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Texas Trails: Two Thrifty Texans

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Aug. 9, 2012 - The popular image of the freewheeling, free-spending Texas millionaire persists because it's true enough most of the time to give it some staying power. But it's not universal. Texas had its share of the rich and miserly variety, too.

One was Milton Faver, who established himself the first cattle baron of Presidio County, in the mid 1800s. Faver was interested in money when he was the payee, but as the payer he preferred to deal in squash, beans and other valuables from the garden. If you did business with Milton Faver you paid in gold or silver coin or you did business with someone else, and there wasn't anybody else to do business with except for bands of Apache warriors whose negotiation tactics were notoriously brutal.

If you bought cattle from Milton Faver you paid for each individual cow -- in gold or silver only -- as it came through the chute.

Faver eventually established his headquarters in the beautiful but harsh Chinati Mountains in Presidio County and bought tracts around the area's three major springs -- Cibolo, Cienega and La Morita. He built irrigation canals to grow vegetables and lots and lots of peaches. He bought a 50-gallon still -- paying who-knows-what -- and turned those peaches into a cash crop and a bargaining tool. Many a prospective business partner was plied with that brandy as deals were made.

Faver paid his Mexican workers 12.5 cents a day, which was considered an extremely poor wage, even then. The Trans-Pecos eventually got rail service, but Faver always took a horse and buggy wherever he went, even if it was hundreds of miles away and right on the rail line. His old ranch -- more of a fort, really -- is now the site of the Cibolo Creek Ranch, where people pay considerably more than 12.5 cents a day to stay and rough it in the wilds of West Texas. They don't have to pay in gold or silver coin, either.

Elizabeth Johnson Williams, usually called Lizzie, was another Texan with a reputation for pinching pennies. Lizzie's family founded and ran the Johnson Institute in Hays County. Lizzie was educated there and at Chappell Hill Female College in Washington County. Her first teaching job was back home at the Institute where she proved to be a stern and unrelenting taskmaster. At a time when "spare the rod, spoil the child" was something akin to the law of the land, Lizzie was reprimanded for what is described as her "harsh treatment of a German boy."

Lizzie moved to Lockhart, where she taught school and several local cattlemen hired her to keep their books, a chore most of them detested and one that Lizzie taught and relished. Applying her own exacting standards to the cattle business, she learned how the business worked and how to make it work for her. She invested money in cattle stocks and earned some outrageous profits -- as much as 300 percent in one case.

When Lizzie fell in love with and married Hezekiah G. Williams, the couple signed a prenuptial agreement stating that Hezekiah was entitled to nothing she had earned prior to the marriage, but she made up for it by adding that he wasn't entitled to anything she made after the marriage, either. Any money he borrowed had to be paid back. Perhaps their hearts were one, but their bank accounts were separate.

Lizzie is known as the "Cattle Queen of Texas" and is noted for making the trip up the Chisholm Trail with a herd of her cattle, keeping a sharp eye on the cattle and logging the exact number of hours that each cowboy worked. They didn't get overtime pay.

Though she was as tight-fisted in her own way as Faver, Lizzie didn't mind spending thousands of dollars at a time for jewelry and clothes, nor was she averse to appearing in public attired in gold, diamonds and the latest fashion items from abroad. She and Hezekiah traveled widely.

When Hezekiah got himself kidnapped while the couple was in Havana and the kidnappers demanded $50,000 for his safe return, Lizzie gladly paid the ransom and the couple was happily reunited. Speculation that Hezekiah really did get himself kidnapped as a way to get some money of his own has always been a part of the story, but it remains speculation.

When Hezekiah died and Lizzie was presented with the $600 bill for his burial she scrawled, "I loved this old buzzard this much" across the bill. Lizzie took Hezekiah's death hard and became an extreme miser and recluse. She paid little attention to her appearance and was sometimes offered financial assistance by strangers who assumed she was a poor old destitute woman.

After her death, it was discovered that her estate was worth more than a quarter of a million dollars and included real estate holdings in six counties. She left no will. The lawyers were surprised, but Hezekiah wouldn't have been.

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