MELVIN SCHOENST has been a cattle auctioneer since he could first say “moo”. While other kids played cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers, he and his brother played “rancher and auctioneer”, with sticks and stones as pretend cows, trying to see who could get their tongue round the words faster. At sixteen he auctioned his first real cow. Now, sixty years on, cattle are not only his livelihood but his life. He is a bachelor for no other reason than that all his time and attention is devoted to his herd and the cows of the other farmers roundabout, leaving little room for anyone else.
Cattle are so important to the area that even the Round Top Family Library’s website shows the weekly Livestock Market Report with a breakdown of sales and the price per hundredweight alongside the children’s after-school schedule and school lunches. The Giddings Cattle Auction is the engine which runs the industry locally, and at its helm is Melvin.
I think the first time I had a true taste of Texas was the day I attended Melvin’s Monday sale. Outside, in the heat and dust, huge trailers unloaded resistant cattle while cowhands mounted on horseback prodded and shoved them into a labyrinth of holding pens. With the roar of the trucks, the mooed protests of hundreds of cows, the clanging of the pens and the urgent whooping of the riders straight from a cowboy movie, for an outsider like me it was pandemonium. Inside, the auction hall was altogether calmer and cooler, with Melvin in complete command. The speed with which he dispensed each animal, more than three hundred that day, was more rapid than his speech. There must have been some secret language in which agreements were reached since you could detect barely a motion from the bidders.
Adapted from Marilyn Albert’s essay in the Round Top Townsfolk book project.