Che Kerrville Cedar Axe
THE FOLLOWING challenging statement was made by James
Fenimore Cooper more than a hundred years ago:
The American axe! It has made more real and lasting conquests than
the sword of any warlike people that ever lived, but they have been con-
quests that have left civilization in their train instead of havoc and deso-
lation. More than a million square miles of territory have been opened
up from the shade of the virgin forest to admit the warmth of the sun,
and culture and abundance have been spread where the beast of the forest
so lately roamed, hunted by the savage. A brief quarter of a century has
seen these wonderful changes wrought, and at the bottom of them all lies
the beautiful, well prized, ready and efficient implement, the American axe.'
The axe and the long-barrel rifle were instrumental in the
civilization of the East, whereas in the West and Southwest
civilization was aided materially by the invention of the six-
shooter, the windmill, and the barbed wire fence. It is generally
assumed by historians that the axe played a minor role in the
Trans-Mississippi West compared with its importance east of
the ninety-eighth meridian and in the Pacific Coast area. The im-
migrants who crossed the Great Plains going west found the land
practically a treeless, level, semi-arid region. When at last this
vast region was settled by the homesteaders, there were, how-
ever, more than twelve million acres of cedar in the southern part
of the Great Plains area, the western half of central and south-
ern Texas.2 The type of cedar that grows throughout this
region is more of a bush than a tree and is commonly referred
to as such.
Much of the vast stretches of the cedar country was not used
for ranching until late in the nineteenth century and the early
part of the twentieth century. Little else will grow where
there is cedar, but, as long as there was an unlimited range,
the cattle, sheep, and goats managed to find enough to eat
among the cedars. As the country between San Antonio and
El Paso gradually became settled with farmers and ranchers,
the need for clearing additional land became more and more
1James Fenimore Cooper, The Chainbearer (New York, 1859), 86-87.
2Estimate made by B. F. Vance, administrative officer in charge of
AAA, College Station, Texas; letter to Gene Hollon, December 8, 1944.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 50, July 1946 - April, 1947. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101117/. Accessed October 25, 2014.