Saturday, August 30, 2014

XIT Ranch

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

General office of the XIT in Channing
In mid-summer my wife and I drove through XIT country in the northwest Panhandle. We spent the night in Dalhart, home of the XIT Museum. In Channing we stopped at the one-story brick XIT office, built in 1898 and restored a century later by Dr. W.P. Kirkeminde. We drove through each of the original seven divisions, and on previous trips we have visited all of the division headquarters sites.

Vault in the general office

In 1879, following legislative groundwork laid in previous years, the Texas Legislature passed a law appropriating 3,050,000 acres of Panhandle rangeland to finance a splendid new state capitol in Austin. From this legislation emerged the Capitol Syndicate Ranch, better known in western ranching circles as the XIT. The magnificent state house was built from 1885 to 1888 by a Chicago firm designated the Capitol Syndicate. As construction progressed the company received title to their Panhandle lands. The Capitol Syndicate assumed $3,224.593.45 in construction costs, making the price of their land $1.07 per acre, about twice the going rate for well-watered Panhandle rangelands.
The magnificent State Capitol was built by the Capitol Syndicate in return for 3,000,000 acres of rangeland.
The much-photographed Empty Saddle
monument in Dalhart.

The XIT Ranch extended from the northwest corner of the Texas Panhandle south for more than 200 miles along the New Mexico border, covering parts of 10 counties across the sparsely settled Staked Plains. Fencing operations began in 1884, and 300 carloads of materials were purchased at a cost of $181,000. During the next decade the ranch was divided into 94 pastures requiring about 1,500 miles of fence. Some 6,000 miles of wire were used, along with 100,000 cedar posts, five carloads of wire staves, one carload of staples, and an entire carload of hinges for the hundreds of gates. Line riders maintained a constant check on the fencing, and some divisions kept fence wagons in operation at all times. 

Immense herds began to be purchased and turned onto the vast rangelands in 1885. Because of unfavorable weather conditions during the mid-1880s many cattlemen were anxious to sell, and the XIT provided an important outlet, while benefiting from favorable prices during a buyer’s market. After 1887 there were no further major purchases of longhorn herds by the XIT, although a great many Hereford, Durham, and Polled Angus bulls were brought in from eastern states to improve beef quality. During its heyday the XIT maintained herds of 125,000-150,000 cattle.

Las Escarbadas Division bunkhouse, now at the
Ranch Heritage Center in Lubbock.
During the 1890s approximately $500,000 was spent on water facilities, including 335 windmills and 100 dams. Earthen water tanks were dug, and several 200-pound sacks of salt were spread along the bottom of each newly-completed tank. After cattle and horses had crowded in to eat all of the salt, the tank was well-packed and ready to hold water. Each division employed one or two “windmillers” to drive their wagons with the necessary maintenance.

The Hotel Rivers stood beside the General Office building.
At each of the XIT divisions, residences were erected, along with barns, bunkhouses, storerooms, and corrals. When the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad laid tracks across the XIT in 1888, general headquarters was established at Channing, a townsite laid out by the ranch alongside the railroad. A two-story frame hotel, the Hotel Rivers, was erected beside the brick headquarters building. Each Christmas and New Year’s XIT cowboys hosted all-night dances at the Hotel Rivers, providing turkey, deer, antelope and, of course, beef.
Las Escarbadas Division headquarters
North to south the divisions were Buffalo Springs, Middle Water, Ojo Bravo, Rita Blanca, Escarbada, Spring Lake, and Yellow House. The XIT was the nation’s largest ranch under fence, but the long-range financial goal of the Syndicate was to sell the enormous ranges in parcels to settlers as they moved into the region. Alongside the 50 miles of railroad right-of-way across XIT lands, ranch employees planted millet, sorghum, and vegetables, so that travelers could see the farming potential. Toward this end a several-hundred-acre farm was maintained at the Rita Blanca Division.

The Yellow House Division headquarters now form
HQ for the Yellow House Ranch.
When farmers and developers began clambering for land in the Panhandle, the XIT opened a land office and sold off most of its range by 1912. By that time cattle, horses, and equipment had been disposed of, and the remaining 350,000 acres were leased – and eventually sold – to farmers and ranchers. The heyday of the XIT was a scant two decades, but the vast ranch lasted long enough to earn a permanent place in western lore.

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