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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Mega-Ranches of Early Texas

The famous King Ranch of south Texas was not the only "Mega-Ranch" in the early years of the booming Texas cattle industry.

Here is an article entitled Thumbnail History of the XIT Ranch - another of the early Texas monster ranches.

The XIT ranch in the 1880's was the largest ranch in the world under fence, and it all laid in the Texas Panhandle. Its three million acres sprawled from the old Yellow House headquarters near what is now Lubbock, Texas, northward to the Oklahoma Panhandle, in an irregular strip that was roughly about thirty miles wide. It covered portions of ten counties: Daliam, Hartley, Oldham, Deaf Smith, farmer, Castro, Palley, Lamb, Cochran and Hockley which has apparently helped perpetuate the mitt-belief that the brand— XIT—stands for "Ten In Texas." The brand, in fact, was originated to thwart rustlers; one of the two originators still lives and usually attends the Annual XIT Reunions.

XIT history is a triangle of superlatives. The XIT range was the largest in the world under fence. Texas, biggest state in the union, used it to pay for its red granite capitol, still the biggest state capitol on the North American continent. The Austin structure after more than a half century still houses the Lone Star state government, and as capitols go is second in size only to the one at Washington, D. C. In one respect it is even bigger than the U.S. capitol. Its dome stands seven feet higher.

The long lasso of time must drop back to 1875. The Lone Star government was getting cramped in its old capitol, and the Texas Constitutional convention set aside three million Panhandle acres with which to get a new capitol. Action dragged till fire destroyed the old capitol Nov. 9, 1881. Gov. Oran M. Roberts called a special legislative session. It struck a bargain with Charles B. and John V. Farwell, brothers of Chicago, under which they agreed to build a $3,000,000 capitol and accept the three million Panhandle acres in payment

Ground for the capitol was broken in.1882. By ox-power and specially- built railroad, Burnet county’s famous red granite was transported to Austin for the historic structure.

The Farwells borrowed money in England -to develop the ranch, and oil this fact probably was hung the one-time myth that the ranch belonged to Englishmen. The debt was liquidated in 1909.

In 1885 the first cattle, long of leg and horn, rolled onto the XIT. Thousands of hoofs drummed along the trail, and the Longhorns were pushed on to the No. 1 division headquarters at Buffalo Springs, 32 miles north of Dalhart, now easily available by modern highway. Once the ranch ran, 150.000 cattle.

The corrals, foreman's residence and bunk house had just been built at the Springs, and still stand, the oldest structures in Dallam county.

Ab Blocker, a South Texas trail driver, and B. H. (Barbecue) Campbell, first general manager of the ranch, who once ordered a carload of brown cigarette papers, squatted on their hoot heels and in the corral dust at Buffalo Springs figured out a brand that could be run with a straight iron and that rustlers could not successfully burn over. Blocker ran the first ‘XIT’ then and there.

Rustlers could never entirely circumvent Blocker and Campbell, but they did learn to make XIT into a Star Cross if the "T" was crossed crooked. Blocker still lives near Big Wells, Texas, and rides his horse into town daily.

For more than three decades the ranch has been slowly selling into smaller ranges and farms. But it was so vast that there still remain 350,000 acres, including the Buffalo Springs headquarters. These original holdings are in charge of the Capitol Freehold Land Trust, with Texas headquarters in Dalhart, and. the general headquarters in Chicago where heirs of the first owners are still in the saddle.

Roaming and living in the Southwest and many parts of the world, are old cowpunchers who once pounded leather and smelled six-gun smoke on the XIT. It is to honor these men and their families that the annual XIT Reunion is held. Fort Worth started it in 1936. The second reunion came to Dalhart, and former XIT cowhands, comprising the XIT Association, voted Dalhart the permanent reunion home. The latchstring on the XIT headquarters in Dalhart is always on the outside.
For more information on the early Texas mega-ranches, see also:
Ranch Founded by Richard King Becomes an Empire
The Yellow House Ranch
The Last of the Old Drovers
Ab Blocker and the XIT

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