Saga of the Salt Grass Trail

Texas' great cattle industry has its beginning as the violent days of the Civil War came to an end. The tired soldiers came back to their land and began developing their longhorn herds. The beef industry east was paying premium prices in the'70's for cattle and Texas made plans for supplying the need. The cattle along the Gulf Coast area would drift in the winters to the salt grass country, an area extending about 15 miles inland from the gulf from approximately Orange to Brownsville. The salt grass, tall and bunchy, stayed green all year. For some reason unknown to the cattlemen of that time, cattle that fed on the salt grassgrew fatter and healthier than other cattle. Today, science and research have proved that it was the high mineral content of the grass that was so beneficial to the cattle. Steers particularly did well on the salt grass grazing. Sometimes the cattlemen also sent some cows and calves down the trail. In such cases they usually carried extra wagons along to pick up the little calves that got tired. If the herd consisted of from 700 to 800 head of cattle, about seven men usually rode along, plus the wagon drivers. After reaching salt grass, two or three men stayed usually from November through February, to ride herd. The cattle were branded and all ran together on the salt grass territory. When the time came to go home, each ranch's cowboys cut their cattle out from the group helpin each other as they worked and then herded the cattle back home. This, of course, was during the days of the open range. One of these trails started up in the Hempstead area and led to the land of the salt grass. Thousands of cattle and horses and men and wagons of families went winding their way along this route. Many of our great highways today follow the route of the cattle drives. The old Salt Grass Trail route is now along part of U.S. 290. Today, practically all the salt grass country is owned or leased, but many are still driven or shipped to this area to receive the healthful minerals of the grass. The early Texans who pioneered our great cattle industry despite almost overwhelming hardships, have not been forgotten. The idea for the revived Salt Grass Trail Ride came in the first week of January, 1952. while Arthur Laro, Clark Nelson, Charles Gizendanner, Jr., Reese Lockett, Ralph Johnson, and Archer Romero were having lunch together. Reese had been talking about the salt grass rides of pioneer days and complaining of bad flying weather on a trip he and Clark Nelson had taken to the Orange Bowl game in Florida. They had been grounded serveral days until the weather cleared. "I'll never make another trip where I can't ride home on my horse," Reese said. Ralph Johnson has asked Reese to be the Arena Director of the Rodeo again when Clark Nelson said, "You'll have to come down on horseback." Then, as Reese tells it, Charlie Gizendanner said it would be wonderful publicity for the Houston Fat Stock Show. Early next morning, Reese got a long distance call from Charlie. "The newspapers have promised publicity, Pat Flaherty will film the ride for television, and Emil Marks will go along with his chuck wagon." Reese Lockett, Pat Flaherty, E.H. Marks, and John Warnasch left Brenham on January 30th, with the LH7 chuck wagon, following the pioneer trail to Houston. Thirteen other persons joined the group along the way. This annual ride has now developed into the largest organized horseback movement to take place in modern times. The ride is timed each year to publicize the opening of the Houston Liverstock Show and Rodeo and the great livestock industry it represents today. In 1953, 80 people made the ride; in 1954, 800; in 1955, 1300; in 1956, more than 1400. The 1959 ride consisted of more than 90 wagons and over 2000 riders. They included bankers, lawyers, housewives, cattlemen, politicians, newpaper reporters, television personalities, oil men, and stock show officials----from 5 yearsto 83 years of age. Since the beginning of this ride, many other cities in Texas and even as far away as Spain have started similar trail rides. The Salt Grass Trail Ride of today boasts nearly 30 wagons and over 1500 riders on horseback. The reiders, stretched out single file for the distance of a mile or so, always present a colorful picture as they go down the trail. Large crowds are always waiting at each town the ride passes through. By the evening campfires, the riders feel a close kinship to the pioneer Texan who fought th protect his longhorns om the open range before going to market. The Salt Grass Trail Ride has become the connecting link between the early days of the longhorn era and today's giant cattle industry.