A bit of history
Page 2

Coleman County, named in honor of Robert M. Coleman (aide-de-camp to General Sam Houston), is as rich in heritage as in natural resources. Throughout the county documented evidence exists describing life as it must have been during the early days of settlement.

One of the historic points of interest near Coleman is the town of Santa Anna, located on the south slope of two large hills called "Santa Anna's Peak" (named after a Comanche Indian Chief). On the Texas map of 1835 the two hills were the only landmarks, except for streams. These hills also provided Indians and Texas Rangers with a lookout point. At the base of one of the hills is a designated Historical site of a Texas Ranger Headquarters building.

In the summer of 1856 Major Van Dorn in the United States Army established Camp Colorado on Jim Ned Creek, in what is now Coleman County. Some remains of the stone and wooden buildings of this post still exist. Major Van Dorn had a detachment of the Second Calvary there for two or three years. In 1860, before the Civil War, Capt. E.K. Smith commanded there. The presence of this garrison attracted a few settlers, though they made no permanent improvements. J.E. Mc Cord, later a banker and prominent citizen of Coleman City, was lieutenant of a Ranger company posted at Home Creek during 1860. Camp Colorado was abandoned after the Civil War.

On February 1,1858, the legislature defined the boundaries of a number of counties, among them Coleman, named in honor of Robert M. Coleman, a figure in the Texas revolution. Nearly twenty years passed before the country was sufficiently settled to maintain a county government. In 1875 a county government organized and in the fall of 1876 Coleman, the county seat, was laid off. A quotation from an account in 1877 reads: "On a site that had been barren of any vestige of human habitation, the beautiful plateau being the haunt of the buffalo more often than of domestic animals, was in the latter part of 1876 the growing little village of Coleman City, whose first house had been completed scarcely two months before and which now contained twenty seven first class buildings, with merchants, lawyers, building contractors, a good school, hotel and a telegraph line". A year later Coleman had a population of four hundred and was incorporated.

Early Census Listings

Beginning in 1875 this country soon became one of the favorite centers of the range stock industry. The county was one immense pasture, and excepting the tradesmen at the county seat and in one or two other places, the population consisted almost entirely of the cattlemen and their "outfits". In about 1880 the farmer class made some advance into the region, specially when it became known that the Santa Fe Railroad would soon be built. In 1882 it was estimated that not over four thousand acres had been touched by the plow, while the livestock at that time numbered about 9,000 horses and mules, 40,000 cattle and 85,000 sheep and other stock.

In 1882 the taxable values were $1,733,603, livestock being assessed at $723,768; in 1903, $5,611,513; and in 1919, $12,259,645.

In March 1886 what was then known as the main line of the G. C & S.F. Railroad reached Coleman and extended through the county the same year. A tap line was built to reach Coleman City, it being the policy of early railroads to avoid towns that did not offer attractive subsides. Coleman was one of a number of such cases in Texas. This tap line subsequently became the starting point of the "Coleman cut-off" of the Santa Fe Railroad as it built northwest to Texico.

Coleman City, which had a population of 906 in 1890 and 1,362 in 1900, has developed both commercially and residentially. It has the improvements and advantages of the progressive West Texas towns and is the center of a large volume of trade.

Other towns in the area include:
  • Santa Anna (situated at the base of Santa Anna mountain)
  • Talpa
  • Trickham (one of the oldest settlements)
  • Rockwood (in the coal mining district)
  • Glen Cove
  • Burkett
  • Novice

To live in Coleman County in the trail days was, inevitably, to be in the cattle business, the only industry of the day and one as open as the ranges that knew no fences. It was a phenomenon, the sight of thousands of sets of long horns tossing their slow way northward, herded by strange bearded men, was one to excite the imagination. But the spectacle soon became the ordinary sight of cattle moving to market. But it had a call of adventure as sea-going vessels do to young men in a port town, and almost every young man in Coleman County made at least one trip to Dodge, some of them more. It was not just an adventure. The pay might be as high as a dollar a day and "beans and beef". From eight to ten men, including the trail boss, were necessary for an ordinary trail movement. These might take three to five months, and were generally preceded by "trail parties", pioneer dances at which the trail crew might dance all night before departing with the herd the following morning.

A drive would be formed ordinarily by a cattle buyer or rancher, buying cattle from several owners over a wide area. These were branded, of course, but were newly "trail branded" to identify them for movement. As they moved throughout the cattle areas, herds were subject inspection by "trail cutters" who would cut out cattle without the proper brand, assuming them to be local cattle that were moved into the herd without purchase. Even so herds always reached market with more cattle than when they started, a natural occurrence in free range country.

Coleman County's largest rancher, the late J.P. Morris, drove over the trail, and came to Coleman County as a consequence of trailing through here. Moving cattle efficiently, long or short distances was an art with this early-day cattleman, and his three drives the entire depth of the nation paid him well and contributed much to the investment that was to grow into his Rafter Three ranch in the county. Herds were moved in a simple way strung out for hundreds of yards, with steers moved three or four abreast. A light -colored steer was always picked at the start of the drive by Mr. Morris and roughly trained as a lead animal, and provided the simplest way to keep a herd moving, particularly in rough going or across rivers. This simple technique, not known to all drivers, proved valuable to several others once trying to cross the Platte River in Nebraska at a turbulent stage. When the Morris herd arrived in the Platte country, enroute to Canada, several herds were stranded south of the river, unable to cross, some of them having been there for several days. With the lead steer system, the Morris herd crossed without loss, then their steer was returned to move others across, a western gesture of friendship of considerable value. Further north in the rich Dakota grass lands, the herd was halted for several weeks to "fill out" before moving across the border to market. The lush grass and water supply in the Jim Ned Valley appealed to the DeWitt County rancher, and he came back to Coleman County in 1884 to buy up thousands of acres of land here, the beginning of a 90,000 acre holding he was to have in the county. Four years later his family was moved here. The Rafter Three spread contributed much to the county's cattle industry growth, and the ranches it incorporated, still held by the Morris family, are a good part of the cattle industry today.

It was not just Coleman County cattle people who were concerned with the trail, however. The new town of Coleman found it a welcome source of revenue after 1876, and enterprising merchants sometimes sent riders down the trail to influence the drivers to stop at their places. About a herd a day passed through here during the season, which ran from about April until September, a period when good grass would sustain the herds for the drive. Many of them stayed overnight, and the Coleman store many times had herd cowboys sleeping on its floor. They generally visited Coleman saloons, it had several then, but there was little roughness in a herd crew. They worked hard on a trail drive.

The fortune of Col. William H. Day, pioneer Leaday cattleman and widely known in state livestock circles in the 1870's, came partly from the trail. Col. Day moved herds up it in 1877, 1878 and 1880. His 1877 herd numbered 7,000 animals. These were generally gathered in south Texas, often incorporating cattle of the Day ranch, and moving up the trail trough through Cow Gap and Coleman. In 1878 two experienced drivers took the Day herd, split into two herds as was the usual custom. Steers were placed in one group, and calves and cows in another. The steer herd could, of course, move faster and generally reached Dodge a few days earlier. J.T. Hock took the 1878 steer herd and "Tobe" Driskill the cow herd. Usually a "calf wagon" was carried with the cow herd to pick up calves who couldn't keep up with the drive. These herds had other worries when a mother cow, losing her calf in the night's bedding stop, refused to move along the next morning until her calf was returned. The chuck wagon was the nerve center of the drive, and the rolling hotel. It was the conveyance of bed rolls, tobacco and other equipment and moved ahead of the herd during the day until it reached a suitable camping place where the cook settled and got supper. When the herd reached him the day's drive was halted.

This article was reproduced from (Coleman County and it's People)
Copyright 1985, used with permission
Coleman County Chamber of Commerce,
Agriculture and Tourist Bureau

218 Commercial Avenue
Coleman, Texas 76834