George W. Saunders did it all, but it is for a book that he is best remembered.
Born in Rancho, Texas, less than two decades after the fall of the Alamo, he lived and worked on the family ranch near Goliad. George officially became a cattleman (or, “cattle-boy”) on his 10th birthday, when his father presented him with 10 calves.
At 17, Saunders joined a trail drive to Kansas, followed by several drives to Mexico, Louisiana, and the Texas Gulf Coast. He patrolled the Mexican border as a youthful member of a homegrown militia and served as deputy sheriff of Goliad. He ran a successful San Antonio hack company before turning 30, entering into what would become a lifelong involvement in the livestock commission business.
By 1910, the George W. Saunders Livestock Commission Company was grossing some $5 million annually, with offices in several cities. Meanwhile, he found the time to oversee the running of four ranches and a farm, work as an alderman for the improvement of San Antonio, supervise war bond drives during World War I, and—as a patron of the arts—sponsor the creative endeavors of multiple artists.
However, it was his trail-driving days that lived most vividly in his heart and memory – so much so that he co-founded the Old Trail Drivers Association of Texas, for which he served as president for a number of years. It was in this capacity that he was, in the words of one source, the “driving force” behind one of the most remarkable books to emerge from the chronicling of the Old West.
The current edition of The Trail Drivers of Texas runs an impressive 1,085 pages, and is packed with reminiscences about hundreds of old-time cowboys and cattlemen. While some, such as “Ab” Blocker, George W. Littlefield, Charles Goodnight, and Saunders himself, have earned fame in the cattle industry, others were the $30-a-month waddies who “pointed them north” during the decades following the Civil War. They drove tens of millions of “beeves”—2,000 or 3,000 at a time, averaging 10 to 12 miles a day—up the northern trails to Newton, Ellsworth, Abilene, and Dodge City in Kansas, or to Sedalia, Mo., or Ogallala in Nebraska, and eventually to Montana Territory. In the process, they became America’s archetypal folk heroes. And thanks largely to G.W. Saunders’ efforts, their saga survives, warts and all, in this “Bible of the trail drives.”