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Strange Things in the Woods?   By Kathy Whaley

If you stumbled upon a concrete slab with an engraved name and date while walking in the forest, you would probably think it was an old grave marker. A closer inspection could reveal a different story that originated many moons ago.

Historic cattle dipping vat on Hagerman NWR.

In the mid-1800s, the cattle industry was already a very important part of Texas. By that time, Texas Longhorns had become well known for being as tough as nails and able to survive most anywhere. People in other parts of the rapidly growing country were eager to have beef for food so from 1865-1885, several million cattle were “driven” north from Texas to states including Kansas, Missouri, and others. During the Civil War, cattle drives were used to feed 

Confederate troops in the south. Unfortunately, the cattle drives also unknowingly took with them a disease that killed many cattle where they arrived, because cattle in those areas were not like the rough and rugged longhorns of Texas that had grown to be naturally disease resistant.

For years, it remained a mystery why previously healthy herds of cattle in destination locations were becoming sick and dying. Ranchers knew there had to be a connection to cattle coming from Texas, but it was not until 1888 that a parasitic protozoan that can be transported on cattle by two different species of ticks was discovered as the culprit.

“Texas fever” or “Texas cattle fever” was found to be caused by the newly discovered microscopic parasite that had infected a host tick, then was transmitted to the cow as the tick fed. The cow’s red blood cells were affected resulting in anemia, enlarged liver and spleen, and high fever. Around 90% of the time, the cow did not survive.

In 1892, the Department of Agriculture stopped the movement of cattle from Texas in efforts to slow the spreading of this disease. In 1906, the

Cattle Fever Tick

Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program was established by the Secretary of Agriculture to help deal with the problem. This put in place a quarantine area almost 730,000 square miles in size in southern states from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In these areas, inspection of all cattle was mandatory and any found to be carrying the disease-causing ticks had to be treated to remove the ticks. Many combinations of products to eliminate the disease had been tried, but the results were poor. The best method for dealing with an outbreak of Texas fever at that time was to move the cattle to fresh, uninfested pastures, and remove all ticks from the cattle by greasing the tick with lard or similar oil, then using a dull knife to scrape the tick off the animal.

Remnants of a cattle dipping vat on Hagerman NWR

Inspecting and treating millions of cows in this manner was no small task. It was soon discovered that the best and cheapest method of treating large herds of cattle was to regularly “dip” the cattle in a vat filled with a concoction to kill ticks. “Dipping vats” were constructed of wood or concrete and were typically 26 feet long, three feet wide, and seven feet deep. The entry and exit inclines had to be gentle and the surface rough enough to allow the animals to maintain a secure foothold. One by one, the cattle were led through a drenching “dip” that left them dripping with a mix made of arsenic, soda, water, and pine tar. When a vat was ready to be emptied the approved practice was to run the liquid mix waste into a pit properly guarded by a fence to gradually seep away under the surface and “do no harm” to drinking water. Records show that more than 32,000 dipping vats existed in the 1920s, 6,000+ of which were in Texas.

Slowly, square mile by square mile, state-by-state, areas were removed from quarantine once all cattle were found to be disease and cattle fever tick free. In 1938 a Permanent Tick Quarantine Zone was established at the Mexico-U.S. border in south Texas where the tick species continued to be a problem. By 1943, the two tick species that transmit cattle fever were eradicated from the U.S. except in this Zone. Today, portions of eight south Texas counties remain under permanent surveillance by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Our own Hagerman NWR has at least one and possibly even more dipping vats that would have been used to combat the disease-carrying ticks. One vat we know of shows a construction date of March 28, 1919 as was inscribed in the concrete. Was this vat used for local cattle? Or to dip cattle headed north on the Chisolm Trail? Maybe both? We will probably never know for sure. If you have happened upon this relic while exploring the refuge, consider yourself lucky to have seen a part of Texas history. To help protect this unique cultural resource for generations to come, the location of the vat will remain private.

Because horses, deer, and exotic livestock can all serve as a host for cattle fever ticks, there is concern the disease could make a comeback. There are now over a million acres quarantined outside of the 500,000-acre permanent quarantine zone. Surveillance and vigilance for ticks by producers, landowners, and animal health agencies in the south Texas region will be essential in limiting the spread of this disease.

Refuge Update:

The visitor center is open Monday through Saturday 9-4, Sunday 1-5. It's a great time to visit the refuge!

Upcoming Activities:

See our 

Calendar of Events 

for more!

Were YOU There?

All are welcome as a participant or a volunteer--A fun time is had by all!

The Little Sit

The Refuge Rocks!

Welcome to our newest

Friends of Hagerman NWR Lifetime Members:

Larry & Sherry Howard

Bobby & Nancy Riggs and Family

Thank you for your support of the Friends of Hagerman NWR

Join us with a Membership

The Friends of Hagerman NWR Board of Directors Announce their Annual Meeting:

Sunday, March 19, 2023 at 2:00 in the Visitor Center

All are welcome!

The Friends of Hagerman NWR Board of Directors

The Friends of Hagerman NWR Foundation will be conducting their 2023 Annual Meeting in person for the first time since 2019.

The meeting is free and open to the public. Members will be updated on activities and accomplishments during the past year. New Board members for the coming two-year term will be elected.

The Prescribed Burn, January 18, 2023   By Laurie Sheppard

Winter is a time of dormancy for woody plants in North Texas. It’s a time for us to take stock, clean up our yards, and prepare for the coming spring. Refuge management must do the same but on a much larger scale. One of the strategies they occasionally use is prescribed burning. 

Prescribed burning is the careful use of fire in a tightly controlled manner to accomplish specific ecological goals. Fire may be used to reduce woody encroachment of Eastern Red Cedar, Honey Locust, and Winged Elm on the open prairies of the refuge. Through burning rather than mowing, the nutrients stolen by the invasive plants are immediately returned to the soil. Prescribed burning also has the added benefit of reducing the amount of dry, flammable materials in the area, which reduces the potential for wildfires on the refuge. 

Last month, the elite Wildland Management Fire Crew from Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge and other Oklahoma refuges visited Hagerman NWR with the intent to burn in several areas identified by Paul Balkenbush and Kathy Whaley as needing some attention. Unfortunately, the weather during their visit did not allow the fire crew to accomplish all their goals, but visitors may have seen some of their handiwork along Wildlife Road and the Auto Tour Route. If possible, they will return this month to complete their to-do list, so watch for area closure announcements when you plan your visit.

New Restrooms at Big Mineral  By Paul Balkenbush

The new vault toilet at Big Mineral Day Use Area is now open! This is the culmination of a 16-month process which began with an approved extraordinary funding request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional office. Our hard working team put the final touches on the installation today. Hats off to all those that contributed to success of the effort.

The new restroom replaces a dilapidated unit that was over 30 years old and stressed by repeated flooding. It also lacked the optimal level of ADA accessibility and was not compliant with the State of Texas Administrative Code related to construction of septic holding tanks. The new restroom is an accessible, environmentally compliant, durable, waterless unit having double composting vaults, separate single user sides, an accessible pathway, and solar-powered venting. It is also set at a higher elevation to avoid many future floods. An estimated 75,000 visitors will benefit from the restroom throughout the year while participating in wildlife-dependent recreation activities including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, and photography. It will also support participants of other compatible outdoor recreation including boating, hiking, and picnicking.

Thanks again to all those who assisted. A special shout out to the maintenance crew (Russell Daniel and Caleb Derrick) for making the professional installation smooth. It involved quite a bit of manual labor and their hard work is much appreciated.

The Little Sit

Join Us At Our Sunrise Bird Count

Great Blue Heron by Pam Rendall-Bass

Come and enjoy the beautiful sunrise over Lake Texoma while learning how to identify the birds of North Texas! Modeled after Cornell's national "Big Sit" event, a group of dedicated birders invite you to join them at sunrise to perform a bird count as multiple species fly in to feed. They meet on the water's edge at H-Pad at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.

The first Saturday of every month.

This event begins 30 minutes before sunrise and lasts a couple of hours, but all are welcome to come and go as they please. Participants are advised to bring a chair, binoculars and water.

Map to H-Pad

GPS Coordinates: 33.734961, -96.780582

Please register (optional) so we may inform you of changes or cancellation:

Come and enjoy the sunrise with us!

Photo by Pam Rendall-Bass

Early Bird Walk with Jack Chiles

Master Naturalist Jack Chiles will lead our Early Birding event, weather permitting. Bring binoculars or borrow ours. Meet at the Visitor Center and return in time for the Second Saturday program.

Please Register so we may inform you via email of unforseen changes/cancellations.

Second Saturday:

Geology and Aquifers of Grayson County with Rick Lynn 

Saturday, February 11, at 10:00 AM in the Visitor Center 

This is a basic overview of the rock formations and fossils in Grayson County as well as an overview of the major aquifers in Texas and Grayson County.

Future Programs

The Refuge Rocks! Programs for Children

    • July 20, 2024
    • 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM
    • Hagerman NWR Visitor Center
    • 5

    The national bird of the United States featured on our quarters is the iconic bald eagle, found throughout the rest of North America as well. Learn about the migration and habitats of these majestic birds.  Discover the world of eagles and learn what they look like, where they live on the planet, the habitats they prefer, and other interesting facts.  We'll be learning about the bald eagle while participating in fun activities along with an eagle craft!   

    Come join us on July 20 for a free class for youth ages 5-10.  Registration Required.

    Photo of Lucy by Mary Elford Hulshouser

    Photo by Mary Elford Hulshouser

Future Programs

Puddles' Craft Corner

Digging Into Fossils!

By Cindy Steele, Master Naturalist

Welcome back to Puddles’ Craft Corner! Do you remember when you were a kid, and you would dig for buried treasure? Or did you search for dinosaur bones? And when you learned about fossils, did you search high and low for fossils in your back yard, at the beach, in a field, and anywhere you went? Well, I think it’s safe to say that kids are obsessed with finding things like fossils and frankly this continues throughout our lives!

The only reason that we know giant dinosaurs and other extinct animals existed is because their remains have been preserved as fossils. Usually, the remains of dead animals and other living things are completely destroyed by decay. But, sometimes they are buried in ways that stop the decay. Over time, these remains may turn into fossils! When you hear the word fossil, you probably think of dinosaur bones, but the term fossil encompasses many types of once-living organisms. Knowing more about fossils and how they form is an important part of natural history.

Do you ever wish you could go back in time and see what it was like when dinosaurs roamed the Earth? That would be cool, but dangerous! A safer way to find out about dinosaurs is to study the information that they left behind. Paleontologists are scientists who specialize in studying fossils. Paleontology is the study of ancient life, from dinosaurs to prehistoric plants, mammals, fish, insects, fungi, and even microbes. Fossil evidence reveals how...

Come, Take a Tour on the Wildlife Explorer!

Enjoy a ninety minute tram tour of Wildlife Drive aboard our open-air Wildlife Explorer. Learn about the fascinating history of the displaced town of Hagerman while watching for an abundance of wildlife.

  • Lots of stops for bird-watching and photography.
  • Guided tours are weather permitting and seating is limited. 
  • Standbys are accepted if space permits. 
  • Recommended for age 6 - adult. 
  • Bring your binoculars or borrow ours.
  • Meet at the visitor center 15 minutes before departure. 
  • Free, funded by donations and powered by volunteers.
Register for a Tram Tour Today!

Birding with Jack

Updated, Weekly Census Results

By Master Naturalist Jack Chiles, Mike Petrick and

Dr. Wayne Meyer (Pictured Right)

Each Tuesday a team of experienced birders, including Master Naturalist Jack Chiles, traverse 35 miles of refuge roads and hiking trails, documenting every bird they encounter. This Bird Census is reported to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology for use in research, and each week we will bring you a link to their actual bird count, and a summary of their adventures.

Jan 24: Bird Census List

It was a very dreary morning for our census, with continuous rain with a bit of sleet mixed in. We started the day out going down Wildlife Drive. There were good numbers of ducks in the marshes. Green-winged Teal numbers are still high with a count of 570. Other duck species seen were, 94 Northern Shovelers, 296 Gadwall, 83 Mallards, 154 Northern Pintails, 1 Canvasback, 1 Redhead, 2 Ring-necked Ducks, 16 Lesser Scaup, 10 Bufflehead, 17 Rudy Ducks, and 2 Common Goldeneye. We were unable to locate the Long-tailed Duck today. We saw 33 Wilson's Snipe. There were over 300 gulls off the end of Tern pad, most of which were Ring-billed Gulls, and 3 Herring Gulls, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull and 1 Bonaparte's Gull. We saw one mature Bald Eagle in the tree at Big Mineral picnic area and a three year old at Deaver Pond. Great Blue Herons were abundant with a count of 40. We saw an unusually high count of White-throated Sparrows and ended up with 133. We also saw 37 Harris's Sparrows and small...

Thank You

To Our Contributors:

Kathy Whaley, Jack Chiles, Cindy Steele, Laurie Sheppard, Paul Balkenbush

Refuge Manager: Kathy Whaley

Deputy Refuge Manager: Paul Balkenbush

Visitor Services Manager: Spencer Beard 

Editor: Patricia Crain

Friends of Hagerman NWR Foundation

6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, TX 75092

Phone: 903-786-2826

Contact Us



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Events and activities hosted by the Friends of Hagerman are funded by donations and powered solely by volunteers.  There are no fees for admission to the refuge or parking; the refuge is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year, drive on any road unless gated.

6465 Refuge Road

Sherman, TX 75092



Kroger: Stop by the customer service desk at Kroger and link your Kroger Card to the Friends of Hagerman: the Friends will get rewards for every dollar you spend, at no cost to you.

Please add friendsofhagerman@gmail.com to your contacts to ensure delivery of registration confirmations, account information and the Featherless Flyer

See you at the refuge!

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