1877 Autograph Letter Signed by a Texas Rancher, Scoundrel, and Officer Charles T. Witherell, 1st Lieutenant, 19th U.S. Infantry, on Wool and Sheep Ranching in Texas

Letter from a Texas rancher, a scoundrel, and an officer at Fort Lyon, Colorado about sheep ranching and wool business in Texas. Charles Tripler Witherell, a 1st Lieutenant in the 19th U.S. Infantry, writes to Philadelphia commission wool merchants, Edward A. Greene & Company.

In Tascosa: Its Life and Gaudy Times (Texas Tech, 2007) by Frederick W. Nolan, Witherell is seen—in the year this letter was written—tangled up with outlaws to buy stolen sheep, likely complicit in the killing of a bandit named John Bottom, and muddled somehow in the affair of the Casner Brothers’ murder which involved an ex-Quantrill raider. Witherell was tried by court martial about a month after this letter and found guilty of various crimes, but never that of a count of murder. (See Nolan, pp.27–31 which explains the murky events.)

Here, Witherell asks to borrow $3500 from Greene & Co. “…so that I can buy and control the full crop of Wool in this section.” To effect this business proposal, Witherell describes his situation, lays out a business plan, and even offers a $10,000 life insurance policy as collateral security for the loan:

I have a ranch (sheep) on the Canadian River Pan handle of Texas, and corrals built this year for the purpose of buying the spring clip of wool, but I could not do it as I had not the money, as I had invested upward of three thousand dollars in Sheep and Stocks for the ranch. I could have bought all the wool in this section and I had the promise of all the Sheep men in the vicinity that they would shear at my corrals provided I would buy the wool. I could have controlled the whole with less than six thousand dollars. The consequence was that they had to drive their sheep into New Mexico to shear & sell their wool & are now driving them back to winter. It is about one Hundred & fifty miles from my Ranch to Las Animas Col[orado]., where there is the R.R. to ship in.

If he can obtain the loan for his Texas ranch, Lieutenant Witherell, who is serving at nearby Ft. Lyon, Colorado, will “…personally attend to this business.” He provides an additional comment on Mexican sheep farmers adding that “I think I can buy the clip so that it will not cost more than 12 or 13 cents at the R.R.” The letter offers an interesting insight into one soldier’s embrace of a profitable enterprise on the American frontier; a man with a less than stellar reputation.


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