Trail Drivers, Cowboys, Merchants, and Ranchers
Descendants of Thomas Bailey Saunders (1816-1902) of Texas

The Sanders of Randolph and Montgomery have many branches of the family tree around the country, including several in Texas, but the descendants of Thomas Bailey Saunders have an especially storied place in the annals of cowboy traditions, stock raising and ranching in Texas. This history began in 1850 when Thomas Bailey Saunders and his wife Emily Harper Saunders moved their family in an ox driven wagon from Yalobusha County, Misssissippi, to Gonzales County, Texas, taking a small herd of cattle with them. The family settled at Rancho in Gonzales County until 1859 when they moved to a ranch on Lost Creek in Goliad County, remaining there until 1880, and then moved to eastern Bexar County about four miles from the town of Sayers and seventeen miles from downtown San Antonio to a place that eventually became known as Saunders Station because it was on the Gulf Shore Railroad.  The couple had eleven children in all, most of whom were active in ranching, farming, cattle driving, and related business activities.  Thomas B. Saunders remained a cattleman all his life and his family became increasingly properous as he took advantage of the growth of the industry when the big cattle drives expanded after the Civil War.

Thomas Bailey Saunders was born October 9, 1816, the son of Nimrod Saunders and Mary Elizabeth Ricketts. Although some accounts state that he was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, it appears more likely he was born in Montgomery County, North Carolina, where his parents were living at the time. Four Sanders brothers, including Thomas Bailey's grandfather William Aaron Saunders,  had moved to the Randolph/Montgomery area of North Carolina from Virginia just before the Revolutionary War. Thomas Bailey's  father Nimrod Saunders owned a grist mill and was known as "Honest Rod."  Nimrod and Mary Elizabeth had fifteen children, born between 1803 and 1829.  In the 1830s many of the Sanders (or Saunders as the name was alternatively spelled) living in Randolph and Montgomery counties in North Carolina moved to Alabama to take advantage of the opening of Cherokee Indian lands for white settlement. Many moved to Jackson County in the northeastern part of the state but Nimrod and his family settled first in Cherokee County, Georgia, and then moved to Cherokee County, Alabama, where he and his wife died at some point between 1860 and 1870. Their son Thomas Bailey Saunders married Emily Harper on August 25, 1841 in Jefferson County, Alabama, and then moved to Yalobusha County, Mississippi, and remained there until the relocation to Texas.

Thomas Bailey Saunders' middle name of Bailey was taken from the maiden name of his grandmother, Joan Bailey. Thomas Bailey stated in a letter written in the late 1890s that his grandmother was from the "famous old Bailey family of Virginia." Evidently, he was quite proud of his Bailey family heritage, though no one today seems to know what the Baileys were supposed to be famous for or even which of the many Bailey families in Virginia was associated with the Saunders family. As they spread out from their ancestral home in North Carolina to Alabama other states, many of the Saunders cousins of Thomas Bailey Saunders switched to the more simplified spelling of "Sanders" rather than "Saunders," but TBS and his children and descendants almost invariably retained the "u" in the surname.  Thomas Bailey Saunders was not the first of his line to come to Texas. His second cousin, William Hamilton Sanders, had arrived in East Texas in 1835, and several other cousins were in the state before the Civil War. Thomas Bailey Saunders, however, was the family member who moved the farthest west, to "cattle country."

One of his sons, George Washington Saunders (1854-1933), expanded his interests far beyond those of a cowboy, rancher, or stockman. On his tenth birthday his father gave him ten catttle of his own and by 1871, he was driving cattle to Kansas as part of a thriving business. He later served as a deputy sheriff and organized a livestock commission business which grossed over five million dollars a year and which continued to operate until 1958, enabling him to acquire considerable land holdings and several ranches. He was a civic leader in San Antonio who served on the city council and other public boards and committees and promoted many public improvements. He corresponded with many notable people of the day, such as the humorist Will Rogers, Queen Marie of Romania, and the sculptor of Mount Rushmore Gutzon Borglum. He was instrumental in organizing the Trail Drivers Association of Texas and in publishing a book of memoirs by elderly trail drivers which remains a classic to this day.  

George Washington's brother, William David Harris Saunders, wrote an article in that book The Trail Drivers of Texas in which he gave a brief biography of his own life: "I was born in Yalobusha County, Mississippi, March 1, 1845, and came to Texas with my parents in 1850, locating in Gonzales County. Although quite small at that time, I remember when crossing the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, a fire started on the boat and there was great excitement on board. The passengers succeeded in extinguishing the fire before it gained much headway. We moved to Goliad County in 1859. I was married June 27, 1866, to Miss Annie New in Bee County, Texas. To us were born twelve children, eleven of whom are yet living. I was engaged in the mercantile business in Bee County several years, later moving to Sayers, Bexar County, in 1884, where I was postmaster and merchant for twenty years."

Of the twelve children of William David Harris Saunders and Anne New, one was born September 23, 1872, and named Thomas after his uncle, Thomas Bailey Sanders. However, although the middle initial of the younger Thomas was "B," it it not at all certain that his middle name was "Bailey."  He was generally regarded as "Tom B. Saunders II by everyone in the family, but his World War I draft registration card has his middle name as "Boney" which was the middle name of his maternal grandfather, James Boney New.

At any rate, Thomas B. Saunders II(1872-1929) carried forward the family involvement in the cattle business. He moved from San Antonio to Fort Worth and started a cattle dealing business at the Fort Worth Stockyards, a business that continued for seventy-five years. At one time he operated ranches in four different counties and by World War I was reported to be the largest cattle dealer in the United States. He and his wife Harriet Jane Straw had only two children, one of whom is the third Thomas B. Saunders.

Tom B. Saunders III's  birth record in 1906 in Tarrant County, Texas, doesn't give his middle name, but he always maintained that his middle name was Bailey. Like his namesakes, he carried on the family business at the Fort Worth Stockyards and he was involved in ranching operations in several counties near Fort Worth. He was one of the founders of the National Cutting Horse Association and served as its president. He also developed an interest in genealogy and conducted extensive correspondence by typewriter in those pre-Internet days trying to find out more about his Saunders ancestors. The letter written by his great grandfather Thomas Bailey Sanders I in the 1890s was his starting point but he also worked with some of the research material provided a generation earlier by Silvie Escat Saunders who was married to George Allen Saunders, a grandson of the first Thomas Bailey Saunders. She had been interested in preserving family genealogical records since she married into the family in 1902. Oddly, neither Tom B. Saunders III  nor Syvie Saunders seems to have delved very deeply into the genealogy of the Reverend Moses Sanders who was well known to Sanders genealogists and was the great-uncle of the first Thomas Bailey Saunders.

Tom B Saunders III married Virginia Lines Poindexter in 1931 in Tarrant County, Texas and they had two children: Anne, who married Jim Calhoun, a well-known rancher and cowboy; and Thomas Bailey Saunders IV. The fourth Tom B. continued the family tradition of involvement in the cattle business, beginning as a youngster driving cattle to the scales in the Fort Worth Stockyards.  After graduating from Oklahoma State University, he went into business with his brother-in-law, Jim Calhoun, and they later operated cattle leases of over 30,000 acres in Parker, Tarrant, Johnson, and Mason counties. He was a director of the Southwestern Cattle Raisers for many years and has served as a director of the Fort Worth Stockyards for nearly forty years. With the photographer David Stocklein, he was the author ofThe Texas Cowboys: cowboys of the Lone Star State which was named one of the best coffee table books of 1997. He and his wife, Ann Osborne Saunders, worked to preserve the western and cowboy heritage of their family, the community, and the state of Texas. Tom B. Saunders IV died on February 1, 2018.

The son of Tom B. IV and Ann Osborne is the fifth Thomas B. Saunders. He has spent his entire adult life in ranching in Parker County, Texas, specializing in training horses. His company provides cast and stunt animals for TV and movies from his headquarters in the Twin V Ranch of Parker County, established by his grandfather in 1929. Tom B. Saunders' wife Lynn Hay Saunders also comes from a family with a ranching tradition, as she is the second great granddaughter of the legendary rancher William Thomas Waggoner.

--Gary B. Sanders
January 31, 2015   

Other links of interest:

Fort Worth Stockyards

Handbook of Texas article on George Washington Saunders

Trail Drivers Association of Texas

The Trail Drivers of Texas, by J. Marvin Hunter and George W. Saunders

Saunders Park in Fort Worth, Texas

Tom B. Saunders papers at Texas Christian University

Historical Marker honoring Tom B. Saunders family

Find a Grave Memorials:

Nimrod Saunders, 1780-1860

Thomas Bailey Saunders I, 1816-1902

Emily Harper Saunders, 1824-1898

William David Harris Saunders, 1845-1922

Annie New Saunders, 1845-1924

George Washington Saunders, 1854-1933

Thomas B. Saunders II, 1872-1929

Harriet Jane Straw Saunders, 1875-1937

George Allen Saunders, 1881-1942

Thomas Bailey Saunders III, 1906-1974

Virginia Lines Poindexter Saunders, 1911-2007

Tom B. Saunders IV, 1934-2018

Thomas B. Saunders IV:

"Tom B.--Still Ridin' the Brand"
Fort Worth Magazine, January 2010

The Texas Cowboys: cowboys of the Lone Star State, by David Stocklein and Tom B. Saunders

Thomas B. Saunders V and Saunders Twin V Ranch:

Bigote Productions

Waggoner Ranch of Texas:

Official Web site
Handbook of Texas article
Wikipedia article

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Map of Texas in 1844 at top of page courtesy of Rootsweb..  Other gaphics by Cari Buziak.