One of my greatest weaknesses has always been books. These prodigious keepers ofknowledge can open new worlds of discovery and intrigue. As an example, last week I was going throughthe ranch vehicle section of our library. In the process, I came across a first edition book I had purchased yearsago. The name of the volume is Cattle. It was published in 1930 and written by WillC. Barnes and William MacLeod Raines. The book is signed by Mr. Raines and includes a few other writtennotations. It’s a fascinating piece withdetails about the early Texas cattle industry, cowboys, trails, towns,round-ups, wagons, outlaws, rustling, brands, and so forth.
To the point, though; what I hadforgotten is that inside this specific book is a 2-page, signed letter from oneof the authors, Will C. Barnes. It waswritten to a friend, over 80 years ago, just as Cattle was being released tothe public. The letter references thenew book and outlines several of Mr. Barnes’ recollections along with news fromhis recent travels to Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Panama. History has always captivated me and thisletter did even more. As I read thethrough the aged correspondence, the thoughts of this roughly 72-year-oldgentleman and the fullness of his experience in the American West hit me. In 1880, Mr. Barnes was a private in theU.S. Military. He had accomplished muchat an early age and had just been assigned as a telegrapher to Fort Apache inArizona. The West faced many challengesand hostilities during this timeframe. By August and September of 1881, there were a number of armedengagements with Apache forces. Duringone of those incidents, PVT Barnes escaped the fort to find help. Because of his exemplary record and bravery,he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1883. Other credits among his wide-ranging attributesinclude service in the Arizona Territorial Legislature, U.S. Forest Servicegrazing program, and U.S. Geographic Board. He is also recognized for helping preserve the legendary Texas Longhorn.
A lengthy but rousing report of Mr.Barnes’ background and experiences at Ft. Apache during the early 1880’s can befound at this U.S. Army site. While much of the account on this site offersstraight-forward and interesting details of life in the Old West, I appreciatedthe stressful humor and poor luck in the following paragraph about Mr. Barnes…
“Travelingin Arizona in 1883 was not for the weak and faint-hearted, particularly in badweather. For example, after reaching Holbrook and setting off for his ranch,Barnes found what must have been the Little Colorado on a "big boom"from the previous night's rain. In trying to cross it, his horse went under andBarnes swam out to save himself, only to find that he was on the wrong side ofthe river, whereupon he was obliged to swim back to the other side.”
One of a number of books written by Mr.Barnes, Cattle was published during a time when, by his own admission, “…hundredsof men are still living who followed the dust of the drag in the longnorthbound treks.” † As such,it offers a unique perspective in helping visualize the era.
So, what does all of this have to dowith western vehicles? Beyond a fewmorsels of wheeled information within the book, this look into yesteryear (bythose who were there) is an additional reminder that truly appreciating westernvehicles requires a thorough understanding of the environment and times inwhich they were used. After all, thedetails and features of every set of wheels is a direct result of the demandsplaced upon it.
Cattle paints a vivid picture of Texascattle drives as well as the legendary cowboy’s effect on the AmericanWest. On a broader note, this historicknowledge has a way of bringing folks together on even more common ground;recognizing the struggles of people and place while honoring the challenges ofpersonal hardships and celebrating the overall experience of life. While there are numerous groups dedicated topromoting this part of our western heritage, perhaps none is more focused thanthe American Chuck Wagon Association. We’re proud to be a participating member of this great group of folksand, through our Archives, are committed to helping preserve the wheeledhistory that built such a powerful legacy in America. Ultimately, it’s a story as big as our nationand as timeless as the spirit of the West.
† Cattle, page 7