For over 75 years, the Gonzales Livestock Auction house has been serving the community of Gonzales. For over 50 of those years, owner David Shelton has been involved in making the auction house one of the premier cattle auction houses in the state of Texas, if not in the United States.
“I started working there when I was 11 or 12 years old,” Shelton recalled. “When I started, the Brisco Brothers owned the facility, and my mother was the bookkeeper. My first job was to run the tickets in from the auction house to the office to be recorded. Before the Brisco Brothers owned it, the Carnes family opened it around 1940.”
Over time, Shelton’s duties expanded, and he found that he loved what he was doing.
“I always dreamed of someday owning the livestock house,” David recalled. “But when the Brisco’s approached me about buying the place, it was like a dream come true.”
That was back in 1999, and Shelton and his wife Linda purchased the facility in July of that year.
“My family has been involved with this place most of my life,” Shelton said. “When I was 20, I started auctioneering here, and my son J.D. has been doing this as well and has grown his own business outside of this place. He and my son Jim have been involved with this almost all of their lives, and it is a true family business.”
Shelton says part of the success of the Gonzales Livestock facility is due to the people who have worked there before and who work there now.
“When I first started here, Mr. Arthur Ratliffe was the office manager,” Shelton said, before adding with a laugh, “heck he practically raised all of us. The last words you wanted to hear were you had to go see Mr. Arthur for messing up.
“But he was a great man to work for—strict but fair,” Shelton said. “We still use his methods around to keep track of sales and cows. We have never lost a calf or cow in all the years I’ve been thanks to Mr. Arthur’s tracking system. We’ve had people ask us what the heck we are doing in the auction pen, and we just say ‘because that’s the way Mr. Arthur taught us to do it.’”
In fact, Shelton fondly recalls trying to buy some cattle when he was still a young man.
“I went up to Lockhart, and bought some cows in anticipation of selling them at the auction on Saturday,” he laughed. “Well, it rained like a son of a gun that week and the place where I had pastured my cows was cut off by floods. I could not get the cows for the auction, and I thought I was in trouble because I was going to bounce a check since I didn’t have any money in the account.
“Well, I went to Mr. Arthur and told him I had made a mistake and thought I was a little too big for my britches. I told him what I did and he looked at me and said ‘I’m glad you admit you were too big for your britches so I didn’t have to tell you that myself!’ He gave me the money to cover the cows, though, because he was that good of a man.”
Besides Mr. Arthur Ratliffe’s tracking system, part of the success of the business are the people who have worked there and continue to work there.
“My goodness, David is not the only person who has worked here a long time,” said office manager Christina Jahns, who first started working at the Livestock Auction in 1995 while in high school. “Jim Avant, Ricky Kotwig, Marvin Heinemeyer and Benny Davis are all longtime employees here, and David Hovels who recently left us also spent decades working here too.”
Shelton says part of the success of the Gonzales Livestock Auction house is selling on Saturdays. He hires lots of local high school kids because they have time on the weekends. Shelton claims having a local workforce really helps his livestock business. Another reason for his success is the way they treat the customers.
“We treat them fair and work hard for the seller because he’s the one who pays the bills,” Shelton said. “We regularly sell 1000 cows at auction on Saturdays, but we have about 200 consignors. Many of them just drop their cows or calves off and then go home and we just mail them the check after the auction. They trust us, and that’s a great feeling.”
Shelton says things in Gonzales have changed over the years. Years ago, the livestock auction used to sell over 400-500 hogs on Saturdays but that has been discontinued.
In addition, he credits son J.D. for the idea to do live video of the auction house.
“We have people from all over the United States watching our auctions now,” said Shelton. “When they see what we are doing, we’ll get people in here the next week from Iowa or Montana and it brings in lots of new people to Gonzales.”
According to Shelton, Gonzales County is one of the most densely populated cattle counties in the state of Texas, if not the most populated.
“We sell 50,000 to 60,000 head of cattle a year through our house,” Shelton said. “Gonzales County is unique in that we have two successful livestock facilities in the county. The Nixon Livestock house sells about as many as we do, and that makes Gonzales County truly unique in Texas.”
The Nixon Livestock Auction house in Nixon is successfully owned and operated by Gary and Rodney Butler.