George W. Saunders Rasps Critics of the Pioneers
[From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, April, 1924]
The Texas pioneers, the Texas ranchmen, the Old Trail Drivers—their great achievements and traditions—have been besmeared and misrepresented by such critics as Teddy Blue, Stuart Henry and others claiming to be authorities on the subject. In "The Trail Drivers of Texas," Vol. 1 and II, which I published, are contained hundreds of sketches from the pens of these old empire-builders, which will silence the battery of all such self-styled authorities. Stuart Henry's recent attack in the Literary Digest, International Book Review, on Emerson Hough's "North of 36," and "The Covered Wagon," teems with aspersions which look pale to real old timers and should not pass unanswered.
I was born within sixty miles of San Antonio, 1854, raised on a cattle ranch, and drove the Northern trails from 1871 to 1886, am still in the cattle business and have kept in touch with cattle movements from the Rio Grande to the Canadian line all this time. I have kept myself thoroughly informed upon conditions confronting the stockmen and the changes in the cattle business, and have been gathering data for my books since 1874. The critic and writer can get more authentic information from the thousands of Old Trail Drivers still living in Texas than they can from Wild West stories and imagination.
Hough's "North of 36" was partly built from Vol. I of the "Trail Drivers of Texas," which he acknowledged he used for its authenticity, and his description of moving herds, habits and customs of cowboys cannot be beat. Hough went among the pioneers and got his information. He once lived on a ranch in Bexar county, near San Antonio. Mr. Henry, I understand, got his information in New York, and Paris, France, Andy Adams, "Log of a Cowboy," and other books: Charles Siringo's books, Rollins' book of cowboys, all describe ranch and trail life correctly, but they also use considerable coloring and uncertain borrowed stuff. However, no old timer could condemn them. Stuart Henry says almost no one now lives who saw the Chisholm Trail or that early village of Abilene, Kansas. There are thousands of men living who drove the Chisholm Trail and saw Abilene, Kansas during the famous trail driving days.
Starting in 1867 and closing in 1895, it is estimated that there were thirty-five thousand employed in this work. At least ten thousand are living yet, scattered over the world, but mostly in Texas. Young men that drove in the eighties and later, range in age now from 55 to 65 years. They are identified with all industries of our country leaders in all useful enterprises. I never heard of one being a sneak thief or a burglar. Their sons and grandsons number many thousands, and will keep the light of their ancestors burning for many years to come.
Henry says the Trail Drivers did not recognize the Fourth of July; they claimed to be Texans, not Americans; had but little use for the Stars and Stripes. He says the trailers left Abilene before the Fourth of July each year. It is well known that most of the early Trail Drivers held their cattle near Abilene until far in summer or fall and then sold or shipped to market and the boys that could leave the herds celebrated the Fourth of July each year at Abilene.
If Henry were to make that statement in any cow camp in Texas—Hot Dog! He says the cattle trails did not reach within six hundred miles of the Canadian line. North and South Dakota, Wyoming and all the Western States we're stocked with Texas cattle bought in the Kansas markets. He says forty-five hundred cattle could not be driven in one herd. Such herds were few, but I have known five thousand to be driven in one herd. He says the Trail Drivers and frontiersmen and their women-folk were wizened, weary, forlorn, gaunt, homely men and women, who lived sordid lives. This is proof that he never was in Texas, where were bred the most patriotic protectors of American traditions—men who have answered willingly to every call made by our government; men who forged to the front in every battle at and since the Alamo and San Jacinto; men who did not know what defeat meant.
Another statement by Mr. Henry which runs contrary to the facts, is that no women went up the trail. Again is ignorance bliss. A number of women did go up the trail, notable among them being Mrs. Amanda Burk, who accompanied her husband from Corpus Christi to Abilene, Kansas. Her presence on that trip is cherished in the memory of the old-time trailers to this day. Not only during the days of the trail but ever since, she has befriended the old boys who visited her ranch near Cotulla, where she has followed ranching since the death of her husband many years ago, and scored great success. Mrs. Burk not only followed the trail but, she is a member of the Old-Time Trail Drivers' Association, and attends the re-unions thereof at San Antonio. She has been crowned Queen of the Trail, and bears the title with becoming grace.
Henry does not belong to this society. We don't need his kind.
Many of the old pioneer Trail Drivers that drove to Abilene in 1867, 1868 and 1869 are living, scattered all over Texas. Here are a few of their names: George West, San Antonio, Texas; D. S. Combs, San Antonio, Texas; Charles Goodnight, Goodnight, Texas; A. D. McGheer San Marcos, Texas; W. E. Cureton, Meridian, Texas; M. A. Withers and Sam Garner, Lockhart Texas; Jim Daughtery, Van Horn, Texas; Luther T. Clark, Quannah, Texas; L. D. Taylor, Bigfoot, Texas.
There are thousands living that drove the Chisholm Trail—men who can verify my statements made above. From the numbers of these men and their descendants have been produced nationally recognized financiers and capitalists, as well as artists, musicians and writers.
This stupendous Parisian ass, who refers to the pioneer cattlemen and women as "wizened, weary, gaunt and homely, living sordid lives," is very evidently one of those modern sophists, born and reared in a hot-house environment, and wholly incapable of any of the deeper and finer emotions that are the birthright of the people of the open—God's own. He can see nothing colorful or beautiful in the life of the true-hearted little women who followed their husbands along paths that led into God's Great. Unknown Lands—often the daughters of proud old Virginian ancestors; women who might have graced the ball-room of the White House of that day. Because these women did not drink bootleg whiskey, rouge their lips to invite the kisses of the libertine, indulge in cigarettes, semi-nudity and promiscuous cursing—because these women bore children and nursed them instead of poodle dogs and monkeys—they must necessarily appear hideous to this perverted "critic”.
There was the bloom of health in the pioneer's cheeks under a coat of tan; there was the light of determination and purpose in his eyes; there was the buoyancy of the trained athlete in his step—he may not have possessed the beauty of the fabled Apollo, nor the vocabulary of a quack critic—but, my God! he was a MAN!
As for this man's abuse of the work of Emerson Hough, it is ludicrous—maudlin. He may as well make a complete job of it—include the fiction of Cooper and Poe, the essays of Emerson, the eloquence of Lincoln and the poetry of Whitman—for Hough's work, tested by time, will take a place with "The Spy," "The Fall of the House of Usher,' "The Essays," "The Gettysburg Speech” and "Leaves of Grass."
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