Abel “Shanghai” Pierce: An Unlikely Texas Cattleman


lindaname.jpgAbel 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.


shanghai_pierceUnder an apprenticeship of sorts with Grimes, the 6 ft. 4 in. Shanghai Pierce became an authority on cattle. He refused to draw wages, opting to take his pay in cattle.


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.


TPierce Ranch househe Pierce Ranch is still in operation today under the ownership of his descendants, consisting of 32,000 acres.


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.

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

29 thoughts on “Abel “Shanghai” Pierce: An Unlikely Texas Cattleman”

  1. WOW Linda. This was really great. Interesting man. I think he thought a lot of himself tho. No, I don’t know anyone like this. Hope your weather is good there. Here in Pasadena,Tx. we’ve had rain twice today. Maxie

  2. Hi Maxie……….I’m so glad you enjoyed my blog. Yes, he did have a big ego though which kinda ruins his whole persona. I think a man can get where he wants and still be humble about it.

    It’s raining up here too in the Panhandle. Yay! It’s great to see Texas getting rain. We’ll take all we can get. Have a wonderful day.

  3. Hi Janine……….Great to see you drop by. Glad you enjoyed reading about Shanghai. Texas has its share of big personalities and this man had one of the biggest. But it everything I read about him there wan no mention of him treating other people badly. He just knew what wanted and went after it.

    I’m wishing you a special day.

  4. Fascinating story, Linda. I’d never heard of Shanghai, but he certainly has a wonderful American lineage. And I love how far-sighted he was to accept payment in cattle even when his own pockets were do depleated.

    It cracks me up that he ordered his own grave statue so that he would have time to admire it before he passed on. What a character. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi Sherri……….How wonderful to see you here this morning. I’m glad you found my blog interesting. It is kinda weird to have such a huge statue of yourself made and into a monument in the cemetery long before you even died. That takes a lot of balls. Texas is so full of quirky, strange people. It’s no wonder that the saying came up that everything is bigger in Texas. It surely seems so.

    Have a great day!

  6. Hi Karen…………Glad you enjoyed reading about Shanghai. He truly must’ve been something. Sure he had a big ego but so do a lot of other people in Texas. And in everything I read about him, there was no mention that he treated people unfairly. If I ever get to Hawley to their cemetery I’m going to visit his grave. Bet that ten foot monument is something to see.

    Guess it’s gonna be kinda quiet around the Junction this week with so many of the Fillies in Atlanta. Wish I was going.

  7. Love learning more of history. This man certainly had a huge ego although ordering your own monument is not so unusual around here. There is a large tombstone around here that says ‘Gone and Forgotten’ that was ordered by the woman who lies there. I went to the cemetery on Memorial day to place flowers on my husband’s grandparents grave to discover my parents-in-law’s headstone. They lived another ten years!

  8. Wow. Definitely larger than life, Linda. Too bad John Wayne isn’t still around to play him in a movie. Love the part about the statue. What an ego!
    Thanks for a very interesting blog today.

  9. Hi Connie J…………Wow! How neat to still observe that Memorial Day tradition of putting flowers on graves. And to discover your parents-in-law’s headstone that they put out ten years before they died. In one sense it’s kinda creepy but in another it’s rather nice for the family not to have to deal with all that expense later. One of my favorite things to do is wander around cemeteries, reading all the tombstones. There are so many stories there. I think one of the oddest things I’ve seen was a man who was buried between his wife and his mistress. Her tombstone had her name on it then following that was the word “consort.” I couldn’t help but wonder what the wife thought about that. Just too weird.

    I hope your day is full of lots of good things and much laughter.

  10. Hi Elizabeth…………You know, John Wayne was the first person who popped into my head when I was reading about Shanghai. He could’ve played the man very well. Two men with two big egos but who were admired and loved. I hope your day is full of interesting things.

  11. Hi Linda,
    Fascinating story of Pierce. We have nearby an original ranchhouse from early CA history, called Leonis Adode, that the “house” looks identical..in fact, when I saw the picture, I thought you were writing about it. And Yes, that does sound like a great western movie!

  12. Wow, that was very interesting… I do not think I would want a big statue of myself around, lol. I knew nothing about Shanghai” Pierce… thanks for sharing this piece of history with us.

  13. Oh wow! What a truly amazing story. He had to be a man of unwavering vision and absolutely knew what he wanted. I know it sounds silly, but the person that came to mind as I read about Shangai was Rick Sikes. When he came home from prison, he literally had nothing but a loving place to live. He had that kind of unwavering vision and drive to achieve the goals he set. Rick also had a “tombstone” if you want to call it that long before he died, but he didn’t have it made, a friend had it made and gave it as a gift. It’s in my storage unit. 🙂 Loved reading this story and would loved to have known Shangai! Only in Texas!!

  14. Hi Charlene………..Wow, that’s amazing that his ranch house looks like the Leonis Adobe that is near you! But I’m sure it was fairly common in those days (and now also) to design a house that’s just like someone else’s. Today, a lot of builders copy other designs so they don’t have to hire an architect. I hate to drive around neighborhoods where all the houses look the same.

    If you’re going to Atlanta, I hope you have a safe trip. Unfortunately I’m staying home this year.

  15. Hi Colleen………….Thanks for stopping by. I always know you’ll come sometime during the day. Seeing your name is like seeing an old friend. Glad you enjoyed reading about Shanghai Pierce. I don’t think I’d like a statue of myself period. I cringe when I see myself in pictures. That’s bad enough.

    Have a great day, my friend!

  16. Hi Margaret……….Well, you can always count on finding plenty of odd people in Texas. This state certainly has its share of them. I guess we’re big-headed here. LOL

    Hope you have a fun time in Atlanta!

  17. Hi Jan……………It never dawned on me until you mentioned it, but yes, Rick shared lots of similarities. I loved that stone that a friend made for him. It’s a wonderful memento. Rick certainly came a long way from the skinny man who married you who was fresh out of prison. You had so many hard times in those years. But out of that was born two very amazing people. Just proves that if you have enough drive and determination you can do almost anything. And you, dear sister, are definitely making your mark in this world. I’m so proud of you.

    Good luck and much inspiration in your writing.

  18. Thanks for the history lesson this morning! I love learning about anything historical in our country! It certainly took people like him to make our country what it is today. People of vision. Some were not always doing it the right way but others were! Thanks for the interesting story!

  19. Howdy Linda, yes, this indeed sounds like a movie. And certainly good stuff for a book LOL. I love the part about the giant statue so he could admire it before he died. Not a little ego there! I live on a typical suburban cul de sac…it’s so hard to imagine that vast ranches! Good post, thanks. xo

  20. Hi Valri………Thanks for coming by. Glad you found it interesting. We write so many blogs that its sometimes very difficult to come up with something. I came across Shanghai in a book about Texas ranches and cattlemen who made their mark. And I found all sorts of stuff about him online plus a photo. Often I find lots of information but no picture at all. He was certainly an unusual man.

  21. Hi Tanya………Glad my blog caught your fancy. He would indeed make a good character for a book. I’ll have to keep him in mind. Yes, some of these ranches are so huge that it used to take a man on horseback a month or more to cover all the acreage. Just unreal. I don’t know what one person needs with all that land.

    Have a great time in Atlanta!

  22. Thank you for such an interesting post. Mr. Pierce was certainly one of a kind. He is lucky he lived in the time he did. It was easier then, I think, for a man or woman with a vision and persistence to build a life the way he did. He had a long life rich with experiences and success.

    His ordering his grave statue early so he could enjoy it is a bit like people who are currently ordering elaborate coffins that are really works of art. They often keep them in their house to admire, enjoy, and sometimes use for other purposes.

  23. Great story Linda. I didn’t know about the man but I have been by the house and my grandfather worked on the Pierce ranch in the 60’s-70’s. I have seen the Pierce station and the ranch was huge. We got stuck their one summer when a tropical storm came in. The roads were flooded and we had to stay with my grandparents longer than planned. The roads were all rock and sand. Rough going when we left. There were herds of deer that came close to the house and they had lots of Brahmas. I don’t think I will ever forget that ranch. I heard that it was sold.

  24. Hi Patricia B……….I’m thrilled that you found my post interesting. I’ve heard of people who buy their coffin and keep it in their house. That’s just creepy to me. They seem to have an obsession with death. It’s fine to pick it out and purchase all that in advance. In fact, I’ve done that. Wanted to take care of that part so my kids won’t have to. But I draw the line at keeping my coffin in my house.

    Hope you had a great trip to Colorado.

  25. Hi Connie………Wow, that is so interesting that your grandfather actually worked for Shanghai Pierce! I’m sure he lots of stories to tell. I’d love to go down there and see the ranch and Pierce station all firsthand. Must be something. Thank you so much for coming by and leaving a comment.

  26. The coffins I was talking about, are works of art, not your regular “box.” They are carved in the shapes of animals, cars, decorated with painting. You don’t get the impression the are coffins. That being said, I don’t know that I could do it.

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