While pirates and other seafarers may be the first of Galveston County’s historical characters to come to mind, these coastal prairies also were home to pioneers, who during the mid-nineteenth century battled frontier hardships to form successful ranches.
Remnants of ranching culture in Galveston County still exist today. More than an industry, ranching is a family tradition for some. Names like Butler and Tacquard ring through the history of cattle ranching in Texas from after the Civil War to the present.
We rustled up some history about some of the county’s enduring ranches.
Diamond B Ranch, Alvin-Friendswood
As a young gaslight salesman, W.O. “Butch” Bloodworth Jr. acquired his first horse in a serendipitous trade.
“A man wanted to buy two gaslights from me, but he said he had to wait until he sold his horse,” Bloodworth said.
Without knowing what his boss would say, Bloodworth made a snap decision to take the horse, a palomino, on trade.
“My dad trained horses and my grandparents had a farm where they raised chickens and pigs,” he said. “I guess the country was always in me.”
In 1978, Bloodworth purchased a 144-acre dairy farm on the Galveston County line, and built Diamond B Ranch and Stables. Now, Bloodworth operates one of the largest horse-boarding facilities in the Houston area.
Bloodworth keeps between 30 and 40 head of cattle on the back 109 acres. The front 35 acres are designated for the horses. Two to four horses are assigned to each pasture depending on temperaments, pasture size and grass density. Five milking barns were converted into enclosed stalls for horses.
The ranch boasts 100 stalls, three large riding enclosures, one covered, three round pens, 38 turnouts, six stud pens and four foaling stalls with bedding and fly spray in each. Most importantly, it boasts on-premises owners with a love for horses.
“Since we live on the property, we can continually maintain the ranch grounds, fence lines, barns and stalls and hay and feed supplies,” Bloodworth said.
On sunny days, the 100-acre pasture is used for trail riding and cross-country trots. In inclement weather, the covered arena allows for multiple riders.
Diamond B has six enclosed turnouts that are used for studs and horses that are recovering from lameness or surgery. Spray systems have been installed in each barn to minimize flies and mosquitoes with natural pyrethrum.
Boarders have access to hot water wash racks and lighted tack rooms.
Diamond B is so well known, Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens boarded his horse there.
When she’s not working as a physician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Bloodworth’s wife, Donna, likes to take their three dogs Mac, Jeannie and Shadow — a Hurricane Katrina rescue dog — for walks on the trails.
Raised on the ranch, his children grew up with the same appreciation for land and livestock.
“My daughter did barrel racing and she showed horses,” Bloodworth said.
— Lindsay Canright
Dues Ranch, Dickinson
George and Catherine Dues, along with their seven children, left Ohio in 1906 and headed for Galveston County seeking a warmer climate. They purchased 150 coastal acres off FM 646 in Dickinson that grew into a successful truck farming, landscaping and nursery business, and a subsequent dairy business. Today, great-grandson Eddie Dues and his wife, Betsy, are carrying on that tradition, but on a much smaller scale.
Their 3-acre ranchette no longer has livestock as their son in Alvin is now in charge of horses and cattle on his ranch. Eddie and Betsy stay busy running Dues Camping Center, but when at home, they tend to their gardens where they grow cantaloupe, cucumbers, green beans and purple hull peas.
The barn at the rear of the property houses a John Deere tractor and Eddie’s woodworking equipment.
“Show him a picture and he will build it,” Betsy said.
The home is a rambling ranch-style design with a flagstone exterior, three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths and a separate guesthouse. The whitewash knotty pine kitchen adds to the country charm, as does the central “tractor” bathroom. Tractor wallpaper, a tractor window shade, tractor lamp, tractor towels and a collection of the Dues’ son’s vintage tractor toys, make for a true “tractor museum.”
Betsy has her own quilting room with many ongoing projects on display. One of them has a colorful Western theme made up of patches of a rodeo cowgirl, longhorns, boots, horses, oil wells, yellow roses, saddles, armadillos and a Texas flag.
“I may enter it in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo contest next year,” Betsy said.
Another quilt in production has a Dr. Seuss theme and will be ready in time for a new grandson making his appearance in November.
Betsy grew up on a 200-acre farm in Washington State, so she has always been a farm girl at heart, which made her a perfect fit for the Dues clan.
“We have the entire extended Dues family over every Christmas and that totals about 85 people,” she said.
Eddie’s grandmother, Adele, is known to many in Dickinson for her famous pie crust recipe, which appeared in the True Cross Catholic Church cookbook in 1980.
“She used to host a ‘pie day’ once a week, and everyone would come over for pie,” Betsy said. “Those are the kinds of traditions that families cherish.”
— Sue Mayfield Geiger
Shamrock Ranch, Santa Fe
When the Doyles bought their ranch property in Santa Fe, it was 445 acres of raw land. Today, it’s a sprawling ponderosa known as Shamrock Ranch, home to 50 or so head of cattle (mostly Santa Gertrudis; some tigerstripe and other breeds), two horses, a hayfield, a pond, windmill, two red barns, tack room and skeet machine. The 40-by-120-foot entertainment barn, akin to a Texas dance hall, is in full swing when the Doyles host social events several times a year. A separate area of the ranch is leased out for honey bee production.
“It was just dirt when we saw the place,” said Chuck Doyle, a former Texas City mayor who is chairman of the board of Texas First Bank.
The ranch entrance is surrounded by cactus plants and Texas limestone. A Texas flag and a Texas First Bank flag flap in the breeze. High above the gate, the Shamrock Ranch sign sways ever so gently along with a smaller “God Bless Texas” sign.
The view is spectacular and the feeling is that of tranquillity as you gaze out over the panoramic vista. But it’s the house that’s the main drawing card. The one-and one-half story, two-bedroom, two-bath home has an eye-popping Texas limestone fireplace dividing the dining room and den, both with sky-high ceilings. Atop the mantel sits a massive eagle, hand-carved from one solid piece of suar wood.
“We had to construct steel frames from the foundation up to hold the weight,” said Doyle, who is an avid collector of eagles.
Every wall space in the house serves as a canvas for magnificent western and Native American art. Memorabilia from the Kentucky Derby, bronze statues, pottery and a full Indian headdress from Oklahoma also are prominent.
A bronze statue titled “Cowboy’s Day Off” by NFL football player Michael Hamby sits on the coffee table. Another bronze statue, “The Eagle a Fierce Warrior” by James Roybal, is nearby. A statue by Roybal of a Native American woman, one of Doyle’s favorites, occupies a bookshelf. Four paintings by Stephen Mopope, a Kiowa painter, dancer and flute player, hang high in the dining room. The dining room table sits 20 comfortably.
“I like a grand room where you’ve got a lot of height,” Doyle said. “It accommodates our large family and provides plenty of space to display our wonderful art.”
— Sue Mayfield Geiger
K-Bar Ranch, Texas City
Ernie Deats is a fourth generation Dickinson native and proud of it. A street in Dickinson bears his family’s name. But it’s his 325-acre ranch that defines him and the rural life he loves.
“My great-grandfather moved here in 1872 from Deatsville, Ala.,” he said.
Deats’ grandfather built the home he grew up in on Humble Camp Road, which was mostly prairie at the time.
Deats has between 75 and 80 head of Charolais cattle and also grows hay. Two new members of the ranch include an abandoned donkey and her baby daughter Deats took in.
Two sandpit lakes with another one in progress are behind the barn. Elsewhere on the property is an overflow pond surrounded by cattails, a windmill and apiary, or bee yard.
The two-story, three-bedroom, three-bath ranch house with sunroom, is filled with Western décor. A custom-made saddle that belonged to Deats’ father occupies the staircase banister at one end; his worn and faded chaps on the other. A spur collection hangs on the exposed ceiling rafters. The backyard covered patio with fireplace and outdoor kitchen provides spacious areas for entertaining.
“We had a recent fundraiser out here to raise money for scholarships,” said Deats, who is very involved with the Dickinson ISD Education Foundation.
Deats spends his days meandering the property in his Kubota four-wheeler, checking on cattle, his hay field and keeping an eye on things.
When he isn’t ranching, Deats carves out time to write (he is the author of five books), grow tomatoes and purple hull peas. When his wife, Kathy, isn’t working, she finds time for a few weaving projects. Deats’ daughter is a Dickinson veterinarian and the mother of his three grandchildren.
For the past 15 to 20 years, Deats and several other Dickinson residents have been meeting each weekday morning at Rogers Malt Shoppe to have coffee and share conversation.
“We talk about politics, school and city business and, of course, ranching,” Deats said.
“Up until Texas City annexed us, my property was in the Dickinson city limits, but it will always be Dickinson to me,” he said.
His fondest memory dates back to 1951 when he participated in the last cattle drive from Hitchcock to Dickinson as a young boy. After Interstate 45 was built, the cattle drives ceased.
“I’m probably the only living person left from that drive,” he said.
— Sue Mayfield Geiger
Reitmeyer Ranch, Hitchcock
From the shores of the bay, northwest to the outskirts of Alvin, state Highway 6 rolls through Galveston County hugged on either side by a rural landscape of small towns and open fields.
In Hitchcock, a dusty ranch road leads over railroad tracks near the diversionary canal to Galveston Bay. Over the road, a sign reads: Reitmeyer Ranch.
The land was originally settled by Jacques Tacquard, a French immigrant who amassed, at one time, about 40,000 acres of land along the West Bay, north to what’s now Hitchcock, and several thousand cattle. Tacquard’s cattle became known as “Big Red Cows,” presumably an English breed of shorthorns mixed with another breed.
He grazed the cattle on salt grass during the late fall and winter and prairie grass, or little bluestem, during the spring and summer.
Tacquard’s daughter, Emma, moved to the property with her husband, William Reitmeyer, sometime after the 1900 Storm destroyed their Galveston home.
In 1940, they built what’s known as the “Big House,” a two-story, classic Texas farm house with wide porches on either side.
Now, different branches of the Reitmeyer-Tacquard clan call the property home.
There are four houses on the homestead: the “Big House,” where George Sampson lives with his family; “The Bunkhouse” and two other houses are owned by Bert Martin. Sampson and Martin are both grandsons of Emma Tacquard and William Reitmeyer.
Although it’s no longer a working ranch, the next generations are keeping the traditions of Reitmeyer Ranch alive.
“We are passing on a heritage to our children and grandchildren to keep the homestead in the family,” Martin said.
Next year, at their annual family picnic, the Tacquard descendants will have something to celebrate: 150 years on the homestead.
Through the years, they’ve kept longhorn cattle, horses, chickens and goats. Now, they lease the land to a neighbor.
“That way, we still get to enjoy the cattle, without having to take care of them every day,” Martin said. “Once you have animals like that, it really locks you down — you can’t go anywhere without having someone to take care of things.”
They do have four laying hens in a coop by the barn, a winter garden and a fruit orchard with grapefruit, lemon and pomegranate trees. There are several storage structures, including the old barn and two old school houses, where kindergarten and first grade were taught.
Martin built a new barn a few years ago to house his barbecue operation, Bert’s Brisket.
Martin’s daughters were the fifth generation to be raised on the property. Growing up, he was one of eight children and 18 grandkids.
“Everybody had somebody to play with,” Martin said. “It was our own little world back there.”
The children played football and baseball in deep yards fronting the houses and at night, they played “hide-and-seek-army.” Later, they learned to play golf in the pastures.
“Now we call it the ‘cow patty open,’” Martin said. “We’ve mapped out an unofficial par three golf course just by the nature of the trees and the lay of the land.”
As adults, the grandchildren remember their roots — they haven’t succumbed to petty feuds.
“So many families are split because of property issues after somebody dies and inheritance and wills,” Martin said. “That’s not to say we haven’t had our arguments, but at the end of the day, we all say ‘I love you.”
— Lindsay Canright
Sullivan Ranch, West End, Galveston
Until the late 1970s, the West End of Galveston was the wild west. Before the beach and bay houses, vacation rentals and condominiums sprang up, the West End was a quiet expanse of working ranch land. In these vast pastures, John Richard Alston Sullivan started a family legacy that is still alive and well today.
“What many people don’t realize is that most of the island, west of 61st Street, was used for agricultural production for years,” Kelley Sullivan, granddaughter of John Richard Alston Sullivan, or “Pawpaw,” said. “It wasn’t until the residential market in the West End started to expand in the latter part of the ’70s that this part of the island transitioned.”
Although he only got to know four of his eight grandchildren, “Pawpaw left such an indelible mark on our family,” Kelley Sullivan said.
Orphaned at age 7, Sullivan started cowboying as a young man.
“He was a great cowboy, the toughest, roughest man you could imagine, but always a gentleman,” Sullivan said.
Bowlegged from near constant horseback riding, Sullivan worked as a ranch foreman for the Sealys, the Hutchings and other wealthy families on their West End ranches.
“Pawpaw would take the cattle, run them along the beach front from down the island to 37th Street and turn them north to the waterfront where they would load Lykes Bros. cattle ships, bound for various Caribbean nations,” Kelley Sullivan said. “Here we are 50 years later, and today, Galveston is the largest export facility for live cattle in the United States. So Galveston maintains its presence as an important link for agricultural production in this country and the world.”
He eventually purchased land on the West End of the island near 8 Mile Road, which is now owned by his son, John.
Although the industry has changed, the family is still heavily involved in beef production today.
As residential development on the West End of the island occurred, Gerald Sullivan, Kelley’s father, and his brother John L. Sullivan, expanded their operation to a ranch on the Coastal Bend. Eventually, Gerald and Susanne Sullivan’s family established Santa Rosa Ranch in Grimes and Houston counties where they raise Brangus and UltraBlack Cattle while John, his wife Cindy, and their family established their operation in South Texas.
So, the entire Sullivan Family continues their more than 100-year history in the ranching industry.
“It’s a very important part of history not only for Galveston, but for Texas as well,” Kelley Sullivan said. “We feel like agriculture is not just an important industry for the state of Texas, but it has such an incredible future.”
— Lindsay Canright