SHANGHAI PIERCE, A FAIR LIKENESS

It is unusual for a cattleman to come to Texas as a stowaway on a ship.  But that is exactly how 19-year-old Abel Head Pierce made his way to Port Lavaca in 1854.  Discovered when the ship reached the high seas, he earned his passage by mopping the deck and hauling cargo at ports-of-call along the six-month journey.

Soon after landing with only the clothes on his back and seventy-five cents in the pocket of his too-short britches, Pierce met William Bradford Grimes, “the most important cattleman in the region.”  Grimes hired the greenhorn to split rails, apparently thinking the six foot-four giant with the booming Yankee accent needed to learn some lessons about the cattle business.  Immediately Pierce informed his new employer that he wanted to be paid at the end of the year in cows and calves because he planned to go into the cattle business.

Pierce set about his work on the ranch with industry, rising early, and quickly taking on other responsibilities.  In his eagerness to prepare for his future as a cattleman, Pierce hired a blacksmith to forge his own brand and then proudly showed the “AP” to Grimes.  Chris Emmett in his delightful book, Shanghai Pierce: A Fair Likeness, says at the end of the year, when time came for payment, Grimes “cut four old cows and three scrawny calves from the run of range cattle….” As winter set it, the cows died, leaving Pierce with only the calves to show for a year of work.  Grimes bragged that he gave Pierce his “first degree in the cattle business.”

The origin of the moniker “Shanghai,” claims an unclear pedigree.  Glorying in his self-appointed image as a storyteller and entertainer, he relished an audience whether gathered around a campfire among cowboys or in later years among dignitaries.  At times he alluded to school days in Rhode Island when “Shanghai” was a fighting word.  Then he claimed it became a “brand of distinction.”  He said, “I do not have time to fight everybody who wants to fight me.  If I take that much time off I will not have time to take their money away from them.” His nephew said in later years that he “looked so much like the long-necked, long-legged rooster from Shanghai that they named him after his counterpart.”  Chris Emmett tells of another version, usually whispered, “came because he ‘shanghaied’ so many people out of their property.”  He often made fun of his size by claiming he was born in Rhode Island, but the state got too small for him. When he lay down, his head landed in the lap of somebody in Massachusetts and his feet bothered someone in Connecticut.

Shanghai did not leave Grimes’ employ when Grimes cheated him out of his first year’s pay.  Instead, he stayed on to work for the richest cattlemen in South Texas.  Shanghai rounded up mavericks and branded them for Grimes at $1 a head.  He told a fellow cowboy at the end of the year, “I’m damn glad he [Grimes] didn’t ask me whose branding iron I used this year.”  That spelled the beginning of Shanghai Pierce’s cattle acquisitions.

At the end of the Civil War, when some of the men bragged about their accomplishments and tried to tease Shanghai about being the regimental butcher, he boasted:  “By God, Sir; I was all the same as a major general: always in the rear on advance, always in the lead on retreat.”

After the war, when the only profit from beef lay in hides and tallow (the carcasses were fed to the hogs or thrown away), he went into the slaughter business. Finally, Shanghai Pierce became one of the first to drive a herd along the Chisholm Trail to market in Abilene, Kansas.  He quickly proved to be a cunning and able businessman, eventually acquiring up to 35,000 head of cattle and 250,000 south Texas acres.

In 1881, when the railroad came through his land Shanghai dreamed of Pierce’s Station becoming the county seat.  He did not get his wish, but he found another interest.  He wrote the railroad asking that two cars of lumber be deadheaded at Pierce because: “I am pioneering in another matter.  I am trying to introduce religion in the community.”  He ordered pews and a pulpit.  Shanghai proudly showed the new facility to all visitors.  One gentleman asked, “Colonel Pierce, do you belong to that church?”  “Hell, no!” Pierce shouted.  “The church belongs to me.”

Shanghai believed ticks caused fever in cattle and, after touring Europe, he decided Brahman cattle were immune to ticks because “’Bremmers’ sweated and the ticks fell off, and the cattle got fat thereafter.”  After his death in 1900, his estate imported Brahmans from India, beginning a new cattle industry for Texas.

During Shanghai’s European tour, the fine statuary caught his attention, and upon his return he commissioned a marble statue of himself created by sculptor Frank Teich.  They agreed on payment of the $2,250 commission only if Shanghai felt satisfied that the statue represented a fair likeness of himself.  As workmen placed the life-size marble statue atop a ten-foot granite pilaster, mounted on another ten-foot piece of gray granite, Pierce sat with a friend watching the finishing touches.  A small black boy approached the statue and after walking round and round the figure and looking again and again at Shanghai, the boy said, “Mr. Shanghai, that sure does look like you up there.”

“Ugh, by God.” Shanghai snorted.  “I’ll take it.”

Shanghai Pierce died on December 26, 1900, from a cerebral hemorrhage and was buried beneath his massive likeness.

World Renowned Sculptor in Texas

When most people think of Texas in the late 19th Century, they think of cattle drives and stage coaches, one-room schoolhouses and dirt roads.  They think of saloons, not salons.  But there is more to the story.

Long before anyone heard the phrase “women’s libber” Elisabet Ney fit the mold.  Born in Münster, Westphalia, in 1833, she grew up helping her father, a stonecutter who fashioned statuary and gravestones.  At nineteen, certain that she could become a portrait sculptor and “meet the great persons of the world,” she finally convinced her parents to allow her to enroll as the first female to study at the Academy of Arts in Munich.  After graduating at the top of her class, she went on to study in Berlin with Christian Daniel Rauch, Germany’s greatest living sculptor.  Rauch introduced Ney to the artistic and elite in Europe’s social and political world. Her talent and charm led to friendships with Europe’s notables who in turn opened the door for her to meet others.  The reclusive philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer agreed to sit for Ney and was so pleased with his portrait and with their conversations that he wrote a series of letters about “the incomparable Ney”.  She developed friendships with “great persons of the world,” and gained fame for her portraits  such as King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Otto von Bismarck, and Giuseppe Garibaldi.

After a ten-year courtship, she finally agreed to marry Dr. Edmund Montgomery, a Scottish physician who shared her idealist vision of a world of peace and beauty.  For the rest of her life she called Montgomery her “best friend.”  The two dreamers, looking for a utopia, settled for a couple of years in Georgia before moving with their two little boys to Texas in 1872.  They bought Liendo a 1,100-acre former slave plantation about 50 miles northwest of Houston.  Here they planned an idyllic life of Montgomery continuing his scientific research; Ney running the plantation and raising their children in an artistic and scientific environment away from the temptations and influences of contemporary life.  Ney often said she gave up her career to “sculpt flesh and blood.”

Things didn’t work out quite like they planned.  The oldest boy died and over time the other child began resenting his mother’s controls.  Further, “Miss Ney,” as she insisted on being called, shocked her neighbors in the rural community by trying to help the area freedmen change their lifestyle, by refusing to say she was married, by wearing bloomer-like britches, and by riding about the plantation like a man astride her horse.

After twenty years struggling to make a success of the plantation, Miss Ney answered a request to execute statues of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston for the Texas Exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  She moved to Austin, the state’s capital city, and built Formosa, a small, classically styled limestone studio reminiscent of a Greek temple.

Formosa became the social center for culture in Austin.  One friend described the gathering place as a “salon” for serious intellectual conversations, an unusual description in a town better know for its saloons.

The next fifteen years offered the idyllic life for Miss Ney.  She and Dr. Montgomery regularly traveled the 100-miles between Austin and Liendo; he continued his scientific research in the solitude of the plantation; and she pursued her work in the stimulating environment at Formosa.

Her most ideal work, Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, is displayed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art. The Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin statues stand in the Texas State Capitol and in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol.

Upon her death in 1907, she was buried at Liendo where four years later her best friend Dr. Edmund Montgomery was laid beside her.  In 1911 Elisabet Ney’s friends and supporters founded the Texas Fine Arts Association in her honor.  Today, Formosa houses The Ney Museum and 100-piece portrait collection and offers a range of educational programs, lectures, exhibits, and workshops.