There was nothing in the history of the West quite like the XIT Ranch. In the 1880s, it was the largest ranch in the world under the fence, and it sprawled across the Texas Panhandle up from the old Yellow House headquarters near what is now Lubbock, northward to the Oklahoma Panhandle in a crazy strip that was toughly thirty miles wide. At one time, the ranch ran over 150,000 cattle.
The ranch was so large it covered portions of ten counties: Dallam, Hartley, Oldham, Deaf Smith, Parmer, Castro, Bailey, Lamb, Cochran, and Hockley. As a result, some believed the the brand ‘XIT’ stood for “Ten in Texas”. However the brand was designed to thwart rustlers by Ab Blocker, a South Texas trail driver, and B.H. (Barbeque) Campbell, first general manager of the ranch, who apparently once ordered a carload of brown cigarette papers. In any event, at the No. 1 division Buffalo Springs headquarters (32 miles north of Dalhart), the two men, according to the story, squatted on their boot heels were able to outsmart Blocker and Campbell, but they did learn to make ‘XIT’ into a Star Cross if the T was crossed crooked.
It was a ranch that had a history of superlatives. Besides being the largest ranch in the world under fence, Texas (then the biggest state) used it to pay for its red granite Capitol which is still the largest state Capitol on the North American continent today. Actually, the Texas Capitol at Austin is even bigger that the U.S. Capitol building. Its dome stands seven feet higher.
In 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 was slow until finally a fire in 1881 destroyed the old biulding which forced Gov. Oran M. Roberts to call a special legislative session. At that point, a bargain was struck with two brothers, Charles B. and John V. Farwell of Chicago. They agreed to build a $3,000,000 Capitol and accept the three million Panhandle ares in payment.
The Farwells operated one of the largest wholesale dry goods firms in Chicago and operated the XIT Ranch in strict accordance with the business methods of the period. The XIT Ranch became one of the first ranches to adopt scientific practices and raised various agricultural crops annually in addition to raising cattle.
During the 1920s the XIT Ranch was broken up, sold, and thus was divided into smaller ranches. Now only a few of the original buildings exist.
Since 1936, cowboys and their families who worked the XIT Ranch have been gathering at an annual reunions to reminisce about life on the ranch. Since 1937, these reunions have been held in Dalhart, where the addition of a rodeo and a free barbeque have been opened to the public. Today the event, which triples the size of the town, is one of the most exciting western celebrations in the world.
From “Accent West” August 1997 issue – written by Liz Cantrell and used with permission of Don Cantrell.