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Family reissues 1947 print featuring early Victoria County ranchers

By Elena Watts
Dec. 28, 2013 at 6:28 a.m.
Updated Dec. 29, 2013 at 6:29 a.m.

Harold Johnston, 76, of Victoria, recently began reprinting his grandfather Leopold Morris' historic Pioneer Cattlemen of Victoria County poster that originally published in 1947.

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Visit pioneercattlemen.com for a complete list of families featured in "Pioneer Cattlemen of Victoria County" or to purchase a print.

Harold Johnston, 76, and his daughter Elizabeth Winn, 56, produced the first authorized reproduction of the original 1947 print, "Pioneer Cattlemen of Victoria County," this year.

The print was the creation of Leopold Morris, politician, historian, longtime editor of The Victoria Advocate and Johnston's grandfather.

"He liked to gather interesting facts and colorful information about Victoria and present it in different, artistic ways," Winn, who lives in Austin, said about her great-grandfather.

Johnston, who holds the copyright for the print, received a request to display a copy in the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum in Cuero.

The request prompted Johnston and his daughter to reissue 30 fine art reproductions, approximately 30-by-30 inches, and donate one to the museum.

"We cleaned the print up on the computer, and it's better and brighter now," Johnston said.

The print, which features 40 of Texas' earliest ranchers, has a border composed of area cattle brands that shows the evolution of the brand styles.

"The Spaniards started with pictorial-style cattle brands, but they were difficult to recognize from a distance," Winn said. "The trend moved toward clear, block branding with initials."

The interior of the print features photographs of the ranch patriarchs or matriarchs, short biographies, their cattle brands and the year they registered their brands.

"He was a very talented person," Johnston said about his grandfather. "He produced the biographies on a manual typewriter without word wrap, so he had to choose his words to fit the spaces perfectly."

Johnston had called Charles Spurlin, the director of local history at Victoria College, when he found the antique engraving plate for the print in an old barn more than a decade earlier.

"Charles gathered a few newspaper people, and they determined there was not a press that could handle the plate, and the ink that was used was poisonous and outlawed anyway," Johnston said.

Johnston eventually framed the heavy plate for posterity.

"The print will certainly resonate with area families who are included in the compilation," Winn said.

Morris was in the middle of writing a book about the history of Victoria County when he died in 1952.

He produced an engraving plate as he finished each page, which he kept sealed in his office.

His sister collected the plates after his death and delivered them to a publisher in San Antonio.

"Pictorial History of Victoria County," an abbreviated version of Morris' intended volumes, was published posthumously in 1953.

The book is out of print, but editions can be found for sale on antique book websites. Amazon.com has at least one currently available for $174.95.

Morris was reared in Corpus Christi, where he worked for the newspaper at age 17, Johnston said.

"He jumped on a ship headed to Galveston after the storm of 1900," he said. "The ship had to push through bodies in the bay as it entered port, and his reports were syndicated."

Morris served as editor of The Victoria Advocate from 1902 to 1935, with a hiatus spent serving in the Texas Legislature. He left the newspaper to serve as postmaster, which he did until his death.

Morris was gregarious and opinionated and loved to entertain, Johnston said.

"He was a Democrat," he said. "He and Truman were the only two who believed Truman would be elected president; everybody else was dumbfounded."

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