I grew up in West Texas, in Mitchell County. So far, I’ve used my hometown of Colorado City as the actual setting for only one of my books. But all of my westerns, whether historical or contemporary, are set in fictional towns in that part of the country. Its wonderful history fuels this writer’s heart and imagination.
The first ranch was established in the county in 1875. Only a handful of ranchers followed until the building of the Texas and Pacific Railroad spurred settlement of the area.
Mitchell County and Colorado City, known then simply as Colorado, were organized in 1881. (For clarity, I’m going to add City.) Ranchers moved thousands of Texas Longhorns into the vast open range of West Texas. Colorado City sprang to life with stores, saloons, boarding houses, hotels, churches and a school.
When it came time to sell some cattle, those same ranchers—from all across West Texas and southeast New Mexico—herded them to Colorado City for shipment to Kansas City and Chicago. They also hauled in wagonloads of buffalo bones, gathered from the prairie, and sent them to factories back east to make fertilizer and buttons.
Supplies for the town and ranches came into Colorado City by rail and were hauled by wagon all across West Texas and the Panhandle. The area needed people, and they came, full of dreams and the determination to make them happen. The descendants of many of those families are still there.
Bob and Betty Gary arrived in Mitchell County in 1881. Mr. Gary was employed at a grocery in Colorado City until he and Betty bought a ranch south of town in 1898. Several years later, their daughter, Ewell, married Charles Thompson. When they inherited the land, they changed the name to Thompson Ranch—which is where I grew up.
My parents moved to the ranch in 1945, a year after they were married. Soon Daddy became the ranch foreman, a position he held until his death over fifty years later. The ranch had six thousand acres which my dad, my brother, and one or two hired hands worked—raising around three hundred head of Hereford cattle and farming cotton.
But when I needed a fictional ranch for the powerful, wealthy family in my new series from Revell, The Callahans of Texas, I wanted something bigger. So I moseyed down the highway and borrowed sixty thousand acres from the Spade Ranch. It runs over a hundred thousand acres, so I figured they wouldn’t mind letting me use some of their range. Imaginary cattle don’t eat much.
And it has an illustrious history. Technically, it is the Renderbrook Spade. Renderbrook comes from a large spring on the ranch, named for Captain Joseph Rendlebrock who led Company G, Fourth Cavalry through the area in 1872. They were scouting for Indians or Indian signs as well as exploring and mapping the little known country west and north of Fort Concho, which is near San Angelo.
They had a brief skirmish with some Indians, which lasted “less than no time.” The little battle helped attach the Captain’s name to the spring, although someone botched the spelling, and called it Renderbrook.
By 1882, brothers J.W. and Dudley Snyder bought the land around Renderbrook Springs. They’d been ranching for several years and knew that the free range wouldn’t last. They built a substantial headquarters, known as the “White House.” It is still there today.
They did well until the financial panic in 1885 was followed by a severe drought in 1886-1888. Ranching had changed since the early days, and capital requirements for land, livestock and improvements such as wells, windmills, tanks and fencing were beyond the reach of most who had built the beef cattle industry.
The Snyders needed a buyer for their ranch when Isaac Ellwood and his son, William L., arrived in Colorado City in 1889.
Originally from New York, Isaac had had a few adventures—working as a teamster on the Erie Canal and later spending time in the California goldfields. But he had settled in DeKalb, Illinois and established a prosperous hardware business. Adequate fencing was a common problem, and Isaac worked on a design for barbed wire. In 1874, when he saw that Joseph Glidden’s design was better than his, Isaac formed a partnership with the older man. Two years later, Glidden wanted to retire and sold his interest in the company to Washburn & Moen, a wire manufacturing company from Massachusetts. Isaac now had a powerful partner that changed a little cottage industry into big business. He made millions.
When Isaac and his son came to West Texas to promote their barbed wire, he was already a respected horse breeder and owned a progressive farm complex outside of DeKalb. But he wanted land in Texas. They stayed at the St. James Hotel, the ritziest one in Colorado City. It was favored by cattlemen, particularly the big operators.
When the Ellwoods toured Renderbrook, they liked what they saw, especially its potential. They bought the ranch, but the Snyders kept their cattle and their brand.
Isaac turned over the running of the ranch to William L. and went back to Illinois to tend to the wire business and harvest at his farm. William L. began searching for a herd. He found it two hundred miles away in the Texas Panhandle. He purchased 800 head of cattle from J. F. “Spade” Evans and acquired the brand which is shaped like a short-handled spade. Thus the ranch became Renderbrook Spade, generally known as Spade Ranch.
I not only borrowed some land for the Callahans, I appropriated the spring, too, renaming it Aidan’s Spring in honor of Aidan Callahan. He brought the first herd into my fictionalized version of the area and established the ranch and the little town of Callahan Crossing.
The modern day Callahans—Dub and Sue and their children Will, Chance and Jenna—are as loyal to the ranch and the town as Aidan was. Each of the three books has a stand alone romance, but their love of God, family and West Texas runs strongly through the series.
And the siblings need that support. In Jenna’s Cowboy, which hits the stores in January, Jenna and her family help their friend and her hero, Nate Langley, deal with post traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Emily’s Chance, which comes out next September, Chance recruits their help to try to win the heart of a big-city career woman who has her five-year plan all laid out—and it doesn’t include him.
And in the last, yet unnamed book, Will falls for a courageous young woman who is pregnant, unmarried and homeless. The family pitches in to show Savannah that wealth or poverty doesn’t matter when it comes to love.
My thanks to Cheryl St.John and the ladies of Petticoats and Pistols for asking me to be a guest blogger.
Leave a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of Jenna’s Cowboy.
Jenna’s Cowboy is Sharon Gillenwater’s nineteenth published novel. She’s written for both the ABA and CBA, with settings ranging from Regency England and Scotland to Texas in the 1880’s and modern day Texas. Five of her books were published under the penname Sharon Harlow. Visit her website at http://www.sharongillenwater.com She is also on Facebook.
Sharon will send an autographed copy of Jenna’s Cowboy to one person who comments this weekend!
Download an excerpt from Jenna’s Cowboy, go Revell’s website.