Fort Worth Magazine — January 2010
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Tom B-Still Ridin For The Brand
Gail Bennison

“It ain’t about windshield cowboys or pavement pounders who get all duded out in their short-top Acme curb-kickers, their big, shiny, square buckles, and their big-brim hats that some poor quail flew into at a high rate of speed and left its tail feathers stuck on the front of the crown. You know, the wannabees! No sir, it’s about the real Texas cowboys—that old weather-browned boy who saddles up way before daylight, swings a hind leg over his old pony and hits a long lope to where they’re goin’ to start gatherin’ cows. This cowboy wears his legs in parentheses and visits with his horse like he’s his best friend. These are the boys who live in a land as God created it, not as man made it.” –Tom B. Saunders IV
At 75, he has followed dusty hoof prints that echo the bawling calves of five generations of cattle-raisers, and blazed the trail for the sixth. His weathered face attests to decades of exposure to gritty winds and scorching sun, and his gait suggests he got stomped a few times along the way.

He is Thomas Bailey Saunders IV, or just plain old Tom B. Plain, he says. Remarkable is a more fitting word.

Along those worn cow trails, Tom B. has developed a rock-solid reputation as a historical scribe, poet, community leader, legendary cowman and dogged preservationist of the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. Strong-willed and goal-oriented, starting and finishing one task at a time, he’s done it all — as each generation before him — with spurs on his boots.

At 6 a.m. on this crisp November morning in Weatherford, Tom B. adjusts his suspenders, and glances below a ridge to gently rolling pastures as he stops before a weathered white barn.

The Twin V brand painted on the front reminds him of his father, Tom B. III, who bought the ranch from his sister and established the livestock brand in 1934, the year Tom B. IV was born. It reminds him of those who came before his father, and of the 160-year history of Saunders cowmen.

“The love of the land and the pride in our family heritage are things that are very important to every member of our family,” said Ann Saunders, Tom B.’s wife of 51 years. Tom B. and Ann moved to the Twin V in 1958 and raised three children there: Thomas B. Saunders V. is called Thomas and is the last in line to carry the Tom B. name. Thomas and his wife, Lynn Hay, granddaughter of legendary rancher, W.T. Waggoner, Jr., have two daughters, Madalynn, 18, and Leslie Ann, 16.

Thomas calls them his “two queens.” Lynn is a gifted artist, and spends most of her time working at the Twin V headquarters, keeping records of partnerships and accounts.

Tom B. and Ann’s second child, Ann Catherine Saunders Williams, and husband, Perry Williams, have one son, Jordan, 18. Ann Catherine is the director of nursing at the Surgery Center in Weatherford.

The youngest, Amy Elizabeth Saunders Haydon, is married to Joed Haydon. They were blessed with two little girls, Mamie Catherine, 9, and Caroline Elizabeth, 5.

Amy Elizabeth owns a school in Weatherford for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners.

All live on the ranch and all contribute to the family business, which primarily is a cow-and-calf and yearling operation. In 1969, the yearling operation was extended.

Tom B. IV and brother-in-law, Jim Calhoun, became partners in operating 35,000 acres of lease country in Parker, Tarrant, Johnson and Mason counties.

Thomas V carries on the family tradition by running his own cow-and-calf and yearling operation in Parker and Hood counties, as well as starting more than 100 horses a year.

He works with brother-in-law Perry Williams, who also has a cow herd and trains horses. The two men produce ranch horses, and Thomas still has time to provide cattle for various cutting horse competitions.

Years ago, Tom B. gave each of his children one acre of land on which to build a house. “I told them to build while they were young so they could get those houses paid for before they had to retire,” Tom B. said.

“Running a ranch is hard work,” Ann said. “We all have to string fence, check the cattle and haul hay, to name a few things, to keep it going.” Ann, a retired Weatherford High School English teacher and administrator, is an example of a hard worker, Tom B. says.

“Years ago, I learned in a Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers education class that when times get tough in this business, you need to diversify,” he said. “Well, I had a wife with an English degree. I guess you could say that she was my means of diversification.” “Ranching went through some tough periods, and we watched many friends go under in the 70s,” Ann recalls. “Times like those often leave relationships fractious but for Tom and me, it only made us closer. It was a case of combating the exterior forces rather than dealing with personal issues. By the time we made it through all the business changes, we had both mellowed, and life was and still is good.” First Generation: Gone to Texas In 1850, Tom B.’s great-grandfather, Thomas

B. Saunders I, drove a herd of cattle west from Mississippi, and started the first Saunders cattle ranch in Rancho, a rough and unsettled land near Gonzales. Ten years later, Saunders relocated to Lost Creek in Goliad County where he developed the first Anglo ranch in the area, and where he and his wife, Emily Elizabeth raised 12 children.

After the Civil War, and before finally settling on a ranch in Bexar County, (later known as Saunders, Bexar County), he and his older sons drove cattle to markets in New Orleans and Kansas, where they sold their animals for hide and tallow.

Tom B. I died at Saunders’ Station in 1902.

He was well known as a successful farmer and stockman. All of his sons became trail drivers and ranchers, and all of his daughters married ranchers.

Second Generation: Trail Drivers Two of Tom B.’s sons, William David Harris Saunders (WDH) and George Washington Saunders, became notable players in Texas ranching history.

“When WDH was 17, his daddy sent him to New Orleans with 800 steers,” Tom B. IV said, recounting one of his favorite family stories.

“Along the way he was told that the Union Army had taken the city. He and his trail hands headed for Mississippi, and didn’t have any trouble until they reached the Mississippi River. Imagine a teenager driving cattle across
A river that was a mile wide and 40 feet deep!

The boys just put the cattle in the water and swam ’em across. They drifted five miles in the current, but nobody was there to tell him that he couldn’t do it, so he just did it.” William ran Saunders’ Station in Bexar until his death in 1922.

On his 10th birthday, George W. Saunders’ father gave him 10 calves, branded with the Half-circle Ten to distinguish his cattle from those of his brothers. (Thomas V received ownership of that brand more than a decade ago. He had it embellished on a pair of spurs which he wears every day.)

George W. drove cattle at 17 and owned his own cattle and horse trailing firm by age 27.

He is credited with driving more horses north than any other trail driver.

He helped organize the Union City Stockyards in San Antonio and operated a livestock commission company there.

George W. published a book, Trail Drivers of Texas (1925), from which the television series “Rawhide” was said to have been patterned.

A historical plaque at the Exchange Building in the Fort Worth Stockyards recognizes George W. An organizing founder of the Old Trail Drivers Association of Texas, he served as its president for many years prior to his death in 1933. His body lay in state in San Antonio.

On the way to the cemetery, the horse-drawn hearse carrying his casket paused before the Alamo — a sign of respect for the contributions he had made to the state of Texas.

Third Generation: Fort Worth Stockyards William’s son, Thomas B. Saunders II, owned a Houston livestock company before moving to Fort Worth in 1902. He became the first cattle dealer in the Fort Worth Stockyards. In 1918, he became the first to ship cattle by truck, says his grandson.

“Now this was something,” Tom B. said.

“Back in those days, you know, the cattle would just run in all directions on the way to the Stockyards. My granddaddy decided to put wood side panels on a truck and put the calves in there. It worked, too. The calves would bawl all the way, and the cows would follow ’em. He never learned to drive the truck himself, though.” Tom B. Saunders II reputedly was the largest cattle dealer in the U.S. from 1910-1920. He died in 1929, passing the T.B. Saunders Commission Companies to his son.

Fourth Generation: National Cutting Horse Association Tom B. Saunders III grew up working on his father’s ranches and for the T.B. Saunders Commission Companies in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. In 1930, he reorganized the commission business into a cattle clearing house.

His son, Tom B. IV, says he was a fine horseman and raised good horses and cattle.

He also was a founder of the National Cutting Horse Association and was inducted into the National Cutting Horse Hall of Fame. He died in 1974.

Saunders Park, on Marine Creek in North Fort Worth was dedicated in 1981 to commemorate the contributions of the Saunders family.

“My daddy worked for Tom B’s grandfather and for another of the first traders on the Fort Worth Stockyards, Edgar Kerr, alternately throughout the decade preceding WW I.,” said Steve Murrin, well- known Stockyards preservationist, businessman and unofficial mayor of Fort Worth’s North Side.

“Tom B. descended from that bunch of traders,” Murrin said. “They pre-dated written contracts, whether for a small pen of cattle or a carload. They didn’t waste time on a lot of wordy conversations. Anybody who knows Tom B. will tell you he didn’t land too far from that family tree.” Murrin is right. Tom B. believes in doing things the old way.

“The cattle business is a hard business and not for the faint of heart,” Tom B. said. “I think every Saunders generation has been broke at least once in his lifetime, and had to rebuild.” Tom B. IV was 12 when he went to work for his daddy at the Fort Worth Stockyards.

The Saunders family maintained a business there for 75 years. Tom B. recalls the hot and smelly cattle pens with temperatures that rose to 130 degrees.

“It was a hard job, and all I ever wanted to do was be a cowboy, not a brick-pounder,” he said. “When I was 5 years old, I’d go out to the ranch on the weekends with my daddy and get in the goat pens and start wrestlin’ ’em. I started riding about the same time, and daddy bought me a Shetland pony named Punkin’.

“That pony broke me of wanting to ride a horse, I’ll tell ya … he was so bad … well, finally Daddy bought me a big horse,” he said.

“I had fun growing up, and it kept me out of trouble. I was a cowboy then, and I’ve been doing it ever since.” Tom B. said his Daddy worked seven days a week. “He taught me a work ethic for sure, to give all you have to give. That’s the best you can do, and I’ve taught all of mine to do the same thing,” he said. “All of my kids are workaholics.” Tom B. has followed the Saunders tradition of service to the cattle industry. He has been a director of the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association for decades and has served as a trustee of the TSCRA Foundation and on its board of trustees. He also served as a director of the Fort Worth Stock Show for 37 years and currently serves as an honorary vice president.
He is the author of the book, Texas Cowboys, one of the top 10 coffee table books in 1997.

Tom B. collaborated with well-known photographer, David Stoecklein to produce the book.

The Fort Worth Herd would never have been authentic to the period without Tom B.’s historical knowledge and integrity, says Fort Worth attorney and former Fort Worth city councilman Jim Lane.

In 1998, Lane came up with the idea to have a herd of Longhorn cattle trail down Exchange Avenue in the Fort Worth Stockyards in a daily reenactment of the old trail drives. “Tom B. made sure we had authentic clothing and saddles, as well as historically correct trail drivers representing the Black, Indian, and Mexican cowboys and cowgirls,” Lane said.

Tom B. also came up with and implemented a plan to disassemble and rebuild the Stockyard cattle pens to their original condition.

“The preservation of the cattle pens was an absolutely critical part of preserving the Stockyards,” Murrin said. “Enlisting Tom B. in the process assured all parties involved that those pens would be the way our ancestors and our progeny could take pride.” Tom B. and Ann Saunders first met at their alma mater, Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University) in the early 1950s.

He was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and she pledged Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. W.R. “Bob” Watt Jr., rancher, businessman and longtime president and general manager for the Fort Worth Stock Show, was Tom B.’s fraternity brother, and they both worked part-time at Ann’s sorority house.

The frat brothers have been close friends and schoolmates since their kindergarten days.

“That sorority deal was a great job,” Tom B. recalled. “Bob and I had good food and pretty girls to look at!” Ann recalls four years of acting as a dating bureau for Watt and Tom B. “When I ran out of girls for Tom B. to date — and there were a lot, lot of them, he just had to settle for me,” Ann said, smiling.

“I will tell you that Tom B.’s knowledge of the cattle industry and the history of the Stockyards is just phenomenal; he probably knows it better than anyone,” said Bob Watt.

“He’s a good storyteller, too, slow in his delivery sometimes but entertaining with it,” he said laughing. “And Ann is quite a lady and the spearhead behind that Doss Museum out in Weatherford … just a fine lady.” One of Ann’s passions is the Doss Heritage & Cultural Center in Weatherford. She has spent countless hours making sure that the Museum is a place for people to learn the history of Parker County.

“Ann has been such an important person in the development of the museum,” said Dottie Doss, whose late husband, James Doss, arranged for the building’s construction in 2000.

“Ann devoted so much time and energy to making it move forward, and she is greatly appreciated by everyone,” Doss continued.

“She’s smart and determined, and she has a grasp on how things should run.” Ann was involved in every detail of the construction, including moving a wall back to include a porch.

There was no funding for the addition, but those who know Ann Saunders’ strong will would’ve bet their inheritance that she’d find the money. She did. The back part of the lobby was named “Ann’s Porch.” The Saunders’ sprawling ranch house is a museum in itself, due to Ann’s love of family history. She also turned the bunkhouse into a museum that’s filled with six generations of historical documents, photos and artifacts.

“There’s a difference between the cowman and a cowboy,” Tom B. said. “As the responsibilities in the ranching business become greater, you don’t have the time to ride a horse all day long. That’s when you become a cowman.” “Now on our operation, I’ve been real fortunate to have a wife and daughter-in-law that keep the books and do the payroll, and a lot of other things, too, and they do a fine job of it. It gives me more time to get out and do the things I grew up doing, and still enjoy doing.” “I guess you’d say that I’m a cowboy that became a cowman. Neither one of them is anything to be ashamed of, you know,” he said.

Cowboys can become cowmen, but the character values remain the same.

Tom B. gives a nod to fellow rancher and friend, Tom Moorhouse, active partner of the Moorhouse Ranch in Benjamin, and ranch manager of Tongue River Ranch in Paducah.

“Moorhouse is a cowboy and a cowman who, like me, still does things the old way,” Tom B. said.

“He’s a man of integrity and a trustworthy kind of fella. … I’ll always admire that about Tom B.,” says Moorhouse. “He’s the kind of guy you want to ride the river with and put your faith in.

“Tom B. also understands horses and cattle real well, and he carries on the ranching legacy that he was raised under, giving honor to the code of the old-time West. Well, I just think a lot of him,” he said.

The sixth generation, Thomas B. Saunders V, loves nothing more than cowboying. His daddy taught him determination, and his mother taught him faith and manners, he said. In addition to working cattle, Thomas starts cutting and ranch horse colts for several Texas ranchers.

He trained actor, Tommy Lee Jones’ polo ponies and has furnished horses and performed stunts in several movies, including the remake of the Alamo. “It pays better than cowboying, but I’d rather be on the ranch, starting the horses,” Thomas said.

As for expectations of his daughters and the future of the ranch, says Thomas: “I want them to get a good education and to feel just as comfortable in the country club as they do in a cow camp. Both of the girls can ride and know where to get in a drive. They have etiquette on horseback. When you have good girls, you get good boys, too, you know. I think it’ll all work out.” Tom B. says he has a perfect life.

“I can’t even imagine doing anything else,” he said. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.” “The Saunders clan is a tough bunch, and when we came to Texas, we came to stay,” said Tom B. “And when you look back on through the generations, you really see true grit and a love of the cattle business.”