Western Trips

Western Trips

Monday, August 22, 2011

The XIT Ranch's 3 Million Acres Built The Texas State Capitol

When you think of the history of Texas you might very well think oil. The fact is that before the massive oil discovery at Spindletop in southeast Texas the state of Texas was all about cattle and the land to graze them on. The cattle ranch and old Texas was synonymous. When you drive by the State Capitol building in Austin you see the product of Texas' early cattle industry. While the state government may not have been rich in capital Texas was quite wealthy in land...lots of land.

Visit the XIT Museum 

texas state capital statue
There are some very interesting sites to add to your Texas vacation planner to learn the whole story of the XIT Ranch, America's largest cattle ranch and how Texas built it's magnificent new State Capitol.  As capitol buildings go, the Texas Capitol was considered the seventh largest building in the world at the time of it's construction.

The picture to the right is the new capitol building showing the statue "Lady Liberty" prior to it's installation at the top of the dome. The first site to add to your Texas trip planner is the XIT Museum located in Dalhart Texas. it's located at the intersection of U.S. Hwy 54 and U.S. Hwy 87. This is in a corner of the Texas Panhandle about 300 miles west of Oklahoma City and about 70 miles northwest of Amarillo Texas.Among it's many exhibits is information and artifacts regarding the XIT Ranch, the Panhandle railroads and the County Sheriff. Another stop for your Texas trip planner might be the XIT Rodeo and Reunion held every year in Dalhart. Dates are usually late July and early August.

The Cattle Raisers Museum

If your Texas travels take you to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Cattle Raisers Museum located inside the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is an excellent stop. Learn all about Texas' cattle industry, cowboys, branding and much more. Makes a good low cost family side trip.

In Channing Texas there is a restoration of the old XIT Ranch general offices. It's location is 517 Railroad Avenue. Channing Texas is located in the Panhandle in Hartley County near Dalhart.

The Famous XIT Ranch

cowboys on XIT ranch
The romance of the XIT Ranch, enhanced by the spread's sheer size, some 3,050,000 acres, the world's largest ranch,  lives on in western lore.

The picture at left is of XIT cowboys taken in the 1880's. The northern ranch border to the southern ranch border spanned 200 miles. The thousands of XIT Ranch records are now housed in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon Texas., and the old general office building still stands in Channing.

 In Dalhart memories of the ranch are kept alive in the XIT Museum and the famous "Empty Saddles" monument. There are a great many sites to explore in Texas regarding the XIT Ranch and it's impact on Texas history. I would recommend you consider these on your next Texas vacation or side trip. They're really a lot of fun to explore.

The XIT Ranch and Texas History

As you can imagine there are many stories connected with the XIT Ranch. It's cowboys, characters passing through, the cattle drives, law and order and it's eventual closure sale of land. What we want to highlight here is how the XIT built Texas' beautiful State Capitol building. The history of the State of Texas is closely interwoven with the XIT Ranch and how it came to be. The picture below is another of XIT cowboys taken in 1891.

At the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 Texas grew by leaps and bounds. This is the point where the cattle industry took hold and grew over the decades. Immigrants were arriving in droves..the railroad began to replace the freight wagons and the responsibilities of the state government took off.

Although the Comanche menace was alive and well in west and northwest Texas, a cattle ranch eventually sprang up here and there in the west. Their two biggest concerns were Indian theft and attack on their herds and of course common rustlers. The Comanche situation continued to the 1870's with the final surrender of Quanah Parker and his band in Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle. The need of a new statehouse was a top priority. Like any measure to go through the legislature, it was debated heavily.

What Texas had of great value was land. In 1875 a representative from Comanche Texas in the Texas Legislature offered a resolution setting aside 5 million acres of public land for the purpose of raising money to build the new capitol. After many arguments as to how much land to set aside, the agreed upon resolution called for 3,050,000 acres in the Texas Panhandle.

Another point to note was that the resolution wasn't formally voted on and approved until 1879. At that point a survey team was paid for and dispatched to the panhandle to designate and mark the exact acreage. Not a whole lot was known about the Panhandle at that time and although the Indian trouble had subsided greatly, the team had a security escort. After all it was in the Texas Panhandle that Kit Carson was involved in the famous Comanche battle at Adobe Walls. The land after surveyed was divided into Spanish leagues rather than the section method adopted later.

You may also enjoy our Western Trips articles on the 1890 Clay County Jail 
and Great Travel Stops Along the Old TX and NM Route 66 Segment.

Building a New State Capital

In 1881 the old state capitol building burned to the ground making the swap of land for building much more urgent. Two bids were received for the new building. One from Mattheas Schnell of Rock Island Illinois and the other from A.A. Burck from Rockdale Texas. The Schnell offer was accepted.

The acreage was transferred to the Farwell brothers, John and Charles from Chicago. In accordance with the agreement, ground was broken on February 1, 1882. The construction proved a bit more difficult than predicted. A railroad had to be built to the rock  quarries of Burnet County. There was also a shortage of American masons and the builders had to recruit granite experts from Scotland. The capitol building was completed in 1888, six years after it's start. The building's architect was Elijah E. Myers of Detroit. Myers was the only architect to design three state capitol buildings..Texas, Michigan and Colorado. As part of the agreement, the Panhandle land was to be given to the Schnell group with free and clear title. The Texas state map depicting the Panhandle area is courtesy of Wikipedia/ GNU Free Documentation License.

Largest Ranch Under Fence

cattle brandsAt left is a list of the various local XIT Brands. The XIT was the largest cattle ranch in the world under fence. It extended from the top of the Panhandle boundary all the way south 200 miles to about where Muleshoe Texas is today. The width of the ranch property varied between 20 and 30 miles and covered the entirety of ten Texas counties. At it's peak the ranch had some 150,000 head of cattle.

The only problem that arose was that in the 1885-86 period beef prices collapsed and the XIT had a hard time breaking even and relied on foreign investors for capital.

Without being too complicated, the financial setup for the XIT was thus.

Capital was raised in England by offering bonds. To comply with English business law, the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company Ltd was established in London. This was an English company. The English company leased back the land to John V. Farwell's Capitol Company. Farwell ran the ranch operations as managing director. For all intents and purposes the English company had no involvement with the operation of the XIT.

The English bonds were for terms of 5, 10 and 15 years. When they matured the English company was dissolved. The English financing behind the XIT had some people referring to the ranch as an English concern. In actuality it wasn't.  By the year 1901 with bonds maturing the ranch began selling off parcels of land to help pay back these investors. The last of the cattle was sold off in 1912 and the remainder of the land sold off shortly after.

The JA Ranch

Although not the size of the famed XIT, the JA Ranch to the east of the XIT covers six counties and is still in existence today. The JA Ranch was founded by Charles Goodnight and John Adair.

Charles Goodnight himself was a legendary Texas and Colorado rancher whose name is on the Goodnight-Loving Trail leading from Texas to New Mexico and then north into Colorado through the Raton, NM mountains. There is also a town on Hwy 287 just east of Amarillo and north of Palo Duro Canyon named after Charles Goodnight. Today, his restored ranch house remains in Goodnight Texas. You may also be interested in the story of the cattle town of Dodge City Kansas.

Another good bit of Texas old west history is our Western Trips story of Sam Bass the notorious train and stage robber.

Below is a list of links to help with your Texas vacation planner.

XIT Museum

Cattle Raisers Museum
XIT Rodeo and Reunion

Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum 

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images from the public domain)

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