Focus on the Backroads » Photo Journeys

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    There is approximately 50,000 miles of Interstate Highway in the United States.....filled with cars traveling at an average of 75 miles an hour. Several years ago I began driving the BACKROADS throughout Texas and the surrounding states - discover many fascinating places and people. While traveling "off the beaten path" I have tried to capture the spirit of these forgotten roads in photographs.

    After sharing some of these journeys with folks I have met I've been encouraged to document my travels.........I invite you to FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS!

    "To often......I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen"
    Louis L'Amour


The Texas Longhorn should be named the “official animal of the Texas Backroad”.  The long cattle drives during the 1800’s when millions of cattle were herded northward from Texas defines to most the “old west”.  J Frank Dobie , wrote in his 1941 classic, The Longhorns, that the Chisholm Trail, from Texas to Kansas; “initiated the most fantastic and fabulous migration of animals controlled by man that the world has ever known or can ever know”.  Without  the Longhorns  and these drives the cowboy probably would not have become a folk hero.

In the late 1400’s cattle were introduced to North America by Spanish conquistadors who were searching for gold.  These Spanish explorers turned their cattle loose on islands in the Caribbean.  On their own they grew larger and wild.  They thrived growing heavy boned, skinny, and swift.  Their long horns provided offensive and defensive protection.  Soon they developed  a keen cleverness and a fiery temper.

In the 1500’s  as Spanish explorers set sail whey brought with them herds of cattle to have beef while on their expeditions.  These explorers held to the Castilian tradition that grass was a gift of nature and did not fence in their herds.  Many of these cattle wandered off and joined the wild population.  In the 1800’s, early American settlers to the Texas Territories, at that time a part of Mexico, primarily raised European breeds of cattle including English Longhorns.  The Texas Longhorn resulted from the accidental crossbreeding of the these wild  cattle, descendants of the cattle left from earlier explorers and the cows of early American settlers.  The Texas Longhorn was easily identifiable as a wild, ornery, multicolored bovine weighing up to 1,500 pounds with a horn spread of 4 to 7 feet.

The Longhorn had few enemies.  Native Indians did not hunt them, they preferred to hunt buffalo which were tamer and easier to kill.  They also preferred the buffalo meat and found more uses for the buffalo hides and bones.  Other predators, such as wolves were shied away from the mean and deadly Longhorns.  On the other hand, anglo Americas preferred beef over the buffalo meat – creating a large market for early cattlemen.  During a cows life time she would usually have about 12 calves providing a steady supply for this market.

During the Civil War, the unattended Longhorns flourished and by 1865 somewhere between 5 to 6 million Longhorns resided in Texas,  most were wilded and unbranded.  Confederate veterans who had returned from the war began to build up herd by branding these unmarked cattle.  At that time a steer was worth about $4.00 in Texas.  In meat-packing  towns in the North, such as Chicago and Cincinnati that same animal would sell for about $40.00.  The only issue was how to get the steers to these markets.  In 1866 more than 25,000 steers were driven from Texas toward Kansas and Missouri, but because of disease and cow thieves many did not make it..  In 1867, Abilene, Kansas, which was the railhead of the Kansas & Pacific, opened up a major market and became the first of what was know as a “cow town”.  For the next 20 years  cattlemen drove Longhorns along these long trails. A drive would  usually cover about 1,500 miles and take anywhere from 4 to 6 months.  Long hours, brutal conditions, and very dangerous work, mostly in a saddle.  This work appealed to a certain type of man – The American Cowboy.  These cowboys would earn about $30.00 a month.

A trail drive often resulted in a lot of money for the cattle owner.  A steer sold for about $40.00 and the trail expenses were about $1.00 a head.  The average drive was 2,000 head.  One of the largest recorded herds to leave Texas was in 1869 with 15,000 head.  A lot of money was being made and a large amount of beef was being exported to Europe.  Investors from England and Scotland started to buy up American ranches as investments.  They soon were introducing  their black Angus and white faced Herefords.  These were beefier cows.  They also brought in their Shorthorns to upgrade herds of Longhorns – Shorthorns were meatier and the Longhorns were hardier.  This cross resulted in a more marketable animal.  By the late 1800’s the Texas Longhorn appeared to be on their way to being bred out of existence.  With the end of open range fenced pastures made it more economical to raise breeds that had better beef and the need for self-sufficant cattle was no long a necessity.

In the early 20th century the Texas Longhorns were nearing extinction.  A few Texas ranchers held onto small herds mostly for sentimental reasons, and now these Longhorns are making an exciting come back (hopefully we will be able to say the same thing soon about the UT Longhorns).  These cattle are now in high demand.  As their early ancestors their ease of calving, resistance to diseases and their ability to thrive on poor pastures.  They also provide a meat that is much leaner than many other breeds of cattle.

The most amazing thing about the TEXAS LONGHORN is that it was created entirely by nature.  It became the product of adapting to it’s environment.  It is the only breed in America which, without the aid of man, is truly adapted to America.  J. Frank Dobie  stated in his book, The Longhorns, “had they been registered and regulated, restrained and provided for my man, they would not have been what they were.”

With the power invested by FOCUS ON THE BACKROADS I now declare the TEXAS LONGHORN as the official mascot of this Blog.





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Once this  unique West Texas landmark, Bob’s Oil Well,  was one of the states busiest road-side businesses.  Located at the crossroads of US 70 and TX 70 in Matador, Texas.

Luther “Bob” Robertson, a World War I veteran, moved to Matador in the 1920s and worked as a filling station attendant.  In 1932 he decided to open his own service station.  To draw attention to the station he built a wooden oil derrick over the station.  He replaced the wooden structure with an 84 foot tall steel derrick and included lights, that could be seen for miles.  Bob paid long distant truck drivers to place signs at strategic locations across the nation stating how many miles to Bob’s Oil Well in Matador.  Soon travelers from near and far were visiting.

Robertson enlarged his business to include a grocery store, cafe (next door), garage, and even a small zoo where visitors could see caged rattlesnakes, monkeys, lions, coyotes and a white buffalo.

Bob died in 1947.  His wife, Olga, kept Bob’s open until it closed in 1950’s.  In 2004 it was placed on the Texas endangered building list and a historical marker was placed at the site.

Bob Robertson is one of my new heroes……war veteran, worker, business owner, and a marketing mastermind.

“There is no one road to success – you must find your own route”   Robert Kryonsaki




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In the center of Kent County Texas is Clairemont – the formal county seat and now a ghost town.  Clairemont was established in 1892, located on land owned by R.L. Rhomberg, a local rancher.  The new town was named after his niece, Claire Becker.   The town soon had several stores, a bank, a newspaper, and a hotel.  In December of 1892 post office was granted.  In 1895 a sandstone jail and matching courthouse were constructed.

Cotton, oil, and cattle ranching dominated the economy.  By the 1930’s the population had grown to over 200 citizens.    The population started to decline in the 1950s due to inadequate water source, declining cotton prices, and oil camps relocating to richer fields.  In the early 1950s the courthouse burned.  The post office was closed in 1970.  The population had dwindled to about 15 by the 2000s.

One of the most interesting building still standing in Clairemont is the Kent County Jail.  The iron cells are 12 x 12 feet and about 7 feet high, built inside of the red sandstone building.  This jail was know across West Texas as virtually escape-proof.

It is told that a noted outlaw was on his deathbed at the jail after being shot by a Texas Ranger’s well placed .45 slug.

Tell me who you rode with and where I can find ’em,” the lawman ordered the dying badman

Can you keep a secret?” the outlaw whispered, barely able to speak.

You bet your boots I can” responded the Ranger

So can I” , the outlaw said as he died with his boots on.

When visiting   you better back a sandwich or two – there is no place to grab lunch………but this is definitely a BIG TEXAS STEP into history!




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As you travel the backroads of Texas you will soon realize that the historical soundtrack of these roads is the Fiddle.  Over hundreds of years a distinct style of has evolved now known as  Texas-style fiddling.

The fiddle was brought to America by early colonists.  The earliest recorded fiddle player in the US was John Utie who settled in Virgina in 1620.  Utie was a professional fiddler from England.    As these colonists traveled and settled in other locations they would pack only their necessary possessions –  which if they played the fiddle it was the first thing packed.  In the early 19th century  as many immigrant fiddle players  moved to Texas the roots to what would become know as Texas-style began.  This style of fiddle playing was a blend of Czech and German polka, African-American blues, Mexican music, and other style from  European countries including France, Scotland, and Ireland.  All of the different styles and cultures were present in Texas because of states vast size and the large number of people moving to the territory.

As communities grew, in the mid 1800s a very distinct form of fiddle music began to evolve.  Whenever there were social gathering and events the entertainment would be string bands usually fronted by the fiddle.  The early string bands usually consisted of a fiddle or two, guitar, banjo, and sometimes an accordion.  The musicians would set up anywhere there was room and play while others would listen.

The first recording of Texas style of fiddling was in 1922, a solo performance of “Sally Gooden” by Eck Robertson and “Arkansaw Traveler” played by Robertson and  Henry Gilliland. These two tunes are still played at current day fiddling contest.   Most at the time called it “hillbilly music”.   In the 1930’s the fiddle bands began to transition to western swing bands, vocals were now common and the music’s purpose was more for dancing and entertainment.  Many of these musicians were featured on daily radio programs all across Texas.

Fiddling contest that date back to the 19th century have helped to sustain interest  in Texas style fiddling.  Beginning in the 1950’s records and accounts of the contest were documented.  The greatest influence is that fiddling is generational.  Fiddle players pass this style of music down to their children and grandchildren, lets hope this circle does not get broken!    The fiddle contest is about the only avenue for these musicians to share their skills.  There is no interest by radio or TV networks – unless PBS happens to do a feature.

There are Texas fiddlers that make many sacrifices to preserve this distinctly Texas style of music.  These talented men and women do this out of passion and love.  Many will earn money teaching fiddling or by working as pick up musicians  for western swing or country bands (usually in the background).

If you are unfamiliar with this music I would suggest attending a Fiddling Contest  These events are held throughout Texas.  Believe me, as a “rock and roll” fan – you will be amazed by these extremely talented musicians that are passionate and play because they love the music.  There are not a lot of fiddler groupies and drugs after these performances – just great musicians, cold bear, soda, and possibly some BBQ.

For more information visit The Texas Old Time Fiddlers Association at  Texas Folk Life at


“It’s not a Violin, Dammit!”…………every fiddler that ever lived!




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The 1960’s were the golden age of the TV Western.  Many of the shows were centered around large cattle ranches.  Like other boys, the cowboys on TV were my heroes.  I would often dream of living on the Barkley Ranch, from the Big Valley or the Ponderosa Ranch from Bonanza – alway wanted to be the youngest  Cartwright son.

Ranching has played a major part of the history of Texas.  As early the 1500s wild cattle from ranchos in central Mexico began wandering into territory which is now Texas.  Cattle ranching began in Southern Texas in 1749, when Jose de Escandon, the governor of Nuevo Leon, brought 3,000 settlers and 146 soldiers to settle near the Rio Grande river (at that time known as the Rio Bravo).  These were the first Spanish settlements in the area.  Many Ranchos were established alone the river.  These earlier settlers faced many hardships including the constant attack by hostile indians who also inhabited the area.  The settlers had come from ranching communities in Mexico and were well versed in on raising cattle in similar arid areas.  They also brought many traditions from their Spanish heritage that influenced Texas Ranch life.  These settlements were the birthplace of the American cattle industry.  The ranches grew into settlements, some becoming towns and cities.

The first land grants were long strips of land that began at the river and stretched inland on both sides of the Rio Grande – these were called porciones.   This assured water supply for each of the  landowners.  Ranchers that moved further north into more arid brushy land received very large parcels of land to support there cattle herds.  Ranchers organized their landholdings called haciendas, large estates.  They engaged in many money-making businesses including lumber, raising sheep, farming, and mining.  These hacienda became enclosed communities – large houses were built for the hacendado (ranch owner) and his family.  Most were surrounded by stone wall for protection from the frequent attacks from Comanche and Apache tribes.  The vaqueros (cowboys) and hacienda laborers and their families lived in one room huts called jacales

By the mid-1800’s , cattle ranching had become big business in Texas!  Wealthy cattle barons  like  Charles Goodnight and Richard King were known coast to coast.  The “hired hands”, unlike the tall, rugged, and swaggering cowboys that we saw on the big screen, were young men – white, African American, Hispanic, and sometimes female.  They usually did not own the horse that they rode, but most did own a good saddle which they spent countless hours, both day and night, sitting on.  If they were lucky to get steady work on a ranch they could make what would be equivalent today to about $300.00 a year.  The ranch cowboy spent their day checking and mending fences, branding cattle, and moving cattle to grazing areas and water.  At night they patrolled the ranch for cattle rustlers and wolves.

Many of these early ranches are still exist today including The King Ranch (established in 1853); The Waggoner Ranch (established in 1871); The O’Connor Ranch (established in 1834); The Jones Family Ranches (established in 1897); and many others.

Ranchers today know more about conservation then ranchers in the past.  Drought in the 1950’s forced severe lessons in range management and an awareness of proper stocking rates, rotation grazing, reseeding, and new methods of brush control.  Ranches are not only today still raising livestock many are set aside for recreational and conservation.

If you travel the backroads of Texas you are aware of the many ranches scattered throughout the state.  As you past miles of fence lines and the ranch entrance – most identifying the ranch that lies beyond the gate.

Texans take pride in our history – The Cattle Ranch has played a large role in that history.  As in the past, todays Texas Ranchers are hard at work caring and protecting the resources on their land.  I have had the opportunity to tour a number of these ranches – it is amazing what is beyond the gates.

As a child I dreamed of eating grub at the chuck wagon  after a long day of riding the range with Ben, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe Cartwright.  Actually the best part of the dream was living at the main house at the Ponderosa Ranch and eating some Hop Sing’s cooking.  Although the Ponderosa was in Nevada,  that dream for some is alive in Texas – Texas Ranches are a great investment.

Below are some additional resources: – Cynthia Inman owner of Ranch Connection has been putting sellers and buyer together for over 30 years.  Large or small, she is an expert in all aspects of Ranch transactions. – Texas Land Trust Council – Texas Department of Agricuture – The Nature Conservancy

“Texas is the finest portion of the globe that has ever blessed by vision”.     Sam Houston




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