Hide and Tallow Trade

By: Hortense Warner Ward

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: February 1, 1995

Hide and tallow factories flourished on the Texas coast, particularly in Aransas County, from 1840 to 1880, but chiefly from the Mexican War to 1875. Those in existence before 1845 were of negligible importance. An English firm, Jones and Company, did business at Liberty Landing in 1840, about the same time that Richard Grimes and his son, Bradford, had another packery on Trespalacios Creek in Matagorda County.

During the Mexican War and the Civil War herds of cattle and horses roamed untended upon the coastal prairies. By 1865 they represented the war-ravaged Southwest's only negotiable medium, but transportation difficulties and lack of markets made shipment of stock unprofitable. The cattlemen discovered the eastern market for hides, bones, tallow, and horns, items then far more valuable than the animal on the hoof. No shipping difficulties were involved, since transportation was by water. Every cattleman of any importance soon built a factory to process not only his own herds but those of smaller ranchers. Rockport and Fulton were the centers of greatest activity.

Carcasses of hundreds of thousands of cattle and mustangs were reduced to tallow in the great boilers. Hides were cured and shipped east with the bones and horns. Occasionally attempts were made to preserve some of the meat, but lack of refrigeration made this part of the business impractical, although factories, at times, were referred to as packeries. By 1870 the factories were slaughtering thousands of head of stock every month, and newspapers carried warnings to cattlemen that their herds were in danger of depletion. Nature took a hand to end the uncontrolled slaughter. The winters of 1872 and 1873 were of unprecedented severity, and thousands of cattle died. Hide peelers added to the destruction by despoiling the diminishing herds. The slaughter continued unabated, however, until 1875, when it was apparent that there were no more heavy cattle to supply the boilers. Many factories were abandoned and left to fall into ruin, though some continued operation on a small scale until 1880. By 1991 production had revived, and Texas exported tallow and lard valued at $68.6 million. Cattle were also included in the $237 million earned in the hide and skin export business.

Cattleman, February 1948. C. L. Douglas, Cattle Kings of Texas (Dallas: Baugh, 1939; rpt., Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1968).


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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Hortense Warner Ward, “Hide and Tallow Trade,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hide-and-tallow-trade.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995