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The Trail Boss Passes On

Published November 17th, 2014 by Unknown

Col. George W. Saunders

GEORGE W. Saunders, aged 79, pioneer cattleman of Texas, died July 3rd, at 11:30 a. m. at his home in San Antonio. He had been in failing health for nearly a year. The name of Saunders is inseparably linked with the old trail-driving days of the cattle industry. At 17, he drove his first herd across the plains, through swollen rivers and past the menace of Indians to the market at Abilene, Kan. As the ranks of the gallant band of pioneers were thinned by time, in 1915 he was the founder of the Old Trail Drivers' Association and, two years later was elected president, a position he held continuously thereafter.

He was the inspiring force back of bringing out "The Trail Drivers of Texas," edited by J. Marvin Hunter, a book of recollections written by the trail drivers themselves. It has been declared that this volume will prove to be the storehouse of historians and novelists for generations.

Saunders was born at Rancho, Gonzales County, February 12, 1854. His parents came by ox wagon from Mississippi. When he was five, the family moved to Goliad County and the lad rode a pony and helped keep up the tail end of the herd. While his father and oldest brother were serving in the Confederate Army, young George and another brother looked after the cattle.

Possessed of skill and daring, Saunders swam the swollen, raging Washita with a rope in his mouth so that a raft might be ferried across, after four other men had tried vainly to carry the rope to the other shore.

Frequently he was chosen as the spokesman when large numbers of hostile Indians barred the way of the herds. On one occasion, Chief Bacon Rind and Sunset, accompanied by a vindictive, pock-marked half-breed and 200 Kiowas demanded tribute. When the amount Saunders offered was rejected, he was suddenly pinoned before he could defend himself and 50 buffalo guns were leveled at him by the braves.

His own men, numbering 35, drew their weapons but Saunders, realizing that if a shot were fired, his entire group would probably be wiped out, began threatening—in the half dozen languages that he knew—that the troops would be sent from Fort Sill to protect them. The Indians withdrew but the pock-marked half-breed threatened they would be back. They returned the next day in war paint but the attitude of the Texans was so firm that the Kiowas backed down, leaving without firing a shot and with none of the gifts that had originally been offered them.

Saunders drove 1,000 cattle through the land of Geronimo and his Apaches—and lost only five head that were caught in a bog. He was a member for two years of Henry Scott's Minute Company, formed to protect border citizens from Mexican bandits. The company rode often and became a terror to the outlaws. For a year he was deputy sheriff at Goliad and he arrested a number of dangerous men. He spent two months prospecting for gold with an old miner in the Guadalupe Mountains. Saunders was credited with being the first man to introduce roping contests in Texas.

In the early eighties he entered the livestock commission business in San Antonio and the George W. Saunders Livestock Commission Company, with officers as well in Fort Worth, Kansas City and St. Louis, handled a volume of millions of dollars of business annually. Saunders became known as the oldest active commission dealer in the country and found time also to operate three small ranches and a farm.

He served two terms as a member of the San Antonio City Council and had an important part in the launching of public works that transformed San Antonio into a modern city.

Starting life rounding up cattle on the open range, he early had the foresight to see that if the industry was not to be crowded out, it must be placed on a businesslike basis. He knew the longhorn would have to go and that the stock would have to be improved. In the transformation of the industry he was a leading factor.

He cherished memories of his picturesque past and only last year led 25 old trail drivers to Vernon and out to Doan's Crossing where a monument to the men who had driven the bellowing herds along the trail, crossing Red River at the point, was unveiled.

The San Antonio Express gave the following account of the funeral of Mr. Saunders, which was held on Tuesday evening, July 4:

"As the cowboy lays aside his rope, spurs, bandanna and other equipment at the end of his day's toil, so the spurs, quirt, bridle, rope, and bandanna of George W. Saunders were laid in his grave Tuesday as the pioneer cattleman and president of the Old Trail Drivers' Association was laid to rest for all time.

"Saunders died after a lengthy illness Monday and hundreds of friends paid a final tribute to one of the foremost developers of the cattle industry in the Southwest. His body lay in the state in the Municipal Auditorium and funeral services were held in the First Baptist church.

"Hundreds of floral pieces banked the casket both when it was in the auditorium and at the church. One floral piece came from Will Rogers, cowboy humorist and close friend of Saunders. The floral spray bore a copy of James Whitcomb Reily's poem, "Just Away."

Hundreds of people passed by the casket as the body rested in the auditorium. Sun-burned cowboys in boots with sombreros in hand, mingled with aged pioneers and women and children to pay final tribute to the former cattleman.

"The church services opened with Oscar Fox, composer and adaptor of cowboy songs and close friend of Saunders, playing an organ prelude. As Mrs. Paul Rochs, soprano, and Mrs. Dorothy Arendt, contralto, sang "One Sweetly Solemn Thought," the church gradually filled with friends of Saunders. Brawny country youths in shirtsleeves took seats beside businessmen and retired cattlemen as the services began. The casket which had been transferred from the auditorium, was opened briefly to allow relatives a last look at the body.

"Rev. Banjamin Nobles, pastor of the church, read the 23rd Psalm and several verses from the 14th chapter of St. John, favorite scripture readings of Saunders. Rev. Bruce Roberts, Carrizo Springs, chaplain of the Old Trail Drivers' Association, gave a brief biography of the former head of the trail drivers, comparing his action at the age of 19 years as a member of Captain Scott's Minute Men in averting by his courage a threatened massacre of Mexican settlers to the action of Travis in the Alamo. In this instance Saunders drew a line on the ground, stepped across it and said that any other man who believed it would be an injustice to massacre many innocent Mexicans would follow his lead. This was done after the Thad Swift family of Refugio County had been murdered by Mexican brigands and some residents of the country had in return committed depredations against innocent Mexican families and were threatening to massacre many more in return for the slaying of the Swifts. Saunders held that many innocent Mexicans would have been murdered if these plans had materialized.

Dr. P. H. Hill, Chaplain of the Texas Rangers and an intimate friend of Saunders, praised the qualities of Saunders, whom he said was a man of determination and great moral and physical courage. The record of his deeds tells a story of courage, heroism and sound judgement, he said, and his virtues will never be lost to those who knew him. Dr. Hill read from the pulpit messages of condolence that had been received from Rep. Richard Kleberg, son of another late prominent cattleman, and Tom Hogg, likewise a widely known ranchman.

"As the long funeral procession passed through the city toward the cemetery, it paused briefly at the Alamo, shrine of Texas liberty, out of memory of the courage of the man whose qualities were compared to those of the Alamo heroes.

"Brief services were held at the grave when Eric Harker, tenor, accompanied by Fox, playing a portable organ, sang "Rounded Up in Glory," a favorite cowboy song of the pioneer cattleman.

"The grave cover bore a pair of spurs, a quirt, a bridle, a rope and a bandanna, all of which had been in actual use on the range, their significance being that when the cowboy completes his work he usually drops his equipment where he stands and seeks repose.

Pallbearers were grandsons, a nephew and a great-nephew of Saunders. They were Roland, Loyd and Bill Jary and Toni Webb Jr., grandsons; Toni Saunders Jr., a great nephew, and George Henry a nephew.

Saunders leaves his widow, Mrs. Ida F. Saunders; three daughters, Mrs. C.D. Cannon of San Antonio, Mrs. W.E. Jary of Fort Worth, and Mrs. Tom Webb of Palestine; a granddaughter, Agnes Virginia Cannon; two sisters, Mrs. Frank Henry and Miss Nancy Saunders, both of Christine; and five grandsons, George Lloyd and Bill Jary, Tom Webb Jr., a nephew, George Henry, and a great-nephew, Tom Saunders Jr.

At the conclusion of services at the grave, Dr. Hill read a poem of his own composition, which he dedicated to Saunders. It follows:

"Stars of the Texas skies,
As you your vigils keep,
Guard thou this hallowed spot;
A Texas cow man's sleep.
"Winds of the Texas plains
Breathe gently as you pass,
A cowboy is at rest,
Beneath the prairie grass.
"Flowers of his native heath
Bloom long and brightest here,
This is the holy place,
A spot forever dear."


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