Ab Blocker Tells About Trail Driving Days
From Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, October, 1927
A MAN of the great outdoors, Ab Blocker; sun-browned his face, and written in with evidences of human contact in the wide open spaces where lines definitely drawn and there is no in between, because men are either white or yellow. The quick turn or the head and searching eyes leave nothing unmarked. An alertness that is far-sighted, far-reaching, deep with understanding measures every word, accounts for every act. A dislike for seeming bombastic enumeration of personal exploits, coupled with a gentleness to win a child, a gallantry and reverence for women, a sincerity of purpose, determined will and extreme contempt for a moral weakling. These combined with a six-foot two stature and simple dignity, enter Into the making of one who has won his master's degree in the college of experience—life.
One of four sons was Ab's part to do general ranch and farm work at home. The former was much to his liking, but farming had no part in his picture of the future. It was in ‘76 that he tried his wings, leaving the home nest to work for his brother, John on his Blanco County ranch. Gathering and roping wild steers from the brush and mountains was the task mapped out for him and Blocker declares "It was a man's job too." The steers were driven from where they were captured to Lockhart Prairie, fifteen miles below Austin.
"The year following the gathering of wild steers Brother John, the "big boss," together With sixteen cowboys, myself among them, trailed that herd to Cheyene, Wyo., in exactly eighty-two days. Of all the men who made that drive only three are now living; the others have crossed the Great Divide, but they left their pack horses behind.
"The weather, on that trip, was fiercely cold and our cattle seemed to feel It was a part of their daily routine to stampede and they did their whole duty at it, for they tried It most every night. Just the other side of Dodge City, Kan., there blew up a cold northwest wind that completely demoralized the cattle and the herd stretched out for three miles. Then a driving rain began falling and the combination broke the herd in two. It drifted to a creek and we worked like the mischief to pull it together again before night. When we unsaddled that evening our horses were tired and wet with sweat; the next morning we found every one of 'em stretched out dead, simply chilled to death, that's all.
"Speaking of cold weather, I remember that on the twenty-eighth day of March, '81, we had 3,000 cattle on our ole ranch below Austin. Mesquite trees were in bloom and spring had come, but she didn't stay for long, for that night there came a freeze that weighted the limbs to the ground and between 250 and 300 of those steers, while walking and grazing, were chilled so they froze to death. I've got witnesses to prove that, if anybody doubts it.
"The next spring, getting back to my story proper, after coming off the trail drive, I went on another to Ogallala, Neb. Brother John put me In charge of the herd, and we delivered it to Swenson Bros. near Cheyene, Wyo. The people in those parts then were a pretty tough not, all of the men carried pistols and Winchesters and I told the folks when I got back that the women gave their babies cartridge shells to cut teeth on instead of rubber rings. There were 3,000 cattle in the Swenson delivery and they were wild as bucks, more Blanco County steers out of the brush. In '81 I took a bunch of cattle to the Cross S ranch In Williamson County and the next year I drove 3,000 head from Austin to the Crazy Woman and Powder River. Wyo., and delivered them to Stoddard A. Howard at their ranch.
"I got tired of driving up the trail and thought I would try a new kind of work was what I'd call it. For two years I drove a yoke of steers twenty hours a day, for Brother Bill, hauling everything that could be called feed for cattle. The work was so easy and the hours so short that I found lots of Idle time on my hands in the few hours left of a day and night in which I had nothing to do but to enjoy myself and nothing to spend but easy made money; so I put in the special sessions at Austin and planted dollars where they did the least good and yielded the most fun.
"It was in '84 that I went with a bunch of cattle from Tom Green County to Buffalo Springs. The herd belonged to Brother John and I delivered it to old Barbecue Campbell in charge of a big ranch owned by a syndicate. Joe Collins was driving a herd at the same time, bound for the same ranch. and of course I wanted to beat him to It, which I did by driving at night some of the time. Old Barbecue was worrying himself purple in the face trying to select a suitable brand for the cattle that would also do for a name for the ranch. I suggested X. I. T. and that settled It. He had me burn the first steer to wear the brand, which later became one of the most widely known in the cattle industry: After the severe strain on my mentality In thinking up the name for that christening ceremony I left for Colorado with Alex Caspares, where we sold our horses and went by train from there to Dodge City, Kan.
"Brother John had about 2,500 head on the trail at that time and he wired me from San Antonio to get a horse, take the back trail and stop two or three of his herds, as he had sold part of each of them, which I was to deliver, taking the remainder to Deer Trail, Colo. I got my horse at Camp Supply, where I met all of the bosses of John's herds and they told me the ranchmen in No Man's land refused to let our herds pass. George West's cattle were tied up there, too, along with several smaller herds, belonging to various owners. I sent word to John and West and they came on the run to try to arbitrate; but the ranchers, armed to the teeth, rode the fence day and night and refused any and all offers made for a reasonable settlement, declaring no herd should pass. It was a serious situation. Cattle owners were losing lots of money by the holdup and the men were desperate. One of John's friends came to him and proposed to take his cowboys and "clean up the herd-stopping bunch," but he told him he preferred law and order and would appeal to the authorities in Washington, D. C. After many days of suspense a wire from Washington eased the tension and settled the question without argument, for It read, "Cut fence and pass cattle through, if trouble continues troops will be stationed to handle situation." I had my herd all set and when the boys chopped down that string of fence with axes I was the first one across the line. It was some sight, I tell you, to look back, as far as eye could see, over nothing but cattle, cowboys and chuckwagons all hustling to cross "the strip," which belonged to no man and was claimed by so many.
"In '86 I took a wagon, team and hands down below Pearsall, Texas, to receive 1.500 steers which I later drove to Hugo Colo„ for Blacker, Driscoll & Davis and turned them over to Fine Ernest. This firm had 57.000 cattle and 1,800 saddle horses on the trail that year. When I had put the cattle in old Fine's charge I came back with a wagon and a few of the boys to Tom Green County, where I gathered another herd and drove it to the mouth of Devil's River, delivering it to George Barry to winter there and put across into Mexico the following spring. Then I went back to Austin and farmed for my father and mother for two years. I never made a cent because of dry weather. That ended my farming for good and always and I swore that I'd boil cotton seed before I put 'em in the ground if I ever had to plant 'em again.
"In 1889 I drove 3,700 cattle from Tom Green County to Fort Laramie, where 1.000 of them were sold, and the remaining 2.700 I drove to the Belle Fourche River. When I hit Austin again I sure did live the life of a luxury loafer until my money played out, which is a tragedy whenever it happens; but one that I have found can be lived through several times. When I hit Brother John's Chuperado ranch he put me to work as a plain cow hand, but sometime later he made me boss. This was near Eagle Pass. in the year of 1890. The following year I wintered eight miles from Eagle Pass feeding 1,500 steers. While I was moving a herd one day a fellow rode up and asked me if I had any strays in it branded with a club. I told him I didn't. He rode around a little, came back and said, "If I am not badly mistaken there is an ox on the off side of your wagon tongue that has a club on it" I gave him a first class lesson in cussin' and he asked me who was boss of the herd. I said. "Me, Ab Blocker." He looked at me a minute and said, 'Is It possible for you to be a brother to as good a man as John Blocker?" I decided right then that it was useless for me to do anything more than shine in reflected glory.
"In 1892 I worked cattle with Blocker & Coleman's outfit and the next year Brother John sent me with a wagon and eighty-two horses from Spofford Junction to somewhere about seventy-five miles from Colorado City. From there I was to drive a herd to South Dakota for Harris Franklin. John had told me to cut all cattle that I thought unfit for the trip and although they had been received, I did what he told me, leaving with 2,997 head losing but fourteen of them between there and Deadwood, S. D. When John met me—he had never seen the herd before—he looked it and said: 'Ab, this is the best herd of cattle I ever saw come over the trail.” I felt pretty good after that. When I got back to Texas I was offered a job with the Live Stock Association for the State end I stayed with it eight years. Then I went back to the Chupadero ranch: where I made my headquarters until 1912.
"Now I am at Big Wells and expect to stay. I have looked down the backs of more cattle than any man now living, am 71 years old, own the best cutting horse in Texas and ride him every day. I am going to keep up that lick for ten years longer, then turn Into a gray mule and graze the rest of my life. I figure that I have earned enough free grass to run me the rest of the time I'm here after that and I'd have to be as no 'count as a mule to quit working cattle and riding horses."
Like these hard to find first-hand accounts of frontier Texas? Get 352 complete issues of Hunter's FRONTIER TIMES MAGAZINE here.