A friend brought by a book on the history of raising sheep in the southwest, and it’s fascinating.
“The Golden Hoof,” by Winifred Kupper, was published in 1945 by Alfred A. Knopf. The particular copy of the book I’ve been reading is an historical object in itself: It’s printed in black ink on a goldenrod-colored paper. A note inside the book explains that “...all paper, including the paper on which books are printed, as well as the materials that go into the manufacture of paper, is absolutely essential to the prosecution of the war. …”
Since regular book paper was not available at the time the book was published, they printed the book on paper that was available. That’s why the paper is goldenrod.
The book’s author, Winifred Thalmann Kupper, was born in Bandera in 1900, to a family who raised sheep. Her father was German and arrived here to raise sheep; her mother’s family was English and came to Texas with the same intention.
When we think of the ranching history of our area, we tend to think of cattle ranches, cowboys and great herds of cattle moving up the trail to market. However, it’s important to remember how vital sheep ranching was to our history and our community’s early economy.
One Kerrville man was largely responsible for ranchers adding sheep to their livestock: Charles Schreiner.
Schreiner ran many businesses, and one of those businesses was his bank. Winifred Kupper tells the story like this:
“When a stockman came to borrow money, Schreiner would ask: ‘How much are you going to put into sheep?’
“’Sheep!’ the stockman would snort in the approved manner of the time. ‘You don’t expect me to run sheep, do you?’
“Then Schreiner would advise him to go elsewhere for his money. Thus he forced capital into the wool industry, and the freight ways veered from the large town of San Antonio to the small mountain village 70 miles away. Wagon teams from 400 miles away, threading sand desert, mesquite-covered highland or lush prairie would make their slow way to the little town in the hills rather than to nearer markets in El Paso or San Angelo. These wagons were driven by men who had their headquarters in the little town — men whose vocation was freighting.”
What Schreiner did, essentially, was force stockmen to diversify their holdings. He knew from experience that cattle and sheep could graze the same land.
“Cows would eat the long, coarse fibers that sheep disdained; sheep liked the short grass and tender shoots that the cows couldn’t reach,” Kupper writes.
Moreover, sheep produce a renewable agricultural product: wool. Variations in the cattle market and sheep and wool market often provided profit to stockmen who raised both cattle and sheep — when prices were low in one market, the other provided opportunity.
This diversification was not only clever, but offered our area a stronger economy. That improved economy gave Kerrville and Kerr County advantages other nearby communities lacked.
Schreiner established the first wool warehouse in Texas, according to Kupper. Schreiner “created what was at one time the largest individually owned wool market in the world. To it millions of pounds of wool were hauled yearly by the wagon trains.
“His growing capital went back into the hills, on to the plains, into the pockets of sheepmen around Kerrville, across Devil’s River clear to the Big Bend country, up to Sonora, back through the hills across the Llano and the Guadalupe, bringing in return the wagon trains loaded with wool to his warehouse in Kerrville.”
There’s an entire section in the book that talks about the freighters — the men who brought the wool to Kerrville, and then carried merchandise and supplies (often from Schreiner’s store) back to the distant farms and ranches. I’ll write about them soon.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who knows a fellow who’s raising a few sheep on his place.