CHARLIE CHANDLER, EARLY DAY RANCHER OF THE PECOS
J. Marvin Hunter, Sr.
From J. Marvin Hunter's Frontier Times Magazine, May, 1950
When Charley Chandler, 82 year-old rancher of the Pecos river region, wandered into the "wilds of the Pecos" fifty years ago, it was a howling wilderness, with the exception of a few ranches here and there, fifty miles apart, and the nearest semblance of law was old Roy Bean over at Langtry, sixty miles below.
Jim Carll, San Angelo Standard Times staff writer, in a good article which appeared in that newspaper December 18, 1949, tells somewhat of Mr. Chandler's experiences as follows:
Huge and savage shawl-necked lobo wolves ranged the rugged Independence Creek country when Charles Chandler rode his dun horse across the roughs from Kimble County in 1900. Panthers and wildcats and brown bear roamed the sparsely-settled region in great numbers. Rattlesnake dens spewed untold numbers of the poisonous reptiles each spring. Winding sheep and cattle trails were the only lanes of travel.
But the wide valley down which Independence wound its spring-fed way was rich in good grass and water. The banks of the creek were lined with ancient live oak and pecan trees. The Pecos River, into which the creek emptied, was a wide, deep fisherman's paradise. Blacktail deer and quail and doves were plentiful. Wild ducks and geese settled on the creek and river each fall en route to their winter feeding round. Chandler, then a strapping, 24-year-old cowboy, had found his range. The varmits would cause trouble, of course. But, eventually, steel-jawed traps, rifle lead and good hound dogs would eliminate them. The slender, blue-eyed rider from Kimble set out to acquire his ranch. It took a little while, since 90 horses and some 600 Angora goats. These he had left in Kimble while searching for his range. He had little money.
Chandler took a job with W. T. Carpenter's old Booger-D brand. Booger-D's headquarters ranch was located six miles south of Independence Creek. At the end of Chandler's second year with the brand, Carpenter gave him range for his horses and goats.
"I trailed them across from Kimble," Chandler said,"and began buying up land, piece by piece."
Eventually, Chandler acquired 18 sections.
"I couldn't spread out any more," he said ruefully, "because there wasn't any more land for sale at a price I was willing to pay."
Open range lay to the west. Chandler's goats and sheep ranged far beyond the border of his own land.
"I sheared 13,000 head of goats in 1920," he said, "and had 3,000 head of Delaine sheep under my brand."
Chandler also ran some 300 head of cattle and several hundred head of horses.
"I broke my horses and sold them to neighboring ranchmen as cow horses," he said.
Heavy losses to varmints were suffered during the early years.
"Those big lobo wolves could cut down (hamstring) a horse," Chandler said. "Panthers killed as many as 20 goats in a single night—with the herders bedded down within alarm-clock distance of the bedground."
Chandler, during those early years, trapped or shot 101 panthers, 15 lobo wolves and 4 brown bears. The panthers weighed 200 to 275 pounds and were eight to 10 feet long. The average weight of the brown bear was 300 pounds.
There were no roads in the Independence Creek country when Chandler bought his first automobile.
"I bought that car—one of the first Model-T Fords—from A. Madison of Del Rio," Chandler said. "I didn't know how to drive it, so I paid a man $50 to drive me home. It's only 150 miles to Del Rio by present roads and highways, but we had to travel approximately 18 miles. We came up through Comstock, Ozona and Sheffield. We crossed the Pecos, several miles east of Sheffield, on a ferry operated by a man named Locklear. From that point on, we followed the best cow trail to the ranch. That car was hard to start in cold mornings. Getting to town was a problem. First, I'd have to hitch the car to a saddle horse and take out across a pasture until the motor kicked over. Then I'd work out (drive) through the hollows to the wagon road leading to Sheffield and Dryden. I fixed flat tires more often than I took a chew of tobacco—and I was Terrell County's champion tobacco chewer. My average speed was 20 miles per hour. Once, when I averaged 25 between the ranch and Dryden, a distance of 50 miles, a friend told me I was going to kill myself. He said that was too clanged fast for any man to travel."
In the early 20's, Chandler began experimenting with crops. He discovered that the rich bottomland bordering. the creek would grow everything from cotton to figs. Hiring Latin American labor. Chandler established a 300-acre farm. The rich soil produced watermelons, cantaloupes, cotton and all kinds of vegetables. Chandler planted apple, plum, apricot and peach trees. They produced excellent fruit. He planted two fig trees in his yard. They produced heavy crops. He planted a vineyard. It produced.
"That soil was almost rich enough to grow saddles and boots," Chandler said.
Cotton raised on the farm was wagon-freighted to San Angelo, a distance of 165 miles. Mule teams were used to pull the heavy wagons. Chandler holds the distinction of having been Terrell County's only cotton farmer.
Chandler served as a Terrell county deputy sheriff for 17 years after the county was created and organized in 1905. He also served as a school trustee. The pioneer ranchman still rides when occasion demands. His blue eyes are sharp, far-seeing. His voice retains the strength of youth. His sturdy figure is block-like in its strength.
On April 11th last the senior editor of Frontier Times made a trip to the Charley Chandler ranch to meet this rugged ranchman, and I spent two nights and a day in his hospitable home, just talking over "old times." I knew his fine old uncle, Rome Chandler at London, in Kimble county in 1904, and I heard from him how Charley was "hubbing it out across the Pecos." I did a little "pioneering" out in Crockett county myself almost forty years ago, and while I did not meet Charley Chandler out there in those days, I knew he was somewhere down there on the Pecos, right in the very heart of the hideout for notorious outlaw bands, who slipped in from their raids in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming, to rest up for awhile and get fresh mounts for other raids. "Black Jack" Ketchum, Sam Ketchum, Will Carver, Dave Atkins, Ben Kilpatrick, and other note d train robbers and outlaws, all of whom died violently, rendezvoused in that immediate section where Charley Chandler chose to locate and "stay put" through the years that were to follow. In the deep canyons and yawning caves were plenty of good hiding places, where a whole army of officers could not dislodge them. It was an ideal retreat for such unworthies, and the stories Mr. Chandler can relate would fill an interesting volume. But the outlaws did not molest him, and he did not spend his valuable time looking for them.
Mr. Chandler's ranch is in a beautiful location, with the high bluffs of the Pecos river less than half a mile away, and Independence Creek, with its clear waters and shady groves almost directly in front of the home, about a quarter of a mile distant. Big springs supply the ranch with an abundance of pure water for household and garden use, and large earthen reservoirs have been built to provide lakes, which are stocked with fish. Not far away, Mr. Chandler's son, Joe Chandler, has a delightful home on Independence Creek, which has become quite a fishing and picnic resort, and other sons, Roy, Herman and Clarence own ranches not far away. A bright little adopted daughter, Virginia Chandler, and, two pretty grand daughters, Charlene and Jo Beth, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Chandler, help to brighten the Charley Chandler home.
Charley Chandler was born July 12, 1878, near DeLeon in Comanche county, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Hamp Chandler, early pioneer ranchers. His first wife was Miss Minerva O'Bryant, whom he married at Ozona in 1902. To this union six children were born; four sons and two daughters: Charles Roy, Joe B., Clarence, and Herman; Mrs. Iva Brooks of San Angelo, and Mrs. Effie McGilbree. On July 30, 1929, Mr. Chandler was married in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Miss Iva Lou Echols, daughter of R. N. Echols of Gorman, Texas. Besides being a gracious hostess and a devoted wife, presiding with dignity over her home, Mrs. Chandler teaches the community school in her home, having nine or ten pupils under her care. The ranch is forty miles northeast of Dryden, and sixty miles from Sanderson, the county seat, and it is fortunate for the children of that remote neighborhood that they have a resident teacher. In September, 1946, the McCamey News paid this charming little woman the following splendid tribute:
"I want to tell you about a schoolmarm old timey Texas style. This schoolmarm has only ten students in her school, yet she teaches the first through the eighth grade. The school is in the family ranch house, one room serving as a spare bedroom in the summer and as a classroom during school months. This schoolmarm buys all her school supplies, paying for them out of her salary, which is something like $100 per month. It isn't necessary that this particular schoolmarm Leach school. She and her husband are moderately wealthy. They have a greater sum in worldly goods than most. Perpetual springs of clear, cold, pure water flow from their land; wild turkeys and deer feed within a few yards of their door; tame ducks, guinea hens and fat hogs walk underfoot; figs, dates, and peaches grow in their orchard; their land is stocked with a goodly number of wool-bearing sheep. No, this schoolmarm is not lacking in worldly goods. Yet, each fall she takes down the big bed and moves it, along with dresser and chairs, into storage; and the bedroom becomes a seat of learning. All winter long she cooks for her family, as most ranch wives do, and teaches the little group of young Texans, and when school's end rolls around for another summer I should Imagine that it is with regret that this schoolmarm says: "Class dismissed." This writer says, "A Texas orchid to Mrs. Charles Chandler, Schoolmarm, Texas Style."
Mrs. Chandler is a graduate of the Abilene Christian College, and is now working for her Master's degree.
Living on the ranch, too, is Uncle Bill Hallcomb, who has been right there on the Pecos river trapping predatory animals for more than fifty years. Uncle Bill says he knows every cave and crevice and canyon along the Pecos from Horsehead Crossing to the mouth of the river, and he has trapped and caught every kind of varmint in that region.
Charley Chandler says he has witnessed some big rises in the Pecos river, which is one of the longest streams in Texas, with the exception of the Rio Grande. The Pecos heads away up in New Mexico and flows into the Rio Grande at Langtry, traversing a distance of nearly 1,000 miles in its meandering. He said that he has seen the old river come down on big rises when not a drop of rain had fallen in that region. And Independence Creek, which flows for a few miles the year round, but is a dry arroya for thirty or forty miles above, sometimes gets on a big rampage. He recalled that on June 19, 1909, heavy rainfall above the head of the draw put Independence Creek on the biggest rise. A man named Wes Wade ranched a half mile from the draw, and the big flood washed away his ranch home and several windmills.
Mr. Chandler told us of another incident that happened more than twenty-five years ago. John McKay was a bachelor, who ranched on the Pecos, twenty miles south of Sheffield, and some miles above the Chandler ranch. Mr. Chandler was a deputy sheriff at the time. Late one evening a neighbor came and informed him that John McKay had been killed, Chandler and a man named Louis Friday, who worked for him, went up to McKay's, reaching there after dark. Three Mexicans were sitting around a campfire in the yard eating their supper when they arrived there, and not knowing what might be the situation, Chandler arrested the Mexicans and disarmed them. A fourth Mexican, who worked for McKay, was missing, and the three would not answer any questions as to his whereabouts, or tell anything about the tragedy. Marching them into the house, by the aid of a dim light the body of McKay was found sprawled on a pile of wool sacks. His head had been beaten almost to a pulp with some kind of a blunt instrument. The neighbor who had brought the news to Mr. Chandler, had quietly stolen away when Chandler arrested the three Mexicans, and went back home, leaving Chandler and Friday to handle the situation. Friday was sent to the nearest ranch where there was a telephone, and called the sheriff at Sanderson, sixty miles away while Chandler was left alone to guard the three prisoners until the next day, when Friday returned. While guarding the three Mexicans Chandler learned enough to convince him that the missing Mexican was really the guilty one, for he had taken a paint horse and McKay's saddle and pistol and departed. The Sanderson sheriff notified Texas Rangers along the border to put out roadblocks to keep the murderer from getting across the Rio Grande into Mexico, and it was several days before his trail was picked up. He was seen at a ranch near Marathon, and then later as he neared that town he was overtaken by three Rangers, and when he showed fight he was shot from his horse. Badly wounded he was taken into Marathon. where he died a few days later. McKay's body was buried on the ranch which he owned. The three Mexicans being held by Chandler were released, as nothing could be proven that they had had a part in McKay's killing.
Another tragedy that probably occurred in that section was the mysterious disappearance of old Julius Heusinger, a German trapper, who had his headquarters on the Pecos near Dryden. Mr. Chandler does not remember the year that the old trapper disappeared, but it must have been 20 or 30 years ago. Heusinger had several well trained hunting hounds, and was very successful in trapping panthers, bear, lobos, and other predatory animals. At one time he captured three young panthers, which he tamed and raised, and they were great pets. He finally sold them at a good price. One time he went to Ozona for supplies, and locked his dogs up in his cabin to keep them there during his absence. It seems that one dog was tied in the yard. He reached Ozona all right, and transacted his business, and started on his return to the ranch, and that was the last ever seen of him alive. When he left Ozona he had a jug of whiskey tied to his saddle. Indications were that he camped on Howard's Draw, about three miles above Howard's Well, Some ten days later his horse was found wandering in that vicinity, with the saddle and jug of whiskey still on his back, and not far away was found his hat and one of his shoes. As Heusinger was a hermit, and seldom had visitors at his cabin, no one had noticed his disappearance until his horse branded 7V on left thigh, was found, and one of his dogs, weak and staggering from starvation was discovered nearer his habitation. Investigation revealed that the dogs left in the house were dead from thirst and starvation. Diligent search was made for him for six weeks, but no further trace of him was found, and it is supposed that he crawled into one of the numerous caves in that region and died. Heusinger was well known throughout that section, and was well liked by everybody. His disappearance remains a mystery.
The first job Charley Chandler can remember holding was when he was a boy eight years old, when he herded goats for a Baptist preacher named Harrell, on Deep Creek in McCulloch county, for which he received four goats and $4.00 per month. Goats were then worth about 75 cents per head. His mother moved to Kimble county and lived at Teacup Mountain, near London, where she died, and the boy went to live with his uncle, Rome Chandler. At the age of ten years Charley got a job herding sheep for a man named Jess Howard, and receive d $7.00 per month. He had to look after a flock of 1,300 sheep, on a range ten or fifteen miles from the nearest rancher, and it was certainly lonely, discouraging work for a lad of such tender years, but he stayed with it for thirteen months. There he learned the sheep business well, and this experience came in very handy when he started in business for himself. He learned it all the hard way.
Along about 1912 Mr. Chandler shipped a lot of goats to Kansas City to market, going along on the freight train with them, and on that trip he had a harrowing experience in a cyclone while going through Oklahoma. It was about 3 o'clock p. m., when the wind struck the train, and it suddenly became very dark. When they reached a little town, possibly Hobart, they found a cyclone had torn up the tracks, and the town was in shambles. A freight train, which was on the track when the tornado struck, was blown off and only the engine and fire box remained. One of the cars was an emigrant car and contained cows, chickens, furniture, etc., belonging to a family moving west. This car was blown from the rails and turned bottom side up. The crew of the train which Chandler was on got off to render such aid as they could. Dead and wounded people were found lying in ditches full of water, and not a house in the town was left standing. People were running everywhere, screaming and crying, and as soon as all that could be found were picked up and placed on the train, they were taken to Altus, where they were cared for. Mr. Chandler says the sight of so many dead and injured was awful. He kept hearing someone screaming, which was kept up while they were going back to Altus, and he was told it was a man who had been deaf and dumb all his life. After the storm he could use his voice, but couldn't hear himself screaming, and of course no one could make him hear anything, so he kept up the screaming mile after mile.
Charley Chandler's whole life is a record of thrills and hardships, He talks interestingly for hours of the days of his boyhood and the years he has spent on the Pecos, just everyday happenings that bear the tinge of romance, tragedy, and humor. I enjoyed my brief visit With him so much that some of these days I hope to make another trip out there
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