Spurs and chaps hold stories for this county cattle rancher
Entering Ernie Deats’ cavernous mid-Galveston County ranch house, one of the first items on view is a pair of spurs displayed on a rustic wooden table among other Western memorabilia and art.
Deats caresses the steel spurs, worn soft and gray from many years of use.
They are collectible, made by Louie “Cowboy” Traylor, an inmate at the state penitentiary at Huntsville, famed for the spurs he crafted while incarcerated. You can tell they’re Traylor’s because they feature a silver quarter on one side and a dime on the other, Deats said.
Deats, a cattle rancher and well-known storyteller who has written several books of fiction closely linked to Galveston County history, heard a story about Traylor spurs from back in the Great Depression, he said. At one point, a man in the area was so desperate for money, he pried the quarter off his spurs to pay for milk for his family.
Deats is quick to give the story a happy ending.
“It worked out good,” he said. “They turned out to be well-off.”
The Traylor spurs are just one pair in Deats’ collection, most of which is mounted on the open rafters adjacent to his living room’s cathedral ceiling.
Some of the spurs he purchased, some were gifts.
“People give ’em to you,” he said. “Here, my daddy wanted you to have these, that kind of thing.”
Deats is a fourth-generation rancher on this land. His great-grandfather settled in rural Galveston County near Dickinson in 1872.
“I’m the last rancher in the Deats family,” he said, looking out to the pasture next to the house at cows ambling slowly by on a foggy morning.
“They had me working cows when I was 6 years old.”
He buys stocker cattle in the fall, keeps them on his 300-plus acres and sells them every spring. He still uses the spurs his father gave him, a simple-looking pair with worn rowels, the spinning part used to prod a horse forward.
“You don’t want ’em to be too sharp,” he said. “You just jab ’em a little in the side. You don’t want to hurt ’em.”
The spur collection is merely a personal interest, not something of great monetary value, he said. He admires the individuality of each pair, crafted by a different spur maker, each their own style.
“Some of ’em are simple, some are flashy ones for show only, something no cowboy in the world would actually wear,” he said.
Most every collectible in Deats’ collection has personal meaning for him, especially a pair of old leather chaps he found in a barn the family was tearing down on their property after Ernie’s father died. He keeps them slung over the banister of the stairs, close at hand.
He holds them up against his legs, faint bloodstains still evident along their length. He tells another story.
“When we found these, my mama reached down in the pocket and found a handkerchief of my daddy’s down in there,” he said. “She pulled it up to her face and took a breath and just started crying.”