A Cowboy’s Story: Fred Holister

November 19 , 2017 Update from the original October 26, 2017 post:

Thank you, Kathy Maestas, for the paintings of Fred and Fannie Holister (see below) it makes the story of this cowboy so much better!

Fred Holister Fred Holister

Original October 27 Post:

I stopped by to see my Uncle Harold today and took him a copy of this post. He shared a story that had been told about Fred who was getting up in years during the time frame when Uncle H was a boy growing up in Vilas. Apparently, Fred was at the pool hall in Vilas when a disagreement came about. Whoever the disagreement was with told him “If you weren’t an old man I’d give you a whipping you won’t forget. Fred’s reply…..”Don’t let a few gray hairs get in the way of your courage” Just a feeling, but I do have a feeling he could back up those words!

I was visiting with my Uncle Harold Brooks a while back about some of the old stories I have been digging up.  He asked me if I had seen anything on Fred Hollister who lived and ranched near Vilas.  I hadn’t at that point, but this tale has evolved as many of these tales evolve.   When someone mentions a name I then know to watch out for related material.  Hidden in an old notebook at the Baca County Museum was a handwritten story about…Fred Holister.  

I will mostly stick to the biography but I do have a few comments related to this narrative.  Here are things to think about as you read:

  • There is no credit for who wrote the bio.
  • In 1882 this was still Las Animas County Colorado.  Baca County wasn’t established until 1889).
  • It appears that this would have been written in about 1940ish.  The time he came to Colorado from Iowa and the age at which he began working for the JJ did not make sense to me. Maybe someone has some thoughts on this?
  • The old National Trail in the bio never actually happened.  Cows may have been driven that route but officially it was a proposal. You can read more here and here.National Trail Proposed Route
  • Fred is in the Cowboy Funeral Picture below.   The Cowboy that drowned is identified differently in some of Ike Osteen’s work (George Brenton vs George Brennan in the clipping below) However I think it is likely the same person as the time correlates and the first name is the same.  However,  Ike does comment that Fred was on another crew when a cowboy drowned.  That story would line up with this biography but confuses the story of the Cowboy Funeral picture.Fred Holister pants in boots
  • Here is what Ike said about Hollister in his work where he identified the cowboys in the cowboy funeral picture,

“Fred Hollister (TH) was working for Tom Godwin at the time this photo was taken Fred was an old timer; worked for most all cattle companies and trailed cattle to Montana for the OX; married and settled down on a ranch near Vilas Colorado.  Was loved by everyone; is buried in Boston Colorado cemetery by the side of his wife and son.  We was wagon boss on another roundup when a cowboy drowned, and they had to tie rocks on their ropes to drag his body out.  (In this picture Fred Hollister is the only cowboy with his pants tucked into his boots)

Fred Hollister Bio around 1940:

Biography of Fred Holister

Fred Hollister was born November 26, 1857 in Shellsburg Iowa, located about 12 miles south of Cedar Rapids.  In 1882 he came to Baca County as a cowboy for the commissioners of this county.  Fred tells of several big cattle drives from Texas to the North, several of which followed the old National Trail.  

At the age of 12 Mr. Hollister started working for the J.J. Ranch, the largest ranch in the early days.  They once owned 90,000 head of cattle.  He also worked for the famous 101 Ranch, probably the oldest and and most up-to-date ranch today.

Mr. Hollister at the age of 43, tired of eating his own cooking met pretty Fannie Nefitt of Metcalf, Oklahoma and was married to her July 8, 1900.  

Mr. Hollister relates several interesting happenings while riding for different cattle companies. While working for the OK Cattle Company, Fred and Well Metcalf helped drive a herd of cattle over the National Trail, starting at San Antonio and ending in the Black Hills of the Dakotas.  This trail passed through the strip of land known as “No Man’s Land”, now a part of Oklahoma

This tract of land was occupied by the outlaws and desperados of several states.  

These men ran what might be termed as a toll gate entering and leaving Oklahoma.  

Cattle that was brought through were charged 5 cents a head when entering and a guarantee of protection through this “Land without a law”.  However, at the other side they were charged 3 cents for leaving, making a total of 8 cents to cross the “Land without a law”.

Those who didn’t wish to pay this toll either went  187 miles out of the way to get around it or took a chance of getting through unharmed, however, either of these methods was a step toward death, or a loss of several head of cattle.

Probably most of us today when talking with an old timer either ask, or want to ask, did you ever kill anyone or see anyone killed in a gun battle?  Mr. Hollister did give us two instances of death during roundups, however, he was only boss of the gang and not really mixed up in the trouble.

One was of a cowboy named Johnnie Gipson of the ZH and Bud Thomas of the OX.  These two men were assigned to ride together in the fall roundup.  Bud asked Fred to be assigned with someone else on the grounds that he and Gipson were not getting along any too well.  Fred made the changes and gave Thomas a new horse to ride in exchange for his horse who was a poor one and really the cause of Gipson and Thomas trouble.   As Thomas led the horse by Gipson, Gipson made the remark he would hate to work for a company and not own his own mount.

They exchanged a few curse words and Thomas threatened to kill Gipson before night.  Reaching into his shirt where he generally kept his shoulder holster he advanced toward Thomas, after drawing his gun and commanding him to stop Thomas shot, missing him purposely.  However, Gipson came on, Thomas fired again, this time killing him dead.

Gipson’s gun and holster were later found in his blanket, Gipson was killed merely trying to stage a bluff.

Rather than stand trial, Thomas carried out the old western custom and left the country.

The other incident was one of cowboy that fell from a falling horse into a lake of water and drowned.  

Mr. Hollister, now a resident of Vilas and eighty-three years, still get itchy feet when he sees a large herd of cattle.  

Anyone doubting this biography should interview Mr. Holister.

News clipping from a September 5, 1891, issue of the Aspen Weekly times describing the drowning of George Brennan.  I left the other parts of this clipping as there are a few tidbits from nearby areas such as La Junta.
George Brennan Drowning Aspen Weekly Times September 5, 1891

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