In the 1870s, most women were expected to tend to the homestead while their husbands herded cattle and maintained the family business. But Lizzie Johnson Williams cared little for the expectations of others. Known as the “Cattle Queen of Texas,” Johnson was the first woman in Texas to ride the Chisolm Trail with a herd of cattle under her own brand. She challenged societal norms and proved that Texas women were tough as leather.
The Cattle Queen of Texas
Lizzie Johnson Williams was born in 1840 in Cole County, Missouri. She moved to Texas at the age of 4. The daughter of teachers, Williams became an educator at her parents’ school, The Johnson Institute. Though she went on to open her own primary school in a two-story house in Austin, Williams had career aspirations outside of the classroom. While bookkeeping for wealthy cattlemen throughout Texas, Williams was inspired to start her own herd. Soon after, she registered her own cattle brand — using the brand CY — and acquired 160 acres of land in Hays County.
While building her business, Lizzie fell in love with widower Hezekiah Williams. But she had no plans to let her husband take over the business she’d worked so hard to establish. Lizzie and Hezekiah signed a prenuptial agreement that stated that Lizzie would retain full financial control of her finances and property. Though the act was practically unheard of at the time, it proved to be a wise decision. Hezekiah was way more into gambling and drinking than running a profitable cattle trading business. Nevertheless, the couple loved one another. The two rode together on the Chisolm Trail, a cattle trail stretching from Texas to Kansas. They each drove their own separate herds, making Williams the first Texas woman to ride the Chisolm Trail with her own cattle brand.
Williams proved herself to be a born businesswoman, buying up profitable properties and real estate in Austin. At the time of her death in on Oct. 9, 1924, Williams had amassed about $250,000 (about $3 million today) in cash and property holdings.
In 2013, Williams was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum.
Fiercely independent and brave, Lizzie Johnson Williams has earned a rightful place alongside Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight as a pioneer of Texas cattle trading.