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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Leigh Dyer and
the T Anchor Ranch

by Clay Coppedge
The T Anchor Ranch in the Texas Panhandle began in the simple twinkling of cowboy Leigh Dyer's eye and became, for a time, one of the largest ranches in the state, home to the world's largest cattle drive and some peculiar economics.

Leigh Dyer was a cowboy and Charles Goodnight's brother-in law. He worked as a drover for Goodnight in 1867 over the Goodnight-Loving Trail to Fort Sumner, New Mexico and beyond. He was there in 1876 when Goodnight moved his operations from Colorado and drove the first herd of Texas longhorns into the Palo Duro, thus establishing the first ranch in the Panhandle, the JA.

A year later, Dyer drove his own shorthorn cattle, crossbred with JA bulls, to a 320-acre site near the present-day town of Canyon. Dyer and his brother Walter cut surprisingly large cedar logs from canyons at Fal de Hour waterfalls on the Currie Ranch and hauled them along an old Comanche trail to the home site near Palo Duro and Tierra Blanca creeks. That was the first house in Randall County and the beginning of what would become the T Anchor Ranch.

The early 1880s was a good time to go into the cattle business. As a 1938 Amarillo Globe News story put it, "The buffalo were gone and the grass was free."

A year after starting the ranch, Dyer, who had only a claim of priority on the land, sold the claim to the surveying firm of Gunter, Munson and Summerfield. Unappropriated public land in the Panhandle was subject to land certificates, most of which sold for 25 cents an acre. The firm got title to Panhandle land by finding the old certificates and surveying them in partnership with land companies.

"They gained possession of the land so rapidly that Col. Goodnight was forced to buy from them the land of which he settled," a Randall County history notes. "He paid 75 cents an acre."

Jule Gunter, a nephew of the surveying company's Jot Gunter, bought Summerfield's share of the operation in 1881. Around that same time, the ranch fenced about 240,000 acres of formerly open range to keep the ever-increasing T Anchor herd from drifting out of sight and out of touch, marking the official end of the open range and free grass.

In the very early days, the ranch operated under the GMS and Crescent G brands, but when Jule Gunter brought a herd with the T Anchor brand from his Burneyville ranch in the Indian Territory, the ranch formally adopted the T Anchor brand and the name T Anchor Ranch. Dyer signed on as a ranch boss.

Under the T Anchor brand, the ranch was the site of the largest single cattle drive in Texas history on Aug. 24, 1882 when T Anchor cowboys rounded up and drove 10,652 cattle from Tulia to Canyon, a distance of about 30 miles. According to the Texas State Historical Association:

"On August 24 the T Anchor men began combing the canyons and rounding up the cattle to drive them back to the home ranch. Though {Jule} Gunter had planned to divide the herd into two groups, a chance decision resulted in the largest single cattle drive in history. Sixteen cowboys with a remuda of 125 horses herded 10,652 cattle to Big Lake and took half a day to run them through the fenceline gate while Vas Stickley and Jule Gunter counted them. That night the cattle were bedded down over an area so large that it took over an hour for a horse to circle them at a fast trot."

At its peak, the T Anchor covered most of Deaf Smith and Randall Counties and parts of Swisher, Castro, Armstrong, Briscoe and Oldham Counties with 480,000 acres under fence. The Gunters sold out to Munson in 1883. By then, everybody and his brother wanted to get into the cattle business, and Munson didn't like it. He saw a time coming when there would be too many cattle on the land and the market for the business to remain profitable. In 1885, he sold the T Anchor, including 225 sections of land, 25,000 cattle and 325 horses, to the Cedar Valley Land Company for $800, 000.

Cedar Valley operated the ranch until 1902 then broke it into blocks and sold them to farmers and ranchers. The state later bought the old headquarters and 200 acres of surrounding land for West Texas State College, now West Texas A&M University.

In 1975, when a flood threatened the house that the Dyer brothers built by hand in 1877, the college dismantled the house, moved it to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon and fully restored it to what it was like when Dyer and his brother built it.

As for Leigh Dyer, he kept cowboying and ranching and was known as a superb and humane breeder and handler of horses. He helped establish the Shoe Bar Ranch on the Red River in Hall County, trailed the first JA herd of longhorns to Dodge City and managed the Quitaque Ranch for Goodnight. He died in 1902, the same year that the land company sold off the T Anchor in bits and pieces.


Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" April 7, 2018 column

Related Topic: Texas Ranches & Ranching

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