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Monday, December 3, 2012

The life of a YO Ranch cowboy

Clarence Hyde, YO Ranch cowboy and later ranch foreman.
He appears to be standing on the back of an animal.

Growing up in town, spending most of my time at school, the print shop, home, exploring the river banks and occasionally attending church, I often dreamed of being a cowboy.
Of course, I had no more business being a cowboy than I had of being an astronaut, another career I dreamt about.
A few months ago my long-time friend Rod Kennedy gave me a copy of "Long Days and Short Nights" by Neal Barrett, Jr. The book was published to celebrate the centennial of the YO Ranch, back in 1980. The copy Mr. Kennedy gave me includes the signature of the author, as well as that of Charles Schreiner III, each of his sons, and Mary Helen Schreiner, the wife of Charles IV.
The author did something clever in writing the book: in addition to sketches about the family who owned the ranch, it includes stories about the people who worked there.
Take, for instance, the story of Clarence Hyde.
Hyde was born at the turn of the last century, and attended school until 1917. That same year he started working at the YO Ranch; he was 16 and would continue at the ranch for 44 more years.
Walter Schreiner, the youngest of Captain Charles Schreiner's sons, employed Hyde after the "division of the interests" in 1919.
"Walter Schreiner was a strong, outspoken man," according to Hyde. "You didn't have to sign a contract with a man like that -- his word was good."
In 1940 Clarence Hyde became ranch foreman of the YO, succeeding his father Mac Hyde. Walter Schreiner died in 1933, and the running of the ranch fell to his widow, Myrtle. Their son, Charles Schreiner III, took over management of the ranch in the early 1950s.
So it was to Myrtle Schreiner that Clarence Hyde reported in his new duties as ranch foreman.
Myrtle "was a fine lady," Hyde recalled. "She knew next to nothing about running a ranch when Walter died, and admitted it. In less than ten years, though, she knew plenty. The ranch always came first with her, and the hands admired her for that. When work was needed around the grounds or the house, she'd say, 'do it when you can spare time from the ranch.'"
According to the YO Ranch website, Myrtle "was the first Texas rancher to lease land for hunting, a practice that diversified the income of ranches across the state. Diversification helped the traditional ranch survive the drought that ravaged Texas for seven years in the 1950s."
In the 1920s, when Hyde was just starting out, times were tough for cowboys. "A hand got $20 a month, board and a bedroll. Boots were $8 a pair, but good ones lasted two or three years. A quart of I. W. Harper was $1.25," according to the book.
"A cowboy would get into town every three to six months," the book quotes Hyde, "but he sure made up for it then. He'd have saved up maybe $75, a considerable sum in those days -- and he'd spend it all in Kerrville in maybe two or three days."
Among the things on which the savings would be spent: a visit to the Arcadia Theater, boots and "heavy duck pants" if he needed them.
"Certainly, a little time was spent catching up on beer and whiskey drinking," the book quotes Hyde. Time was also spent, according to the book, with women whose attentions could be "negotiated by a lonely cowboy with money in his pockets."
Time in town was rare, though. Days started at 4:30 a.m., when the foreman and crew would meet in the corral for the day's instructions.
"They'd set out for work with lunch in a paper sack tossed into their saddlebags. There might be dried biscuits, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, or sometimes a can of fruit. There was always a coffee pot."
Hyde enjoyed the life he led. "I wouldn't have spent the years doing anything else. It's what I wanted to do."  But he also added: "I'll tell you one thing -- being foreman wasn't near as much fun as being a cowboy."
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is probably lucky he was never a cowboy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 1, 2012.

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