‘King’ Dunn recalls dipping vats, wild horses
Editor’s note: The following story was written by Wilson “King” Dunn, father of Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Derry Dunn. Judge Dunn asked his father to start writing down his memories so future generations may know the rich history of this area.
Wilson “King” Dunn was born (and raised) in Mauriceville in 1918. He graduated from Mauriceville High School in 1935. He was married for Eloide Linscomb Dunn for 72 years and he retired from the Postal Service after serving as Mauriceville Postmaster for 35 years. He was active in the Mauriceville Community for all of his adult life – Mauriceville School Board, Orange County Drainage District, Lions Club and Volunteer Firefighter. King is the father to six children and has numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Back in the early 1930s, the depression was still in effect and there was no money or jobs. A lot of families were turning to dairying to eke out a living because milk was in demand.
The renewed interest in dairying also created a demand for high producing cows, so soon they started bringing them in truckloads. They were kept in a large corral near Beaumont so that the farmers could select and bid on the cows they liked.
That’s when problems arose. Texas had ticks, lots of ticks, so many that they could almost cover a cows body. The local cows had grown up with ticks and even if the sapped their strength, they could tolerate it and survive. Not so with the newly arrived cows.
These were fever ticks they were exposed to and they soon came down with tick fever, which was often fatal to high priced milkers.
Our government realized the seriousness of fever ticks and launched an investigation and research on how to eradicate them. After a long period, they decided every cow, horse and dog were dipped every 14 days for nine months, it would wipe them out.
New dipping vats were built, range riders where hired to over see each vat and were trained in how to charge the vats with a solution of creosote so it was effective in killing ticks but not harmful to animals.
They were also charged with keeping count of the numbers of cows dipped each dipping day. Animals were marked with red paint after the first dipping and yellow pain after the second and another color after the third and so forth.
If you were short an animal or two, you had to spend the next few days to come up with them. The range rider on our Dunn vat was Asa Noguess. My Dad was also hired as a range rider but was assigned to another vat in the county. They could not work their home vat.
Dad had lots of cattle at this time. It was the days of wide open range and some of his cows ranged miles from home, so, anticipating the difficult task of getting them all in every 14 days, he gather them up and sold them to Mr. Richardson, who had a large pasture near Kirbyville. There were close to 500 head of cattle and they were sold for $17 per cow and $12 per yearling. Calves were thrown in for nothing. A herd that size would bring a fortune at today’s prices.
The sale of the herd included delivery, so Asa, Dewey Bean, carl Manual and I, along with Mr. Richardson, drove them all the way from home to Kirbyville. We followed Highway 62 north, a dirt road at the time, to about Gist, then we turned right and went through the woods to where we were going.
On the first night, there was a Captain Baker that had a pasture around Gist. We penned the cows in that pasture. We also left our horses there and we came home. We loaded up three cow dogs in the trailer to bring them home too. We loaded up Mike and Nick, but we could not catch Richard. We left without him. The next morning, Richard made it home on his own. We left him home that second day because his paws were worn and sore. The second night, we penned the cattle in someone’s pasture near Bessamay. It was a long hard drive but we made it three days and didn’t lose an animal.
By the time the actual dipping got started in 1936, all the men in our family had gotten jobs they wanted to hang on to. Dad was working as a range rider so Dewey Bean and I were the only ones available to take on the gathering and dipping of our remaining herd, which was about 60 head of cattle and 148 horses. We pinned cows on Saturday afternoon and put them all in a catch pasture.
On Sunday, we gathered up all the horses and put them in a separate enclosure. As soon as we got through milking on Monday, which was our assigned dipping day, we saddled up and started with the horses. Then came the cows.
Dewey and I also agreed to dip the Burton herd, maybe 50 or 60 head, and a small herd of Claybar cattle, maybe 30 head.
As you can imagine, every other Monday, or ‘dipping day’ was a long and tiring day for us and at the end of the day, if the count showed we were short an animal or two, it meant another two or three days of hard riding to locate them in order to avoid another penalty.
Things didn’t always go as intended on dipping days. Folks within a five mile radius had to bring their stock in and sometimes they would show up at the same time and get their stock mixed up. In an effort to separate them, they would run them through the fences and create all sorts of problems. It would, at times, resemble a three ring circus and provide lots of laughs and excitement. There was never a dull moment on dipping day.
At first, the compulsive dipping law of the late 1930s seemed harsh and unfair and many said the desired result could never succeed. Actually, it was a big success and the troublesome fever tick was permanently eradicated and the reward for cattleman, dairymen, farmers and anyone with livestock was peace of mind.
Personally, I would say despite the hard work, long days and hard riding, it was an exciting time for a teenager to experience and I am glad I was involved.
Everything got off to a smooth start but within a couple of weeks a problem arose which threatened to set it back.
The problem was a group of eleven wild horses located in the uninhabited area known as Nips Marsh. This area, I think, was located in both Newton and Jasper counties and was a few miles east of Gist.
Several riders and parties of riders tried for days to pen these horses but to no avail. They even built a catch pen with a wing fence but the wild bunch, led by a black stallion, knew every trail and refused to be corraled. The law said all livestock must be dipped and this little band of horses was a threat to the program.
The people heading up the program had a meeting and devised a plan to take a herd of manageable horses to Nips Marsh, spread them out, and riders would attempt to drive the wild horses into the decoy herd. My dad had lots of horses so he was the one they asked for use of his horse herd. Of course, he gave permission and a date was set.
I cannot over emphasize the excitement and anticipation on that appointed morning. Trucks and trailers began rolling into the area around our house very early in the day and kept coming and coming. There were range riders from all over southeast Texas as well as volunteers who went along for the ride. When we finally got on our way, there were 52 riders and 70 horses in the herd.
We drove them up Bilbo Road and on up past the old Clark place and went north for several miles. I was lost most of the time because I had never been in that area. After two days of hard riding and enduring a hard rain for most of the second day, we brought our herd home having captured a total of four wild ponies. As for the remaining seven, no one would claim ownership for fear of being fined for not dipping all their livestock. They were just loose on the world. Within the week, those seven outlaws disappeared, reportedly with the help of a high powered rifle.
As I remember, at the time this event was no big thing and attracted very little publicity. It was just a group of men, tending to their jobs and trying to keep the dipping program on schedule.
I’ve thought of this a lot: In today’s world an operation of this importance and magnitude would have drawn all kinds of reporters and television cameras along the trail. And you can imagine the squawk the humane society would carry all the way to Washington, D.C. The world has changed a lot during my lifetime, who’s to say if it’s better or worse.