1849 - 1928
Pioneer Sheep Rancher
The family member we are honoring is our Great Grandfather Joseph Tweedy. Joseph was born in New York City to Oliver Burr and Maria Lord Tweedy on March 17, 1849.
In 1876 Joseph and three partners E. Morgan Grinnell, Lawrence Leslie Grinnell and J. Barlow Reynolds would set sail in search of investment opportunities in producing and marketing wool. Oliver Tweedy was part of the manufacturing firm: Schepflin, Baldwin, and Tweedy. The firm prospered during the Civil War making military uniforms.
The partners arrived in Galveston and headed for San Antonio by rail and stagecoach. Overnight accommodations introduced the refined fellows to bedbugs and fleas. Reports of a stage robbery the day before their departure encouraged them to become armed with pistols. The rustic conditions in San Antonio, primitive structures, extreme temperatures, fried cuisine, and poverty contributed to the realization that their lifestyles would, dramatically, change.
The quest would lead the partners north and up the Blanco River with a box wagon, one change of clothing, blankets, and camping provisions. Lawrence, Morgan, Barlow, and Joseph would settle on the Chicon River between Ft. Clark and Ft. Duncan. They would purchase their first herd of 1250 Mexican sheep for $1.35 to $1.40 per head. The Negley brothers, fellow New Yorkers, offered to have them graze lease their land until they needed it for their own flocks.
In June, Joseph became ill with “the fever” (Bilious Remittent Fever). He was hospitalized at Ft. Clark for several months. His family threatened to have him sent back East. Meanwhile, Joseph’s partners began ranching. They learned the business by trial and error, listening to established ranchers and shepherds and by reading books on the care of sheep.
The partners’ spirits would be tested. The harsh weather: driving wind, rain, flooding, heat, bitter cold, sleet, hail and snow made camping out a challenge for the cowboys and their flocks. Keeping the sheep contained without fencing proved to be difficult. The stubborn nature of the sheep, prairie fires, weather, disease, and predators such as wolves, panthers, bears, coyotes, bobcats and fox added to the hardships. The partners took turns watching the herd at night. The days were long and the work never ending.
Joseph, Morgan, Lawrence and Barlow soon realized that they needed to change their “gentlemanly” appearance. Their fair skin and attire gave folks the notion that they were not your local cowhands. They were prime targets for giggles, swindling and unflattering conversations. The four soon had tan faces, sported six shooters, belts with cartridges and rifles strapped to their saddles. They learned to ride broncos and to lasso. Their grooming habits declined and they dressed in suitable attire only when necessary.
Raids in the area convinced the men to begin looking for a new location to purchase land. The partners never experienced raids on their flocks because the rustlers were mostly interested in cattle and horses. Once they were chased by (what they thought were outlaws that turned out to be) men running them down to inquire about jobs shearing the flock. Joseph’s relatives wanted the four to move away from the Mexico border.
The men began scouting northeast up through the Ft. McKavett area and beyond to the Concho Valley. The attractions were the permanent water, low hills, fertile valleys, the protection of Ft. Concho and the newly organized county with Ben Ficklin as the county seat which meant there would be a regular mail route. The three leased and purchased land between Spring Creek, Burk’s Creek, the South Concho and Dove Creek. The purchasing price in 1877 was $2.25. Their plan was to purchase river tract land on both sides of the river.
The Grinnell brothers, Barlow Reynolds and Joseph Tweedy would name their new home the Knickerbocker Ranch in honor of Washington Irving’s fictional character, Deidric Knickerbocker, who tells tales of old New York. The Grinnell brothers were the grand nephews of Washington Irving.
Raising sheep proved to be a challenge. The creatures had a mind of their own. Driving the sheep required great patience. Sometimes the flocks would wander off in a storm. If they were tired or confused they would walk around in circles. If they were unhappy they would lie down…refusing to get up. If they had a hard delivery when lambing they would abandoned their little ones requiring a sheepherder to carry as many as five to ten orphan lambs tied by the legs on horseback back to the camp. They would contract illnesses such as “scabs” that would eventually rot the wool requiring being “dipped” in a solution of rye, sulphur, and hot tobacco. Single sores were doctored by kerosene oil. Maggots and flies had to be extracted by hand.
Life on the ranch was lonely. Entertainment was gained mostly through reading. The partners relished the arrival of letters from home, newspapers, and magazines (The Atlantic and Harper). The partners told stories, played cards and wrote to family members and their significant others back home. Occasionally, a sheep herder or cook would be employed with a musical talent of singing or playing a banjo or fiddle. Visiting neighbors’ ranches provided a woman’s touch to their conversations and dining enjoyment. Ever so often, the partners would be invited to dances which proved to be foreign to the men. They were not accustomed to “square dancing” and that “casual” conversations rarely took place.
A post office was established in Knickerbocker in 1881. E.M. Grinnell was the first postmaster. A store, a bunkhouse and two family homes were built in Knickerbocker. In 1890 Knickerbocker had two saloons, two hotels, three general stores, and a cotton gin, stage line stables, a tuberculosis sanitarium, a blacksmith shop, two schools and two churches. Joseph, along with his brother, Oliver and J.B. Etheridge operated Tweedy Mercantile Company.
Joseph went east to marry Elizabeth Ayres Mellick. They took the stagecoach to San Angelo from San Antonio and ox wagon to the ranch. Elizabeth (Lillie) would be instrumental in: donating land to build church. Elizabeth organized a Sunday school (Yokebearers). She would provide the music on a portable organ. Most social activities were centered within the church. She would become a member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and the Twentieth Century Club.
Joseph and Elizabeth had four children. They were Lawrence Leslie, Andrew Mellick, Joseph Lord, and Elizabeth (Bess) Tweedy. The Tweedys lived at the ranch, Quarters #1 at Fort Concho, 17 N. Randolph and 1303 South Park.
The original settlers found the Knickerbocker area an ideal place to maintain their culture of self sufficiency. They shared their knowledge of the land with the newcomers. They provided a solid support system by assisting them in harvesting crops, construction of barns, pens, fences, shearing sheep, and working livestock.
Bernabe Martinez and his wife, Maria Del Refugio Jordon settled on Dove Creek in 1876 from Mexico. Bernabe was a tailor, coffin maker, blacksmith and a musician. Their children contributed to the success of Knickerbocker. Three generations of the Martinez family have worked on the ranch. Their expertise and friendship have been a cherished thread in the Tweedy history.
In 1884, the collapse of the wool prices broke up the Knickerbocker
Ranch partnership. L.L. Grinnell had passed away. Morgan Grinnell moved back to New York. Barlow Reynolds went to Nebraska to work for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Joseph sold off much of his holdings saving a part of the original ranch along Dove Creek. Joseph would form the San Jose Irrigation and Power Co. The power company would supply water for 1500 acres of farmland on Dove Creek.
Joseph, along with R.B. Sanderson, Charles Metcalf, David Williams, and others organized the first Wool Growers Association. Joseph would serve as its first president. Joseph budded pecans along Dove Creek, was a volunteer weather observer, an early day county commissioner, assistant postmaster, alderman on the city council, was a founding member of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church. He went to Washington to obtain a federal building for San Angelo.
Elizabeth Mellick Tweedy died in San Angelo on September 7, 1921. Joseph Tweedy died in San Angelo on January 28, 1928. They are buried in Hillside Cemetery in Plainfield, New Jersey.
The ranch was managed and operated by Joseph and Elizabeth Tweedy, Elizabeth (Bess) Tweedy Flowers, Joseph Lord and Eva Tweedy, Mellick and Florence Tweedy, Joseph (Jose) Tweedy, Lawrence L. Tweedy II, Malcolm Tweedy, Andrew and Louise Tweedy, John Tweedy, Elizabeth and Edwin Sykes and Edwin Sykes III. The ranch is still in existence under the names of the Knickerbocker Ranch operated by Drew Sykes and the Tweedy Ranch operated by Sandra Tweedy.
Joseph Tweedy had a deep love and appreciation for his family and the ranch. His letters home revealed a close family connection. His devotion to family has been handed down through time and remains a common thread.
Generations gather every five years to celebrate the past and present.