Cowboy Colors
& Cowboy Beer Joints

by L. Kelly Down

natSMA.jpg (23763 bytes)COWBOY COLORS

You fellows is way wrong in thinking like Hollywood that all the trail drive hands was white folks. Girls you better put a lid on that talk. Way before Texas was in the Union cattle was worked by Indians —like the Wacos —the Latins, the Mexicans, and in South and East Texas, by African-Americans.

Back then, black men was top cowhands. After they was freed, most stayed with cows. All these colors plus white guys put their brand not only on cows but most of the cowboy stuff we use today.

Now ladies, a good example of how your skin color don't count for much if you know cows is Danial W. "John 80" Wallace, a blackman born in 1860 in the Victoria County, on the O'Danial Ranch there. He got the handle "John 80" later cowboying for Clay Mann in the Mitchell County. Mr. Mann's brand was "80" and so as to show how honest Wallace was people got to calling him "Honest John of the 80" which "John 80" was the short . That's what I was told long ago.

Old "John 80" Wallace took to trailing early. He was fifteen year old when he rode 250 miles to Coleman County with a herd—got fifteen cash hard money dollars for that drive. Before he were eighteen he had more brands and earmarks in his head than most courthouses has registered today.

Why was so many folks making trail drives? Well thats easy—buy full growed steers for three or four dollars here then drive them to the Abilene and get thirty-five or forty. From there they was shipped by rail back east, Kansas City or Chicago most likely. So blacks, whites, browns, yellows, purple, polkadotted, and green—all of every body wanted some of that sweet stuff, don't you know.

Anyways, "John 80" was like Mr. Lou Wolf of the Matagorda, a top hand that wanted cows and a spread of his own. He got to saving something fierce and bought a place tween Big Springs and Abilene, Texas, near the town of Loraine. He knew cows, so by 1936 he'd been cowboying for other folks for about 28 years and for hisself for some 33 years or some 61 years, all told. He had nearbout 10,000 acres he owned and fenced. He died in 1939 at age of 79. Last I heared his kinfolks still has cows on his place—a few oil wells too, which everyone knows cows do good in the shade of.

When I were a pup, way younger than you ladies, I was taught cows by the black cowhands of the Matagorda. Lordy—they sure talked and worked cows. My teachers were the Brown Brothers, of Markham and Preacher Williams from up Wharton County way, near Old Shanghi Pierces' headquarters.

While these that learned me didn't own as many acres as Mr."John 80" Wallace, they sure worked cows like he did. All top hands! When it came to working cows back then it wasn't the color of your skin that a trail boss look to. It was how your sat a horse, throwed a loop, and how cow smart you was, thats a fact for sure. Same thing as now!

I bet you a skillet full of biscuits, plus enough cane syrup to dunk them in, if you go to where cows is being worked today, most places you'll find a slew of black and brown cowboys doing all the jobs needed to be done. That's close to the line as I can speak.

Ya, fill my coffee up again, and past a plate of the SOB stew—it's sure good tonight! (That's "Gentlemen from Odessa" stew if you has to call it at a church-house party.) Don't slip up now and get your mama mad at me! Enough ex-wives on that load for me!


A few more years on you girls and you will be raring to go to where they sell cool ones. Now there's beer joints and beer joints and then the ones I calls "Cowboy Beer Joints" - captials please!

Now you can take off down any road in Texas, for sure here in the Hill Country, and before long you'll hit a beer joint. I been making them all—Just to learn you fellows the straight of them— the only reason—that's a fact! But they all ain't the same, that's for sure. First off if they ain't got "Beer" all by its lonesome as biggest thing on sign, keep on going—they ain't right for a fisty fellow like you is. Next if it ain't so dark when you get inside that it takes five minutes to see—walk out! And when you gets to the counter or table a nice woman type ain't taking your order—leave. If she ain't got, or her lady boss don't have, a beehive hair do and a cigarette dangling out side of her mouth—real red lipstick on it and her—leave.

Now best time to find a Cowboy Beer Joint is about dark-thirty on cattle auction day. Just look for cattle trailers and pick ups—they is cow people in that one. They spending that profit or drowning their sorrows, thats for right, no matter what year or season. How's the biscuits doing? O.K.!

Best is if you see men with chaps, boots, and spurs, maybe some blood and lots of cow processed grass all over them—that's where you'll be welcome as dutchoven biscuits on a blue norther morning.

Be real carefull and speak soft and low, don't brag cause they will call you on it. A Cowboy Beer Joint can be as sweet as a fair lady's kiss or as painful as you ever dreamed—and be real careful about that little guy in the corner—he will kill you dead, not just bust you up some.