Jess Womack was an enthusiastic member of the Mounted Platoon and descendent of a venerable Texas family noted in the ranching and equestrian community for its contributions and leadership. Jess was not only an ardent supporter of the Platoon but tirelessly recruited members for its ranks. He brought up the suggestion that the Platoon might well travel to his family’s McFaddin ranch to enjoy an extended period of riding and comradery. Regrettably, Jess’ premature and untimely demise prevented this from occurring.
It was suggested by the members present at the 2009 trail ride that any annual trail ride should appropriately be named in commemoration of Jess. This vignette is to serve to commemorate Jess’ memory and to give his personality to the trail ride named for him to those who did not know him.
The McFaddin family migrated to the new world and initially settled in East Texas. Thereafter the two brothers divided their ranching interests with one remaining in East Texas and the other using his assets to acquire ranch land in South Texas. The portion of the family remaining in East Texas land holdings included the area known as Spindletop and the portion of the family migrating further south purchased the land between the confluence of the Guadalupe and the San Antonio Rivers to establish a ranch in 1855. Typical of larger South Texas ranches of the time, a town adjacent to the railroad was named for the ranch. The town was self-sufficient in that it contained a post office, a church, a school, and a general mercantile store for the benefit of the ranch families that lived in structures on the ranch.
Jess’ early childhood took place in Victoria approximately 20 miles from the McFaddin ranch. Jess and a number of his friends spent all or part of the summer on the ranch and thus were provided the perceived value of pursuing the life of a cowboy. The day started long before daylight by catching the horses in a small trap behind the living quarters of the family and then riding the two miles to headquarters to be present for the morning gathering of the other regular ranch cowboys, usually eight to 10 in number. The foreman would issue instructions for each team to accomplish. These instructions might begin with a five to eight-mile ride out to particular portion of the ranch. While this life was at first perceived to be a glamorous one, the Texas heat, and the lack of one’s ability to quench their thirst other than horse troughs were negative reinforcements. If herding cattle across the prairie on horseback was the image, occasionally galloping out to herd in strays was the dream; being kicked or stepped on in a dusty shipping pen was often the reality. The mosquitos in the river bottom were large enough to stand flat-footed and mate a wasp.
Though Jess and I aspired to be top hands it was apparent that we were not. Having said that, we both took great pride in wearing our Bianchi spurs while engaged in these activities. Wearing our Bianchi spurs was always noticed by the real cowboys wondering how we had come by them. Our forbearers were, of course, the source of them.
The foreman at the McFaddin ranch was Jake Jordan. Jess and I were both related to him though not related to one another. I always thought that that brought more scrutiny than favors.
In later years as the McFaddin ranch was partitioned among the family, Jess became much more involved in managing his family’s portion of it. His portion included extensive wetlands that had been created by the levees constructed along the rivers by his great, great, great grandfather. These levees, built by mules and oxen, had deteriorated during flooding along the rivers prompted by hurricanes, resulting in extensive stretches of wetlands serving as habitat to wildlife of all species and genus. Recognizing this as a rare treasure for the area, Jess undertook efforts to have this placed in a conservation easement for its preservation. This was ultimately accomplished and for his efforts in this regard, he and his wife, Lou, were recognized by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife as land stewards of the year.
Hopefully, this gives one a flavor of Jess’ love for horseback activities and historical traditions. His life’s greatest accomplishment was as a loyal husband who was always in love with Lou and a devoted father of four children. Jess’ family and mine were closely associated over four generations. He and I were born six months apart to two women who were dearest friends and raised in houses next to one another. As many are, Jess may have been faulted by some who did not really know him for his plain-spoken nature. He was a treasured husband, father, and friend to all who truly knew him. His contributions to the land and those he touched left both better off.
He was visionary in establishing and improving the land given to him to manage and the tradition left to him to pursue. He was a good and valued community servant in San Antonio having served on the boards of the San Antonio Zoo and the Mission Home. Jess was a graduate of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and earned an MBA from Trinity University.
The type of man that Jess represented was aptly described by the old Texas Ranger saying of “he was a good man to ride the river with” implying he was dependable and one who could be counted upon to “ride for the flag” when called to do so.
(Submitted by J. Marvin Smith III, M.D. Platoon Captain 1996)
Louise Womack’s Contribution
In addition to Jess’ contributions, Lou Womack made a very substantial and generous gift to the Mounted Platoon to commemorate Jess’ memory. The first portion of this gift was used to purchase a Caisson horse in Jess’ name and that of the Mounted Platoon for the benefit of our Army hosts.