Pierce, Abel Head [Shanghai] (1834–1900)

By: Chris Emmett

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 13, 2018

Abel Head (Shanghai) Pierce, cattle raiser, the son of Jonathan and Hanna (Head) Pierce, was born on June 29, 1834, at Little Compton, Rhode Island. He had a few winters' schooling in a one-room school at Little Compton before 1848 or 1849 when he was sent to St. Petersburg, Virginia, to serve a quasi-apprenticeship in the general merchandise business of his uncle, Abel Head. In June 1854 young Pierce stowed away on a schooner bound for Indianola, Texas. Discovered, he was put to work handling cargo. He landed first at Indianola and then at Port Lavaca where he met Richard Grimes and went to work on the Grimes ranch splitting rails. Pierce soon began to acquire his own cattle which he registered and branded AP. He served in Augustus C. Buchel's Confederate cavalry during the Civil War, returned to find his holdings evaporated, but continued in the cattle business, branding on the open range. He married Fanny Lacey, daughter of William D. Lacey, on September 27, 1865. They had two children. Pierce and his brother, Jonathan E. Pierce, organized a partnership and established the Rancho Grande on the Tres Palacios River in Wharton County in 1871. The town of Pierce in Wharton County was named for them. The Pierces branded a B originally, then BB, then UU, and finally D. Later partnerships of various types were formed with J. M. Foster, Allen and Poole, B. Q. Ward, and Daniel Sullivan.

After some difficulties in Matagorda County and the death of his wife and infant son, Pierce converted his cattle into gold and went to Kansas for an eighteen-month stay. Back in Texas, he began buying land until he acquired 250,000 acres and formed the Pierce-Sullivan Pasture Company of which he was president. The company sent thousands of cattle up the northern trails and shipped thousands by rail. In his efforts to solve the mystery of Texas fever, Pierce experimented in removing ticks and concluded that the ticks caused the fever. He toured Europe in search of a breed of cattle immune to ticks, and returned without a definite solution but with the conviction that Brahman cattle were most likely to be immune. In 1875 he married Hattie James. In the early 1890s he commissioned sculptor Frank Teich to create a marble statue of himself. A 6'5" likeness was eventually placed atop a ten-foot granite pilaster which was itself mounted on a ten-foot piece of gray granite. The structure later marked his grave. In 1900 Pierce lost more than $1.25 million in the Galveston hurricane of 1900, in a bank failure, and in the purchase of the Gulf Island Railroad. On December 26, 1900, he died from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was buried in Hawley Cemetery near Bay City. After his death the Pierce estate imported Brahman cattle from India which furnished Texas with the base stock from which large herds of Brahmans have grown.

Abel Head Pierce Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Galveston Daily News, December 26, 1900. Houston Post, November 28, 1943, March 26, 1944.


  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Cowboys and Cowgirls
  • Rodeo Personalities

Time Periods:

  • Reconstruction

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

Chris Emmett, “Pierce, Abel Head [Shanghai],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 26, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/pierce-abel-head-shanghai.

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September 13, 2018