Rafael De La Garza

February 19, 1888 - January 6, 1988
Role: Tophand, Cowhand
Known for: Our oldest interviewee

Rafael was born on the old Williams place on the San‘tone River Road. His family moved to the O'Connor River Ranch in 1898. Like many of the Mexican families that lived in the area, he went to school in Anaqua with Miss Kate Stoner (O’Connor). Rafael’s ancestors came from Spain. His paternal grandfather was the original Carlos De La Garza and his maternal grandfather, Lupe Hernandez, worked for the original Tom O'Connor [I]. Lupe went up the trail to Kansas, but never told Rafael too much about it. Rafael started work during the freeze of 1899 when his father, Jesus de la Garza, tied him to his horse to drive the starving cattle to the "moss". (The live oak tree branches had spanish moss the cattle could eat.) Rafael learned to work cattle under the tutelage of Louis Power, the legendary cowman and foreman for the O’Connor Brothers Duke Ranch. He worked for Martin, Tom [III], and Joe O’Connor. The O'Connor River Ranch was his favorite. Rafael remembers paying one of his wife’s midwives with polecat hides. He remembers when ropes were made out of hair and rawhide. Being the oldest member of the team of interviewees, his very presence was invaluable. Nearing 100 years old, he could only impart a few memories, but they were memories and stories that no other could tell. He would laugh at the shenanigans of the younger cowhands and then pause for a few seconds and tell one of his amazing stories from almost a century back.

Introduction to Rafael

Voice of Rafael de la Garza
Milam Thompson – What about your grandfather, was he a cowboy?

Rafael de la Garza - Yeah.

Milam Thompson – He was a cowboy.

Rafael de la Garza – My grandpa, yeah. He worked with Old Man Tom O'Connor; the Old Man. He worked with him and he used to tell me when they ate dinner. When they ate dinner once in a while, they didn't eat every day. He said when they be eating dinner he's say, "Oh boys!" He never fuss at his boys or nothing. "Oh boys! Swallow now and chew after!"

Milam Thompson – Swallow now and chew after! Can you remember why you wanted to be a cowboy? What made you want to be a cowboy?

Rafael de la Garza – I don't know. I was just born that way, I reckon.

Milam Thompson – Was you ever on one of them cattle drives?

Rafael de la Garza – Cattle drives? No.

Milam Thompson – You never was on one. But you do remember…

Rafael de la Garza – My grandpa went.

Milam Thompson – Is that right?

Rafael de la Garza - He went to Kansas, but I never did went. I don't know how many times he went. I don't know. They take 'em six or eight months to go and come. He was with the crowd when they killed a man with a axe; hit him in the head. He told me he was with a herd of steers that stampeded and got away. And the owner of the steers the next morning was eating breakfast and got an axe and knocked that, his bosses head out – his brains out. Said brains fell in the plates of some of 'em; the plates that were around. Some of 'em run off, left them. My grandpa left and come back. And he didn't know what come up.


Now they say “watch out for the germs.” I’ve drunk water out of a hog wallow. Sick? I didn’t know what that was. I’d drink water out of the lake along with the cattle.

Cryin' For Daylight: Ranching Culture in the Texas Coastal Bend