Texas history is packed with people who braved its ambiguous areas and carved out a name for themselves. Shanghai Pierce was certainly one of these characters; an implant from Rhode Island, he became well-known with Texas ranching.
Born on June 29, 1834, Abel Head Pierce had many great pioneers in his lineage so it should have been no surprise when he set out on his own at age 19 by stowing away on a ship docked in the New York harbor. He worked onboard for his passage, then arrived in Indianola, Texas five months later, sans money or a job. While working as a ranch hand for W. B. Grimes, Pierce became an expert on cattle operations, as well as its gaps. This knowledge led to his own cattle empire.
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The origin of Pierce’s nickname is unknown, although it is often cited as his close resemblance to a Shanghai rooster with long, skinny legs and subsequent short pants. When he wore spurs, apparently the likeness increased dramatically. Such a nickname did not affect his ego, however. He commissioned his own gravesite statue long before his end in order to appreciate it. Shanghai Pierce also founded and named a town after himself. Once called Pierce’s Station, now Pierce, this establishment was a failed attempt to move the county seat.
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Often reviled for his ruthlessness and extreme frugality, Shanghai Pierce was not always the most popular person. According to tales, Pierce once spotted one of his cows branded with the lettering “AHP is a SOB.” The insult didn’t bother him much, in fact, he kept the steer, saying it was solid advertisement. Pierce died on December 26, 1900, and is buried near his statue in the Old Hawley Cemetery. Nine months later, his remaining operations suffered in the wake of the horrific hurricane which destroyed Galveston.