Elmer Woodard Boyt:
Industrialist, Rice Farmer and Stockman
E.W. Boyt was one of the outstanding pioneers in the development of the cattle-rice-oil economy of the Texas Gulf Coast. At the time of his death in 1958, he was the largest rice farmer in the United States and known as a financier, industrialist, cattleman, oil producer and a community builder operating from his ranches in Devers, Fannett and Bolivar. This was quite an accomplishment for a man with his background, a true "Horatio Alger story."
Elmer Woodard Boyt was born May 10, 1876 in Banner, Mississippi. Upon the death of his father, Henry Woodard Boyt, due to malaria contracted while working river bottom cotton farms for an English Syndicate, E.W. dropped out of school in 1888 to pick cotton to support the family. His mother, Nancy Davis Coker Boyt, a hard-working woman of the Primitive Baptist faith, decided to relocate her family to the sparsely-settled land of Texas. Arriving by train in Beeville in 1891, Elmer was only fifteen-years-old with a fifth-grade education, six feet tall, and the oldest male child that could work since his brother was an invalid.
Boyt decided to be a Texas cowhand and found several jobs on ranches and in stables for daily wages. Supporting the family, his mother and brothers and sisters, E.W. cowboyed for Texas Ranger Captain Bill Jones, Shanghai Pierce, Henry Clear and other big ranchers until drought occurred, necessitating another move for the family.
The Boyt Family joined an eastern-bound wagon train and settled on the west shores of Galveston Bay, along the Trinity River in 1898. They lived and worked in Eastern Harris County and in Barber's Hill. The boys worked as cowhands and farm hands and the youngest sister, Leila, as a school teacher. Elmer learned the horse trade and in the winter, drove herds of horses through East Texas to South Oklahoma. He helped break horses for "Teddy's Rough Riders" and attempted to join the group, but was turned down due to health concerns.
In 1899 while on a horse drove, E.W. stopped near Beaumont to watch rice threshing at the J.L. Keith rice farm, the largest one in Southeast Texas, and ended up working for Mr. Keith for a dollar per day while sleeping in the barn until a berth in the bunkhouse became available. After the Spindletop oil field became a reality in 1901, like many others, Boyt was lured to the oil fields for higher wages and better opportunities. Before leaving, be became an experienced rice farmer, serving as Keith's superintendent for one year and during the oil boom years, he produced rice crops at China, Texas.
Working as a teaming contractor in 1901 Boyt became good friends with James S. Hogg. "I was working my mule teams for the Governor then and had to give up my room and sleep in the bunkhouse when his daughter, Miss Ima, used to visit their dad on the weekends. There wasn't any fit place for them to stay in Beaumont then." Boyt continued working mule teams in the oil fields for all of the major companies and made many lifelong friends such as Frank Yount in Sour Lake. "Why, about the only difference in us then was that Frank wore shoes and I wore boots. He stayed in my camp at Sour Lake when he was still an oil field roughneck. Our friendships lasted."
In 1906, upon Governor Hogg's advice that "a one-armed, blind man could not go wrong buying land South of the Southern Pacific Railroad at today's prices", Boyt purchased his first section of land in Jefferson County at $8.125 (eight and a bit) per acre. This was the start of the famous Boyt Ranch of Southeast Texas. When the oil companies wanted him to relocate from Southeast Texas to Oklahoma, E.W. decided that he liked ranching and rice farming better than anything else and sold his teams in 1912. It was the profits from the oil field contracting work that enabled him to invest in land.
By the close of his life in 1958, he owned approximately 30,000 acres of land and operated another 70,000 acres of land in Chambers, Galveston, Jefferson, and Liberty counties and was one of the largest rice growers, if not the largest, in the United States. While gradually expanding and developing his rice fields, he purchased the Devers Canal Company in 1925, serving as company president until his death. Under his leadership, the company increased the main irrigation canal from eleven to fifty miles and the distribution laterals to over 240 miles supplying Trinity River water to over 35,00 acres of rice fields in Chambers and Liberty counties.
Boyt built one of the region's first concrete rice driers at Devers and later constructed a number of driers and storage warehouses to handle his and the area's crops. By 1957 the Devers Cooperative Rice Drier handled over 150,000 barrels of rice annually. He served as vice-president of the cooperative for many years. In addition he founded the Devers, Texas Branch of the American Rice Growers Cooperative Association in 1929, serving as its president until 1956.
E.W. Boyt raised pasture crops in rotation with the rice and became one of the largest cattleman in Southeast Texas. Starting with a few head of Longhorns and Shorthorns, Boyt became a pioneer breeder of Brahmans and crossbreeding efforts in Southeast Texas, one of the first to crossbreed Brahmans with Herefords and Shorthorns with Brahmans. He had registered Herefords and loved purebred Brahmans, selling many of them for breeding stock to ranches in the United States, Cuba, South America and Central American. By 1958 the Boyts ran nine to ten thousand head of crossbred Brahmans and Herefords. His ranch provided many Brahman bulls for the professional rodeos, even for Madison Square Garden, in the 1930s.
His other business interests included oil and gas holdings in the region including twenty-five working wells in the Hankamer and Anahuac Fields, the Devers Implement Company, the Beaumont Farm Loan Association, and the First State Bank of Liberty in which he bought a controlling interest in 1929. Boyt was one of the organizers of the Houston Fat Stock Show and a member of the American Quarter Horse Association, the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the Coastal Cattleman's Association, the Texas Rice Improvement Association and the Trinity Valley Exposition.
During his lifetime, E. W. Boyt and his family were often unheralded philanthropists. Two examples of this philanthropy were the building of the $10,000 arena for the Trinity Valley Exposition in 1940 and a $25,000 donation to the Baptist Hospital Fund in 1947. The Boyt Family were major contributors to every major cause in Southeast Texas, a tradition that continues to the present.
On January 25, 1905, he married Lela Blanche Clubb in Fannett, Texas. They had four children: Elmer Vernon "Pat"; Cecil Kenneth; and twin daughters, Ila and Leila. Ila married George W. Maxwell and Leila married Cecil Barrett Jeffrey. All of his family were active in the Boyt enterprises and carried on the family tradition. Elmer W. Boyt died in Houston on March 26, 1958 and was buried in the family plot in Magnolia Cemetery in Beaumont.