Abel Head “Shanghai” Pierce was one of the unlikeliest, but most colorful cattlemen that Texas ever saw. He was born June 29, 1834 in Rhode Island. He was related to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as well as president of the United States, Franklin Pierce. At the age of 19, he stowed away on a ship in New York harbor that was bound for Texas with 75 cents in his pocket. When he arrived in Indianola, Texas, he went to work for W.B. Grimes as a ranch hand.
In 1865, he founded El Rancho Grande and branded 18,000 calves in a single year. But that wasn’t enough for Shanghai. He constantly formed partnerships and bought more cattle.
He married Fannie Lacy who was the daughter of one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. After Fannie and son died, Shanghai sold out and moved to Kansas City. After eighteen months he returned to Texas and bought up as much land as he could. By the time it was all said and done he owned half a million acres of prime ranchland. In 1875, he married Hattie Jones.
He formed the Pierce-Sullivan Pasture Company and under that company he spearheaded huge cattle drives taking the cattle to northern markets.
Later when the railroad came, he built his own train station because he wanted the train to stop at his headquarters. It was called “Pierce’s Station” and became a small town. He also built one of the grandest hotels that would attract cattle buyers and salesmen. It consisted of three stories and had 22 rooms.
A giant of a man, his dress and manner were unusual for the times. He wore brocaded vests, monogrammed shirts, and broad-brimmed, high-peaked hats. He ordered a 10 ft. high statue of himself and placed it on his gravesite long in advance of his death so he’d have time to appreciate it.
While he dabbled in banking and railroad ownership, his true love was ranching and cattle. He toured Europe looking for a brand of cattle that would be resistant to the ticks that plagued the Gulf Coast area of Texas, causing Texas fever. He returned, convinced that the Brahmas were the answer.
Shanghai died December 26, 1900 without knowing that he was 100% correct about the Brahmas. His empire suffered a huge loss after the 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston that September.
The original ranch house is still maintained and is marked with a state medallion as well as a monument placed in the front yard to celebrate this larger-than-life Texas cattleman.
It’s a fitting tribute to the man who once bragged, “I owned nearly all of the cattle in Christendom once.”
(Photos used with permission.)
Doesn’t this man’s life sound like a movie? He started with nothing and ended up as one of the biggest cattlemen in Texas. Do you know anyone (man or woman) like him? I’d love to hear from you.