Monday, June 14, 2010

Cator Camp

It is my week in the rotation to host My Town Monday. We'd love to read and learn something about your neck of the woods so write up a post and then let me know via a comment here or over at the official My Town Monday site.

This week's tale actually begins in Fintra, Ireland.Now Ireland is a fair piece away from Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle but this tale, like the man it is about takes a rather rambling route.September 2, 1852 -- That is the date one James Hamilton Cator was born in Fintra, Ireland. His father, Capt. John Bertie Cator was on duty at the time, serving as a British naval officer. Captain Bertie was a daring chap that distinguished himself in both the Chinese Opium Wars and in his attempts to find the polar expedition of Sir John Franklin.The Captain however wanted a safer life for his two oldest sons, James and Arthur J. L. (Bob), so had them trained in engineering and draftsmanship. But failing to find suitable and safe employment for his sons in the British Empire, the Captain sent James and Bob over to strike it rich by farming in Kansas.

The brothers, however, found farming to be different from the ways in England and were scorned by most Kansas frontiersmen. Soon they became enthusiastic over the buffalo-hide trade. Having had previous experience in hunting game, the Cators joined in this profitable business and killed 300 buffalo soon after purchasing new Sharps buffalo rifles. With their earnings they bought a wagon, mules, horses, and food. Between July 1 and September 1, 1873, the Cators killed nearly 7,000 buffalo and had in their employ seven skinners.

The Panic of 1873 caused the price of hides to temporarily drop, and even though the price eventually came back up the buffalo herds in and around Kansas grew thin so late in the fall the Cators followed Josiah Wright and John Wesley Mooar from Clay Center, Kansas, to the Texas Panhandle, where the animals were still abundant.

A severe snowstorm on Christmas Day 1873 caught the Cators' hunting party in a break along North Palo Duro Creek (in what is now Hansford County) huddling against an earthen wall.

This is a what that earthen wall looks like now. I snapped these shots back in early spring. You may have to double click to see them in all their glory.

Like I said these shots were taken back in early spring and some of the white stuff you see is a dusting of snow but a zoomed shot reveals that much of the white stuff are actually bleached out bones. Cattle or Buffalo? From Cator's days? Or some later use of the area as a dead pile I can't say? I wanted to slip down and investigate more but the barbed wire fence visible in the previous picture told me trespassers were not welcome. One thing is for certain I cannot manage surviving a cold windy winter in such a place. On the day i took these the temperature was in the low mid 20s and the wind was howling from the north at 30 or 40 mph and it didn't take long for this big hairy Texas to be appreciative of the heater in my truck. The brave souls who first settled this land were indeed a heart sort.

There the hunting party constructed a crude shelter of cottonwood pickets and buffalo hides and waited out the winter. The success that the Cators and Mooars enjoyed led to the establishment of the trading center at nearby Adobe Walls the following spring. (See my previous post about adobe walls) After Adobe Walls was abandoned, the Cators settled down to quiet lives at their Palo Duro Creek shelter. Never bothered by Indians they hunted buffalo until 1877, when decimation of the herds forced them into a new line of work.

With the arrival of free-range cattle outfits, the Cators decided to try ranching. In 1878 they bought 40 two-year-olds, 11 cows, and 10 heifers and drove them back to their dugout to range along North Palo Duro Creek. As this herd expanded, James Cator used a Diamond C brand, while Bob used a VP. That same year, the Cators erected a three-room picket house and founded a store calling it Zulu Stockade, because they considered their territory "as wild as the Zululand region of Africa." The house and store were erected a few miles southwest of the original Cator camp site where the above pictures were taken.

Bob established a freight line to Dodge City, hauling in orders for other settlers moving into the region. Buffalo hunters, soldiers, and ranchers traveling over the military road between forts Dodge and Bascom stopped at Zulu for supplies, and the first Hansford County post office was opened there in December 1880. Bob Cator as postmaster.

Letters from the Cator brothers to their family back in England prompted their sister Clara and younger brother Bert O. to join them in 1879. Accompanying them was Jennie Ludlow, who married Bob in 1882. Clara Cator and Jennie Ludlow-Cator were the first white women to settle in the Panhandle north of the Canadian River. They helped tend the store and added such refinements as gunnysack carpets and wall whitewash made from creekbed gypsum and crushed rocks.

James Cator returned to England in the fall of 1879 to recover from the ague, (a feverish condition somewhat like Malaria.) There he met Edith Land, daughter of a Hull physician, and promised to return and marry her later. That promise, however, was delayed when in January 1886, blizzards nearly wiped out the Cator herd. Disheartened, Bob and Jennie Cator sold their share of the business and cattle and moved to Oregon. As a result, James sent for his fiancée in the spring of 1887 to meet him at Dodge City, where their wedding was held. Arriving with Edith was her brother, Arthur Land. For his bride, the elder Cator had built a multiroom house from native stone, and there they raised a son and two daughters.

Business at the Cator Ranch picked up after the town of Hansford was platted in 1887. Clara and her husband Clayton McCrea, who taught the first school at Tascosa, took charge of the stockade. Another brother, Leslie Stewart Cator, immigrated from England, brought over his bride, Bessie Donelson, and stayed to put down roots in the Panhandle. After Hansford County was organized in 1889, James Cator was elected the first county judge and Arthur Land the first county treasurer; fewer than thirty ballots were cast. Bert Cator, who operated a lumber and grain firm in Hansford, served as a county commissioner. Later, from 1898 to 1900, Leslie Cator served as county judge.

After retiring from the bench in 1894, James Cator devoted himself to improving his cattle herds. He also promoted agriculture in the northern Panhandle and with Clate McCrea introduced alfalfa into the county. In 1907 Cator organized the county's first bank, which was moved from Hansford to Spearman with the building of the North Texas and Santa Fe Railway in 1917.

Zulu Stockade was abandoned in 1912, and after after World War I the McCreas moved to California. But James H. Cator lived in the rock house until his death on October 4, 1927. He was buried in the family cemetery near the now ghost town of Hansford. His widow continued to reside in the house until her death in 1950. Although the original Diamond C and VP brands were no longer used, Cator's heirs still operated the ranch on Palo Duro Creek up until the late 80's. Cator's "Big 50" Sharps rifle, with which he killed 16,000 buffalo in three years, is on display at the Historical Museum in nearby Canyon, Texas. The original Cator camp is approximately 70 miles north and slight east of Amarillo. It is shown in red on this map.

These days a feedlot sits just across the highway from the old camp site so it is possible that the next burger you eat came from a cow that spent it's final days staring a bit of history right in the eye.

Here is a list of this week's fellow My Town Mondayers. Please visit their towns and join us if you can.

Barrie Summy takes a look at San Diego' California's first public school.

Terrie Farley Moran slips off to the small village of Floral Park, New York.

Jim Winter gives us some history on the Cincinnati Reds.

Richard Levangie talks about New Brunswick and Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, home of the world's highest tides, and a great deal more.


Barrie said...

Fascinating! Those Cator brother were quite the entrepreneurs. link is up. It's about San Diego's first public school house. Thanks so much for hosting this week.

A. K. said...

Amazing pictures... Have a great week ahead

Old Kitty said...

Gosh - I can't get over all those bones strewn on that site!

A fascinating tale of brothers, buffulo and bravado!

To think, there's a Zulu in Texas!

Take care

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Wonderful! Wonderful story and that it is true makes it all the more appealing.


Teresa said...

This is a really interesting post. I couldn't believe the number of bones. I would say that I feel sorry for the cattle in the feed lot across the way, but you will probably add devil's horns to my photo, so I'll just think it quietly...

Richard Levangie said...

My first contribution to My Town Mondays talks about the Bay of Fundy, home of the world's highest tides, and a great deal more besides.

DrillerAA09 said...

Very interesting photos.
I am sad to see Nebraska leave the conference. It has never been the same since the days when the OU vs. Neb. game was the day after Thanksgiving and national championship berths were at risk. Colorado was never a big deal to me. We we be the Big 12 minus two, or the Big eight plus 2? We can't be the Big Ten, that's already taken. Wait, the Big Ten could become the Big Twelve and we could become the Big Ten. How's my math.

Jan Mader said...

Amazing post and pictures.

alex keto said...

Interesting post but what happened to the buffalo was amazingly short sighted. Must have been the times.

Barbara Martin said...

That's what I call a nice western history post, Travis. Well done.

The American government did well with its advertising for others to come and shoot the buffalo.

I'm thinking about continuing my history posts for My Town Monday.

prashant said...

This is a really interesting post.
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