History and Distribution of Feral Hogs in Texas

RICHARD B. TAYLOR, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department,

P. O. Box 5207, Uvalde, Texas 78802

Abstract: Feral hogs are old world members of the swine family whose ancestors date back to the ice age. Early explorers and missionaries brought the first swine into Texas, but the feral populations originated during colonization. In the twentieth century, introductions of domestic hogs and European boars into the wild by landowners and sportsman further enhanced the population. Changing land use practices, improved animal husbandry, and eradication of diseases have enabled the feral hog to adapt and disperse throughout most of Texas. With an estimated population of one million animals, feral hog numbers rank second behind the white-tailed deer as a large mammal population and are an intregal part of Texas fauna.

Feral hogs belong to the family Suidae which is the same family of the domestic breeds. There are approximately 23 normally recognized subspecies of wild hogs in the world; however, some discrepancies do occur between professionals (Mayer and Brisbin,1991). Feral hogs include domestic hogs gone wild, European boars, and crosses between the two. The history of feral hogs in Texas must be traced back to the original domestic breeds first brought to the state.

Hogs are old world species and are not indigenous to the New World. The predecessors to the modern swine family date back prior to the ice age. Although the ice age was extremely hard on them, they managed to survive between major glaciations. Their adaptability is still evident in the modern wild pigs which currently inhabit Texas. As the world was shifting and continents being formed, the swine family was excluded from the new world. Because of the extreme cold and ice, they were unable to cross the Bering land bridge between Alaska and Russia, the only possible entrance to the New World prior to separation. On the European and Asian continents of the Old World, wild hogs thrived through the stone ages. Bones have been found in caves that indicates early man hunted and ate swine (Towne and Wentworth, 1950).

Domestication of hogs began somewhere between 7000-3000 BC with the coming of Neolithic man to Europe. Hogs have been an important part of early civilization. In addition to food, they have been reported in mythology, superstitious rites, and religion. Since before Christ, man has loved, hated, revered, worshiped, and tabooed the hogs (Towne and Wentworth, 1950).

Wild Hogs in the United States

The first introduction of hogs into the United States came around 750-1000 AD when Polynesian immigrants to Hawaii brought them to the Islands; however it was the early 1500’s before they made it to the mainland. Christopher Columbus is originally credited with bringing the first hogs to the New World when he brought eight to the West Indies in 1493. These animals and subsequent releases thrived and their progeny populated several of the Carribbean islands. It was from these populations that early Spanish explorers brought hogs to the U.S. mainland in Florida. They provided an important source of food and lard while reproducing quickly (Towne and Wentworth, 1950). These expeditions were the first well documented swine importation onto the United States mainland.

Hernando De Soto, the first swine importer, obtained his supplies from Cuba in 1539 which included 13 sows. Upon landing in Florida, his expedition traveled more than 3100 miles throughout the southern United States, until he died in what is now Arkansas. As he traveled, he took the swine with him. Upon his death in 1542 he had 700 swine and 3 horses, which were sold at auction to his men and possibly some Indians (Thrapp 1988, Towne and Wentworth 1950). However, only 100 hogs were reported fourteen months prior to his death. This was due, in part, to several devastating indian attacks but subsequent numbers are an example of their reproductive potential (Towne and Wentworth, 1950).

Luis De Moscoso took command of the expedition and was determined to return to Mexico overland. They traveled into Texas, possibly reaching the Brazos river, but, finding this route too difficult and dangerous, he retraced his route and traveled back to the Mississippi river where his men built some boats. At the Mississippi river, Moscoso and his men killed, slaughtered, butchered and salted pork for his voyage. These hogs were animals he possibly had in Texas and additional ones he received from the Indians (who had stolen them from him previously). He then sailed down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico where he followed the coast to Tampico, Mexico (Castaneda 1936, Thrapp 1988). This concluded the first excursion of hogs into Texas. It is unclear how many hogs actually entered the state or how many may have been left behind that either escaped, were traded, or were captured by indians. It is unlikely that this first introduction of hogs originated a population of wild hogs in Texas.

The first wild hogs in Texas probably resulted from Rene Robert, Sieur de LaSalle’s failed attempt to colonize the Texas coast. Attempting to relocate the mouth of the Mississippi river which he discovered in 1682, LaSalle landed on the west side of the entrance to Matagorda bay on February 18, 1685. He built a fort further inland for several hundred colonists, soldiers, and workers. Among the supplies he brought with him from St. Domingo in the West Indies were cattle, swine and fowl which reportedly multiplied and prospered. The situation at the fort became so hopeless that in January 1687, LaSalle went for help leaving behind 20 people, 70-75 swine and 18-20 hens at he colony. LaSalle never made it out of Texas (he was killed by his own men) and the colonists at the fort also died due to smallpox and Indian attacks. When Spanish explorers finally located the lost fort a few years later, a Spanish priest, Massanet, reported finding many “dead pigs at the destroyed fort” (Castaneda 1936, Gillmore 1973, Yoakum 1935). It is unclear why the Karankawa Indians had left the fresh meat at the fort. Mary Atkinson (1953) claims that the Karankawa indians of the Gulf coast “utilized Spanish livestock that went wild including longhorns, mustangs, and razorbacks, a new and bountiful meat supply.” The Spaniard, De Solis, reported in 1767-68 that Karankawa indians “live on horses, mules, deer, bison, bears, wild boars (javelinas?), rabbits and hares, unlike the Plains Indians who tabooed fish and fowls and particularly hogs for spiritual reasons”(Newcomb 1961). It is possible that some of the original swine from LaSalle’s colony found haven in the thickets of the Gulf coast but whether the progeny survived death and disease to the present day is unlikely.

The Spanish began sending missionaries into Texas in the 1700’s to establish missions, teach religion to the indians, and lay claim to the terrirory. The Martin de Alarcon expedition of 1718-19, which founded the Mission San Antonio de Valero (Alamo), introduced unknown numbers of swine along with other livestock into the area. Although some historians claim swine were a part of the missions’ livestock, records do not substantiate this claim and, in fact, swine numbers were probably inconsequential. A census of San Antonio in 1745 claimed 2000 cattle, 1317 sheep, 304 goats and 40 horses and inventories of 13 operating missions in 1763 never mentioned swine. It is probable that a few hogs were present at that time but only in minimal numbers. An 1810 census of San Antonio lists 14 ranches in operation with a total of 85 hogs (Castaneda 1936).

The Nacogdoches settlement of east Texas is one of the oldest in the state. As a mission it did not raise hogs but evidently settlers in the area had a few animals. In 1806 there was some settlement along the old San Antonio road near Nacogdoches and, in 1819, on an excursion from the Sabine river to Nacogdoches the Mexican Colonel Ignacio Perez and his troops observed “…good crops of cotton, corn, pumpkins, potatoes, and other vegetables and the troops fed on the many pigs and chickens they found” (Castaneda 1936). The first hogs to arrive in Texas of any significance and which established a wild population probably originated with these colonists.

Stephen F. Austin received the first land grant in January of 1821 and the first colonist arrived in November of 1821. His colonists, referred to as “the old 300”, settled along the Brazos, Colorado, and Bernard rivers near present day Brenham, Navasota, and LaGrange (Figure 1). The colonists who came to Texas were basically poor and self reliant. The economy of the colonies were based on trading, such as clothing for hogs, an ox for a sow, horses for corn, or a gun for a mare. The export of the colony of farmers in Austins’ words were “cotton, beef tallow, pork, lard, mules, etc.” Swine were the most common livestock although cattle, oxen, and chickens were found (Fehrenbach 1983). All the livestock were allowed to run wild in the woods and forage for themselves.

Gathering the livestock often required using a little corn as an enticement to the pen or using dogs or horses. Often wild hogs that couldn’t be rounded up would be hunted and shot by the settlers when they wanted fresh meat. Noah Smithwick (1968) claimed in 1830 that “Martin Varner (colonist) had a lot of wild hogs running in the bottom and when he wanted pork he went out and shot one.” The diet of the colonists was largely salt pork, usually fried with corn bread, sweet potatoes, and molasses. Fresh meat was rare with the exception of wild game (Fehrenbach 1983). Nacogdoches was an important trading center between the colonists and Louisiana and, according to Weinger (1984), an 1834 census of the Nacogdoches settlement recorded 60,000 hogs.

By 1835, 3500 land titles were issued to settlers through various Impresarios. The colonies produced thousands of bales of cotton and large numbers of cattle and hogs (Fehrenbach 1983). With the outbreak of hostilities between the colonists and Mexico and Santa Anna marched through Texas, many of the colonist, fearing for their lives, left as fast as they could. This exodus is often referred to as the “runaway scrape” and Texas soldier Noah Smithwick (1968) observed that between Brenham and Bastrop and throughout the colony they “..found houses open, beds unmade, cribs full of corn, smoke houses full of bacon, chickens, cattle eating the grass and hogs fat and lazy wallowing in the mud all abandoned.”

After hostilities between Texas and Mexico ceased, settlement resumed in the original colonies and German immigrants began settling in central Texas. Settlements such as New Braunfels, Kerrville, and Fredricksburg were founded in the 1840’s (Figure 1). Swine was the most common livestock in this area, although cattle was present in large numbers, but there was not a market for the meat. Cattle were raised principally for their hides. The prolific hogs were raised for their meat and lard and were very marketable. There was also rapid development of northeast Texas between the years 1840-1860 (Fehrenbach 1983).

In the east Texas Big Thicket region hogs continued to be imported and, in 1838, a settler named Sherod Wright claimed he and his neighbors had hogs “mainly for their own use.” “In summer hogs scattered over the uplands and in winter went to the bottoms to forage on nuts. When he saddled up to ride he’d put some corn in his saddlebags paying a token to the process of domestication, but, in spite of this, hogs eventually became nearly as wild as deer” (Truett and Lay 1984).

In 1841, two years after the government had moved to Austin, a political scandal between the French Charge d’Affaires and Texas occurred over hogs. It seems that a local resident, Mr. Bullock, had some of his hogs killed by a French servant when they broke fences, entered the home, ate linen and destroyed important papers. Mr. Bullock promptly beat the servant and, when the Texas government refused to take satisfactory action against Mr. Bullock, the French Charge d’Affaires left town never to return (Haley 1985).

Fredrick Olmstead (1962) who traveled through Texas in 1854 states that at his camp near Crockett on January 1, 1854 “…we were annoyed by hogs beyond all description. At almost every camp we were surrounded by them; but here they seemed perfectly frantic with hunger. They ran directly through the fire and even carried off a chicken….that was dressed and pitted. While the horses were feeding, it required the constant attendance of two of us to keep them at bay; and even then they secured more than half the corn. Fanny (his horse) was so shocked and disturbed as to refuse all the food. For some minutes the fiercest of them would resist even a clubbing, eating and squealing on through the blows. These animals proved, indeed throughout Texas a disgusting annoyance, though after procuring an excellent dog a day or two after we were rid of the worst of it.”

Further on his trip west in the Texas hill country near the head of the Guadalupe river in present-day Kendall county he claimed “One of the greatest sources of profit is from droves of hogs which increase with remarkable rapidity and pick their living from the roots and nuts of river bottoms. The distribution of a few ears of corn at night brings them all every day to the crib.” Throughout his travels, he reports bacon and pork which was evidently easier to obtain than beef (Olmstead 1962).

DeCordova (1969) reported to the New York Geographical Society in 1858 that ” There are at this time hundreds of persons who are doing well raising hogs with very little labor, and so great in demand for the produce of this animal in our state, that it is impossible to have a super abundance, not withstanding that the region of the country adapted to hog raising is so extensive. In addition to the amount raised in Texas, we import a large amount from New Orleans”. By 1860, the area of Austins’ colony had an estimated 50,000 hogs. A citizen of Robertson county estimated probably 30,000 hogs in that county. The vast majority of these hogs were free ranging (Weniger 1984).

By the late 1800’s wild hogs were numerous throughout the big thicket of east Texas and provided the most important game meat (Campbell and Loughmiller 1977). Through the turn of the twentieth century, as settlement increased throughout Texas, the numbers of hogs allowed to range freely also increased. In the early 1900’s Mearns noted that feral hogs were numerous in many parts of Texas along the Rio Grande (Mayer and Brisbin 1991).

The early 1900’s were relatively prosperous for the rural Texans until the 1920’s and 1930’s when economic hard times hit with devastating consequences. At that time many rural residents were forced to leave their farms to seek employment in the cities in order to pay their mortgages and taxes. As they packed their families and belongings and headed to the city, many left their livestock behind, especially their free-ranging hogs to fend and survive for themselves.

The European Wild Boar

There are very few documented facts concerning the history of the European wild boars in Texas. The Denman releases along the central Texas coast are probably the best known in Texas. In about 1930 – 1933 the first known importations of European wild boars were recorded when approximately eleven were obtained from the San Antonio zoo and escaped or were released near Austwell in Aransas county. An additional 10-15 were released in 1939 between Port O’Conner and Seadrift in Calhoun county. They readily crossed with domestic or feral hogs (Mayer and Brisbin 1991). The next reported release of European hogs occurred in the early 1940 when a rancher in northwest Bexar county purchased several from a traveling zoo and consequently released them into the wild. Following a fence – destroying flood which allowed the animals to escape into the surrounding areas of eastern Medina and southern Bandera county, these hogs also readily bred with free ranging domestic hogs (Mayer and Brisbin 1991). Later releases of the so-called European wild boars were probably hybrids between the European and feral hogs.

The Present

From the 1950’s until the present, hogs have been continually released throughout Texas in an effort to increase hunting opportunity and economic returns. Texas is approximately 97% privately owned and hunting leases provide a major economic incentive. Prior to 1992 domestic hogs or wild trapped feral hogs could be purchased locally through livestock auctions or individuals and released. However, in 1992 the Texas Animal Health Commission inacted new regulations concerning the movement of wild-trapped swine in an effort to prevent the possible spread of disease. Today, it would be impossible to estimate the numbers of hogs released by landowners and sportsmen. Since the hog is an unregulated animal in Texas and is not classified as a game animal. For this reason few statistics and harvest information is available.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) first attempted to monitor the European wild boar in 1945 reporting the Denman release along the Texas coast under exotic game animals (Anonymous 1945). At that time the author clearly stated that they were breeding with domestic or feral hogs. The next report on exotics by TPWD was when Al Jackson (1964) reported European boars in the central Texas region and on the central Texas coast. In that survey he estimated 400 in Calhoun county, 175 in Bexar county, and “heavy concentrations” in Medina county. He also states that wild boar have crossed with feral swine in many areas so that pure stock is limited and hard to distinguish from crosses. In 1967 TPWD estimated approximately 10,000 European boars were on the Edwards Plateau south to the Rio Grande Plains in south Texas with feral hogs occurring in those areas and also in eastern Texas (Ramsey 1967, Springer 1977) (Figure 2). It is clear that feral hogs and crossbreds were included in this estimate. Further exotic surveys conducted by TPWD excluded feral hogs, European hogs and crossbreds although some information was obtained.

The first attempt to determine the status of feral hogs in Texas came in 1979 when questionnaires were sent out to TPWD biologists across the state to determine their distribution, utilization, and management implications (Synatzske 1979) (Figure 3). No attempt was made at that time to determine or estimate the population. In 1992, utilizing available data from TPWD exotic surveys, the Synatszke report, private surveys and interviews, the distribution of feral hogs in Texas was determined (Taylor 1991).

In 1992 the feral hog was distributed throughout most of Texas with the exception of the western panhandle and the northern Trans-Pecos region (Figure 4). Feral hog densities fluctuate from extremely dense populations in east, southeast and south Texas to light populations in far west Texas. They are found in all habitat types from dense forest, swamps, chaparral brush, and oak-woodland. In Texas feral hogs occupy most of the same range as white-tailed deer. They prefer bottomland habitats but do well in upland areas if there is sufficient cover. Climate does not appear to be a limiting factor; however, diverse food availability is important (Taylor 1991).

The range of the feral hog in Texas has increased tremendously since the 1960’s. They have adapted to virtually all habitat types and climatic conditions. The population has increasingly multiplied increasingly as their range has expanded. The feral hog is an extremely wary and secretive creature whose adaptability and nocturnal habits have made it extremely difficult to accurately determine population status. Therefore, density estimates for the feral hog in Texas is purely speculative and based on an array of factors. Deer range and densities correlated with hog distribution, biological estimations based on interviews and actual census efforts were all incorporated to estimate the feral hog population in Texas at approximately one million animals (Taylor 1991).

The feral hog in Texas has increased in numbers and expanded its range for a number of reasons. Constant introductions throughout Texas coupled with the high reproductive rate of swine and limited hunting pressure are probably the most significant factors. Feeding and baiting wildlife is the primary hunting technique used by Texas hunters and feral hogs are utilizing this practice to their advantage. Feral hogs are also benefitting from changing agricultural and land practices (farmland conversion to rangeland, better land management and improved livestock grazing practices by landowners). Farming has become much more productive and efficient and utilized by hogs. Water conservation has also increased and water supplies from stocktanks, lakes, and irrigation have benefitted wild hogs.

Diseases have historically helped keep the wild hog population in check. The eradication of the screworm has benefitted the wild hog as it did white-tailed deer. As commercial swine operators improved their operations and animal husbandry progressed, vaccinations curtailed most diseases among domestic breeds. These diseases could no longer be transmitted to a wild population which would then spread rapidly through that wild population. Now, commercial swine operator are fearful of diseases which the wild hogs can transmit to their commercial operation. In 1978, hog cholera, a deadly disease to hogs, was eradicated.

Hogs have been around Texas for many centuries but have increased substantially in the last few decades. It is obvious that they are an intregal part of Texas fauna, currently number two behind white-tailed deer in numbers. They are extremely wary and secretive, very adaptive to conditions, and are in Texas to stay.

Literature Cited

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Atkinson, Mary J. 1953. The Texas Indians. The Naylor Company. San Antonio, Texas 250pp.

Campbell, Il, and Lynn Loughmiller. 1977. Big Thicket Legacy. University of Texas Press. Austin, Texas.

Castaneda, C. E. 1936. Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, Volumes 1-VI. Von Boeckmann- Jones Company. Austin, Texas.

DeCordova, J. 1969. Lecture on Texas in; Texas: Her Resources and her Public Men. Texian Press. Waco, Texas. 375 pp.

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Mayer J.J. and I. L. Brisbin, Jr. 1991. Wild Pigs in the United States: their history, morphology, and current status. University of Georgia Press. Athens, Georgia. 313 pp.

Newcomb, W. W., Jr. 1961. The Indians of Texas: From prehistoric to modern times. University of Texas Press. Austin, Texas 404 pp.

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Smithwick, Noah. 1968. The evolution of a state or Recollections of old Texas days. Steck- Vaughn Company. Austin, Texas. 354 pp.

Springer, M. D. 1977. Ecological and economic aspects of wild pigs in Texas. Pages 37-46 in G. W. Wood, ed. Research and management of wild hog populations. The Belle W. Baruch For. Sci. Inst., Clemson University. Georgetown, S. C

Synatzske, David R. 1979. Status of the Feral Hog in Texas. Unpubl. report. 9pp.

Taylor, Rick. 1991 The Feral Hog in Texas. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Federal Aid Report Series No. 28. Project W-125-R. 20 pp.

Thrapp, Dan L. 1988. Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography. Vol. 1-3. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln, Nebraska. 1698 pp.

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