of the most fascinating chapters in Texas
history has virtually been lost in modern times, especially
for the 21st century Texas reader.
Some may call it a legend, others a figment of someone’s imagination,
but the story of the XIT Ranch is true. The XIT Ranch was a real
ranch in a real part of Texas with
real cowboys managing it.
It all began when the Capitol
building in Austin, Texas
burned to the ground. At the time, just following the costly Civil
War, Texas found itself cash poor but land rich. There were no funds
to rebuild a new capitol. The governor had an idea. With the approval
of the legislature, he placed an ad in a national newspaper stating
that three million acres of Texas land
would be given to anyone who would supply three million dollars
to build a new Capitol.
Farwell, a Chicago merchant, saw the ad in the newspaper and was
fascinated, as was everyone in those days about the place called
Texas. To many, Texas
was a magic place. It held intrigue and adventure and Mr. Farwell
thought “business opportunity.” But he had no idea how much land
three million acres really was. Nor did he ever dream it would become
the largest ranch in the world.
Farwell answered the ad and agreed to furnish the $3,000,000 for
the purpose of rebuilding the Capitol
of Texas that had burned down, in exchange for three million
acres of Texas land.
And the deal was cut. Farwell bought the land sight unseen.
Then he asked, “Exactly where is the three million acres?”
“In the Panhandle of
Texas,” came the answer.
So begin the story of legend of the XIT Ranch, the largest ranch
in the world.
time, two Chicago city slickers, Amos Babcock, a seasoned politician,
and Abner Taylor a contractor, were sent to Texas:
Babcock to investigate the property, Taylor to make arrangements
for a new capitol building in Austin.
Each was to report back to Farwell what they saw and heard about
this new state in the west, but most of all to confirm the wisdom
of his decision.
After their report Farwell immediately realized that one man could
not adequately oversee the entire spread, and the decision was made
to divide the ranch into seven divisions: Buffalo Springs, Middle
Water, Ojo Bravo Rita Blanca, Escarbada, Springlake, Casas Amarillas
or Yellow Houses. Each section had its own manager and cowboys to
operate its portion of the ranch, but the task still remained difficult
and at times overwhelming.
The struggle to survive in this god-forgotten, dry, dusty land took
rough hands, hard muscles, saddle sores and innovative solutions.
The unanticipated dangers of water shortage, prairie fires, wild
lobos and cow rustlers were a constant threat; cowboys, living without
proper shelter, on a limited and unhealthy diet with no change of
clothes, resulted in fights and disenchantment; and the arduous
trek of moving the cattle to market without suffering from stampedes
were only a few of the many hardships to overcome with such a vast
When funds began to deplete, Farwell sailed to Europe to seek new
capital from his mercantile friends in England and France. Unlike
Farwell, the British investors wanted to see the land before committing
their money. The first time foreign investors with titles of ‘Earl’
or ‘Lord’ came to Texas to view their
stake in the XIT Ranch is a story in itself.
the turn of the century, when the ranch was over twenty-five years
old and still not turning an adequate profit, John Farwell, and
his brother, Charles met to discuss their options. Both men were
now in their seventies. The fate of the ranch rests on their decision.
Was the deal a good one? Was Farwell found foolish or a financial
genius? Author Dede Casad, in her new book: Farwell’s Folly:
the Rise and Fall of the XIT Ranch in Texas, tells the story
of raw courage, unexcelled hardship and innovative procedures in
developing the legendary XIT ranch; the beginning of the cattle
industry and the initiation of the cowboy as an icon into the Texas