Able Head Pierce“There aren’t any cowboys in Rhode Island,” said a friend recently. I had to correct him, for as we will see this week there was a great cowboy who came from Rhode Island.

Abel Head Pierce was born in Rhode Island on June 29, 1834. At the age of twenty he stowed away on a schooner and ended up in southern Texas. Abel took a job for a cattleman named Grimes. Starting out doing odd jobs, Abel worked his way up to trail boss, taking cattle to New Orleans.

Abel Head Pierce was a 6 foot, 5 inch bearded giant of a man who had a habit of wearing spurs with extra large rowels, and strutting around town. Someone remarked that Abel looked like a Shanghai rooster, and he became Shanghai Pierce. Now, that’s a name any cowboy would be proud of.

After serving in the Civil War, Shanghai returned to Texas and started accumulating cattle. Shanghai took a couple of years out in Kansas… supposedly to let things cool down in Texas after lynching a couple of rustlers.

He ended up with a 250,000 acre ranch appropriately called the Rancho Grande. Obviously, Shanghai was a major factor in the Texas cattle industry.

Looking for cattle that would be resistant to ticks that was causing problems with Texas cattle going north, and a breed that would produce more meat, Shanghai went to Europe and ended up bringing home some Brahma cattle, which he crossed with the Texas Longhorns.

By the end of the 19th century Shanghai Pierce’s Rancho Grande approached a million acres. When Shanghai felt his life was close to coming to an end he hired a San Antonio sculptor to make a larger than life statue of himself to be placed over his grave. Asked why, Shanghai responded, “I knew that if I didn’t do it, no one else would.”

Filed under: Old West History

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