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Hutchinson County Ranches

Source: The Handbook of Texas Online



The Quarter Circle T Ranch, the second ranch in the Panhandle, was established in late November 1876 when Thomas Sherman Bugbee brought his family, trail hands, two wagons, and about 1,800 cattle to the Panhandle from the vicinity of what is now Lakin, Kansas. An early blizzard caused the Bugbee cattle to drift south to the Canadian River breaks in an area that is now Hutchinson County, where the family decided to stay.

The resourceful Mary Catherine Bugbee chose a spot in the earthen wall of a riverbank near the creek that now bears her husband's name. Here she constructed a "half-human," or family-sized, dugout of mud and pickets with deerskin windows and buffalo-hide carpets as a home for their two small children. The cattle grazed on the abundant grasses in the sheltered breaks. Buffalo were still numerous in the area, and Molly, who was a crack shot, had no trouble supplying fresh meat.

The buffalo also were a menace, however, and Bugbee was compelled to hire extra men to keep them away from his cattle and their grazing areas. He adopted his Quarter Circle T brand in 1876, and Tom Coffee served as range boss. The Quarter Circle T made its own trail to Dodge City, a 200-mile, ten-day journey by wagon. All supplies were freighted by ox teams. This connection helped alleviate the family's isolation; as many as three months might pass without mail or news from the outside world. The nearest neighbors were Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight, seventy-five miles away in Palo Duro Canyon.

Mrs. Nancy Thompson, Molly's mother from Kansas, soon joined the young family. In 1878 the Bugbees hired two itinerant Portuguese stonemasons to construct a five-room ranchhouse from native stone quarried near the site. A milkhouse was erected over a nearby spring, with troughs where water could cool dairy products and trickle down to water a garden. Barns and corrals completed the Quarter Circle T headquarters. In the new house, the Bugbees' third child, Ruby, was born, the first white child born in Hutchinson County.

With proceeds from cattle sales Bugbee purchased more stock, and his herds rapidly grew. When the Prairie Cattle Company offered $175,000 for the ranch in 1881, Mrs. Bugbee persuaded him to wait for a higher price. In December 1882 they accepted a $350,000 bid from the Hansford Land and Cattle Company. At that time Bugbee's cattle numbered 12,500. The Bugbees moved to Kansas City and later to Clarendon after he became involved in further ranching ventures.

The Quarter Circle T brand ceased to be used after the sale. The land and cattle were added to the Hansford company's Turkey Track Ranch. Cape Willingham, manager of this enterprise, moved his family into the stone house and made it the Turkey Track's main headquarters. The house, located ten miles east of Stinnett, continued more than 100 years later to serve the Turkey Track's owners, the Whittenburg family, who preserved its original atmosphere. The portholes made to fire through during Indian raids and the porch from which Mrs. Bugbee shot buffalo are still prominent features. The spring that kept milk and vegetables cool for the Bugbees now feeds a concrete swimming pool.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: C. L. Douglas, Cattle Kings of Texas (Dallas: Baugh, 1939; rpt., Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1968). Laura V. Hamner, Short Grass and Longhorns (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876-1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981).

H. Allen Anderson


The Scissors was the first ranch established at the Adobe Walls site and the second in Hutchinson County, after Thomas Sherman Bugbee's Quarter Circle T. The ranch was founded in 1878 by William E. Anderson and named for its cattle brand, which resembled a pair of scissors. The brand was officially registered at Mobeetie in 1880. The 1880 census reported Anderson as owning 1,600 acres of pasture valued at $800.

He had 485 cattle, fifteen milk cows, fifty-four horses, nine mules, and 7,000 sheep, all valued at $25,265. In 1879 he sold forty cattle, lost fifty dead, strayed, or stolen, and had a calf increase of 100. With his sheep Anderson apparently suffered a severe setback, for in 1879 he lost 200 to disease and 1,000 more from "stress of weather." During that year he sold only 646 sheep, slaughtered 200, and had a lamb increase of 1,500. He also clipped 4,200 sheep to get a total of 20,000 pounds of wool. Evidently Anderson had at least five men in his employ, since he paid out $1,500 for an estimated 260 weeks of employee time during 1879.

Orville H. Nelson noted Anderson's ranching activities at Adobe Walls in 1879 while he was traveling from Kansas to buy cattle for the first time. Anderson was a charter member of the Panhandle Cattle Raisers' Association in 1880. He was among the jurors summoned for Wheeler County's third district court in 1881. The occasion was the trial of John McCabe, accused of killing Granger Dyer, Charles Goodnight's brother-in-law. The jurors, among them Cape Willingham, Emmanuel Dubbs, and R. E. McAnulty, found the defendant not guilty.

In 1882 Anderson sold his holdings to the Hansford Land and Cattle Company, which was buying up ranches in the vicinity. It subsequently became part of the Turkey Track Ranch, and the Scissors brand was no longer used.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Millie Jones Porter, Memory Cups of Panhandle Pioneers (Clarendon, Texas: Clarendon Press, 1945). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876-1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981).

H. Allen Anderson


The Four Sixes (6666) brand was established by Samuel Burk Burnett in the early 1870s. Although legend persists that Burnett's brand was devised to honor a winning poker hand of four sixes that he once held, sources indicate that Burnett, after successfully completing his first drive to Kansas as trail boss for his father's herd in 1867, saved his earnings and in 1871 used them to buy 100 cattle bearing the Four Sixes brand from Frank Crowley in Denton County.

Burnett's brother Bruce used the brand in reverse (9999) for his ranching operation, which he moved to Knox County in 1889. In 1874 Burnett moved his cattle to the region of the Wichita River, bought land, and established his ranch headquarters near the site of present Wichita Falls. Due to the drought of 1881 Burnett was forced to drive his cattle to the Red River to survive. He subsequently leased 300,000 acres of Comanche-Kiowa reservation land. In 1893 he began the process of purchasing the Old Eight Ranch, 140,000 acres and 1,500 head of stock, from the Louisville Land and Cattle Company of Kentucky. The purchase was finalized in 1900, and Burnett moved his 6666 Ranch headquarters to King County.

By 1900, when the government opened the Kiowa-Comanche reservation for settlement and ordered the cattlemen to vacate their leases, Burnett obtained from President Theodore Roosevelt a two-year extension to enable him and his fellow cattlemen to move out and dispose of their herds in an orderly fashion.

In 1902 Burnett bought 107,520 acres in Carson and Hutchinson counties from the British-owned White Deer Lands for $2.65 per acre. This choice Panhandle range, which had previously been leased to Al Popham and J. L. Harrison, was located along Dixon Creek and contained abundant water. It became known as the Burnett-Dixon Creek-6666 Ranch. Over the next few years Burnett acquired sufficient adjoining range land to constitute an operation totaling almost a third of a million acres.

On his Four Six ranges Burnett began improving his cattle by careful culling of cows and importation of purebred Hereford and Durham bulls. The resultant offspring soon became consistent winners as feeder cattle in livestock shows nationwide. The Dixon Creek Division, sometimes known as the Stocker Ranch, was set up to receive calves produced on the other Burnett properties. Gradually, the Four Sixes became a strictly Hereford operation, and Burnett's cattle were among the first to be spayed to better fatten them prior to slaughter.

The Four Sixes acquired its first cow horses from Burnett's father-in-law, Col. M. B. Lloyd of Fort Worth; since then all horses on the ranch have been branded with the letter L on the left shoulder. Burnett's purebred quarter horses likewise became well known throughout the Southwest. Outstanding Four Six employees during its early years, some of whom had worked for the Eight Ranch before Burnett bought it, included John Humphreys, Jim Gibson, Sid Williams, Charlie Hart, Joe Crystal, and Oak (Coley) Owens. Bud Arnett was retained as the first foreman. The Four Sixes brand was used on the Burnett properties in Wichita County, headquartered at Iowa Park, until 1910, when Burnett leased them to his son Thomas L. Burnett, who subsequently adopted Colonel Lloyd's Triangle brand as his own.

Although Burk Burnett at first utilized the Old Eight Camp as his headquarters in King County, he later moved it west to the county seat of Guthrie and in 1917 built his magnificent $100,000 stone ranch house on a hill overlooking the town. Barns, corrals, a bunkhouse, and other outbuildings were erected around it. In 1918 a severe Panhandle blizzard wiped out 2,000 cattle on the Dixon Creek Division, but the losses were practically forgotten in 1921, when the first seven of Carson County's oil and gas wells, including Eugene S. Blasdel's Gulf No. 1 and No. 2, were drilled on the ranch.

After Burnett's death in 1922 the Four Sixes was inherited by his granddaughter, Anne Burnett Tandy. Known affectionately among the ranch people as "Miss Anne," she became nationally famous as a judge and breeder of horses; among the well-known champion racers and show horses acquired by or bred on the Four Sixes were Grey Badger II and Hollywood Gold. The ranch and its overseers were prime movers in the organization of the American Quarter Horse Association. When Bud Arnett retired as foreman in 1930, his son-in-law filled the position for two years and then was succeeded by a second-generation Four Sixes cowhand, George P. Humphreys. By 1936 around 20,000 Hereford cattle stocked the Four Six ranges, ably run by the S. B. Burnett Estate in Fort Worth, of which John C. Burns served as trustee for many years. In 1961 John Boyce (Jay) Humphrey III was appointed as trustee and general manager; he held the position until 1980.

The Four Sixes Ranch, which occupies some 208,000 acres, continues to be the primary economic mainstay of King County. The imposing ranch house, occupied by the foreman and his family, stands at the end of a paved driveway just off U.S. Highway 82. A rock watertower stands behind it, and other ranch facilities, including barns and corrals, a dining room, and a bunkhouse for single employees, cover about eighteen acres. Four line camps, the South, North, Old Eight, and Taylor, are located on the ranch. Each camp is run by an overseer, who looks after an allotted number of acres and cattle. Living quarters are furnished for him and his family.

The wagon boss and other married ranch employees reside with their families in Guthrie, in furnished, rent-free housing. The town's high school and nondenominational church are supported by tax money from the ranch, and the Four Sixes Supply Store is another well-known landmark. The ranch continues to use the old horse-drawn chuckwagon, where cowboys and visitors are welcome to a Western-style meal out on the range at roundup time. The Dixon Creek Division (108,000 acres) in Carson and Hutchinson counties contains several producing oil and gas wells and a spacious stone headquarters house, which is easily spotted from State Highway 207 north of Panhandle.

After Miss Anne's death in 1980, the Four Sixes was passed on to her daughter Anne V. (Little Anne) Windfohr Sowell and granddaughter Windi Phillips. George Humphreys, known in later years as the "Little Sheriff" of King County, remained as foreman until his retirement in 1970. His successor was another second-generation employee, James J. Gibson, Jr. In addition to conducting an extensive brush-control project, Gibson's main contribution in recent years has been the introduction and crossbreeding of Brangus cattle with ranch Herefords to produce the Black Baldie, a hardy breed more resilient to cedar flies, a common pest in the cedar brakes of West Texas. Champion quarter horses continue to reap profits for the Four Sixes. George (Coon) Jeffers became foreman of the Dixon Creek Division in 1949. In the 1980s Gibson became general manager of the ranch. Mike Gibson was the foreman in 1994.

In addition to its high-grade livestock, the Four Sixes has won fame as a setting for several Marlboro cigarette television ads during the 1960s, with certain ranch employees posing as the "Marlboro Man." Portions of the movie Mackintosh and T. J., which starred Roy Rogers, were filmed at the Old Eight Camp in 1975. The ranch has likewise been a favorite subject for paintings by area artists such as Tom Ryan and Mondel Rogers. One of the original red Four Sixes barns, which was for years a prominent landmark in Guthrie, is now on the grounds of the Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: James Cox, Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry (2 vols., St. Louis: Woodward and Tiernan Printing, 1894, 1895; rpt., with an introduction by J. Frank Dobie, New York: Antiquarian, 1959). Dallas Morning News, September 4, 1991. C. L. Douglas, Cattle Kings of Texas (Dallas: Baugh, 1939; rpt., Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1968). Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). King County Historical Society, King County: Windmills and Barbed Wire (Quanah, Texas: Nortex, 1976). Dorothy Abbott McCoy, Texas Ranchmen (Austin: Eakin Press, 1987). Jo Stewart Randel, ed., A Time to Purpose: A Chronicle of Carson County (4 vols., Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1966-72). Mondel Rogers, Old Ranches of the Texas Plains (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1976). Jesse Wallace Williams, The Big Ranch Country (Wichita Falls: Terry, 1954; 2d ed., Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1971).

H. Allen Anderson


The Turkey Track Ranch began in 1878 when Richard E. McNalty arrived at the Texas Panhandle from Colorado with a herd of cattle bearing a brand that he called Turkey Track (though it was often called Rafter I). McNalty chose a rolling expanse of free grass on Moore Creek in what is now Hutchinson County for his new range, and by 1879 he reported 6,500 head of cattle and fifty-five horses on 7,000 acres of pasture, with about seven or eight employees on his payroll.

In 1881 McNalty sold this ranch to Charles W. Word of Wichita County, Texas, and Jack Snider, of Snider Brothers in Kansas City, and reportedly moved back to Colorado. Word and Snider began building up their herd, and in 1882 they helped other Panhandle ranchers construct a 200-mile drift fence to save their grass from the cattle drifting southward and to control the spread of tick fever. In January 1883 they sold the Turkey Track to a new Scottish syndicate, the Hansford Land and Cattle Company.

Its founder, Scottish-born James M. Coburn, who worked as a banker in Kansas City, had begun combining several northern Panhandle herds. He bought out Thomas S. Bugbee's Quarter Circle T for $350,000 and also William E. Anderson's Scissors Ranch near the Adobe Walls site (see
ADOBE WALLS, TEXAS). With the addition of the Word and Snider holdings, the Hansford Company adopted the Turkey Track brand for all its cattle. The combined ranches thus covered northern Hutchinson and southern Hansford counties.

A. H. Johnston, a former livestock agent for the Santa Fe line, was made general manager, with Coburn as secretary. Bill Hudson was the company's first range boss. After Johnston was killed by lightning while riding up on the Cimarron, Coburn assumed the managerial duties. However, he was not suited by experience or temperament to run a cattle ranch.

It was thus a stroke of good fortune that Coburn obtained the services of Caleb B. (Cape) Willingham, former Oldham county sheriff, for the job. Willingham quickly won the respect and loyalty of the cowhands, and under his supervision the Turkey Track prospered for the next twenty years. When drought threatened the Panhandle ranges, Willingham drove 1,500 steers to fatten for market on the Cherokee Strip in Indian Territory.

Until 1887-88 he sent herds to the railhead at Dodge City, but after the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway built through, he shipped cattle from the new towns of Canadian and Miami. During this time, Willingham and his family resided in T. S. Bugbee's old Stone House, and later they constructed the county's first frame dwelling nearby, out of lumber freighted in from Dodge City. Other structures at the headquarters included a three-room bunkhouse, a smokehouse, and various sheds and corrals. Coburn, in the meantime, continued to reside in Kansas City but brought his family out for annual summer visits.

By 1890 the Hansford Company owned 85,000 acres of land and leased an additional 350,000, with an average cattle count of 30,000 head. Among the ranch's prominent employees were Tom Coffee, former range boss of the Quarter Circle T, and his six nephews, all of whom stayed to put down roots in the Panhandle. One, Woodson Coffee, later succeeded Willingham as manager. Another noted resident of the Turkey Track was William (Billy) Dixon, who became postmaster when the Adobe Walls post office was established in 1887.

Dixon took up some subirrigated school land near ranch headquarters, planted an orchard, and moved to that site a two-room log house, which he used as his home and post office. In 1889 Dixon and S. G. Carter, who carried the mail twice a week from Canadian, opened a store in connection with the post office. Here Olive King Dixon first set up housekeeping after marrying the hero of Adobe Walls in October 1894.

In 1893 Willingham purchased a tract on the Pecos River near Roswell, New Mexico, formerly a part of John S. Chisum's range, intending to make it his main ranch later on. For the next few years, he commuted from one ranch to the other, looking after both. The difficulties of this situation, in addition to cattle thefts, persuaded Coburn to sell off a large part of the Panhandle herd and send the remainder to the Pecos range.

The land was sold to Mart Cunningham, a longtime Turkey Track employee, who paid $5,000 for the headquarters and bought 7,280 acres at $3.00 an acre, with 500 high-grade Hereford cattle. Subsequently, in 1903, both Cunningham and Dixon sold out to the partnership of Price, Patton, and Hyde. Price later bought out his partners and became sole owner. By 1916 the ranch had become the property of William Thomas Coble, a rancher who had settled on Moore Creek in 1899 and had begun expanding after building up his herd.

The Turkey Track brand, which Coburn and Willingham had taken to New Mexico, had been closed out by 1916, along with the Hansford Company, which had begun to sell out after 1900. Coble adopted the brand for his cattle and continued buying up several small ranches and farms. Over the next few years he accumulated a sizable spread of thirty-two pastures and hay meadows, 100,000 acres in all, on the very land where McNalty had begun the Turkey Track in 1878. The Adobe Walls post office remained in operation until 1921. In the mid-1980s the Turkey Track Ranch was owned and operated by the descendants of Catherine (Coble) Whittenburg, W. T. Coble's only surviving child. Whittenburg cattle still bore the Turkey Track brand.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). Laura V. Hamner, Short Grass and Longhorns (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). John L. McCarty, Adobe Walls Bride (San Antonio: Naylor, 1955). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876-1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981). Jesse Wallace Williams, The Big Ranch Country (Wichita Falls: Terry, 1954; 2d ed., Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1971).

H. Allen Anderson


In the early 1880s the Panhandle and South Plains regions of West Texas were beginning to be crowded with ranchers. Before long the ranges were overstocked, and the depletion of grasses threatened the cowmen's livelihood. During the northers and blizzards of harsh Panhandle winters, cattle tended by instinct to drift southward, sometimes for over 100 miles, to seek shelter in various canyons and river valleys. Range outfits often had a hard time separating their cattle. Barbed wire fencing seemed to be an answer.

Accordingly, drift fences, fences intended to keep cattle from drifting, were built. In 1882 the Panhandle Stock Association ranchers erected a drift fence that ran from the New Mexico line east through Hartley and Moore counties to the Canadian River breaks in Hutchinson County. Over the next few years more sections were added, so that by 1885 barbed wire drift fences stretched across the entire northern Panhandle, from thirty-five miles deep in New Mexico to the Indian Territory. These formed an effective barrier for northern cattle attempting to drift onto the southern ranges.

Beginning in late December of 1885, a series of blizzards struck the southern plains. Cattle retreating to the south were stalled by the drift fences and unable to go any farther. They huddled against each other along the fence line in large bunches, some of them 400 yards across. Unable to stay warm or escape the crush, these cattle either smothered or froze to death in their tracks within a short while.

Others bogged down in icy creek beds and draws. Many, caught in open areas without sufficient food, water, or shelter, either died of thirst or afterward fell victim to wolves or coyotes. When the storms dissipated in January 1886, thousands of dead cattle were found piled up against the Panhandle drift fences, and hundreds more along lesser, but similar, man-made barriers on other rangelands. The Cator brothers' Diamond C herd was almost wiped out, and others like Henry Cresswell's Bar CC and the Seven K suffered staggering losses.

The following winter, 1886-87, brought more such blizzards to the Panhandle, and again the corpses of cattle trapped by the fences were appallingly numerous. Ranchers in Wheeler County estimated many herd losses to be as high as 75 percent along the cooperatively built barrier that followed the course of Sweetwater Creek near Mobeetie. An LX Ranch employee reportedly skinned 250 carcasses a mile for thirty-five miles along one section of drift fence. The "Big Die-up" was followed by prolonged summer droughts, and many cowmen went broke. Though some, like James Cator and Hank Cresswell, eventually recovered, others sold out at a loss, and several ranches changed hands.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Henry D. and Frances T. McCallum, The Wire That Fenced the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965). David L. Wheeler, "The Blizzard of 1886 and Its Effect on the Range Cattle Industry in the Southern Plains," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 94 (January 1991). David L. Wheeler, "The Texas Panhandle Drift Fences," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 55 (1982).

H. Allen Anderson