Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Brief History of the YO Ranch in Kerr County, Texas

Charlie III and his four sons.
For a kid raised in Kerrville in the 1960s, the YO Ranch was a place of legend, out past the edge of sidewalks and street lights, where hard work was constant, and where cowboys, horses and cattle were at home.
Since my family's printing shop was in downtown Kerrville, a block over from the home of Captain Charles Schreiner, and within sight of both the Schreiner store, and his eldest son's home, I think I've always better understood the part of the Schreiner family story that took place in town.  That part of their story occurred in a setting I understand: the few blocks making up what we called "downtown" in those days.  I would dare say there are few living who know those blocks better than I, from their rooftops to the tunnels which snake beneath the streets.
But there is another part of the Schreiner story, and it takes place in a nearby setting.  That setting is a ranch in the western part of Kerr County.  Though it's close by, that setting is as foreign to me as the sidewalks of Budapest.
And yet you can't understand the "town" Schreiners if you don't try to understand the story of the YO Ranch.  That story starts with Captain Charles Schreiner, of course, but includes a University of Texas football player who graduated from law school, a resourceful widow, and a man who bloomed where he was planted, playing the hand he was dealt with style and character.
The person I remember most from the YO Ranch was Charles Schreiner III, who from time to time would buy printing from my father.  We have in those few files which survived our print shop's 1995 fire samples of newsletters, stationery, and brochures, and I remember reading them as a boy, wondering about the ranch which was so close to Kerrville, yet so far away.
The YO came into the Schreiner family in 1880, when the Taylor-Clements Ranch was purchased by Charles Schreiner; the YO brand became part of the deal.
J. W. Taylor and James Clements together owned the Taylor-Clements Ranch, and at their headquarters above Harper, Gus Schreiner, Captain Schreiner's son, found that most of the cattle his family had purchased were branded "YO," a mark Taylor had used for some years, including down in Goliad County.
According to Neal Barrett Jr.'s book "Long Days and Short Nights," published to celebrate the centennial of the YO Ranch, at the Taylor-Clements Ranch Gus Schreiner "found the cattle there were already carrying the YO brand.  Being a practical man who didn't like to do the same job twice, he simply bought the YO brand from the sellers.  Thus the YO brand entered the Schreiner domain.  It has found a home there ever since."
Walter and Myrtle Schreiner
The brand, which features a "Y" connected atop an "O" started out on the property of Taylor and Clements -- but has found its way to mark many other types of property and enterprises.  For those new to the area, the name is pronounced by saying the names of the letter Y and the letter O, not slurred together to say the word "yo."  (Mo-Ranch is completely different, where the sounds of the letters "M" and "O" form the sound "moh."  These ranch names are one of our many local shibboleths.)
Cattle were an important foundation of Captain Schreiner's wealth.  Texas longhorns, in the years around the Civil War, had grown numerous in the hills around Kerr County, and the rest of south Texas, and were not considered, in most cases, anyone's property.  When the first local cowmen reported profits from gathering herds of the wild cattle and driving them to markets in Kansas, few in Kerrville believed them.  The longhorns were considered worthless by many locals.
Captain Charles Schreiner knew otherwise, and with several partners organized cattle drives which saw hundreds of thousands of cattle driven north.  Most of these cattle drives were very profitable to Schreiner and his partners.  Some were financial disasters.
In 1917, toward the end of his life, Charles Schreiner divided his assets among his children -- his five sons and three daughters.    His eldest, A. C. Schreiner, whose home still stands between our print shop and the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library, got the store.  Louis, another son, got the bank.  Other properties were divided among the children.
The youngest son, Walter, got the YO Ranch and the Weaver Ranch, just shy of 70,000 acres total.  He was 40, and the next chapter of the YO Ranch began.
Walter is an interesting character.  He graduated from the University of Texas, where he played football, where the team nicknamed him "Crip," since he managed to break a collarbone, arm, leg, and three ribs during his football career.  He finished law school and was captain of the 1900 team that won all six games it played.  A team photo from the time shows Walter Schreiner and the team in uniforms more like rugby uniforms than what we'd recognize as football uniforms.
After graduating he went to manage his father's YO ranch, learning the business from Robert Real, a cousin.
In 1922, Walter Schreiner met Myrtle Barton, a Texas girl from Blooming Grove, and brought her to the YO Ranch as his bride.  She was seventeen years his junior, and neither knew at their marriage how important a role she'd play in the story of the YO Ranch.
Myrtle Schreiner
Walter Schreiner was a hard worker, a man of his word, and he knew the cattle business.  When he was given the YO Ranch, the country was in the midst of World War I.  Prices were good for cattle and wool, and the YO Ranch prospered.  But with the armistice, the price for these items fell, and the ranching business became more and more difficult.  Many ranches failed during this time, but Walter Schreiner managed to hold on.
Then the Great Depression hit.  Times got tougher for ranchers, including the YO Ranch.  Walter Schreiner diversified his income streams, and included some lease payments from oil companies to search for oil.  None was found, but the leases appeared now and then on the ranch's books as a much-welcomed source of income.
Then, about the time Franklin Roosevelt was taking office in 1933, Walter Schreiner died unexpectedly, leaving the YO Ranch to his widow, Myrtle, and his young son, Charles III.
Myrtle by all accounts was resourceful.  She admitted her lack of knowledge of the ranching business and sought and received advice from many quarters, from a loyal and smart ranch foreman, Mac Hyde, and later his son Clarence, and from her late husband's brothers, especially Gus, a rancher, and Louis, a banker.
It was during Myrtle Schreiner's stewardship of the YO Ranch when an unusual lease was signed with one of the oil companies, a $3500 lease from Petty Geophysical Engineering. That particular lease was not for hunting for oil.  It was for hunting white tail deer and other game. That lease was signed in 1943, and it marked a turning point for the YO Ranch.
Consider the problems facing the YO Ranch during Myrtle's tenure: the ranch has no running streams, so water for the livestock is always a problem; its sheer size contributes to logistical problems; scourges like the screw-worm fly afflicted both livestock and wildlife; and the national economy frustrates commodity prices.  How she kept the YO Ranch together is probably the most interesting part of the ranch's long history: I think it was by sheer determination.
To add to the problems, Texas suffered a drought of historic proportions in the 1950s.  The YO Ranch, already a dry part of the planet, dried up even more. Warren Klein, who lived near the YO Ranch, used to joke the drought got so bad "we had to gather up the fish and douse 'em with tick powder."  Where Klein found the fish is not recorded.
It was during this time of drought the transition from Myrtle Schreiner to Charles Schreiner III began at the ranch.
Charlie III, like his father, graduated from the University of Texas, where he was a Plan II major.  In 1946 he met his first wife, Audrey Phillips, in Austin.  They would have four sons: Charles IV, Walter, Gus, and Louis.
Charlie III, as he was called far and wide, is important to the story in many ways, but I admire two specific items:
First, he was a student of history, and a collector of historic items, particularly items relating to Texas and the legendary Texas Rangers.  He also gathered one of the best collections of historic firearms in the state.
Second, he saw early on the value of the Texas longhorn -- as a breed, and as an historic reminder of the beginnings of ranching in Texas, and was instrumental in the formation of the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association.
In the mid-1960s, Charlie III and his friend Ace Reid came up with the idea for a modern-day trail drive, covering the same routes as some of the drives of the late 19th century.  After practicing on YO Ranch lands, and getting the herd used to traveling together.  In the summer of 1966, they drove the cattle from the Texas Hill Country all the way to Dodge City, Kansas.
More than a trip down memory lane, and a rough lane at that, the trail drive proved a public relations bonanza, introducing people in several states not only to the Texas longhorn breed, but also introducing thousands of people to the YO Ranch.
Y. O. Cowboys
During Charlie III's tenure, more emphasis was placed on the YO Ranch as a destination.  People traveled to the YO Ranch and stayed at their lodge, mainly as hunters, but increasingly as visitors to a working ranch, where the livestock included exotic animals.
So, like the Schreiners before him, Charlie III effectively diversified the income streams for the ranch.  While cattle, sheep, and goat operations remained important to the business of the ranch, other income was found to help support the ranch.
Captain Charles Schreiner was diversifying his income from his small mercantile store in downtown Kerrville when he entered the cattle business; his son Walter diversified into many things, including oil leases, and even produce farming; Walter's widow Myrtle introduced hunting as a way to diversify the ranch's income; Charlie III introduced many things, but especially found ways for paying guests to visit the ranch.
In the last few days of his life Charlie III lost his son Louis.  They both died in 2001.
His three surviving sons, Charles IV, Walter, and Gus, along with their families and Louis' family, are all actively involved in managing the YO Ranch today.
Their chapter in the ranch's 132 year history is well underway, and, taking the example of those Schreiners who have worked the YO Ranch before them, their future looks bright.
This article originally appeared in the Comanche Trace Lifestyles Magazine in February 2013.
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1 comment:

  1. I always learn something new when I read your articles.

    Thank you, Joe; you do a great deal to promote Kerrville and you teach us in the process - not a bad way to live one's life. :)

    P.S. Any "new" photos to post?

    I hope so.


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