Carson County Biographies -- 3

Carson County Biographies -- 3

KEY-NO RANCH - 1881 - D. C. Cantwell
N BAR N RANCH - 1886 - William F. & Frederick W. Niedringhaus


The Key-No (Keno) Ranch was started in 1881 by D. C. Cantwell, who obtained choice grazing land on White Deer Creek in Hutchinson and Carson counties and registered his peculiar brand at Mobeetie, in Wheeler County, on June 18, 1881. By September 1882 he had an estimated 1,300 cattle, including sixteen imported shorthorns. For his headquarters he built a three-room house of cottonwood logs, complete with chimneys and a dirt roof. It was located on White Deer Creek about twenty-two miles west of the site of present Pampa. In September 1882 B. B. Groom, acting on behalf of the Francklyn Land and Cattle Company, bought Cantwell's holdings and added them to his own.

The purchase included "all the corn, millet, hay, plows, mowing machines, rake and harrow, ranch and house fixtures." Although the cattle became a part of the Diamond F range, the Francklyn company reportedly continued to use the Key-No brand for this herd as long as the syndicate was in operation. In a letter Groom wrote, "I like [Cantwell's] cattle.... They are exactly where we want them at home on our range ready to become the nucleus around which to build our herd." Groom's son, Harrison, and daughter-in-law occupied the Cantwell cabin until they could build more suitable quarters. The Key-No's White Deer pasture thus became the nucleus of the Diamond F. The Key-No brand ceased to be used after the syndicate was reorganized as White Deer Lands in 1886.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876-1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981). Lester Fields Sheffy, The Francklyn Land & Cattle Company (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963).

H. Allen Anderson


The N Bar N Ranch was established in 1886 by William F. and Frederick W. Niedringhaus. During the 1850s the Niedringhaus family had immigrated to St. Louis from Westphalia and established a hardware store and tin factory. Soon they accumulated a fortune after discovering a unique process for making enameled kitchenware. Graniteware, as this product was called, caught on rapidly, and the brothers founded the Granite City Steel Company in Illinois. The Niedringhaus brothers invested part of their fortune in the "beef bonanza" and were among those utilizing state grasslands in Northwest Texas as free grazing lands.

When the newly reorganized White Deer Lands Trust offered 650,000 acres for lease, the Niedringhaus brothers contracted for the land in Carson and neighboring counties for their Home Land and Cattle Company of St. Louis, and operated it under the N Bar N brand in connection with their main holdings in Montana. J. L. Harrison was hired to manage these Panhandle leases and moved his headquarters from near Clayton, New Mexico, to Carson County, Texas, where he operated from a ranchhouse near the site of White Deer built in 1887.

A wooden frame house in Panhandle City, built of lumber hauled in by oxcart from Dodge City, was also used as a headquarters by the N Bar N. Henry L. Niedringhaus made frequent trips to Texas to look after his brothers' interests. In the 1890s the Niedringhaus cattle were among the large herds ordered off the range when the reorganized White Deer Lands decided to sell. With ranch manager Harrison in charge and T. L. (Tom) Coffee as drover, N Bar N personnel moved 25,000 head in 1892 and 40,000 head in 1893, in the last big cattle drives north from Texas. It took five months to make the drives to their Wolf Creek, Montana, range. After crossing the Canadian River at Adobe Walls, they received news of the quarantine in Kansas that compelled them to skirt that state. The herds were divided into groups of 2,500, each with ten cowboys.

The N Bar N is also famous as one of the ranches where Charles Marion Russell launched his artistic career after he left St. Louis for Montana in 1880 to seek adventure. In fact, the house occupied by the Harrison and Coffee families after the big drives from Texas was later a headquarters for the cowboy artist. For years the Niedringhaus family owned the largest collection of Russell paintings, which they sold to various museums and individuals nationwide. William Niedringhaus promoted Russell's artwork, giving him commissions and encouraging him to take up painting full-time. Several of his Russell paintings are now housed at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. On August 6, 1966, descendants of William Niedringhaus, J. L. Harrison, and Tom Coffee met at White Deer for a reunion, seventy-three years after the historic last drives. The occasion was the town's sixtieth anniversary. The restored white frame house in Panhandle, once utilized by the N Bar N, is now the nucleus of the Carson County Square House Museum.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lana Payne Barnett and Elizabeth Brooks Buhrkuhl, eds., Presenting the Texas Panhandle (Canyon, Texas: Lan-Bea, 1979). Jo Stewart Randel, ed., A Time to Purpose: A Chronicle of Carson County (4 vols., Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1966-72). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876-1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981). Lester Fields Sheffy, The Francklyn Land & Cattle Company (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963).

Charles G. Davis


Orville Howell (Bull, Judge) Nelson, cattleman, was born on October 9, 1850, in Lebanon, Ohio. His father died when Orville was six, and the boy attended the public schools of Lebanon and Southwest Normal School. In March 1868 Nelson left Ohio and settled at Burlingame, Kansas, where he tried his hand at farming, handled livestock, and worked as a clerk in a hardware store. In 1870 he married Flora Lord; three sons and three daughters were born to them. Nelson put a carload of scrub Texas steers, which he had bought, on his farm in the late 1870s but lost most of them to severe northers.

Afterward he concentrated his efforts on developing high-quality stock. In 1877 he formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, W. H. (Hank) Lord, to deal in livestock. Two years later they joined the brothers L. E. (Lue), H. C., and John A. Finch, who likewise dealt in livestock and general merchandise. The new firm of Finch, Lord, and Nelson, based in Burlingame, turned its attention to the Texas cattle trade, and in 1879 Nelson made his first journey to the Panhandle over the old buffalo trails from Dodge City.

He bought several thousand steers for the firm from Thomas S. Bugbee, Robert Moody, Henry W. Cresswell,q W. E. Anderson, and others. This venture proved profitable, and as both agent and independent operator, Nelson confined his activities to this area. His ability to spot and pick out the best cattle in a herd became legendary. In the next fifteen years Finch, Lord, and Nelson moved thousands of high-grade Durham and Hereford cattle into the Panhandle. They took out calves and yearlings for Kansas pastures, the Corn Belt, and much of the East Coast.

Nelson began importing Hereford bulls and selling many to area ranchers, among them Charles Goodnight, who came to be numbered among his staunchest friends. Nelson helped organize the Panhandle Stock Association at Mobeetie in 1880 and about three years later succeeded John F. Evans as its president. Nelson played a leading role in the events surrounding the Winchester Quarantine and the Grass Lease Fightq and was among the first to use barbed wire fences. In 1882 he and Bugbee obtained half interest in the Shoe Bar Ranch.

In the fall of 1886 Nelson sold his shares to Bugbee and, as the agent of his firm, started his Bar 96 bull ranch in the northeast corner of the Shoe Bar. The registered Herefords he raised there earned him the sobriquet "Bull" Nelson; it was estimated that in seven years he sold 10,000 bulls. He left this enterprise in 1889 to devote full time to a new firm, the Finch, Lord, and Nelson Townsite Company, formed to start townsites ahead of the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway. Under his leadership, the company platted Higgins, Canadian, Miami, and Panhandle City. Nelson was elected the first county judge of Carson County.

In 1892 he moved his family to Kansas City to provide his children with better education. He continued his business connections in the Panhandle, however, and for the next several years made and lost investments in various land and cattle ventures throughout West Texas. He built stockyards at Amarillo and was instrumental in establishing the first packing house there. He helped form the Panhandle Hereford Breeders' Association in 1907 and later served as its second president. After losing heavily on a large ranch he owned with two partners in 1903, he and J. A. Finch formed the townsite of Romero in Hartley County, to where Nelson moved. He was a key figure in the organization of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society and served as its third president (1926-27). He died at Dalhart on December 13, 1930, and was buried at Burlingame, Kansas. He was survived by his widow and four of his six children.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: O. H. Finch, "Judge O. H. Nelson," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 19 (1946). J. Evetts Haley, Charles Goodnight (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949). Joseph A. Hill, The Panhandle-Plains Historical Society and Its Museum (Canyon, Texas: West Texas State College Press, 1955). Jo Stewart Randel, ed., A Time to Purpose: A Chronicle of Carson County (4 vols., Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1966-72.

L. F. Sheffy


James Christopher Paul, Panhandle banker, son of James M. and Susan (Kiger) Paul, was born on September 19, 1852, in Fairfield, Rockbridge County, Virginia. He attended Illinois State Normal University at Bloomington and became a teacher at Waynesboro, Iowa, and at Nunda, Illinois, where on September 1, 1886, he married a student, Nina Darby. They moved to Wichita, Kansas, which was then experiencing a boom, and Paul engaged in the real estate and insurance businesses. The boom in Wichita collapsed, however, and in January 1888 Paul moved to the frontier town of Panhandle City, Texas.

Panhandle City (now Panhandle) was the new terminus of the Southern Kansas (Santa Fe) Railway, which was intended to build onward through New Mexico. At the same time the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway was proposing to intersect the Southern Kansas at Panhandle City. The prospect of these rail connections, in Paul's words, "gave to Carson County a greater prominence than any other Panhandle county then enjoyed." Paul arrived in the small town as treasurer of the Southern Kansas. He held this position for the next twenty years, moving with the rail headquarters to Amarillo in 1900.

With the backing of Kansas friends and capitalization of $5,000, he opened the Panhandle Bank on May 6, 1888, in a two-story frame structure in Panhandle City. The bank and offices for lawyer Temple L. Houston occupied the ground floor, and the second floor served as the Paul home. Paul and his wife had two sons. At the time of Nina's death on December 27, 1892, the Paul family was living in the Square House, which became the central building of the Carson County Square House Museum complex. On April 28, 1904, Paul married Cora Bryant in Paris, Texas. In 1888, when Carson County was organized, he was elected the first county treasurer, a post he held for four terms. He was instrumental in selling $8,000 in bonds for the construction of a jail and courthouse. He studied law under Temple Houston and passed the bar but never practiced. In 1898 he was elected judge of Carson County and thereafter was known as Judge Paul.

In addition to founding the first bank of Panhandle City, Paul helped establish a number of other financial institutions and was active in promoting the banking industry. He was one of the organizers of the Amarillo National Bank in 1892 and was its president from 1892 to 1896. In 1893 he became sole owner of the Panhandle Bank. In 1896 he was a cofounder of the Panhandle Bankers Association and was named its first president. In 1906 Paul helped to organize the Amarillo Bank and Trust Company and then served as its first president.

He and his son Howard organized the Paul Bank in Slaton in 1911. In 1917 they had it chartered as the First State Bank of Slaton and then sold it to other investors. Father and son purchased an interest in the Guaranty State Bank in Amarillo in 1919. They soon acquired a controlling interest in this bank, which the Paul family maintained until the 1970s. Meanwhile the bank itself evolved into the American State Bank and then the American National Bank. Paul was also one of the organizers of the First National Bank of Panhandle, which opened in 1926 in response to an oil boom in Carson and Hutchinson counties. The Panhandle Bank closed in 1942 and merged with the First National.

When the Francklyn Land and Cattle Company, for whom Paul had worked as a grazing-land leasing agent, began to sell its lands in the late 1890s and early 1900s, Paul was offered first choice as a token of appreciation for his services. On May 2, 1902, he selected four sections near the town of Panhandle. He also purchased land in Bailey and Lamb counties from the XIT Ranch, which he sold to his sons in 1911. Throughout his life he remained involved in ranching and farming in the Panhandle. When West Air Express (later Trans World Airlines) began transcontinental service to Amarillo, Paul and Fletcher Lusby, another pioneer of the Texas Panhandle, were the only passengers on the first flight from Los Angeles to Amarillo on May 29, 1929. Paul died in Panhandle on March 3, 1935, and was buried in Llano Cemetery, Amarillo.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Amarillo Daily News, March 5, 1935. Buckley B. Paddock, ed., A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis, 1906). Frank A. Paul, "Early Day Banking in the Panhandle," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 37 (1964). J. C. Paul, "Early Days in Carson County, Texas," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 5 (1932). Jo Stewart Randel, ed., A Time to Purpose: A Chronicle of Carson County (4 vols., Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1966-72). Lester Fields Sheffy, The Francklyn Land & Cattle Company (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963). Bobby D. Weaver, The First National Bank of Panhandle (1988).

Jo Stewart Randel