The Methodist Cattleman

First Methodist has had its share of cowboys over the years but it can also count one of Midland’s most prominent cattlemen among its members. 

Philip Scharbauer followed his brothers to Midland in 1902 to become a partner in the West Texas cattle business John has begun over a decade earlier. John Scharbauer emigrated from New York state to the young community of Midland in 1890 and was the first to bring Hereford cattle to the area. At the turn of the twentieth century, John’s brother joined him, bringing his eleven-year-old son Clarence with him. 

As the Scharbauer Cattle Company prospered, Philip (known as Phil) was enticed to leave his mercantile business in South Bethlehem, New York and join the the firm. Phil became secretary-treasurer of the company. He served in that position until 1923.

The archives of First United Methodist Midland have a page of the stationery of the Scharbauer Cattle Company with a note and some calculations scattered across it. A drawing of a prize Hereford and a list of the counties in which the company maintained ranches frame the company name. The brothers’ names and company positions appear across the top and they describe themselves as “Cattle Raisers.”

While the term “cowboy” has come to dominate much of the mythos of the western cattle industry, it was not the ultimate designation to which most of those involved in the cattle business aspired. The term cowboy usually referred to a hired hand who worked, on the drives or on the ranches, for someone else. Many did begin as “boys” or young men though that was not universally true. The rugged and dangerous job of working with cattle took its toll. Many died from accidents or disease. Other suffered debilitating injuries that prevented them from continuing the physically demanding tasks of working with stock.

 The ambition of many a cowboy was to become a cattleman. He dreamed of the day when he could acquire his own parcel of land and stock it with cattle wearing his brand. He even thought about the day when his spread was large enough that he could hire cowboys to work for him.

In reality most of the cowboys remained cowboys, spending their days riding for someone else’s brand. The early years of the cattle business in West Texas was dominated by large companies, often funded by eastern capitalists. Some, like the Scharbauers, moved west and managed their ranches themselves. Others remained in the east and hired other to oversee their investments. The holdings were large. The ranches of the Scharbauer Cattle Company were scattered across five Texas counties and Lea County in New Mexico. They had built one of the largest and best herds of Hereford cattle in the southwest.

John had married his second wife, Mary, a few years prior to his move to Midland, his first wife having died years before. The records are not clear, but they were probably active Methodists in New York state. In any case, they joined the local church, known then as Midland Methodist Episcopal Church, South and quickly became leading members of the congregation. Phil became a steward in the church and a religious leader in the community, recognized for his strong faith.

In 1906, Midland’s transformation from a frontier town of wooden structures to a small city of brick and stone was well underway. The Methodist gathered and decided that it was time to replace their small wooden church with something more substantial and launched the first capital campaign in the church’s history. Phil and his brother John were among those making the largest pledges toward the goal of $10,000. John was one of the four individuals pledging $1000 each and Phil among the seven promising $500, both sizable sums in 1906.

Once the funds were raised, Phil remained active in construction process. The piece of Scharbauer stationery in the archives was among the records of the construction project. The note about quarter-round trim and the calculations probably relate to some phase of the construction.

Phil continued as a religious and community leader. Besides his work in the church, he also served as vice president and a director of First National Bank of Midland. He was one of the founders of the Midland Telephone Company and provided financial support to a variety of civic programs and projects.

Phil’s health began to decline in 1923 and he retired from the Scharbauer Cattle Company. He struggled with poor health until his death in 1931. A large group of family, friends and ranch employees gathered for his funeral in the church which he helped to build. Edwin Calhoun, the Methodist pastor at that time, presided over the service. In eloquent terms, he drew lessons from Phil’s lifetime of service and helpfulness to others. Baptist Pastor Winston Borum read the scripture for the service. Business was halted at the Scharbauer Hotel during the time of the funeral and the flag on the hotel flew at half mast.

On September 7, First Methodist will have a Western Day celebrating this aspect of West Texas life. Perhaps those gathering might take a moment to remember former member Phil Scharbauer, cattleman, who embodied the true spirit of Methodist Christian service and cowboy virtues. 


–Jim Collett, Church Historian