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San Marcos, TX 78666

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Rufus Alexander

Rufus Alexander is a former ranch manager who grew up on part of what became the Freeman Ranch. His father, Frank Alexander, became the first manager for the ranch in 1941. Originally, Frank Alexander owned 700 acres of what is now the Freeman Ranch but sold it to Gene Scrutchen, who owned the original San Marcos Chevrolet dealership. At a regional Chevrolet meeting, Joe Freeman talked with Scrutchen about wanting to acquire some land in the Hill Country.

At that time, a Mr. Dix from Seguin owed 3,000 acres, which both Frank Alexander and Scrutchen leaded and ran livestock on. Scrutchen thought Dix wanted to sell and brokered the deal for the Freemans in 1940.

Frank Alexander became manager by default after the land he worked on was bought out from under him. According to Rufus Alexander, when the Freemans asked if his father could manage the land, his father said he would run it for two years. But his tenure as foreman stretched out considerably because he and the Freemans "got along famously."

Rufus Alexander had his own ranching concerns until a drought forced him into the banking profession in order to support himself. Sadly, Frank Alexander became debilitated by the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. When his father wanted to retire because of the effect of the Fever, Rufus returned to ranching and took over management in 1968.

Although the ranch manager's job was to take care of the everyday operation of the ranch, neither Alexander sold cattle. "This was Joe and Harry's province," Alexander said. They loved to be close to the operation, whether it was big purchases or big sales. "They topped the market all the time," he said. Joe Freeman gave Alexander the following advice more than once: "If you take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves." In other words, watch the details.

More than just a hobby or a place of leisure for the Freemans, the ranch had to make a profit. While Alexander had a general sense of how much money was coming in, the Freemans did the bookkeeping, and thus he did not know the costs. But the brothers were always pretty happy with the ranch operations. Alexander says that one sign of success was the "if things were really going good they might show up with a lot of extra supplies that I hadn't even asked for." This happened fairly frequently.

The Freeman family at one time was very interested in showing and racing trotting horses. So much so that "two rooms of the ranch house were lined with blue ribbons from their show horses." Before they owned the ranch and built a horse barn, Joe Freeman had a riding stable in San Antonio. They also became enamored of gaited horses and owned the undefeated, five-time world champion gaited saddle horse, Midnight Star. Harry Freeman also had a Tennessee walking horse that he rode almost every time he came to the ranch.

Cattle, of course, were the main concern of the ranch. Under the Freemans, there were two cattle herds, one registered and one commercial. At the height of the registered (or breeding stock) business, they had one hundred cows and bulls, with another four hundred in the commercial herd. During most of the time Rufus Alexander managed the ranch, he aimed for one animal unit (one cow and one calf, five sheep or seven goats) per fifteen acres. In general, he tried to blend all the animals together in pastures, using the goats for brush control.

Caring for goats was easy after the screwworm was eradicated in Hays County around 1966. Before that, caring for them was time-consuming because the goats would hide from flies that drove them crazy. "They'd climb up on a bluff and crawl into a hole," says Alexander. "From the first of March to the first of December, you never got off your horse because of the screwworm (checking sheep, goats and cattle), which did billions of dollars of damage a year in the South and Southwest."

But even during post-screwworm times, the job hours were dictated by the sun, people working from sunup to sundown every single day, except for perhaps a half day off on Sunday.

In managing the 7,000-acre ranch, Alexander had few disagreements with the Freeman brothers. The one area where they did disagree was not allowing pastures to go fallow. Even though the Freeman brothers had friends who were agricultural professors, county agents and both large and small ranchers, they did not believe in allowing grass to rest, re-seed and reestablish root systems.

"I tried to let some pastures go fallow, but if you let grass grow about eight inches tall in a pasture, Joe Freeman would say, 'You're wasting that grass!,'" Alexander said. Even though they were progressive ranchers in many ways, no one could convince them of the benefits of range rotation.

Working for the Freemans had many unexpected benefits. Alexander remembers that when the brothers put on a rodeo or stock show at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, they often brought two or three top entertainers out to the ranch. He relates a story about the time that Western music star Rex Allen came out one day during branding time.

"Rex decided that he'd show off and throw a calf for us. He hooked a calf and was going to set it down, but tripped over a root and draped the calf right over his chest." All turned out well as everyone laughed and Mr. Allen was not hurt."

Alexander has some insight into the Freeman brothers' character. He says that the two brothers had such a close friendship that he "never heard a cross word between them, ever." The "lived out of the same pocket," meaning that their finances were interchangeable, as were their interests. "They operated as a unit. Joe was very much the thinker, Harry the doer."

--Taken from interview on February 24, 1998.