dividing line of the Wm. Wroe league and East to its Eastern line and then in a Southerly direction to Matagorda Bay, that Trespalacios Creek (and Bay) on the West and Matagorda Bay on the South were navigable streams or waterways and formed a barrier for cattle and other stock...constituted a complete enclosure, originally containing about 40,000 acres of land…that J. E. Pierce built a good many camp houses and places in said enclosure, and built and occupied as a small camp the Pilkington Slough Ranch place from about 1890 down to the present time, and had an established ranch at Pilkington Slough on a part of the land described herein for more than 30 years, such ranch being actually occupied by him or his tenants.
In 1898, Galveston News reporter Richard Spillane was sent to interview Jonathan Pierce at “Rancho Grande,” his ranch headquarters. During that visit, he wrote of traveling 17 miles south to see the Pilkington Slough Ranch and on seven miles further to see the Oyster Lake Ranch--all part of the vast domain owned by Pierce.
From Jonathan Pierce, title to the ranch passed to his son James L. Pierce (1898-1931), and finally to grandson, Benjamin Bull Pierce (1928-1976). The ranch, comprised of 2556.33 acres was acquired by Matagorda Land and Cattle Company in 1970, and present day owners since 2001 are G. W. Franzen and Derril and Samantha Franzen.
The structures that comprise the headquarters at Pilkington Slough Ranch and have survived the time from 1889 are the ranch house, a storage building, a “three-holer” privy, a three room board and batten bunk house with a 48’x 8’ porch, and a board and batten barn measuring 18’x100’ with walls of 1”x 12”x 16’ heart pine planks nailed with square nails. Connected to this structure is a shorter addition measuring 18’x100’ that houses a feed room, tack room and stalls. The exteriors of the buildings are quite authentic with the exception of modifications to the main house as bathroom and living space were needed. The main ranch house has been completely restored, but the barn which sustained damage during hurricane Claudette in 2003 has not been restored.
According to Mason Holsworth, a longtime resident who was born in Collegeport, the Pilkington Slough was named for Dr. Samuel Pilkington (1806-1885), an early physician. On June 15, 1841, Pilkington married Susan Perkins, early landowner on the west side of the bay where present day Palacios is situated. From the Pilkington house, one could look up the mouth of the slough. When the B. C. Arthur Survey was laid out, the top of the roof of the Pilkington house was used as the benchmark for this survey. It is surmised that this is how the name evolved. (Note: Some recent maps refer to Pilkington Slough as “Pelican Slough.”)
Jonathan Pierce began to sell off the ranch
lands, and in 1908, the town of Collegeport was founded by the
Burton D. Hurd Land Company on 320 acres of the Pierce lands. The
town’s name was derived from the Gulf Coast University of Industrial
Arts which was built here, and for the proposed port of entry on
Pilkington Slough. A map of the South Park addition to Collegeport,
platted in 1910, shows the proposed Collegeport Ship Channel on the
Pilkington Slough which was never developed.
Through the years, the ranch has been productive as a rice/cattle operation. Several of the Slone family have ranched and farmed here. Thomas Earl Slone (1888-1971) leased the acreage for grazing cattle in the 1920’s, according to his daughter, Gay (Slone) Harrison. Earl (1893-1946) and Hilma (Slone) Huitt (1909-1996) lived and farmed rice on the ranch in the 1930’s. Earl was accidentally killed while shooting blackbirds off his crop. Hilma’s brother, James. C. Slone (1905-2001), moved his family to the ranch to help with the farming operation. William (1911-1999) and Phyllis (1918-1996) Slone also lived on the ranch and ran cattle and farmed rice in the 1940’s. The Frick Brothers were also rice farmers on the ranch. Benjamin Bull Pierce, grandson of Jonathan E. Pierce lived on the ranch in the 1950’s.
Several area ranchers, including Leo A. Duffy (1902-1986) and Percy V. Corporon (1900-1997) used the dipping vat and pens on the Slough Ranch to work their cattle. The remains of the structure contain several sheets of tin roofing bearing the script “Abel B. Pierce, Collegeport, Texas” (a shipping address) on the underneath side.
After acquiring the ranch, Matagorda Land and Cattle Company managed its own cattle operation and share-cropped with several local farmers. The Williams Brothers, Johnnie and Earl Lee “Babe” Williams and Don Fowler farmed rice acreage in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Derril and G. W. Franzen worked for the Williams Bros. in the summers driving auger wagons during the rice harvest. James R. Murry, Jr., grandson of Pierce’s long-time cowboy and foreman, Robert D. “Bob” Murry, farmed rice on the ranch for a number of years.
In 1992, Derril & Samantha and Gus & Ida Mae Franzen (parents of G. W. & Derril) began farming rice on the ranch as cash rent tenants, and in 1994, G. W., Derril and Samantha Franzen purchased the Slough Ranch herd from Matagorda Land & Cattle Company and leased the ranch for grazing. In 2001, the ranch was offered to the Franzens who acquired it from Matagorda Land & Cattle Company.
The sale of Pierce Family lands was crucial to the colonization and development of early 20th Century Matagorda County. The towns of Palacios, Blessing, Markham, Buckeye and Collegeport were all established on Pierce holdings. The fact that this prominent and influential family retained ownership of this ranch amid this period of development suggests that it was significant to them. Jonathan Pierce, the Pierce Family and the subsequent owners and tenants have utilized, maintained and preserved the integrity of the land, natural resources and the structures that comprise the Pilkington Slough Ranch complex for well over 100 years. The opportunity and privilege to visit a site with an original ranch house, barn, cowboy bunk house and other authentic buildings overlooking the Pilkington Slough for which it is named, enables one to visualize ranch life of long ago, and to see that care and appreciation of its history have been carried on by Matagorda Land & Cattle Company and the present owners, the Franzen Family.
Also contributing to its significance, is the fact that Matagorda County is a rural county and the land is our priceless heritage. In almost every decade in which a study has been made of the economy of Matagorda County, the conclusion resounds again and again, “Agriculture and cattle are the main economy.” It is a testimony from the stewards of this land called “Pilkington Slough Ranch” that it be preserved for future generations.
The Pilkington Slough Ranch, now known simply
as the “Slough Ranch,” is a diverse eco-system comprised of
approximately 2500 acres of native grassland, pasture land, farmland
suited for both rice and dry crop cultivation, frontage on the
Tres-Palacios Bay, and of course, the wetland marshes and flats
along the Pilkington Slough whose meanders define the northern
boundary of the ranch. The slough affords refuge for many species
of birds including migratory waterfowl, and has long been a
Copyright 2008 -
Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
Mar. 23, 2008
Jun. 12, 2009