Ranching is “a heritage thing” to sisters Donna Holland Wilcox and Meredith Holland Clowdus of Marble Falls. Their mixed Charolaise, Black Angus, and Brahman cows are descendants of a herd that began in 1947 when their grandparents Louise and Malcolm Holland began ranching.
That particular piece of property on County Road 341 off of Mormon Mill Road is surrounded by other working Holland ranches, all of which go back six generations to Samuel Ely Holland, a man with deep roots in Burnet County.
“Samuel Holland was the first settler in Burnet County,” Wilcox said. “He bought 1,240 acres for 47 cents an acre. He bred the first white face cattle that became a legacy cattle in this area.”
Those cattle were some of the first Herefords in Texas.
S.E. Holland, Donna and Meredith’s great-great-great-grandfather, purchased his considerable acreage along Hamilton Creek on July 3, 1848. Within a week, he moved his wagon of worldly goods from where he was camping on what is now the state Capitol grounds to his new homestead. He went from chopping cedar for houses in Austin to clearing land and building his own log cabin, the first permanent home in the area.
The Burnet County pioneer strung the first wire fence and built the first all-stone home in the area, according to “Types of Successful Men of Texas” by Lewis E. Daniell, a book printed by Eugene Von Boeckmann in 1890. Holland fought in the Mexican-American War and was a colonel in the Civil War.
Although he fought for the Confederacy, he lent his considerable military skills to stopping the persecution of Union supporters in the county. Burnet County voted 96 percent against secession from the United States, but some Confederate voices were loud and their actions brazen and even murderous. Vigilantes were known to throw Unionists into Dead Man’s Hole near Marble Falls. Holland was part of a team of citizens who brought law and order back to the area.
During his 91 years, he served as a state representative, a county commissioner, and the county treasurer.
While the Holland family sold some of their ancestor’s original acreage, most of it has stayed in family hands. Wilcox, Clowdus, and their father, Don Holland, all have homes on contiguous ranchland where they raise livestock together for Holland Cattle and Sheep Company.
The sheep stay on one side of the ranch, where the land is rockier, while the cattle graze on the other side, where coastal grasses grow on flat, fertile soil. Holland beef is grass-fed only. They sell at auctions and to local families. The sheep are also raised for meat sold year-round.
“It’s important to remain grass-fed. Our ranch is based on grass-fed meat,” Clowdus said. “It’s healthier for us and for our customers.”
Grass is key to ranching, the sisters said.
“If you don’t manage your grass and you have to feed, you don’t make any money,” Wilcox said. “You don’t make a lot of money off ranching anyway. You don’t want to waste the money you do make on buying feed.”
When they do have to supplement grazing, it’s with coastal hay.
Feeding does serve a purpose: It trains the cows so they can be approached and examined. Don Holland does most of the training. Clowdus does most of the examinations, including vaccinating and castrating.
“I meet all the medical needs not taken care of by a vet,” she said. “I learned it on the job, through trial and error. After I would do something and lose a lamb, I would learn not to do that.”
Both women learned ranching skills from their father.
“He learned from his dad,” Clowdus said. “He’s so smart just growing up raising livestock. We’ve learned most everything from him.”
They are passing those skills and their passion for ranching on to their own daughters. Sterling Clowdus, 20, Sage Clowdus, 12, and Christian Wilcox, 19, all plan to take over ranching duties from their mothers once they are out of school. The one male in the mix, Stralen Clowdus, 27, is a rodeo bull rider and horse trainer.
Meredith and Donna also have a brother, Todd Holland, who owns Holland Surveying in Marble Falls. He leaves the ranching to his sisters, Wilcox said.
The women work other jobs as well. Wilcox is a business consultant and director of operations at Faith Academy of Marble Falls. Clowdus is an independent contractor and works for an international foundation.
“It’s more of a lifestyle,” Wilcox said of ranching. “Our dad ranches full time now that he’s retired. He doesn’t do anything but this anymore.”
Their husbands, Canyon Clowdus and Brad Wilcox, have full-time jobs elsewhere as well. Meredith and Donna call them and their dad “the muscles of the operation.” The men help with land maintenance chores and predator control.
Critters are a problem, whether the male muscle is around or not. Wilcox and Clowdus keep a long, black rifle with a rather large scope in their ATV (a modern-day horse for today’s cow herders) in case they run across snakes, coyotes, or feral hogs.
“We’re both shooters,” Wilcox said. “We both hunt. So do our girls.”
The girls started young with their ranching lessons. They were taught to kill and pluck chickens when they were each 5 years old.
“My dad said everybody needs to learn how to do that,” Wilcox said.
Family history turns up at almost every curve along the ATV trails that wind through the rocks, cactuses, grasses, and wildflowers that cover the ranch. The four-wheel-drive vehicle bumps over gray, rocky terrain where stagecoaches and wagons once traveled, guided along by ancient wooden beams held in place with rusty railroad spikes.
Trails lead past a pecan bottom, the proceeds of which were used by their grandparents to buy the land.
“They also sold goats and worked at Texas Granite,” Wilcox said of Louise and Malcolm. “My grandmother worked at the schools. They were never not working.”
Hamilton Creek hooks through the property and back, giving them four shorelines. A particularly beautiful spot of shallow rapids rushing over creekbed rocks reminds the sisters of when they played there as children.
“It’s still a regular spot in the summer for our families,” Clowdus said. “This is our lakefront home!”
The land, the lessons, the memories, and the history are all part of the Holland heritage that the women in the family plan to maintain and grow.
“It’s an ecosystem and a balance,” Wilcox said of raising families and livestock on a ranch. “The product is healthy meat and legacy.”