Val Verde County Historical Commission
Southwest Texas Junior College
207 Wildcat, Del Rio, Texas 78840
While most people may associate Texas with cattle, the state and Val Verde County also have sizable herds of sheep and goats. Throughout the county’s history ranching has consisted of “mixed ranching” or “combination ranching” with larger and smaller livestock occupying the same ranches. Some statistics should demonstrate the area’s reliance on ranching for economic development. In the early 1930s eighty-three sheep, forty-six goats, but only sixteen cows existed for every person on the Edwards Plateau. Combination ranching once proved so profitable that its practice spread to other parts of the state.
Greater numbers of sheep are raised in Val Verde County as opposed to cattle because of the economics of the landscape. Old photos of the Val Verde range show tall prairie grasses. Cattle ranching was predominant in the 1880s, and ranchers were successful until the grasses disappeared and were replaced by brushy plants more conducive to smaller livestock.
Sheep have been in Texas from the days of Spanish explorations. Sheep arrived in the New World on Columbus’s second voyage, and they quickly established themselves in North and South America. Coronado brought the first sheep to Texas; other Spanish explorers brought more. As the San Antonio missions and Lower Rio Grande ranches were established in the early 1700s, herds were established at each. By 1750 sheep and goats were both “well established” in Texas. In the 1800s American settlers noted the same ranching opportunities. Stephen F. Austin wrote that “never was there a country better calculated for sheep than that of Texas.” By 1880, sheep outnumbered cattle in the westernmost reaches of the state. And it is no coincidence that the numbers of sheep increased as the Southern Pacific Railroad completed its Sunset Line across Southwest Texas and created the means to ship wool to market.
The first sheep were brought to the Val Verde area in 1869. Phillip Palmer began ranching on Elm Creek near Fort Clark (in neighboring Kinney County). His original eleven-hundred sheep grew to as many as nine-thousand by 1880. The total number of sheep in Kinney County (which at the time include the eastern portion of Val Verde) was estimated at 125,000. By 1881 most of the land between Devil’s River and the Pecos River had been leased. Even Roy Bean (of Langtry fame) “liked to think of himself as a sheepman.”
The success of the Val Verde sheep industry encouraged rangemen to run goats as well. Charles Dissler began the goat industry in Val Verde County. He came from Kimble County in 1885 (the same year Val Verde County was organized), bringing his goat herd with him. The most popular kind of goat has been the Angora. Angoras originated in what is now Turkey and have proven themselves in Texas. Angoras can be eaten, but their more important use is their hair, which is woven into a cloth called mohair. The industry grew to the point where a member of Congress noted, only partly tongue-in-check, “There are 3,000,000 goats in the United States, of which about 2,999,999 are in Texas.”
As the industry developed, range owners formed associations to buy, store, and sell wool and mohair. Most of these were local in nature and short-lived. In 1915 the industry rangemen came to Del Rio and formed an organization large enough and deep enough to remain engaged and active today.
In 1915 livestock raisers V.A. Brown, B.M. Halbert, J.B. Murrah, Johnson Robertson, and E.E. Stricklen invited other ranchmen in Southwestern Texas to Del Rio to form an organization for their mutual benefit. Essentially, the “Sheep and Goat Raiser’s Association of Texas originally was organized for the purpose of protecting the industry by united action against the theft of stock, which at that time was prevalent all over the country and almost beyond the control of local law officers.”
Fifty-seven members, mainly from three adjacent counties—Edwards, Sutton, and Val Verde—composed the original membership. Notables included future governor (1941-1947) Coke Stevenson (of Kimble County) and noted architect Alfred Giles (of Bexar County). J.B. Murrah of Val Verde County was elected the first president, Johnston Robinson of Edwards County was elected vice president; and Julian LaCross of Val Verde County was elected secretary-treasurer. A photo of the ranchers in front of Del Rio’s Princess Theater was shot to commemorate the event (and is included in the illustrations). In sum, “It was in Del Rio that this Association was organized some years ago and this city feels proud of the distinction of being the birth place of The Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association of Texas.”
“A big majority of the ranchmen attending the meeting in Del Rio that brisk fall day in 1915 were goat raisers, and some of them believed that the word ‘goat’ should go ahead of the word ‘sheep’ in the name of the organization. J.B. Murrah of Del Rio, who was to serve as the organization’s first president, was among those wanting to use the word goat first and he led in the fight to do so. [B.M.] Halbert, [who served as the Association’s second president] however, opposed putting the word goat first. Debate soon became rather heated. ‘The sheep should come first, as the Bible and all histories put the sheep first,’ Halbert argued. Thus, the vote went before the membership to vote on the matter, with the majority saying what would come first. Murrah asked Halbert to chair the session while the debate continued. Finally, the vote was a tie, and chairman Halbert cast the deciding vote by saying sheep first. The association was named Sheep and Goat Raisers of Texas, but the first official magazine of the association published by R.E. Billings of Menard was titled ‘The Goat and Sheep Raisers Magazine of Texas.’” How long that lasted is unclear, but the February 1922 issue was clearly labeled Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Magazine. The name change likely happened in 1920, and the name remained such for some years before going through a handful of other incarnations and then returning to the standard name. The Association did not actually own the magazine until 1963. In 1992 the name was changed to Ranch and Rural Living Magazine to appeal to more readers with a broader range of stories.
The Association organized annual meetings, encouraging state-wide membership, but much of the Association’s work was done by an executive committee. Val Verde County ranchers continued to be well-represented in that committee. Vice President E.E Stricklen of Juno and Secretary-Treasurer Julian LaCross of Del Rio were joined by J.M. Graham and J.B. Moore, both of Del Rio. The charter of the Association was crafted in the image of the already well-established Cattle Raisers Association of Texas. “We took their bylaws and constitution and put the words ‘Sheep and Goats’ where the word ‘Cattle’ was used.”
Del Rio was also headquarters of the Association during its early history, vying with San Angelo and Fort Stockton to be its permanent home. The headquarters were repeatedly moved to be more convenient to the officers, wherever they resided. Del Rio provided a number of presidents over the years: J.B. Murrah (1915-1917), J.B. Moore (1919-1920), R.H. Martin (1920-1922), E. Keyes Fawcett (1923-1924), Roger Gillis (1935-1936), C.B. Wardlaw (1938-1939), H.K. Fawcett (1942-1943), Jake Mayfield (1949-1950), R.W. Hodge (1954-1955), Martin Wardlaw (1979-1980), F.H. Whitehead (1986-1987), and T.J. Jarrett (1995-1996). Twelve of the first sixty-eight presidents ranched and resided in Val Verde County—matching the much larger San Angelo and Tom Green County. Eventually (the 1930s onward), San Angelo, a town more centrally located in sheep and goat country, became the Association’s permanent home, and the headquarters remains there today.
The Association members had two major objectives in mind. “The association was barely a month old when a delegation of six Val Verde County ranchmen and three from Edwards County, headed by State Sen. Claude Hudspeth, went to Austin to confer with Gov. James E. Ferguson about the widespread thievery and what to do to stop it. The governor said the state was financially unable to grant to association’s request for a special ranger force and the state contributed an extra $200 to its reward for the arrest and conviction of thieves.”
Research was a second reason for organizing the ranching industry. Ranchers at the 1915 Del Rio meeting expressed their concerns about range disease. The creation of “Sub-Station 14,” more commonly called the Agricultural Research Station, Sonora, was one of the Association’s first successes. The station began searching for vaccines or at least medicinal treatments for bluetongue, soremouth and stomach worms afflicting the livestock. Sometimes years were required, but progress was made in a number of fields.
During the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s the Association faced crises of various kinds. Screwworms and blowflies continued to kill the animals. Drought, common in Southwest Texas, low prices, competition by imported fleece, loss of markets during the Depression, and banks tightening credit took their toll. During the Second World War, ranchers faced gasoline rationing and labor shortages.
The most serious crisis during this time was the near dissolution of the Association. The details are not clear, but it seems that some of the members lost faith in the Association because it “was not functioning properly.” And in 1934-1935 these ex-members began to organize a rival Texas Wool and Mohair Growers Association.
The Association survived the crisis by coming to an understanding at the 1934 Del Rio annual meeting. Issues were addressed, resolutions were made, and negotiations with the new organization concluded in the spring of 1935. The Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association merged with the Texas Wool and Mohair Growers Association and with the Texas Wool and Mohair Warehouse Association. The idea behind this last addition was that the entire industry had to stand together. It is interesting the organization was founded in Del Rio, and then—essentially—reorganized in Del Rio. Along the way, Del Rio hosted several annual meetings, executive boards meetings, and the like. The Association came to town in 1922, 1923, 1926, and 1929.
The new Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association (the original Association’s name with “Texas” added to the front of the name) held its first annual meeting in Del Rio. Issues were disease control, marketing, predator control, tariffs, and thieves—the same issues ranchers always have. The membership also elected new officers. A Del Rioan once again landed in the leadership position as Roger Gillis was elected president. During the Second World War, he was appointed to the U.S. government’s War Production Board (wool division).
Val Verde women have also led in Association activities. Della Whitehead led the creation of the Women’s Auxiliary to the TS&GRA in 1938 and was elected its first president at that time. She returned to that office in 1958-1959. Rose Mary Jones, past Chair of the Val Verde County Historical Commission, was president of the Auxiliary in 1966.
Over the years, Del Rioans remained prominent in the Association, but not to the extent they did in the 1920s. Val Verde ranchers, though, continued to be featured in the Association’s magazine. However, the wool and mohair industry had expanded into much of West Texas so that no single county was dominant in the industry or in the Association. A 1938 Association estimate of “Sheep Population of West Texas” demonstrates this broader membership:
The use of synthetic fibers may have been the single most detrimental impact on the wool and mohair industry. The industry is struggling; most of the warehouses have closed; though production remains high. Del Rio’s prominence is a thing of the past as well. “Obviously the Edwards Plateau reached its greatest importance with reference to the rest of the state in 1925, and since then it has been less influential. This has not been due to a decrease in its production but rather to the increase in sheep production [across Texas and the world].” Once a ranching community, Del Rio is now very urban, and most Del Rioans have no direct connection with the wool and mohair industry. But the history is there.
The Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers’ Association continues its work, headquartered in San Angelo, but that work began in Del Rio. The Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers’ Association subject marker will be placed in a small pocket park—next door to the site of the old Princess Theater where the Association got started and in the heart of Del Rio’s new Main Street District.
Paul H. Carlson, Texas Woollybacks: The Range Sheep and Goat Industry, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1982.
William T. Chambers, “Edwards Plateau, A Combination Ranching Region,” Economic Geography, 1932, Volume 8, pages 68-72.
“Stevenson, Coke Robert,” Handbook of Texas, 1996.
Mary Carolyn Hollers Jutson, Alfred Giles: An English Architect in Texas and Mexico, San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1972.
Ross McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, San Angelo: Anchor Publishing, 1996.
George O. Perkins, “The Early History of Val Verde County,” Sul Ross State University Master of Art Thesis.
C.L. Sonnichsen, Roy Bean: Law West of the Pecos, Macmillan Company, 1943.
Edward Norris Wentworth, America’s Sheep Trails, Ames, Iowa: Iowa State College Press, 1948.
Illustration #1 shows the members of the new association standing in front of the Princess Theater; this appeared in the February 1922 issue of the Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Magazine.
Illustration #2 shows the same image from the 25th (silver) anniversary issue of the magazine (then called Southwestern Sheep & Goat Raiser) December 1940.
Illustration #3 shows the same image but from the 50th anniversary issue of the TS&GRA.
Illustration #4 shows the officers of the TS&GRA at the time of the 1922 edition.
Illustration #5 shows four men who had key roles in the formation.
Illustration #6 is the cover of the magazine noting the death of J.B. Murrah, the first president of the TS&GRA.)
Illustration #7 shows a 1938 front page of the magazine with the sub-headline that the headquarters was moving to Del Rio because new president C.B. Wardlaw was a Val Verde man.
Illustration #8 shows Val Verde rancher E.E. Stricklen on the cover of the magazine. Juno is in the north-central portion of the county.
Illustration #9 shows Del Rioan John Doak on a 1939 cover of the magazine.
Illustrations #10-13 are from Texas Woollybacks: three maps showing the distribution of sheep and goats in Texas in the early part of the twentieth-century and a photopage showing that Princess Theater photo.
1 William T. Chambers, “Edwards Plateau, A Combination Ranching Region,” Economic Geography, 1932, Volume 8, pages 68-72.
2 Paul H. Carlson, Texas Woollybacks: The Range Sheep and Goat Industry, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1982, pages 3-21, 156-157. 3 George O. Perkins, “The Early History of Val Verde County,” Sul Ross State University Master of Art Thesis, page 72; C.L. Sonnichsen, Roy Bean: Law West of the Pecos, Macmillan Company, 1943, page 153 (quotation).
4 Ross McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, San Angelo: Anchor Publishing, 1996, page 4.
5 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, pages 63-64. See also Paul H. Carlson, Texas Woollybacks: The Range Sheep and Goat Industry, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1982, page 198.
6 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, pages 59-60, 72; “Stevenson, Coke Robert,” Handbook of Texas, 1996; Mary Carolyn Hollers Jutson, Alfred Giles: An English Architect in Texas and Mexico, San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1972, pages 1-2; John F. Robinson, “The Del Rio Chamber of Commerce,” Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Magazine, February 1922, page 17. A copy of the photo is included in this application.
7 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, page 70.
8 A copy of the front page of this issue is included in the application.
9 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, pages 224-227. The magazine had held a few other names over the years, perhaps most notably, Southwestern Sheep and Goat Raiser.
10 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, pages 57-59, 70.
11 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, pages 231-233, 263-274. (Illustration #7 has a headline noting this practice.)
12 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, page 71.
13 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, pages 75-79.
14 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, pages 122-127.
15 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, pages 127, 136.
16 Cover, Sheep & Goat Raisers’ Magazine, February 1922; Cover, Sheep & Goat Raisers’ Magazine, March 1923; “Proceedings of the 11th Annual Convention of the Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Ass’n of Texas at Del Rio, July 27, 28, 29,” Sheep & Goat Raisers’ Magazine, August 1926, page 5 ; Cover, Sheep & Goat Raisers’ Magazine, July 1929.
17 McSwain, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, pages 131-132, 144. The 1941 annual meeting was held four days after Pearl Harbor, once again in Del Rio.
18 Sheep & Goat Raiser, December 1965, page 1B; Sheep & Goat Raiser, February 1966, page 8.
19 Only 19 of some 120 Directors of the Board of Directors were from Val Verde County in 1936. “Officers and Directors of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raiser’s Association,” Southwestern Sheep & Goat Raiser, December 15, 1936, page 11.
20 Southwestern Sheep & Goat Raiser, page 11.
21 Edward Norris Wentworth, America’s Sheep Trails, Ames, Iowa: Iowa State College Press, 1948, page 390.