Defying Convention

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson Williams (1840–1924) spent her life defying social conventions. During a time when women were largely expected to tend to domestic responsibilities and leave business dealings to their husbands, Lizzie was making a name for herself in the Texas cattle industry. She amassed a small fortune in real estate deals and drove her own Longhorn herd to the Kansas railheads.

The daughter of educators, Lizzie’s first vocation was teaching, and she was a schoolteacher in and around Austin. To supplement her income, she kept the books for local cattlemen growing rich off the East’s demand for steak. Recognizing the profits that could be made in the beef trade, she started investing in cattle. On June 1, 1871, Lizzie registered a cattle brand—the CY—under her own name.

Lizzie did well for herself—she had a keen eye for cattle, bought and sold strategically, and earned the respect of her cowhands. And when she married Hezekiah G. Williams in 1879, she took the same business-like approach to matrimony as she did to commerce. Lizzie insisted on a prenuptial agreement that guaranteed her sole ownership of her independently-acquired property and income.

The First Woman to Ride Up the Chisholm Trail With Her Own Brand

It was a wise choice. As a cattleman, Hezekiah was prone to poor financial decisions and constantly had to be bailed out by his wife. Allegedly, Lizzie sometimes stole her husband’s cattle and branded them as her own, certain he’d lose them anyway. Despite their mismatch in business acumen, all signs indicated the two were very devoted to one another.

Together, Lizzie and Hezekiah drove their herds up the Chisholm Trail. Although they traveled as husband and wife, each managed their own herds under separate brands. So while Lizzie was not the first or only woman to brave the great cattle trail, she was the first to do so with her own cattle marked with her own brand, earning her the nickname “Cattle Queen of Texas.”

Lizzie repeated the journey several times—no small feat for even the handiest and hardiest of cowboys, and simply remarkable for a woman of that time. By the time the cattle boom ended, Lizzie had profited nicely.

In addition to the cattle business, Lizzie also kept a hand in the real estate market and proved to have the same talent for selecting properties as she did steers. She owned several lots and buildings in Austin, and small ranches in Culberson and Jeff Davis counties. When she died in 1924, Lizzie’s wealth in cash and property holdings was nearly $250,000, some $3 million in buying power by today’s standards.

Well ahead of her time, Lizzie was a pioneer among women in finance, real estate, and the cattle business, dominating in industries almost exclusively occupied by men, and paving the way for future generations of Texas women.

Lizzie is buried next to her husband at the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.

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