Longtime Nixon resident and former Nixon-Smiley High School Principal Donald Hoffman has published a second book detailing the history of Gonzales County, titled “Birthplace of the American Cowboy.”
“After I got out of the classroom, I had all this information that I had assembled from projects that I had my kids do,” Hoffman said. “I was a very unorthodox teacher; we didn't necessarily work out of the textbook. They would go down to the old age home with tape recorders and we'd record old people.”
Hoffman said he built his book out from these recordings, as well as writings from people in the area going back two hundred years. He framed the first chapter around his family’s own history in Rancho, located in the southernmost part of Gonzales County, as cattlemen. These stories, in tandem with what he described as an active imagination, are what Hoffman said fostered his love of history.
“I could see anything like a picture show,” Hoffman said. “When I’d go out in the yard and played cowboys and Indians, I was really shooting real Indians. You know, in my mind, my rifle really was a rifle. I mean, it really did shoot. I really could shoot them off their horses. And my mind just was so vivid. I could create all these visions. I'm still that way, I can see this just as plain. I can take words and paint mental pictures of those words. And it's real.”
The book itself traces the history of Gonzales County from prehistoric times through the development of cattle ranching in what Hoffman describes as the “Birthplace of the American Cowboy,” both in the title and throughout his book. Termed the cradle of cowboy culture by Hoffman and others, the land between the Nueces, San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers holds unique topography and wildlife which allowed settlers from all of the nations represented by the six flags to fly over Texas to cultivate wild cattle. This led to feuding between local ranchers, who each wanted to brand unclaimed cattle for their own herds.
“I did not know about how vicious this land became, with all these wild cattle,” Hoffman said. “Here's the picture. You got all these ambitious men. And all you need to get in the cow business is a branding iron and a rope and the courage to use them, and these cows were all free for the taking.”
“You buy cattle for $4, but if you take it up to Kansas, you’d sell it for $40. So imagine the economics of that, and how many people were willing to just do whatever it took to be the receivers of $40. The little guy at home that didn't drive cattle, he knew he could either afford one cow, maybe $7 or $8. And if he kept his competition out, and nobody could get those calves but him, he could get rich. So it was an economic war that really drove this feud.”