Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Albert Gallatin Springer -- Delaware-Born Texas Cattle Rancher

I'm happy to say that this is another in our series of Guest Posts, kindly submitted to me by fellow readers of the blog. This one, in a way, is sort of a Guest Post once removed. Those of you who have been hanging around here a while probably recognize the name Rich Morrison from numerous informative comments he's left. Rich lives in Georgia, but his family roots go back far and wide in Mill Creek Hundred. Among the clans to which he has ties are the Springers, a family he's done a lot of research on. Rich recently retired (trying not to be jealous, trying not to be jealous..), giving him more time for important things, like genealogy. He recently connected with a professional historian named Bill Green, who had some information about an interesting member of the Springer family. Bill wrote a brief biography of the man -- Albert Gallatin Springer -- and has graciously allowed me to post it here.

I'll follow Bill's work with a few thoughts of my own at the bottom, but up here I want to forward along Rich and Bill's plea, which is for a picture. They've yet to find a photo of Albert Springer, so if by any chance anyone happens to have one, please let us know. It's a longshot, but we've already made some interesting connections through here, so you never know.

Albert Gallatin Springer

Unlikely as it seems, a Delaware native established the first cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle. Probably born in Pencader Hundred in 1844, the youngest of eleven children, Albert Gallatin Springer grew up in Wilmington. His father, Peter Springer, reputedly was a furrier who operated the only hat shop in town before moving in the mid-1830s to White Clay Creek Hundred where he farmed for a number of years. Then, Peter retired and the family moved back to Wilmington about 1855. Albert's mother, Elizabeth Heinold Springer, died shortly before his twelfth birthday in 1856. By 1860, he was apprenticed to Wilmington blacksmith John Wesley Sullivan.

Albert probably left Wilmington during the Civil War and reputedly became a freighter on the Santa Fe Trail by the late 1860s and a buffalo hunter in Kansas during the early 1870s. He purchased 165 acres of land directly across the Arkansas River from the new town of Dodge City in December 1873, and built a house, stable, and blacksmith shop. A bridge crossed over the river from Dodge City to Springer's "ranch" in 1874, and a new road cut his property in two.

After the Red River War of 1874-1875 convinced the five Southern Plains tribes of Native Americans to stay on their reservations in Indian Territory, Springer moved to present-day Hemphill County in the northeastern part of the Texas Panhandle and established a trading post for buffalo hunters near the junction of Boggy Creek and the Canadian River. Located on the Military Road connecting Fort Supply, Indian Territory and Fort Elliott, Texas, Albert also operated a saloon and played poker with passersby, including soldiers from Fort Elliott, a frontier military post near the Texas border with Indian Territory.

Monument marking the site of Springer's Ranch

Soon after moving to the Texas Panhandle, Springer also purchased 200 cattle from a passing herd and hired a teenage cowboy named J. Thomas Ledbetter who was accompanying the herd to stay and work for him, thus establishing the first cattle ranch in the Panhandle.

Probably with the help of Ledbetter, Springer constructed a fortified complex strong enough to fight off an Indian attack that never materialized. Springer's trading post and ranching activities seemingly prospered until November 1878 when he got into an argument with some Fort Elliott troopers over a poker game. In the gunfight that ensued, both Springer and Ledbetter died. The soldiers left without burying the bodies which were discovered a few hours later by a stagecoach driver who reported the deaths to the commander of Fort Elliott.

Going immediately to Springer's ranch, Fort Elliott officers took charge of valuables there that included more than $1000 in cash, as well as two gold rings and a gold watch belonging to Springer, and telegraphed his relatives in Wilmington. A brother and two other family members traveled to the Texas Panhandle in December 1878 to settle Albert's estate which consisted of 600 cattle, his trading post, stocks and bonds, cash, and other valuables totaling near $12,000.

The military also buried Springer and Ledbetter in homemade wooden coffins near Springer's trading post, within a few feet of where they died. The graves remain there today marked by a slab of granite and a Texas Historical Commission plaque. Unfortunately, no photograph of Albert Gallatin Springer seems to have survived, or least has none been found, in spite of the fact his brothers and sisters have dozens of descendants including some, perhaps, who live in Wilmington today.

 --William Elton Green

First, I want to thank Bill Green for writing and sharing this story with us. Second, thanks go to Rich Morrison for connecting Bill to us. For a little more information about Albert Gallatin Springer, check out the Find-A-Grave memorial that Rich set up. I also want to reiterate that so far, no photos of Albert Gallatin Springer have been found. If anyone happens to stumble upon this post and actually has a picture, please let me know.

There's not a whole lot I can add to the story, except for a couple of local notes about Albert's family and early years. I've not checked to find out where Peter Springer's (Albert's father) original farm was, and where Albert would have been born. However, Peter's second farm, where the family lived from about 1835 to about 1855, does appear on the 1849 Rea and Price map. The farm is still there, even if the actual house doesn't seem to have survived. It's located on Route 2/72 South Chapel Street/Library Avenue, on the east side of the bend where it meets with Old South Chapel -- about halfway between the railroad tracks and Chestnut Hill Road (Rt 4). The farm is now owned by the University of Delaware.

As for the family, the Springers go back to the earliest days of European settlement in Delaware, and therefore were pretty spread out by the 19th Century. Several lines on the family have been mentioned in the blog before, but the closest would have been John Springer, owner of the Springer-Cranston House on Stanton Road near Marshallton. John was Peter's brother, and Albert's uncle. The Peter Springer who ran the Rising Son Tavern in Stanton was a cousin of John and Peter's father. Frankly, going much further into the family is more confusing than it's worth right now. I think it's very interesting, though, to see how one of these Springers actually had a significant (and fascinating) impact on the wider world outside of New Castle County.

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