Category Archives: Texas cattle brand history

The Hash Knife Around Holbrook, Arizona

Chapter Two: Holbrook

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

The following is excerpted from The Hash Knife Around Holbrook, Arizona’s famous cattle outfit, available in paperback, Kindle and on audio at Amazon.com.

Arizona had a lot to offer the Hash Knife brand: lots of land at a good price, ample water, a workable climate and the chance to start over from the rough days in Texas and Montana. Arizona Territory had been established in 1863. By the 1870s, communities and ranches were springing up along major water sources, including the Little Colorado River dividing the north and south portions of the Territory. New settlers to the region included Mexican families, Mormons from Utah, and pioneers from the east.

Near the confluence of the Little Colorado and the Rio Puerco rivers was a place called Horsehead Crossing. At this remote spot, Juan Padilla built a house and Berado Frayre, or Frayde, ran a trading post and saloon. The trading post was also owned by Santiago Baca & Company for a time. It was said that “nobody left without food, even if they could not pay.” Edward Kinsley, of Boston, first laid eyes on Arizona as part of a survey team for the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. At the time, the railroad was planning to lay tracks from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Mojave, California. The new rails would run very near Horsehead Crossing. When Kinsley returned to Boston, his mind was still on the abundant land he had observed in Arizona. Such a vast area would be the perfect place to raise cattle.

The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad made it to the Little Colorado in September of 1881. A year and a half later Baca, along with Pedro Montano, Henry H. Scorse and F.W. Smith, filed a plat for the town of Holbrook two miles west of Horsehead Crossing and right along the tracks. One of the first structures built at Holbrook was the depot. The community grew quickly as the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad made Holbrook a regular stop. The Aztec Land and Cattle Company saw an immediate opportunity to use Holbrook as a shipping point. Beginning in 1884, the company began bringing stock cars filled with cattle from Hash Knife operations in Texas. Holbrook soon became a popular shipping point and center of commerce in the region.

Twin brothers Adolph and Ben Schuster opened their A & B Schuster Company at Holbrook in 1884. For decades the Schusters reigned as prominent businessmen in Holbrook. The business later expanded to include a third brother, Max. Holbrook’s business district grew up around A & B Schuster’s and the town depot. Other early businesses included a Chinese restaurant, two saloons, a drugstore, a mercantile and William Armbruster’s blacksmith and wheelwright shop. A German immigrant, Armbruster first came to Arizona in about 1975. He would flourish in Holbrook for over 25 years.

In December of 1884, Edward Kinsley partnered with nephew Henry Kinsley, Frank Ames, James McCreery and a New York bank, Seligman & Seligman, to form the Aztec Land and Cattle Company. The men purchased a million acres from the Atlantic & Pacific for fifty cents per acre. By buying only the odd-numbered sections of land from the railroad, the company prevented other cattle companies from accessing the even-numbered sections. Thus the Aztec Land and Cattle Company owned the million acres they bought, and also had undisputed and sole access to another million acres. As the Aztec Land and Cattle Company began shipping cattle to Arizona, the Hash Knife brand was registered in Apache County on June 2, 1885. Henry Warren filed the paperwork and published and advertisement about it in the June 11 edition of the St. Johns Herald newspaper. The brand was also registered in Yavapai County, on August 22.

The first Aztec headquarters was constructed in 1885 ten miles west of Holbrook, on the south side of the Little Colorado River. The company spent $850 to construct a small ranch house measuring 14 feet by 24 feet, a tiny cookhouse and one or two outbuildings. Hash Knife cowboys were obviously not meant to spend much time here, but rather out on the range, spending the night at line camps as necessary. The line camps were scattered across the Aztec Land and Cattle Company range. At these remote places cowboys could rest, corral cattle, brand and perform other chores. Beginning in 1885, more line camps were built at Chavez Pass near Payson, Pine Springs, Mormon Mill, Sycamore and near Winslow, to name a few.

Edward Kinsley, meanwhile, had hired his nephew Henry, to work for the Hash Knife in Texas before appointing him assistant treasurer of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company. Despite allegedly receiving only room and board during his first year, the Boston city boy appears to have taken to cowboy life quickly even if he was occasionally spoiled by his uncle. Soon after Kinsley’s arrival, in 1887, a second Aztec headquarters was located on Washington (later Santiago and then Alvarado) Street in Holbrook. The company shared quarters with the Masonic Lodge, renting the bottom floor for $150 annually. Henry Kinsley was living at the headquarters in 1888. Old timers say the Hash Knife also used the nearby Brunswick Hotel as a headquarters, but the hotel was not known by that name until the 1890’s.

A third headquarters was built four miles south of Joseph City not long after, or even in conjunction with, the headquarters at Holbrook. Most historians agree the construction date was 1886 and that buildings included a kitchen and dining room, the grain house and the main office. Plenty of cowboys whose names still ring a bell worked for the outfit back then. They included Tex Roxy, George Smith, “Peck”, Tom Pickett, Buck Lancaster, Don McDonald, George Agassiz, Ed Simpson and Frank Ames. The cook was Billy or Jeff Wilson. Hash Knife cowboy Frank Ames expressed his fondness for the brand by taking several photographs of the outfit during the 1880’s. Ames, from a well to do Massachusetts family, hired on in Texas, came to Arizona and eventually became the Aztec’s land agent. Thanks to Ames, images today include pictures portraying other cowboys for the outfit: wagon boss Ed Rogers, John Taylor, Charlie Baldridge, Jim Burdette, Don McDonald, Bill Smith, Tom Smith and Tom Beach. Surveyor William Vinal and area ranchers often stopped by the various headquarters for a visit. The Aztec Land and Cattle Company had plenty of neighbors with large spreads in their own right. Some of them later became involved with the Hash Knife. Well-known ranchers and businessmen of the area included Burt Potter, Jug Jackson and Joe Woods. Potter was Woods’ nephew. Both men did business over the years with the Hash Knife; Woods later ran the Pioneer Saloon in Holbrook. He also served as sheriff there.

As the Aztec Land and Cattle Company settled into Arizona, Holbrook continued to grow. A number of other businesses blossomed around the depot along the south side of the tracks. Holbrook’s population was about 250 citizens, with homes scattered around the downtown area. On June 26, 1888, a warehouse filled with wool inexplicably burst into flames burning most of the downtown. A & B Schuster’s, the Cottage Saloon and Frank Wattron’s drugstore were among the businesses to rise from the ashes. Within a year, other new businesses included a feed store, livery stable, restaurant and the Mormon Arizona Cooperative Mercantile Institution. Houses, some of which survived the fire, are still visible in the small neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown area. Holbrook’s fire actually enabled A & B Schuster to build even bigger and better. The company’s success eventually allowed the brothers to open branch stores and trading posts across Arizona, hiring managers to run them. By 1892, the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad depot had been rebuilt at Holbrook and the town was back in full swing as a busy transportation center. Pack trains such as the one pictured here hauled wool and other goods to and from the station. The rail stop was also used to haul sheep and thousands of Hash Knife cattle. Passenger service was available too.The Schusters eventually moved to Los Angeles. Ben died in 1911 and Adolph died in 1934. In 1952, A & B Schuster in Holbrook was recognized as the oldest continuously operated grocery outlet in Arizona.

The Hash Knife Around Holbrook: Chapter One

Chapter One: Beginnings of the Brand

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

This chapter is excerpted from The Hash Knife Around Holbrook, available in both paperback at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467130936 or on audio at https://www.amazon.com/Hash-Knife-Around-Holbrook-America/dp/B00UTSFP1W/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=.

Most historians agree that Hash Knife history began in 1874 when John Nicholas Simpson registered his first brand, the “Long S”. Simpson moved to Weatherford, Texas from Tennessee in 1866, operating a dry goods store between 1867 and 1872 before turning to ranching. In about 1874, the “Long S” brand was soon replaced by that of a hash knife: a common cooking tool whose brand was difficult to alter.

 

The new Hash Knife brand was certainly in place by 1877 when Simpson and his partner, James Couts, were using it. Tennessee native James Robertson Couts was a farmer when he moved to Weatherford, Texas in 1865. A year later, he used money earned from a cattle drive to California to establish the first bank at Weatherford. By 1872 he was one of the wealthiest men in the region. Couts purchased a half interest in John Nicholas Simpson’s cattle outfit in 1877. About a year later, Simpson and Couts registered the Hash Knife brand in Taylor County, Texas.

 

Thus began a long and illustrious life for the legendary Hash Knife brand. The first ranch headquarters was a dugout above Cedar Creek that would later become Abilene. Simpson made sure Abilene’s first railroad, the Texas & Pacific Railway, would run right by his ranch. He furthermore made sure the town was built directly along the tracks to assure its success. Shortly afterwards, Simpson expanded the brand west to Pecos and Baylor County, and formed the Continental Cattle Company.

 

In Baylor County Simpson did business with the infamous Millett brothers, the area’s own bad boys. The Millett brothers were a rough bunch when John Simpson met them. Citizens of nearby Seymour feared them. Ott Black, who worked for the Milletts and the Hash Knife, called the Millett Ranch “one of the toughest spots this side of hell” and commented that only “a rustler or gunman could get work with them.”

 

Even as he witnessed a bloody shootout at the Millett Ranch while signing the papers, Simpson purchased some land and cattle. He also continued buying smaller outfits around Texas while making even grander plans for a range in Montana.

 

The Hash Knife’s first trip to Montana was most likely dangerous and more than a little exciting. Cowboys on the trip had probably never been out of Texas, making their journey a true eye-opener. Cowboys on the trail relied heavily on nourishing grub and strong coffee to make it through the long workday. In 1882 Jacob “Dutch Jake” Heckman served as the cook on the Continental Land and Cattle Company’s first jaunt from Texas to Montana.

 

The Montana holdings, built along the Little  Missouri River, were located roughly 20 miles from the tiny community of Stoneville. Three years would pass before Ekalaka was founded, shortening the distance from civilization to just 20 miles. The Continental Land and Cattle Company headquarters were built on Box Elder Creek. When the first herds arrived in the summer of 1882, foreman William Lefors arranged for two cabins to serve as headquarters. The foreman used one cabin on the left for his home and office. Cowboys slept and ate their meals in the other cabin.

 

Plenty of other cowboys came and went during the Hash Knife’s time in Montana. Other men who worked for the Montana outfit were Clarence Sisley, Pete Buzman, Johnnie Pannel and Jay Griffen Shelden, who joined the Hash Knife outfit at Box Elder Creek. In 1885 Stoneville was renamed Alzada in honor of his mother, Laura Alzada Flagg. Shelden later married and homesteaded at Alzada, but his wife couldn’t bear the loneliness of ranch life and left him. Shelden died in Belle Fourche in 1912.

 

Some of these men came with the cattle from Texas. Montana cowboys looked upon the Texas cattle as poor stock; worse yet, their keepers appeared equally lanky in stature. Cowboy Walt Colburn noted that Texas cowboys “were a different breed of cowhand for the most part.”

 

Puzzling over whether lanky Texas cattle and cowboys could survive Montana’s cooler altitudes was soon overshadowed by George Axelby a Hash Knife cowboy who came with the herd from Texas but soon turned rogue. Within a short time he was hunting buffalo, fighting with Native Americans and forming a gang with other Hash Knife cowboys-turned-outlaws. Axelby’s actions soon caught the attention of authorities, who battled it out with the gang at Stoneville. There were several casualties. Axelby escaped, only to be killed four months later.

 

In 1884 the Continental Cattle Company combined its holdings with the Mill Iron Cattle Company in Montana and sported the new name of the Continental Land and Cattle Company. The Mill Iron Ranch was located roughly 80 miles from Stoneville, with the Continental Land and Cattle Company somewhere between the two places. The Great Western Cattle Trail from Texas ended at Stoneville, but Hash Knife cattle still needed to be pushed on to one of the two ranches. Still, the Mill Iron Ranch benefited greatly from the Western Trail.

 

There is little doubt that Hash Knife cowboys appreciated a night at the Mill Iron, whose bunkhouse likely offered better lodging than the cabin on Box Elder Creek. Henry Warren, the ever flexible employee of the Hash Knife, was in charge of the Mill Iron operations.

 

During the 1880s, the federal government rationed beef to various Indian reservations in Wyoming, Dakota Territory and Montana. This allowed the Hash Knife to sell their beef at government prices. The largest shipment was likely 2,500 head delivered to Fort Yates, North Dakota in 1883.

 

By 1885, the Continental Land and Cattle Company’s letterhead from the main office in Dallas included both the Hash Knife and Mill Iron brands. A branch office was also located in St. Louis. Principle officers of the company occasionally left their cushy suites in these big cities to visit Hash Knife ranches in Texas, Montana and later, Arizona.

 

The opportunity to expand to other states came when surveyor Edward Kinsley of the Atlanta & Pacific Railroad spied Arizona’s vast lands. The Aztec Land and Cattle Company formed, and the Hash Knife brand moved there with its reputation still under fire.

 

John Simpson’s brother, Ed, was hired as manager of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company before resigning in 1890. Simpson and Couts also hired Henry Warren, a former government freighter and sometime client of James Couts, around 1877. Over time he became a trustee for the Continental Land and Cattle Company, serving as both manager and president of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company in Arizona. Warren stayed with the Aztec until his death in Arizona in 1917.

 

Back in Texas, the Hash Knife continued operations for many years. The Knox Brothers may have owned the ranch before Elmer Stevens and Roy Stevens bought it in the early 1920s, and Lowe Stout was their ranch foreman. During the Great Depression the ranch was turned back to the Knox Brothers, and John D. Mounce lived at the ranch with his family. Later, a Mr. Anderson leased the ranch. As for Stout, he and his wife, Alice Robertson, ranched on Miller Creek for many years.

 

When the Hash Knife in Baylor County decided to build new headquarters overlooking the Brazos River, the old headquarters became home to the Howe family. Aubrey and Midlred Howe Lunsford inherited the house in 1953. According to one source, “It had seen 90 years of service and was pretty well ready for the scrap pile.” The Lunsfords tore it down.

 

Likewise, the Hash Knife also continued operations in Montana for several years. In 1897, the State of Montana accused the Continental Land and Cattle Company of failing to pay enough taxes. Hash Knife cowboys who were witnesses at the trial included Phil DeFrand, Ed Ramsberg, Jim Connley, Frank Castleberry and H.H. Floyd.