of the most fascinating chapters in Texas
history has virtually been lost in modern times, especially for the 21st century
Texas reader. Some may call it a legend, others a
figment of someone’s imagination, but the story of the XIT Ranch is true. The
XIT Ranch was a real ranch in a real part of Texas
with real cowboys managing it.
It all began when the Capitol
building in Austin, Texas burned
to the ground. At the time, just following the costly Civil War, Texas found itself
cash poor but land rich. There were no funds to rebuild a new capitol. The governor
had an idea. With the approval of the legislature, he placed an ad in a national
newspaper stating that three million acres of Texas
land would be given to anyone who would supply three million dollars to build
a new Capitol.
Farwell, a Chicago merchant, saw the ad in the newspaper and was fascinated, as
was everyone in those days about the place called Texas.
To many, Texas was a magic place. It held intrigue
and adventure and Mr. Farwell thought “business opportunity.” But he had no idea
how much land three million acres really was. Nor did he ever dream it would become
the largest ranch in the world.
Farwell answered the ad and agreed to furnish
the $3,000,000 for the purpose of rebuilding the Capitol
of Texas that had burned down, in exchange for three million acres of Texas
And the deal was cut. Farwell bought the land sight unseen.
he asked, “Exactly where is the three million acres?”
“In the Panhandle
of Texas,” came the answer.
So begin the story of legend of the XIT
Ranch, the largest ranch in the world.
time, two Chicago city slickers, Amos Babcock, a seasoned politician, and Abner
Taylor a contractor, were sent to Texas: Babcock
to investigate the property, Taylor to make arrangements for a new capitol building
in Austin. Each was to report back to
Farwell what they saw and heard about this new state in the west, but most of
all to confirm the wisdom of his decision.
After their report Farwell
immediately realized that one man could not adequately oversee the entire spread,
and the decision was made to divide the ranch into seven divisions: Buffalo Springs,
Middle Water, Ojo Bravo Rita Blanca, Escarbada, Springlake, Casas Amarillas or
Yellow Houses. Each section had its own manager and cowboys to operate its portion
of the ranch, but the task still remained difficult and at times overwhelming.
The struggle to survive in this god-forgotten, dry, dusty land took rough hands,
hard muscles, saddle sores and innovative solutions. The unanticipated dangers
of water shortage, prairie fires, wild lobos and cow rustlers were a constant
threat; cowboys, living without proper shelter, on a limited and unhealthy diet
with no change of clothes, resulted in fights and disenchantment; and the arduous
trek of moving the cattle to market without suffering from stampedes were only
a few of the many hardships to overcome with such a vast enterprise.
funds began to deplete, Farwell sailed to Europe to seek new capital from his
mercantile friends in England and France. Unlike Farwell, the British investors
wanted to see the land before committing their money. The first time foreign investors
with titles of ‘Earl’ or ‘Lord’ came to Texas to
view their stake in the XIT Ranch is a story in itself.
the turn of the century, when the ranch was over twenty-five years old and still
not turning an adequate profit, John Farwell, and his brother, Charles met to
discuss their options. Both men were now in their seventies. The fate of the ranch
rests on their decision.