Milestone of Pecans in Texas Horticulture 1966

MILESTONES IN TEXAS HORTICULTURE 1966

Pecan Research

FRED R. BRISON

Professor Emeritus of Horticulture

Texas A&M University

 

THERE IS A TOUCHING STORY of an incident in the life of an early Texas Ranger, and it is a good introduction to the topic, “Milestones in Texas Horticulture." The name of the ranger was Ed Westfall. The date was about 1853. He was stationed in a remote outpost of civilization and lived scornfully in hostile Comanche land. In enforcing the law and order that he was pledged to preserve, he was shot, and lay where he fell---alone, unconscious and blind. After a day, or maybe 3 days, no one knows---he regained awareness and partial, but dim eye-sight. The nearest help was 30 miles away at Fort Inge. His horse was gone. But Ed Westfall had a special sort of toughness. With courage, he started. There is something noble about a start. A brother ranger came by within 2 or 3 days and found the tragic trail that led from the gate or the stockade. Foot by foot he followed the trail, marked every step of the way by tell-tale signs of a heroic man.

 

Here, it was marked by life blood from Ed Westfall's bleeding wound.

 

Here, he had stumbled and fallen---fallen forward. His direction was forward.

 

That was the character of the man.

 

Here, he had picked up a cedar limb for a crutch, used it for a distance and discarded it.

 

Here, was the imprint of his pistol and outstretched arms as he lay for a minute, or an hour, where he had fallen---frail and exhausted.

 

Here, he made coffee and rested for an hour, or a day, who knows?

 

And here, he had crawled in uncertain fashion for a hundred yards, or a half- mile.

 

It was thus for 30 miles and no one knows how many weary days, until he reached old Fort Inge and help. He created a heroic path. He fought a good fight, and he finished the journey---and, incidentally, he continued it for 50 more years. The important thing is that he left signs of faith and courage every step of the way.

 

The horticulture of Texas, including foremost the pecan industry, also has made a journey---not in miles, but in years and accomplishments. And its journey like Ed Westfall's is marked by signs of faith and courage and milestones of progress along the way.

 

We live in a day of speed---physical speed and speed of developments. You and I are clinging desperately to the circumference of the wheel of existence. It is whirling away at dizzying speed. It will do our souls well if we retreat slightly from the circumference toward the hub where all is calm. There we can refresh our recollection of the milestones of progress that have guided us to our present position in the field of horticulture.

 

Hernandez Cortez

A great milestone in horticulture was created when Hernandez Cortez came to America. In the sordid story of his cruelty in dealing with the people of the new world, there is one cheery note: he brought peaches from Spain to America. North American Indians carried these peaches along coast into northern Florida, and up the Atlantic seaboard. A hundred years later, colonists at Jamestown found peaches growing wild. Captain John Smith wrote of “peaches in

PROCEEDINGS TEXAS PECAN GROWERS ASSOCIATION 61

 

abundance." He and the other colonists thought they were native, but they were not; they were of the stock which Cortez brought over. They were the foundation stock for the Spanish peaches which Gilbert Onderdonk 350 years later, described as one of the five races of peaches grown in America. These have contributed to the heritage of many of the commercial varieties of peach which are popular today. Cortez was perhaps the earliest foreign man to make a contribution to the horticulture of the new world. When his name is mentioned, peach growers appropriately should stand and salute in grateful appreciation for the milestone which he created.

 

Cabeza de Vaca

Cabeza de Vaca was an early Spanish explorer whose unhappy fortunes enabled him to be the first non-Indian (explorer-foreigner) to record early historical facts about the pecan. His ship was destroyed by storm off the coast of Galveston Island---his“isle of misfortune." He was captured by Indians, and with others of his group, including Dorantes and his moon slave, Estavanico, he traveled with them from 1528 to 1537. They were all slaves now and this must have created a delicate problem in protocol. In his narratives, de Vaca mentions the “river of nuts,” which was the Guadalupe. They “. . . came to a place of which he had been told to eat walnuts”---which were pecans. This place could easily have been Seguin. They were entertained there by the Chamber of Commerce for 2 months and we can speculate that de Vaca and his h Is group were tied to pecan trees most of the while. People of Seguin have always been gracious hosts! Pecans were the subsistence of the people for 2 months in the year without any other thing. De Vaca said it was the custom for the Indians to come every second year. This suggests that they knew about alternate bearing then and it has persisted as a problem until now.

 

 

The Golden Years

During the 350 years, The Golden Years of Horticulture, from 1530 to 1880, there surely must have been those in Texas whose work and interest in horticulture merits recitation; but whoever they were and whatever they did has been largely lost in the obscurity of time.

 

The 50 years before 1930 have been appropriately designated the golden years of horticulture.

 

This was the period of Gilbert Onderdonk, who in 1886 wrote: “To . . . every portion of Texas nature has dealt out her resources with a liberal hand, although those of southwest Texas are peculiar to herself . . . starting with only a few dimly-lighted landmarks, she has beaten her toilsome way until she now has a well-defined horticulture.” He listed grapes, peaches and plums which bring com- fort, health and profit, and thus advance the material good. His classification of peaches into five races-still a good classification now, 79 years later-is a mile- stone in Texas horticulture.

 

This was the period of E. E. Risien, who won the award for pecans at the Texas State Horticulture Show at Brenham in 1889. His vision of a future for pecans, and his many western varieties upon which we have depended so much as the pecan industry has developed, constitute a great milestone in Texas horticulture.

 

This was the period of J. W. Stubenranch whose German peach was during one period the predominant early peach variety in all the states from Texas to Georgia.

 

This was the period of Helge Ness who crossed dewberries and raspberries to produce Nessberries and the live oak and the overcup oak to produce the remarkable Ness hybrid oak.

 

The golden years of horticulture was the period of T. V. Munson, honored by France for diagnosing and prescribing a cure for the cause of a “mysterious

 

62 PROCEEDINGS TEXAS PECAN GROWERS ASSOCIATION

 

sickness” that was killing the grape vines and threatening the wine industry of that country.

 

All of these great horticulturists and many others contributed to the great milestone in Texas horticulture during the golden years from 1880 to 1930.

 

Chartered Stock Companies for Fruit Growing

Beginning about 1900 and ending indeterminately about 1920, many stock companies were chartered under a Texas state law to produce fruit. The organization personnel and financing for most of these companies was from out of state. With many of them, the sale of stock and orchard units was more rewarding to the promoters than the fruit. Through the years, 40 or more of these companies were organized. Capital stocks ranged up to a half million dollars, and acreages up to 5,000. Many of these orchards existed; trees were planted; they grew and bore fruit. Yet, there is evidence that only one remains today. The combination orchard company of Winona, Texas, was planted in 1909. Peaches and pecans were inter-planted, with spacing of 20 feet for the peach trees and 60 feet for the pecans. The peach trees are gone; the pecans remain. All of the other company orchards are gone; all largely failed.

 

During this same period, there were also widespread plantings of peach, plum and apple orchards by individual farmers. They were usually modest orchards of from 5 to 10 acres, and mostly in East Texas. The experiences of all these early pioneers were unbelievably frustrating: The Elberta was the only commercial variety. The marketing season extended over only 2 weeks at best. The short season created difficulties in packing shed organization, and also in establishing marketing channels for the orderly sale of the crop. Brown rot was an ever-present threat to the fruit. San Jose scale early became a troublesome pest. It was not easily controlled with the home-made lime-sulphur mixtures, boiled in a black iron wash pot, applied from a 50-gallon barrel with a hand powered pump. Toe straps were invented which enabled a small man to maintain his footing while pumping! Roads were rough, yet fruit was hauled to market in wagons without springs--- 25 bushels for each load; 12 bushels in each of two decks and one beside the driver. Wagon speed was 4 or 5 miles per hour. Day and night temperatures during harvest were high and there were no facilities for pre-cooling. Fruit was shipped to market by rail. Freight train speed was slow, schedules uncertain. Refrigerator cars were poorly insulated according to present-day standards; re-icing service was erratic. Fruit grown with the least care ripened early and often brought the best price. That grown under better orchard management ripened later, and in the meantime the price had often declined.

 

These orchards were an important milestone, and there was a somber lesson in them. They gave those who were to shortly reestablish and revitalize the peach industry in Texas pause to hesitate in contemplation of such ventures. They were gentle reminders that all of the things that are fundamental to peach production must be provided to succeed, and that to deal speculatively with peaches is to court adverse fate.

 

Texas State Horticultural Society

An important milestone was created when the Texas State Horticultural Society was organized in 1886. By 1889 it had 160 members. Dues: $2 for men; $1 for ladies; $5 for life membership for ladies, regardless of age. At Exposition Hall in Brenham in 1889, cash prizes were given to winning entries for peaches, plums, apples, pears, berries and figs. The W.C.T.U gave $5 for the best bottle of unfermented grape juice. Entries were judged on color, since none of the judges had a corkscrew!

 

James Stephen Hogg

A milestone was created when Gov. James Stephen Hogg in 1906, realizing that his death was near, said in conversation with friends: "I want no monument of stone or marble, but plant at my head a pecan tree and at my feet an old-fashioned walnut tree . . . and when these trees shall bear let the pecans and

 

 

 

 

PROCEEDINGS TEXAS PECAN GROWERS ASSOCIATION 63

 

the walnuts be given out to the plain people of Texas. so that they may plant them and make Texas a land of trees.” Great horticulturists dedicated their efforts to fulfilling this request---E. W. Kirkpatrick of McKinney, C. Falkner of Waco, F. M. Ramsey of Austin, J. S. Kerr of Sherman, and E. J. Kyle, long-time dean of agriculture with A&M University. The Texas Nut Growers’ Association was organized in May, 1906; (a) to provide for meetings of Texas nut growers, and (b) To assist in carrying out the last request of our beloved ex-Governor James Stephen Hogg. The ceremony of planting the trees and the drama and publicity it created gave impetus to pecan growing that has continued with increasing interest until the present.

 

Growers Association

And finally, a great milestone was created by a small group of pecan-minded people who gathered at San Saba, Texas, to form the Texas Pecan Growers Association in 1921. This could not have occurred without the early missionary work of J. A. Evans. As pecan specialist for the Texas Extension Service, he established islands of interest in every section of the State. No man created a better milestone than J. A. Evans. It can be truthfully said that his efforts marked the beginning of the commercial pecan industry of Texas. Our presence here tonight is due indirectly to the fortunate circumstances that he was employed by the Extension Service, to his eager response to a challenging opportunity, and to the faithful discharge of responsibility. Others have followed creditably in his footsteps, and have explored other paths. Their names will be mentioned with the same reverence with the passing of time.

 

There is a Chinese proverb that “Love and beauty walk hand in hand, but wisdom walks alone.” These men walked alone---Cortez, de Vaca, Onderdonk, Stubenranch, Ness, Hogg, Kyle, Risien, Evans . . . They brought beauty and courage and goodness to the earth, and these live on in the lives of men. The milestones they erected have become stepping stones to a greater horticulture for those of us who live after them.