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Texas Tales

published: June 2nd 2017
by: Mike Cox
By 1883, the Trans-Pecos country of West Texas was positively tame compared to a few years earlier.
The state's last Indian fight had been in January 1881, the worst of the man-killing outlaws were either dead or in prison and only a few stray buffalo survived on the east side of the Pecos.
But a couple of entrepreneurially-minded Texas Rangers still found something to shoot at: quail.
While their Ranger outfit (Co. A, under Capt. George Baylor) was stationed at Ysleta, down river from El Paso, Rangers Joe Deaver and August Fransel noticed the area, as Deaver later put it, was “over-flowing” with wild game. Farms in the valley of the Rio Grande below Ysleta and Socorro “were simply swarming with wild quail.”
To frontier tastes, and to many gourmands today, a quail may as well be a miniature chicken. As opposed to the dark meat of dove, a grilled or fried quail amounts to several tasty bites of white meat.
Back then, in the booming railroad town of El Paso, local butcher Jack Carter happily paid $1.50 a dozen for fresh-from-the-field quail. Given that the state paid its Ranger privates only $30 a month, a man handy with a shotgun could supplement his income substantially by providing Carter quail.
The 24-year-old Deaver, whose parents brought him to Erath County from his native Tennessee when he was a youngster, was a fine shot. His apprenticeship as a marksman came in hunting buffalo before he turned to rangering in 1881.
Dropping a big bison for its hide took a high-powered rifle, but Deaver knew how to work a scatter gun, too. As a part-time meat hunter, on a good day, the dead-eye ranger killed as many as 10 dozen quail–half a month’s pay.
Despite the pounding his shoulder took in firing his shotgun 120-plus times a day (surely he missed every once in a while), the young state lawman and his business partner saw hunting quail as far preferable to disarming drunks or making long horseback scouts along the Rio Grande. On Oct. 31, 1883, Deaver and his older partner, who had first come West as a stage coach driver, left state service and became full time meat hunters.
In addition to providing El Paso consumers with fresh quail, the two former rangers used the Win-chester rifles they bought from the state to bring down mule deer. Happily for the hunters, most folks back then enjoyed venison just about as much as they did beef. Deaver and Fransel worked out an agreement with another El Paso meat house to provide them fresh venison.
To harvest deer, the two professional hunters had to ride down river to the Quitman, Eagle and Carrizo mountains, late the disputed province of Texas’ last band of hostile Apaches.
For every deer carcass they put on the train to El Paso, they were paid eight cents a pound. The buyer even picked up the freight charges.
“We often shipped from 10 to 15 head a day, and seldom less than three to five,” Deaver later re-called.
Average weight per deer was 85 pounds, but occasionally they brought in a big buck weighing in at 250 pounds.
Back in Austin, Texas lawmakers had not yet realized the importance of game conservation and few, if any, statutes were on the books to prevent the wholesale slaughter of quail, deer or other wild-life. In time, conservation laws did get passed, but by the early 20th century much of the state had been hunted out. Deer, pronghorn antelope, wild turkey and quail were scarce. It took decades for the state's game animals to recover the era of unregulated hunting. 
Deaver later defended his meat hunting with the argument that wild animals would be detrimental to farm crops, but both quail and mule deer prefer rough country, not agricultural land. (He was closer to being correct in regard to white tail deer, which love to graze oat crops and people’s gardens.)
The two ex-rangers continued their meat hunting for two years. When Deaver’s partner heard that gold and silver could be found near Sierra Blanca, they stored their guns and took up prospecting.
Indeed, back then the mountain country of West Texas was believed to hold rich lodes of precious metals. A reasonable amount of silver ore was found by others near what became Shafter, but the dream that Texas would equal New Mexico or Arizona in mining never materialized.  
Deaver and Fransel would have made a lot more money if they had stuck to hunting quail and deer, not gold and silver.
Both men later turned to ranch work. Fransel died at 83 in 1927 and is buried at Sierra Blanca. His former partner made it until 1940, dying in Nueces County. He's buried in Robstown.

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