Western Trips

Monday, April 16, 2012

Texas Ranchers, George Littlefield and the LFD Brand

The story of one of the largest Texas ranchers, George Littlefield, is the story of a Confederate officer, turned successful rancher and then into one of the first regents at the University of Texas in Austin.

The story is particularly interesting in as much as success with Texas ranching did not come easy for Littlefield. Success actually didn't come easy to many early Texas ranchers. A good example was another legendary Texas rancher by the name of Charles Goodnight. Today, many people refer to Goodnight as being the Father of the Texas Panhandle. Charles Goodnight's Panhandle ranching career went from boom to bust to boom. Such were the conditions of the second half 1800's ranching industry and the nation's economy. Regardless, Texas ranching and Texas ranchers were the backbone of the Texas economy.

The George Littlefield House

littlefield house
Littlefield House, Austin Texas
The George Littlefield House pictured in this article sits on the west side of the University of Texas campus in Austin.

The home is of Victorian architecture and was built in 1893 for a cost of $50,000. Like all Victorian architecture, the George Littlefield House is an example of ostentation. The homes like this constructed were a showcase of wealth. Many such homes were built by the wealthy but in the twenty-first century the Littlefield House sits alone in a modern campus environment.

A large veranda goes around the house with intricate iron grill work. Windows are plentiful all around the home and on both floors. The interior of the house is has a dark interior which was common in the era. Chandeliers are found in many of the rooms which have 14 foot ceilings. When Alice Littlefield passed away in 1935 she gave the home to the University of Texas. In 1970 the home was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Post Civil War Texas

After the American Civil War, George Littlefield tried his hand at farming. The venture didn't work out well partially due to flooding in the last years of the 1860's. The farming venture practically drove Littlefield broke. He wasn't the only one. At the same time Texas ranches were growing and growing rapidly. The railroad slowly but surely was expanding into Kansas. This opened up Abilene Kansas as a cowtown to Texas ranching. Soon the railroad were reach Dodge City Kansas. Dodge City represented a convenient cowtown for Texas ranchers and herds in western Texas, New Mexico as well as Colorado.

Littlefield's Ranching

littlefield house in austin texas
Littlefield House porch and grill work
Although George Littlefield's ranch was the LIT, there's a very interesting story about George Littlefield's LFD brand.

At one time Littlefield had cattle roaming not only in Texas but also in a substantial part of eastern New Mexico. The tale is that LFD stood for "Left for Dead".

Littlefield's drovers would find abandoned cattle in the arid New Mexico climate. By nursing them back to health, the Littlefield outfit built a substantial portion of their herd. Historical research however points to the use of the LFD brand as more likely derived from the name Littlefield. The rumors that LFD stood for Left for Dead did sound colorful and that's probably how it all began.

Littlefield started out in 1877 by driving a herd from south Texas up to the cowtown of Dodge City Kansas.When he determined that prices had dropped considerably in Dodge City because of the sheer number of cattle driven there, he decided to hold off and winter the herd in the Texas Panhandle.

The LIT Ranch was started when cattle prices remained low in the spring of 1878 and Texas rancher Littlefield decided to continue holding off. The Panhandle land was squatter land and a piece of a time was added. The LIT would often add land when other squatters departed. All in all, the LIT eventually encompassed some 1,000 square miles. By 1881, Littlefield had about 14,000 head of cattle and was offered by British investors over $250,000 to be bought out. After some time spent considering the offer he accepted. That amount represents about $5 million in today's money.

British investment groups were significant western ranch owners. After selling the LIT Littlefield moved to Austin Texas and got himself into the banking business, establishing the American National Bank. George Littlefield did very well in the banking business and bought into other Austin businesses including the famous Driskill Hotel. The Driskill Hotel is another great landmark in Austin still visited by thousands of tourists annually. George Littlefield also built the nine story Littlefield Building in downtown Austin in 1912.

interior of george littlefield house
Littlefield House interior
One of the best books available on the history of western ranching is The Cattle Kings by author Lewis Atherton. One review for this book states..."Professor Atherton has written an intellectual evaluation of the pioneer cattleman in his unique western habitat. It is freshly diverting, smartly written, and probably the best critical review ever presented on this complex subject."

For certain, Atherton describes the western rancher as a businessman. A good many books have highlighted the supposed romantic side of the rancher. The Cattle Kings puts the reality of ranching in proper perspective.

One attribute of the successful Texas rancher was his contribution to society. Two good examples of this are in the stories of both George Littlefield and Charles Goodnight. Littlefield with his large Texas ranches no doubt amassed a fortune. He was fortunate enough to be very financially successful. It has been said that George Littlefield gave the University of Texas some $3 million dollars during the school's first fifty years of existence. Included in Littlefield's donations to the university was the building of the Alice P. Littlefield Dormitory. The University of Texas was probably the largest receiver of Littlefield's financial contributions to culture and society.

The Texas Panhandle

george littlefield house at university of texas
Littlefield House interior
Another interesting story of successful Texas ranchers includes the accomplishments of Charles Goodnight who many refer to as the Father of the Texas Panhandle.

While Goodnight didn't amass quite the wealth that Littlefield was able to, he made many contributions to society as well as to the ranching industry. Goodnight was the founder of the Panhandle Stockman's Association and was a cattle cross-breeder.

Charles Goodnight was a trail blazer along with Oliver Loving who established a trail through New Mexico into Colorado. Charles Goodnight and his wife donated money to build the first Methodist church in Goodnight Texas and also established the Goodnight Academy which opened the door to higher education for many young people. Later in life Goodnight built the Goodnight College in Armstrong County Texas.

The old Texas ranches have a lot of history with them and were instrumental in helping Texas grow to be what it is. If your Texas vacation plans take you through the Austin area you might very well enjoy touring the Littlefield House on the western edge of the University of Texas campus. The home is located at 24th Street and Whitis Avenue, just one block east of Guadalupe Street on the campus.

Another article you may enjoy from Western Trips is Wild Horses and Cowboys.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)