Texas history preserved for all
In 1994, the Texas Trees Foundation dedicated Pioneer Plaza to the City of Dallas providing a focal point with historical significance for downtown Dallas. The Plaza commemorates Dallas’ beginnings by celebrating the trails that brought settlers to Dallas. The site features native plants and trees and a flowing stream in a natural setting and a re-creation of a cattle drive in bronze with longhorn steers being driven by three cowboys on horses.
Each piece of bronze art was created by artist Robert Summers of Glen Rose, Texas, while the sculptures were cast at the Eagle Bronze Foundry in Lander, Wyoming. It is located adjacent to the Dallas Convention Center at Young and Griffin between the historical Pioneer Cemetery and the Dallas Convention Center. Pioneer Plaza represents the largest public open space in the central business district. Developed on what was once a 4.2 acre parking lot, Pioneer Plaza is second only to Dealey Plaza as the most-visited landmark in downtown Dallas.
The Plaza depicts a cattle drive featuring three cowboys and a herd of forty longhorn steer. Cast in monumental scale (larger than life size) the Plaza has become the second most visited tourist attraction in the downtown area. Only Dealey Plaza, the site of the Kennedy assassination, attracts more visitors each year. The Plaza is situated on a 4.2-acre site, which was donated by the City of Dallas to construct this magnificent open space. Under the direction of Trustees and Project Co-Chairs, Jim Lake (deceased), Diane Scovell and Jack Beckman, $4.8 million in private funds were raised from individuals and local businesses. The design of Pioneer Plaza was begun in 1992 with site work beginning late that same year. The Plaza is a work in progress, and additional steer will be added, as appropriate, to complete the herd. Maintenance of the facility became the responsibility of the Dallas Convention Center late in 1996.
Other features of Pioneer Plaza include a waterfall, man-made cliffs, native plant life and the small historic details on the sculptures.
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History Behind Park Sculptures
Trail Bosses and ramrods-usually whites-were often in their twenties. A herd delivered by contract drovers typically consisted of as many as 3,000 head and employed about eleven persons. An estimated two-thirds of these individuals were whites-”cowboys” mostly, youths aged twelve to eighteen who were readily available for seasonal work as “waddies,” as trail hands then were often called. The rest were members of minorities-blacks, Hispanics, or Indians-mature men usually, who often served as cooks and as horse wranglers. Wages ranged from $25 to $40 a month for waddies, $50 for wranglers, and $75 for cooks and ramrods, to $100 or more for trail bosses, who often also shared the profits.
With chuck and equipment wagons leading the way toward suitable campsites, followed closely by horse wranglers and remudas (spare horses), drives were herded by a couple of waddies on “point,” two or more on “flank,” and two or more on “drag,” that dusty rear position often reserved for greenhorns or meted out as punishment to enforce discipline. Little of the work was glamorous. Most days were uneventful; a plodding, leisurely pace of ten to fifteen miles a day allowed cattle to graze their way to market in about six weeks. Drudgery was occasionally punctuated with violent weather, stampedes, dangerous river crossings, and, rarely, hostile Indians.
Black Cutter Cowboy
Black cowboys have been part of Texas history since the early nineteenth century, when they first worked on ranches throughout the state. A good many of the first black cowboys were born into slavery but later found a better life on the open range, where they experienced less open discrimination than in the city. After the Civil War many were employed as horsebreakers and for other tasks, but few of them became ranch foremen or managers. Some black cowboys took up careers as rodeo performers or were hired as federal peace officers in Indian Territory. Others ultimately owned their own farms and ranches, while a few who followed the lure of the Wild West became gunfighters and outlaws. Significant numbers of African Americans went on the great cattle drives originating in the Southwest in the late 1800s. Black cowboys predominated in ranching sections of the Coastal Plain between the Sabine and Guadalupe rivers.
A number of them achieved enviable reputations. Bose Ikard, a top hand and drover for rancher Charles Goodnight, also served him as his chief detective and banker. Daniel W. (80 John) Wallace started riding the cattle trails in his adolescence and ultimately worked for cattlemen Winfield Scott and Gus O’Keefe. He put his accumulated savings toward the purchase of a ranch near Loraine, where he acquired more than 1,200 acres and 500 to 600 cattle. He was a member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association for more than thirty years. William Pickett made his name as one of the most outstanding Wild West rodeo performers in the country and is credited with originating the modern event known as bulldogging. He was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1971.
Black cowboys have continued to work in the ranching industry throughout the twentieth century, and African Americans who inherited family-owned ranches have attempted to bring public recognition to the contributions of their ancestors. Mollie Stevenson, a fourth-generation owner of the Taylor-Stevenson Ranch near Houston, founded the American Cowboy Museum to honor black, Indian, and Mexican-American cowboys. Weekend rodeos featuring black cowboys began in the late 1940s and continue to be popular. These contests owe their existence to the Negro Cowboys Rodeo Association, formed in 1947 by a group of East Texas black businessmen-ranchers and cowboys.
The vaquero, or cowboy, the mounted herdsman of the Spanish colonial period and his Mexican counterpart of the nineteenth century, is a historical figure that, like the Anglo cowboy, has attained romantic features and near-mythic stature. Actually, the Hispanic and Anglo cowboys faced many of the same harsh working conditions and had more aspects in common than is traditionally recognized. Over a period of time, particularly between 1821 and the trail-driving era, many Spanish stock-handling techniques passed into the Anglo way of doing things, and the distinctions between the two traditions blurred. Spanish vaqueros in colonial times were generally viewed by their society as a rough and rowdy lot. Many of them operated outside the law and preyed upon unbranded cattle that roamed the vast estates of northern Mexico. Often they were mestizo or semicivilized Indians on the lower rungs of the social ladder, but they were invariably noted for their horsemanship and stock-tending skills. As ranching made its way north to Texas through the tier of provinces along the Rio Grande, these herdsmen were the vanguard of Hispanic colonization. In many cases they attached themselves to a patrón (an influential rancher who owned a grant of land from the king), married, and built a shack on his property. Their children were born and raised in service to the patrón, an arrangement that sometimes spanned generations. Early Anglo ranch owners in South Texas, such as Richard King and Mifflin Kenedy, fell heir to this tradition, which continued well into the twentieth century.
Through their working association with vaqueros, young Anglo cowboys learned their techniques and adopted them as a matter of course. From the era of the Texas Revolution and beyond, South Texas abounded in wild longhorn cattle, noted for their stamina and adaptation to the land. After the Civil War these herds increased dramatically and, when rounded up and branded, formed the basis for a number of prosperous huge ranches. Hired vaqueros figured in this process, as well as in the drives to railheads and northern markets. Not only did they ride for Anglo bosses, they on occasion took herds for Mexican operators. By this time (1870s), the vaquero’s saddle, chaps, bandana, sombrero, lasso, spurs, and even elements of his expertise were so widespread that they lost their Hispanic identity and became simply “Texan.”
The Texas longhorn is a hybrid breed resulting from a random mixing of Spanish retinto stock and English cattle that Anglo-American frontiersmen brought to Texas from southern and Midwestern states in the 1820s and 1830s. Old steers (four years old and older) had extremely long horns, and the large number of these animals produced the popular misconception that all Texas cattle had unusually long horns. Longhorns, with their long legs, hard hoofs, little need for water, and ability to swim rivers and survive the weather extremes were ideal trail cattle; they even gained weight on the way to market.
During the first half of the 1800′s, Texas longhorns were trailed to markets all over the country. They developed an immunity to “Texas fever,” which they carried with them and passed on to herds on the way. During the second half of the nineteenth century many states attempted to enact restrictive laws in an effort to fight the fever. After the Civil War, however, millions of Texas longhorns were driven to market. Over the next twenty years contractors drove five to ten million cattle out of Texas, which helped revive the state’s economy. The rapid spread of barbed wire fences, fenced lands, a tremendous demand for beef and cross-breeding brought an abrupt end to the dominance of the longhorn. By this time ranchers had begun crossing longhorns with shorthorn Durhams and later with Herefords, thus producing excellent beef animals. Longhorns were bred almost out of existence; by the 1920s only a few small herds remained.
In 1927 the Texas longhorn was saved from probable extinction when the Federal government helped preserve the Texas Longhorn and that part of American Heritage by establishing two herds in wildlife refuges. The Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America was formed in 1964 to recognize the Texas Longhorn and its importance in American history.
Artist, Robert Summers, has accurately captured details of the many markings used to identify the cattle on the trails. Each steer is branded on its left hip to identify its owner. A rancher might also make cuts into ears and hides to identify the ages of the cattle.