The Longhorn's - J. Frank Dobie

This is an excerpt from J. Frank Dobie's book "The Longhorns" pp. 56-59. It's a nice story about the flood in 1869. I believe the J. N. Jones in the story should be J. M. Jones. But, I can't confirm this since Dobie does not site the source of his story. Anyway, it's a good read.  This story was submitted by Tom J. Jones

The year 1869 was exceptionally wet in southern Texas. “You could almost travel in a skiff across the prairies from Houston to Corpus Christi.” It was also a fine year for mavericks. That fall Jim (J. N.) Jones, who ranched on the San Miguel Creek in Frio County, threw in with five other men for a maverick hunt. They took along a nest egg of gentle cattle and were able to “ease” many mavericks into the herd without having to rope them. They held what they caught, intending to brand them at the end of the work. A lone mavericker or a pair of maverickers could not operate in this way, but a cow crowd could. After having hunted for a week or ten days, Jones and his companions got back to the San Miguel late one drizzly evening with 260 mavericks, and shut them in the muddy pens.

As the hungry and wet maverickers sat down to a warm kitchen to a supper of hot biscuits, fried steak, and beans and bacon with plenty of black coffee, the rain began to pour. After supper they started playing poker, mavericks making the stakes. Each of the six men was provided with forty-three frijoles, each bean representing a maverick, the two undividable animals being left for future disposition. The game of freeze-out to see who should have all the 260 mavericks began to get warm.

After it had gone on for some time and Mrs. Jones was through washing the dishes, she came to the table and called attention to the rain. “It is a regular waterspout,” she said. “With the ground already soaked, the San Miguel is getting up into the pens, I know it is.”

There was no move on the part of the gamblers. The woman’s eagerness to break the game up, and thus forestall the chance of her husband’s losing his share of the property, was plain. “The cattle are all in danger of being drowned,” she went on.

The men continued playing. Here was something, for the moment, more interesting than rain or cattle. An hour passed. The rain was still falling in sheets. Again Mrs. Jones went to the gamblers. “Don’t you hear those cattle balling?” she said, her voice high. “They are in distress. I know they are. You had better stop and see about them. Those pens are low ground.”

“The water will never get up into those pens, “ Jim Jones answered. “I built them above the high-water mark. Let the cows low and the bulls beller…Raise you a maverick.”

More time passed. Then suddenly Mrs. Jones exclaimed, “Look, the water is coming into the floor. The San Miguel is raging like the Mississippi.”

Now the men stopped, each making count of the beans he had left. The deluge had slacked a little. Peering out, they were aware of a vast expanse of raging waters. They went to the pens, which were made of mesquite logs, the gates being barred with poles. The cattle were moaning and balling. As the men approached, the heard that clicking of horns and snuffing that told them the mavericks were packed in the mill – were circling like a whirlpool. Flashes of lighting revealed a crazy mass of cattle round into such a tight ball that a rabbit could not have squeezed into the center from the outside. Doubtless some of the cattle in the center were already down and being smothered and trampled to death. The men tried to break the mill but they simply could not. The only way to break it was to open the gate and get the cattle headed out. The waters of the San Miguel were already a foot deep in the pen.

Turning a maverick, not yet branded, out on the open range was like throwing a dollar into the open sea. The men hastily saddled horses, pulled down the bars, and prepared to do the best they could to hold them when the mavericks should bolt for freedom. The water had risen perceptively. Not an animal would notice the open gateway. The horsemen rode against the mass. They could not budge it. Again the heavens opened. The flooded creek was rising fast. Jones and his friends now became alarmed for the household. They found Mrs. Jones and her children on the table, water two feet deep on the floor. There were carried to high land. By daylight the water had taken the roof off the house.

When the San Miguel subsided, a few of the 260 drowned mavericks were about the remains of the pen. Most of them had been washed away. The game of freeze-out poker was never finished.

TXGenWeb, Frio County - The Longhorns updated on 10/07/2009