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Friday, January 29, 2016

The Self-Made Cattle Baron

If there is one man that better symbolizes the American West and the American Dream simultaneously than A. B. Robertson, I have yet to read about them. From rags to riches, this man learned the ways of the cowboy before blazing a trail in Texas history as one of the preeminent cattlemen of the era. Yes, "Sug" Robertson, as he is more commonly called, lead a charmed and exciting life, but it didn't begin that way.

A. B. "Sug" Robertson
A.B. (Andrew Briggs) was born on January 14, 1855 as the sixth of eight children.  He was known to
his friends and family as "Sug" because as an infant that had yet to cut any teeth, he allegedly bore a close resemblance to a superannuated country doctor also lacking his pearly whites known as "Dr. Sug." His father, also named A.B., was a doctor who moved the family frequently, leaving A. B's birthplace of Indiana for Mississippi and eventually Arkansas just prior to the Civil War. A native Virginian, Dr. A.B. enlisted in 1863 as a Confederate surgeon in that great conflict.  Arkansas in the early 1860's saw a great deal of chaos as a slow-moving Union Army crossed the state foraging and requisitioning supplies along the way. A channel of devastation lay behind them that quickly filled with bushwackers, bandits, and citizens reeling from the total war policy implemented by the Union troops. In a time the state was already seeing a mass exodus of citizens, Dr. A. B. sent word to have his family moved to live with relatives in Texas until his return. Leaving their home yet again, the family traveled southwest in a covered spring wagon to Hood County, TX on the Brazos River.

The war would end two years later, and accounts vary on the fate of Dr. A. B. Some have him returning home and continuing his practice after the war before moving to Louisiana.  However, more reliable sources (and genealogical records) point to him never returning home from the Civil War. His family had not received word from him from several years, nor did they receive any notification that he had died in service. It was some time before Dr. A. B. would surface in Louisiana with a new wife and family.

Regardless of what happened to A.B. Sr, it still leaves Sug in Texas at the tender age of 10 by the end of the Civil War. Thousands of returning and displaced soldiers flowed into Texas and brought about the birth of the cattle industry in the state. The demand for beef had increased back East thanks to a growing economy - courtesy of an Industrial boom and the beginning of a huge influx of immigrants that would continue through the turn of the century. Until it busted in the 1880s cattle was king and it gave rise to much of the romantic imagery we have today of cowboys, cattle drives, and life on the prairie. Sug was at the heart of it when it all started.

He took his first job in 1865 as a cowhand for R.K. Wylie at a wage sources cite as anywhere from $7.50 to $10/month. He was given a cow pony and learned how to operate a ranch by seeing and doing it firsthand. The boy was a natural. Sug was no stranger to learning on his own volition. With only 6 months of school under his belt, he taught himself to read using newspapers by the light of the campfires, and practiced his writing on his own boots with only the ranch's bills of sale as models. It was a life that few grown men undertook, let alone a young man, but Sug was no ordinary boy and his life was full of adventure.

His aptitude was noticed quickly by Mr. Wylie and within a year Sug had been sent to neighboring Coleman county to assist in starting another ranch. With knowledge and skills that continued to grow, by 1873 at the age of 18, he was considered by many to be a "top hand." This reputation afforded him an opportunity to lead his own trail drive of 1,000 head from Coleman County up the Chisholm trail to Coffeyville, KS with a crew of eight men. The drive went off without a hitch and the young man's star continued to rise. Sources differ on the exact year, but give or take a year from his 18th birthday, Sug took his first step from cowhand to cattleman. He purchased a heard of 5,000 head of cattle from Wylie. The partnership lasted for five years before Sug would sell that ranch back to Wylie, and begin a long chain of acquisitions and sales, that by 1882 would result in the sale of the Robertson TX Ranch for $50,000. Just several years earlier he had married Emma Lenora Smith, and one can be certain that she was extremely pleased with her husband's business savvy.

The boldness he displayed in his business dealings were matched perhaps only by his exploits on the plains. As a hand, interactions with Native Americans were frequent, though his final  experiences with them date to 1875. One story states that he was out with an acquaintance hunting for bison. Now bison were an even larger problem than Native Americans for ranchers. While the Native Americans could steal horses and threaten lives, the bison could scatter an entire herd and destroy grazing lands for miles in any direction. Sug and his friend had hitched their horses in a creek bed, crept slowly up a ravine, and silently came within range of some bison grazing on a ridge. As they closed on their quarry, Sug looked back and saw five Native Americans beyond the creek bed riding on a beeline for their horses. Undetected, both the hunters rushed back to their mounts and charged the would-be horse thieves. The pursuit continued for two miles before the chased men dismounted their rides and escaped into a thicket. With that the two men took the newly riderless horses back to their ranch, found they had once belonged to their neighbors, and returned them.

Undoubtedly still stinging from their last experience, the Native Americans visited the ranch four or five days later and raided it of every last horse. In a risky and dangerous gamble, Sug and another hand set off on foot to track the band and recover their horses. It was only several miles before they encountered a pair of jaded horses that had been left behind. They snatched the unlikely opportunity, and now pursued the thieves on bare horseback. The culprits again eluded capture, but the two young men did come across five horses that had escaped and so led them back to the ranch. The bareback ride being quite uncomfortable, Sug had a mind to fix that situation as well. It wasn't long before the men and their regained horses came across a herd of bison. Sug dismounted, "hitched" his horse by standing on the end of a rope he had tied to it, and shot a bison. Right there the two skinned and dressed the beast and used its hide to improvise a saddle and saddle blanket that the two then used to return home.

Though perhaps both of those accounts pale in comparison to the way Sug dealt with cattle rustlers. White thieves were much more prevalent than the Native Americans, so in 1874 after Sug had purchased a herd of 3,000 at Horse Head Crossing of the Pecos, he quickly set in his mind to nip the problem in the bud. He set out on his own to confront the leader of the rustling ring that was the source of a headache for many a rancher in the territory. He would wait until nightfall to approach their camp, and the story is best recounted as such,

"Soon after arriving (at the ranch) he located the headquarters of the rustlers in a secluded spot in a bend of the Pecos River. Mounting his horse and armed with a rifle and revolver he rode into the camp (where) half a dozen of the ugliest men as one would meet in a year on the frontier, sprang to their feet and threw their rifles down on him."

He then dismounted his horse "with no haste whatsoever."

"Robertson was not long in making known the object of his call. He sat down on his haunches before the fire and delivered himself of two sentences:  'I'm telling you boys,' he said, 'that there'll be no mavericking of calves out of my herd. Anybody that cares to try, I'll guarantee will go to hell on a shutter, pronto.'

The astonished leader of the gang invited Robertson to stay the night and share some beef.  The invitation was accepted and in the morning when Robertson rode away he had a pledge that was never broken that his animals would be as safe as babes in cribs."

One may have questioned Sug's wisdom in such an action, but no one ever questioned his grit. Stories such as these surround the young man. He met John S. Chisholm in 1871, founder of the legendary Chisholm Trail, and once helped him prevent a disastrous stampede, forging a lifelong friendship. He has documented correspondence with Theodore Roosevelt.  By age 21 he was foreman of one of the largest ranches in Texas.  In 1882 he moved to Colorado City, and by 1889 he was the President of the bank there (and also a silent partner of the local saloon). Once there he continued to conduct business with cattle and shipping, with one source stating that, "within the last ten or twelve years has bought and shipped more cattle to Northern markets than any other man, in the same time, in Texas."

The move to Colorado City is far from the pinnacle of Robertson's career, in fact, it could be argued as the beginning of its next level. It was in that fine city that he met Mr. Winfield Scott of Fort Worth and the two became partners in many business ventures. Scott provided much of the capitol, especially in the earliest ventures, while Sug provided the knowledge and experience. Their first venture was a ranch in New Mexico renamed by them as the Hat Ranch due to its brand of a semicircle with a bar underneath it that closely resembled a bowler hat. It was 100,000 acres, employed nearly 100 men, spanned two states, and after several expansions and acquisitions, gave the Hat Ranch brand instant recognition in every significant cattle market in the country.

After the pair sold their interest in New Mexico, Sug bought 35,000 acres from the St. Louis Cattle Company in Yellow House Canyon. Known as the RH Ranch, Robertson again set his powers of reorganization to work, just as he had done at the Hat Ranch. He renamed it the "V" and stocked it with Hereford cattle, a breed he vigorously advocated. The ranch specialized in the breed and eventually the bloodlines from his ranch were considered a premium.  The ranch and his newly constructed 2-story brick house known as "Stockland" were run with the most up-to-date methods and modern conveniences.

Sug set up the V to be the land he would settle down on. After establishing it, it received almost his entire attention, though he did continue his work and lifelong friendship with Winfield Scott until Scott's passing in 1911. The two were so close that Sug was named to head his three million dollar estate without any bond.

Sug was the face and pioneer of the West Texas cattle industry. He was leader that served on the boards of numerous organizations including banks, the Texas Cattleman's Association, the Cattle Raisers Association of Texas, and even the National Livestock Association.  He was asked numerous times to run for public office such as the state senate and governor. The man was also an interesting personality. Characterized as: honest, quick to criticism & praise, a fantastic storyteller, shrewd, and generous. His forthright nature and strong will may have turned some people off, but largely the man was respected and admired.  He was not social outside of his family, but his reputation of generosity still lives.

"In one case a man bought a quarter section of land from him and could not make good on it, so instead of just reclaiming the land as was his legal right, Sug returned the man's $600 to help him get by until he could get situated elsewhere."

He had also donated to found a local church, donated land to developers to help build up his city of Slaton, and helped establish its first bank, literally helping found the town. The V Ranch would be the last home Sug would own. After falling ill in early 1921, doctors recommended he move to a "lower climate" so he moved to Abilene and continued to run his business. Unfortunately, one evening after dinner with his wife at one of his children's house, he moved to the parlor to sit and read the paper when he suffered an attack of "acute indigestion."  Medical staff were summoned, but by the time they arrived the pioneering cattleman had passed.

Sug Robertson lived the American Dream. He wrote his own story through hard work, determination, honed skill, bravery, a love for education, and a fire inside him that wouldn't be extinguished. From a 10-year old cowboy to a business mogul, he worked hard to get the results he wanted. He had chased Indians on foot his entire life. Both he and the industry experienced their early years, growth, and incredible success as if they were one and the same.

The photos of the revolver that have permeated this story are those of a Colt Single Action Army that once belonged to Sug. It was a single gun shipment in 1917, factory engraved by none other than Cuno Helfricht in a Colt's "Style 2." The master engraver's work remains crisp and deep. The revolver is in all original condition, including its 99% nickel finish. The pearl grips glow and glint attractive iridescent hues of pink and teal. It has only been fired during its factory test, and has remained in the family its entire life. They have lovingly referred to as the "Unicorn" thanks to its one-of-a-kind nature. The beauty of this Colt alone would be enough to send collectors scrambling, but its rich Texas history and direct provenance to one of the 19th century's most prominent cattleman only sweetens its appeal.

Sug would approve of the determination that will be required to own his stunning six shooter.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Cox, James. Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry and the Cattlemen of Texas and Adjacent Territory. Saint Louis: Woodward & Tiernan Print., 1895. Print.

Farber, James, Those, Texans, Unidentified Newspaper Clipping. Collection of Martha Robertson

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Prize for Capturing Geronimo, Part I

This incredible rifle will be available in our 2016 April Premiere Auction.

Lieutenant Colonel George Crook was not having a good time. Everything should have been falling in to place.  He was a nationally recognized military man whose career included decades of service. He was a renowned "Indian fighter," having moved many Native American groups off their lands when such activities were considered desirable. Though, even among the Native Americans he was  revered among them as a white man they could trust. Crook respected Native Americans, viewed them as honorable warriors, and after removing a tribe treated them humanely, helped them grow crops, and even found some employment. This was in line with the view of those who saw reservations as essential to the long-term survival of the Native Americans. Red Cloud, Chief of the Lakota, is noted as saying, "Crook never lied to us. His words gave the people hope." He was even honorably nicknamed Nantan Lupan by the Apache, which translates as "gray wolf." Besides his superior reputation on both sides of the Indian Wars, Crook also enjoyed professional success. He was promoted numerous times throughout his career, peaking as the head of the Department of Arizona.

Despite all that, he couldn't seem to nail down one final loose end: Geronimo.


Geronimo, 1887
The wily leader of the Apache lost his entire family, mother, wife, and three children, after they were slain by Mexicans months shy of his 22nd birthday, thus kindling a lifelong hatred for the country and its people. After grieving his family, he was a changed man. Once an amicable husband and doting father, he became understandably bitter and unpredictably violent. Many former friends avoided him completely, and his need to spill Mexican blood grew to obsession. It resulted in numerous revenge raids and perpetuated the constant violence that already existed between the Apaches and Mexicans dating back to the late 17th century. In the years between 1820 - 1835 Apaches killed more than 5,000 Mexicans and demolished roughly 100 villages, causing several Mexican states to place a bounty on Apache scalps in 1835, offering 100 pesos (the the equivalent of one silver dollar) for the scalp of a brave. Later, Chihuahua offered even greater rewards: $100 for braves, with lesser amounts for (presumably alive) women and children. Prices would increase and decrease as conflicts heated and cooled, though $100 was already more than some men could earn in a year.  Not to mention that one could often keep the goods and livestock of the Native Americans one killed.  All this further fueled the conflict, bloodshed, and distrust between Mexicans, Americans, and the Apache.

While Geronimo's feud initially existed largely with the Mexicans, it's not difficult to see how that violence spilled over to those early settlers and travelers in the Southwestern United States. Mexicans weren't the only ones collecting scalp bounties, plus the whites were also busy settling on Apache lands. Regardless of who was killing who, or who was turning in human scalps as casually as trapped pelts, the violence against American citizens was something the Federal Government could not abide. While the market for Native American scalps (or those claimed to be) had largely dried up by the 1880s, the memories and hatred were still fresh as ever. This was the setting that Crook inherited in 1882 (some say the spring of 1883) as head of the Department of Arizona.


George R. Crook, circa 1875
Crook had ascended the ranks in his time of military service. He had performed nobly in dozens of engagements in the Civil War, and already had a fine reputation against Indians after his performance in the Snake War, the Tonto Basin Campaign, and the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. Prior to his posting of supervising an entire state, he served as the head of the Department of the Platte from 1875 - 1882. In that role he oversaw Nebraska, the Dakota Territory, the Utah Territory, Iowa, and part of Idaho. He also helped conquered tribes on numerous occasions by speaking on their behalf in Washington, setting up irrigation projects, finding jobs, ensuring equal pay for Native American workers, and seeking markets for their newly grown crops. All this in spite of a large segment of the population that wanted all Native Americans dead, and a military supply industry that profited the most when Native Americans were hostile.

 However, Crook also had his failures, though arguably of lesser consequence. After being nominated to the United States Military Academy by his congressman, he graduated near the bottom of his class. At the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain in the Civil War, while attempting to cross a creek, his high topped riding boots filled with water, and he became swamped, requiring his men to pull him by his arms to the opposite shore. Later that battle, some sources say he became so fatigued with excitement and exertion that he grew faint and was unable to mount a successful pursuit of Confederate sources, that duty then fell to future President Rutherford B. Hayes. He would be captured by Confederate forces in 1865. Even in his finest hour, the Snake War, after ordering a charge on an Indian village from his safe vantage point, his horse spooked and ran ahead of his own troops, placing him squarely in the cross fire of both forces. Thankfully his horse continued through the village and both horse and rider emerged unscathed.  Perhaps most damning, is that some historians still debate whether Crook's failure to pursue the Sioux and Cheyenne forces at the Battle of the Rosebud, contributed to the massacre of the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn - a far greater consequence than some waterlogged boots.

Which Crook would show up to drive the Apache from the Southwest United States: the successful rising star or the embarrassed soldier with the devil's own luck?

The Game is Afoot

A cavalry patrol leaving Ft. Bowie.
Crook did plenty to help the Native Americans when he wasn't kicking them off their land and working to place them in reservations.  He developed several tactics that were successful for decades.  The first was his use of Native American scouts of the tribe he was pursuing. Utilizing the knowledge of native peoples to navigate was nothing new, but using Native American's knowledge against their own people was.  Those scouts not only had the potential to serve as translators, but also knew of their people's routes, clandestine camps, and how the tribe was trained to avoid detection. They proved themselves to be an invaluable asset time and time again. Crook also was known for his heavy use of pack animals, especially mules. By keeping the majority of supplies on the pack animals, his cavalry could travel lighter, faster, and farther. He hoped to use these same tactics to capture Geronimo when charged with the task in 1883.

Geronimo had been placed on a reservation before. When the Chiricahua Apache were under command of Cochise, they had made peace and agreed to relocate to a reservation. Not long after that arrangement, Cochise died in 1874.  Without the cooperation of Cochise things began to spiral out of control. After the sale of whiskey to some Apaches resulted in the death of two white men in 1876, the U.S. decided to dissolve the reservation in the Chiricahua Mountains and move its inhabitants to the San Carlos reservation in southeast Arizona, also known as "Hell's Forty Acres." A great number made the move, almost 4,000, but many escaped with Geronimo to Mexico. Those that stayed were subject to the treachery of those in charge of their welfare. Rations were shorted, but charged the same to the government, scales were tampered with during the sale of goods, and the reservation, originally totaling some 5,000 square miles, was gradually made smaller and smaller by whites who kept finding things they wanted along its border, such as silver, copper, and coal.  The very next year, 1877, Geronimo surrendered at the Ojo Caliente Reservation in the New Mexico Territory, but a change in management of the reservation, brought about by ego-driven politics in the U.S. Army, resulted in his release. He returned once, in 1880, out of necessity after a long, hungry winter in the Sierra Madres, but his stay would be a short one. After a spiritual leader was arrested and the resulting riot was initially quelled, Geronimo heard rumors that he would also be arrested or worse, and so stole away again into Mexico with 74 others. In the following two years, he and his band took part in increasingly bold and violent raids, stealing property, and killing residents including women and children. It was these atrocities that lead the U.S. and Mexico to a compromise that allowed each nation's lawmen/troops to cross one another's borders when in "hot pursuit" of the outlaw Apaches.

Once placed in charge and the recent accord with Mexico in place, it didn't take Crook long to locate Geronimo. He took 193 Native American scouts with him, and first hand accounts mention Tom Horn serving as an interpreter on the trek though the boulder and crevasse strewn desert landscape of the Sierra Madre. Many Apache were convinced to return to the San Carlos reservation, but Geronimo and others did not return until the next year, 1884. Once on the reservation Crook began treating the Apache civilly and implementing programs to benefit their stay, but the surrounding communities saw the treatment and felt it was too kind for a group that had raided their cattle, plundered their lands, and killed their friends and neighbors.

Printed on Back of Photo: "Scene in Geronimo's camp, the Apache outlaw and murderer. Taken before the surrender to Gen. Crook, March 27, 1886, in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico, escaped March 30, 1886."

This photo of Geronimo and his men was taken by C.S. Fly. His 15 images of the Apache are the only known photographs taken of an American Indian while they were still at war with the U.S.

This atmosphere was combined with whites trying to remove several brutal Apache practices from the reservation, such as cutting the nose tips off of unfaithful women, what one source calls "vicious wife-beating," but most importantly a prohibition on alcohol. Mixed together, all these things compelled Geronimo to act out by brewing a small batch of corn-based beer to protest the conditions. Instead of a reaction, Geronimo received no response at all due a communication error in the Army involving an extremely hungover officer. Geronimo and his band waited, waited, and waited some more before finally growing tired of their staged act and leaving the reservation. All in all 42 men and 92 women and children escaped. As the escapees made their way south again toward the inhospitable lands that made them nearly impossible to capture, they gathered supplies. One unfortunate family in their path was that of a man known only to history as "Phillips."

Phillips owned a ranch outside Silver City and the Apache badly needed supplies for their journey. It is not specifically mentioned, but little doubt can exist that Phillips would not have been too keen on giving up his food and stock.  Unfortunately, it cost him and his family their lives. When a posse arrived, his wife and infant child were found dead, but Phillips' five-year old daughter was hanging by a meat hook that had been plunged into the base of her skull.  She was still alive, a condition that would last only hours.

Crook was furious at the renewed violence and the incompetence of the men responsible for not responding to Geronimo's insubordination. It would be no small task to capture an Apache that didn't want to be caught, especially an angered one. If Crook didn't already feel the urgency of the situation, the strong pressure of the U.S. Government to again rein in the Apaches was nearly crushing. Perhaps it was Crook's anger and perhaps it was his knowledge of the arduous task that lay before him, but he wasted no time assembling the largest force up to that time in the Apache Wars: some 20 cavalry companies, more than 200 Native American scouts, dozens of pack animals, and extra surgeons; over 3,000 men in total.

The hunt for Geronimo was on.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Capps, Benjamin. The Old West: The Great Chiefs. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life, 1981. Print. (1st hand account of Crook) (Miles, Lawton's boss)