Pierce Ranch was founded in the early 1800’s by A. H. “Shanghai” Pierce, one of the most colorful cattlemen in early Texas history.
Abel Head Pierce was born June 29, 1834, in Little Compton, Rhode Island. He was a direct descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, with nine generations in between. He was related to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as well as a president of the United States, Franklin Pierce. Thomas Wentworth Pierce, builder of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Texas, was also a relative of Mr. Pierce.
At the age of nineteen, “Shanghai” stowed away on a ship in the New York harbor. He worked for his passage and arrived in Indianola, Texas, five months later without money or a job. He went to work for W. B. Grimes as a ranch hand. By shrewdness, hard work, and rugged determination he became an authority on cattle while working for Grimes.
After serving in the Confederate Army, he returned to Texas and formed a partnership with his brother, Jonathan. They established the famous Rancho Grande on the Tres Palacios near Blessing. He married Fannie Lacy, daughter of William Demetris Lacy who was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and second judge of the Municipality of Colorado. They had two children; a daughter, Mary Francis, and a son who died at the age of four months. Fannie died shortly after the death of their son and Mr. Pierce sold out in 1871 and moved to Kansas City. He lived there about eighteen months. He returned to Texas and started buying up land in Wharton and Matagorda counties to build the ranch that at one time would consist of one half million acres. He formed the Pierce-Sullivan Pasture Company and sent thousands of cattle to the markets in the north. The name “Shanghai” Pierce became synonymous with cattle in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas, as he spearheaded large cattle drives through these states.
He selected a sight on the Colorado near Wharton to establish a ranch headquarters. He built a fine two-story ranch house, an office, blacksmith shop, barns, silos and several tenant houses
Later the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway established railway lines through Wharton county, providing easy transportation to market for the cattle. Pierce wanted the train to stop at his headquarters so he built the railroad station himself. It was called Pierce’s Station and also served the area as post office for many years. Because Pierce’s Station was located near the center of Wharton County, “Shanghai” had hopes of it becoming the county seat. In 1894 he had 160 acres surveyed to become the Pierce Townsite. He built and named the streets, laid out a public square, courthouse square, academy square and a cemetery ground. A church was built and a two-story grocery store. He then decided to build a grand hotel, which would accommodate cattle buyers, traveling salesmen, etc. The spectacular structure, with open porches on two sides of both the first and second floors, would be a convenient stopover between Victoria and Houston. It was a three-story, 22-room mansion built in Steamboat Gothic style. The widow’s walk on top provided a panoramic view of the whole countryside.
“Shanghai” Pierce tried his hand at other ventures such as banking and railroad ownership, but his real interest was always cattle. He toured Europe to find a breed of cattle resistant to the ticks so prevalent in the Gulf Coast area. He returned, convinced that Brahman cattle were the most likely to be immune. Pierce died on December 26,1900. In 1906 Abel Pierce Borden, nephew of “Shanghai” and executor of the estate, was sent to India to import the Brahman cattle. A total of 51 head reached the United States and were placed under quarantine because of a disease called Surra.
An appeal was made to President Theodore Roosevelt, who intervened, and the remaining 33 head were finally unloaded at Pierce Ranch in November of 1906. Tom O’Conner of Victoria took sixteen head, Pierce Ranch kept sixteen head and one bull went to A. P. Borden. In 1911 Pierce Ranch bought back all the O’Conner fullblood progeny. Several distinct breeds were brought over in the 1906 importation: Sir, Kreshnas, Hissars and Guzerats. Later more Guzerats from South America were added to the herd. Mr. Pierce’s convictions about the Brahman proved to be correct, They flourished in the Gulf Coast climate and have remained a vital part of the Pierce Ranch herd ever since.
The town of Pierce did not develop as “Shanghai” hoped it would. The magnificent hotel saw few, if any, overnight guests. It was rented out to tenants for long terms and housed the office of Pierce Estate Oil & Gas from 1952 till 1980. It also served as residence and office for J. B. Ferguson as he organized the Superior Drilling Company, one of Wharton County’s early drilling operations. Over the years the building gradually deteriorated and was demolished in 1980. The New England styled widow’s walk and some of the railings have been restored on the original site and other railings and parts of the trim are on exhibit in the Wharton County Museum.
The Pierce Ranch is still in operation under the management and ownership of the descendants of A. H. Pierce. It consists of approximately 32,000 acres of pastureland, rice and row crops. The original ranch house is still maintained and is marked by a state medallion. In the front yard is a monument erected by the state of Texas in 1932 to honor “Shanghai” Pierce for his contribution to early Texas history.