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Archive of Texas Trail Driver Mark Withers & the Business of Cattle

Archive 1869-1937—Plus a few Texas Revolution items thrown in

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559.     [WITHERS, Marcus Allen (Mark)]. Large collection of materials relating to the life and activities of Marcus A. Withers (1846-1937), Texas trail driver, rancher, and cattleman. With an almost equal quantity of documents that relate to Leonidas J. Storey (1834-1909), Texas lawyer, land agent, legislator, lieutenant governor, and Railroad Commissioner. Additional business-related materials in the archive document life in and around Lockhart and Caldwell County. 6 large archival boxes. Condition of the documents varies from rough to near fine.

     The M. A. Withers material spans the years 1869 to 1936 and includes correspondence, cattle sales documents, cattle contracts, railroad receipts for shipped cattle, cattle inspection certificates, promissory notes, land sales, banking instruments (including several sizeable drafts for cattle delivered in Kansas), six ledger books with accounts of his cattle business including records of stock bought and sold with prices, etc. There are approximately 300 items, not including a multitude of personal bank checks and deposit receipts. Also in the collection are several manuscript or dictated typescript recollections and reminiscences of his life and times, including his early life as well as his life on the trail and in the cattle driving business. The few photographs in the collection include an 1878 cabinet card portrait of Withers, two photographs of a deer hunt, one of his home in Caldwell County, and a long panoramic photograph of a gathering of older men, which is probably a meeting of the Texas Trail Drivers Association.

     Withers’ story first appeared in print in 1920 in J. Marvin Hunter’s The Trail Drivers of Texas (pp. 96-103), where he is also spoken of by a dozen other trail drivers, either as their trail boss or companion on the trail. One, G. W. Mills, comments: “Of all of them, I shall always remember Mark Withers, who was always thoughtful and devoted to his men” (p. 240). The Withers reminiscences that are in the collection were used and virtually quoted in their histories of the trail by J. Frank Dobie, J. Evetts Haley, and Wayne Gard.

     The several reminiscences in the collection recount the salient points in Withers’ life and add personality and color to it: his coming to Texas as a youth of six years in 1852; tagging along on his first trail drive–from Lockhart to the Pedernales in 1859; his second drive three years later when he was sixteen; Confederate Army service in the Civil; and then experiences on his many drives north along the Chisholm and Western Trails, commencing in 1867. He began leading drives on his own in 1868, when he was 21 years old, and continued his annual trail drives until 1887. He tells in great detail and with relish the story from 1868 of J. G. McCoy’s sending him and several other cowboys out onto the Kansas prairie in 1868 to capture buffalo (he and one companion did the roping), which were shipped east in reinforced railroad cars and used in a Wild West road show to advertise the availability of cattle at McCoy’s Abilene stockyards. When Withers left the trail after 1887, he went into ranching. Asked why he stopped, he comments in his reminiscences: “At first I could buy on credit and sell for cash. Then it got so I had to pay cash and sell on credit. So I quit.” Of the early days and more informal buying on credit, he says he would contract with ranchers to deliver their stock to the rail line on the promise that he would pay a stated amount per head if the cattle sold. Being careful in his drives, the stock would arrive in better condition than when they left Texas, and Withers could sell at a tidy profit.

     The Leonidas Storey material in the collection, which is about of equal size to the Withers, includes some items related to Leonidas’ father, John T. Storey, the earliest being an 1825 bill of sale to J. T. Storey of “a negro woman by the name of Dyce Twenty two years old and her child Mose nine months old.” The Storey family came to Texas in 1845 and settled in Lockhart in 1847. Material in the collection for Leonidas revolves primarily around his law practice and land dealings in Lockhart and Caldwell County and includes correspondence, land surveys, bills of sale, legal claims, suits, promissory notes, and other documents that would accumulate around a nineteenth-century Texas attorney’s practice. Three very early manuscript notes in the collection verify the military service of one John Davis and are probably related to a land claim handled by Storey. Dated 1836 and 1839, they are signed by three of his officers in the Texian army: Matthew Caldwell (1798-1842), Texas Declaration of Independence Signer, “the Paul Revere of the Texas Revolution,” and early Texas Ranger (Handbook of Texas Online); William C. Swearingen (?-1839), vet of the Battle of San Jacinto and Mier Expedition survivor (Handbook of Texas Online); and James C. Neill (1790-1845), soldier and diplomat who fired the first gun for Texas at the beginning of the revolution—the famous Gonzales “Come and Take It” cannon (Handbook of Texas Online). Neill vouches that Davis was at the taking of Bexar in December 1835. A few more details on Neill, from the Handbook:

While constantly calling for reinforcements and supplies, he buttressed the defenses of the mission fort of the Alamo. On January 17, [1836] James Bowie arrived with orders to remove the artillery and blow up the fort, but instead became committed to its defense. Bowie, impressed with Neill’s leadership, wrote, “No other man in the army could have kept men at this post, under the neglect they have experienced.” In mid-February, Neill left the Alamo to care for his family, all of whom had been stricken with a serious illness. He left William B. Travis in temporary command, assuring the garrison that he would return within twenty days. He was riding back when the fort fell. On March 6—the day of the battle of the Alamo—Neill had reached Gonzales, where he spent ninety dollars of his own money buying medicines for the Alamo garrison.

On March 13 he joined the withdrawal of Sam Houston’s army to Groce’s Retreat on the Brazos River. Unable to transport the cannons, Houston ordered them dumped into the Guadalupe River before abandoning Gonzales, and Neill found himself a cannoneer without weapons. That changed on April 11, when the “Twin Sisters”—two matched six-pounders—reached the Texan camp. Since Neill was the ranking artillery officer, Houston named him to command the revived artillery corps. On April 20 Neill commanded the Twin Sisters during the skirmish that preceded the battle of San Jacinto. During this fight his artillery corps repulsed an enemy probe of the woods in which the main Texas army was concealed. Neill was seriously wounded when a fragment of grapeshot caught him in the hip.

     An interesting side note in the collection is a series of petitions, pledges for funds, etc. from the citizens of Lockhart to persuade the railroad to bring the rail line to their town.

     The Handbook of Texas Online summarizes Mark Withers’ life:

Marcus Allen (Mark) Withers (1846-1937), trail driver, the son of Hugh and Mary Jane (Goodrich) Withers, was born on September 23, 1846, in Paris, Monroe County, Missouri, the ninth of his father’s eleven children with three wives. Mark came to Caldwell County, Texas, with his father and stepmother, Eliza (Bridgeford), and eight brothers and sisters. He was proud of the fact that he rode horseback all the way. Mark made his first trail drive to Johnson City, Texas, at age thirteen. His second trip, in 1862, was to Shreveport, Louisiana. Upon his return to Lockhart, he joined the Confederate Army and served to the end of the war in Company I, Thirty-sixth Texas Cavalry. In 1867 Mark went as a trail hand with a herd to Illinois. On April 1, 1868, be began trail driving for himself and his family. The drive ended in Abilene, Kansas on July 1, 1868. Joseph G. McCoy was attempting to establish Abilene as a cattle market for the Northeast. In the summer of 1868 Withers was one of four Texans and three California vaqueros chosen by McCoy to rope buffalo and load them on a train to be paraded across country to advertise cattle sales in Kansas. A picture of the loading of the buffalo has been published in many books and papers. Withers went along on the trip, and buffalo were roped again in St. Louis and Chicago, in the country’s first “Wild West Show.” Withers continued his annual trail drives until 1887, trailing into eleven western states. Some years he had half a dozen or so herds on the trail at the same time, as many as 15,000 cattle. In the beginning, cattle were bought on credit and sold for cash. When they had to be bought for cash and sold on credit, he quit the trail. He formed various ranching partnerships and established a series of feeding pens around the state, but none were as successful as his trail drives. On January 22, 1869, Withers married Annie Wayland. They had five children. Annie died in 1880. On December 26, 1888, he married Mattie Rebecca Bagley, and they had three children, Withers died at his ranch home, west of Lockhart, on June 9, 1937, and is buried in the Lockhart City Cemetery.


Auction 22 Abstracts

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