Mustangs of Texas

Wild horses, or mustangs, as they were called, were once a good deal more numerous in Texas than gentle ones, and indeed, many that were gentle were mustangs that had been caught when colts principally and raised as pets, but there were also a great many that had been caught when full-grown and broken to the saddle.

A horseman settled in Calhoun Co. in 1852 and it was well remembered that one fall he had 32 pet mustang colts running around the ranch, varying in age from 3 months to 2 years.

When grown the mustang that had been raised a pet was hardly ever any trouble to break, but the mustang that was full-grown when caught was never thoroughly broken, or at least rarely ever.

Occasionally among the mustangs a horse of rare beauty, size and action would be found, denoting a strain of better blood than that of the common stock, and there was a tradition that when Gen. Taylor was camped at Corpus Christi several fine stallions belonging to Kentucky officers in his Army had strayed away and joined the mustangs and were never recovered.

It is well known that Gen. Marshall of Kentucky thus lost a very fine mare that was often seen among the mustangs, but never could be caught, and so an occasional fine equine specimen among the mustangs was hardly to be wondered at.

The mustangs were a source of revenue to a large number of horsemen who caught them in large numbers and drove them to Louisiana, as well as to older settled portions of Texas, for sale.

These mustang horse hunters did not depend on the lasso - it was only the inferior animals that could be taken in that way - but they built pens, with wings extending a mile or so from the pen, and a mile or so apart at the ends, gradually converging as they neared the gate of the pen.

When a bunch of mustangs had been driven into one of these pens there was always found among them quite a number of animals that had been branded and had been gentle once, the owners of which were glad to pay $5 a head - that was the price for their recovery. This, with the sale of wild horses, often made mustanging quite a lucrative business.

There are not many mustangs left in Texas now, but in Tom Green, Crockett and other Western and North-Western counties there are still a few.

Along about 1874 there were a great many stories told about a remarkably fine stallion that ranged about the head of the Nueces and over to the headwaters of Devil’s River.

He was described as a blood bay in color, and those who had succeeded in getting close enough to him to get a good look at the steed declared that he was full 16 1/2 hands high and that no finer specimen of horseflesh was ever bred in the Bluegrass region of old Kentucky.

No one had ever been near enough to him to see whether he was branded or not. Many thought he was really a blooded animal that had strayed from his owner in the interior; but the papers of the state which made a specialty of advertising lost stock never contained an advertisement for this horse, and most people thought him a genuine mustang.

Marvelous stories were told of his speed and bottom. It was said that he could pace or rack as fast as any horse ever ridden in pursuit of him could run. In fact, the "White Steed of the Prairies", which M. Reid made famous in his novel under that title, was not a finer animal than this, according to the gossip current along the frontier.

Numerous parties went out to capture him, but he would leave his bunch of mares at the first scent of danger, and many a good horse was broken up in endeavoring to follow him.

It was no use trying to ring him. He would break through the most compact ring, and once or twice when he had done this parties had been so close to him that they might have lassoed him, but it would be hard to find a man who had the nerve to throw a rope on an animal of his size and going at his speed; one might as well think of roping a streak of lightning.

In the spring of 1875 the captain was rusticating on his comfortable ranch on the Guadalupe, in Kerr Co. A party of cow hunters camped at the ranch one night and reported having seen the bay stallion Whirlwind, as he had been dubbed, about a week before, near the head of the Llano River. Whirlwind formed the topic of conversation around the ranch the next day, and before night 6 of us had made up our minds to go out in search of the famous horse, and if found, to make an effort at his capture.

We started the next day. The party was composed of the horseman and five others, with a wagon loaded with provisions and corn for the horses we rode.

Each member of the party had 2 good horses, and among the number were 2 thoroughbreds owned by the officer that had won fame on the turf, and the captain vowed no horse ever lived that could pace faster than either of these two horses could run.

They had a wide range of country to hunt over, and went prepared to stay 6 weeks or 2 months if necessary. There were few ranches in that country then, but parties of cow hunters were out there every spring and fall rounding up their cattle which ranged in those wilds.

After being out about 2 weeks they established camp near the head of the Nueces River, where we left the wagon and, dividing into parties of 2, started out in different directions to try and locate Whirlwind, agreeing to meet at camp every 3 days, and if either party had found the horse we were looking for the whole party would return together.

The captain and the horseman were companions, and the second day out, after seeing several small bunches of mustangs, shortly after noon we saw a mile or two off a bunch of 13 mares and some colts, with a stallion so much larger than the rest that we were satisfied we had found the object of our search. We dismounted and, getting the wind of the mustangs, crawled up as if we were stalking deer until we were near enough, by the aid of field glasses, to be certain that we had found Whirlwind.

We then went back to our horses and it was decided that the officer should keep in sight of the horse, unless somebody else came along and frightened him, while the horseman should return to camp and bring up the party, when we could easily take the trail of the horse ridden by the officer (which was an easy matter, as all our horses were shod) and join him.

We were about 50 miles from camp, but by riding nearly all night and being fortunate enough to find the rest of the party in camp we were able to get the rest of the boys back to where the captain had been left by dusk the next evening.

The captain was nowhere in sight, so we camped for the night, and the next morning, as soon as it was light, began our search for the captain’s trail. It was soon found, and it soon became evident to us that the mustangs had not been alarmed, but were grazing, except when they went to a neighboring stream to water.

About noon we found the captain. He said the mustangs had not been out of his sight except at night, and they had not moved far either night. They were then grazing about a mile to the Sonth, in a little valley. We were at the head of the valley, and it was nearly surrounded by low, rocky hills, densely covered with underbrush.

A council of war was held and various plans discussed. Several of the party knew the locality and said there were only 4 or 5 narrow trails leading ont from the lower end of the valley. It was decided to set snares in all these trails if it could be done without scaring the horses.

Accordingly one man was left to watch them, while the rest cautiously proceeded on foot to get around the mustangs and reach the trails or paths leading up the hill from the bottom of the valley. This was successfully accomplished, and, with 8 stout ropes provided for the purpose, we stretched as many nooses at the proper height in the trails by bending down a sapling on the side of the path and hanging the loop of the rope on in such a manner that a horse could not pass without running his head into it.

The other end of the rope was tied to a stout sapling near the ground. Of course, there was danger of breaking the horse’s neck that fell into one of these ropes, but we had to risk that.

We then returned to our horses and, mounting, we rode down the valley at full speed, yelling and firing our pistols. Whirlwind dashed off as soon as he saw us, followed by his mares, but that was the last run he ever made in freedom. He was caught in one of the nooses, while 4 mares and a 3-year-old colt were caught in others. Two of the nooses had fallen after we left them. We had a hard time getting Whirlwind down and getting a halter on him, and a still harder time teaching him to lead, but we finally got him into camp.

He was very little trouble to break, and evidently had gentle blood in his veins. He was 6 years old when caught. The captain bought the interest of the rest of the party in the horse. Six years afterward I saw Whirlwind at Mason, Mason Co., the captain having sold him for $600. He was as docile as a vat and was frequently driven to a buggy. Two of the mares caught at the same time we turned loose, but the other 2 and the colt we brought in with us.

The colt was a black filly. She fell to the lot of the writer. A year later she was broken and made a splendid saddle animal. She did noble service while the writer was deputy sheriff of one of the frontier counties, and was the means of catching several noted horse thieves. She was full 15 hands high, and when 6 years old the mustang mare sold for $75.