A column by
Carol Ellis publisher of the
Friona Star & Bovina Blade Newspapers. This is from her column and
is posted here with her permission.
If you own any real estate in
Parmer County, whether it is a home, a business, vacant lot, farm lands,
etc., you might want to take a look over the abstract of the deed to
your property. That is quite a historical document you own, dating back
to the 1880's when a land investment company located in Chicago got
financial backing from some wealthy investors in England and Scotland to
obtain 3,050,000 acres of land in the Western Panhandle area. This then
became the famous XIT Ranch.
A series of dramatic events led
up to that blue-backed legal document in your safety deposit box.
First, when Texas became a state
in 1845, the federal government deeded tens of millions of acres to the
state. Most of Texas remained public lands, owned by the state
government, for many years while the main focus of settlement was
located in East Texas; the rest was just "empty" land occupied
mostly by buffalo, outlaws and a few wandering bands of Indians.
Then in 1881 the old capitol
building in Austin burned, so it became necessary to build a new one.
Texans, being no different then than now, decided they needed the
biggest, finest, showiest capitol building ever built; in effect, one
that would rival the capitol in Washington D.C. This would, of course,
require millions of dollars to build. Texas did not have millions of
dollars to spare at that time, but it DID have millions of acres of land
So in 1882, the state legislature
advertised that they would accept bids from any person or persons who
would build and enormous state capitol building in exchange for three
million acres of public lands located in the Texas Panhandle. A company
of four Chicago businessmen took up the gauntlet and were awarded the
three million acres which stretched 30 miles wide and 200 miles long,
along the Texas-New Mexico border in exchange for providing the funds to
build the capitol in Austin. So the largest fenced ranch in the nation,
if not the world, was established right here where we live.
Legend says the XIT took its name
from the fact that the three million acres of ranch lands touched into
ten counties in the western Texas Panhandle; the interpretation being
"Ten In Texas". I had always heard that, of those ten
counties, Parmer County was the only county which was completely
encompassed by the XIT Ranch. However, a more accurate map of the ranch
shows that all except one small two mile area up in the northeast corner
of Parmer County was included as ranch property. So you could say that
Parmer County was about 99.98% XIT lands.
John and Charles Farwell, Amos
Babcock and Abner Taylor were four of Chicago's leading businessmen.
They didn't know much about buying cattle, providing water where there
was almost none, building barns and corrals, fencing 3,000,000 acres of
land, etc. And they really didn't have enough money to build the new
capitol building for Texas, either, but they had they "know
how" that it took to raise money.
American banks would not loan
money for such a venture and it was impossible for them to raise the
"capital for the capitol" in the U.S., and so they went
The Farwells were the largest
suppliers of wholesale dry goods merchandise in the Chicago area, and as
such, they had ample connections in Europe. The Farwells maintained
offices in Paris, Manchester, and Belfast and were well known as
capitalists in those cities. In 1835 the Chicago businessmen and their
British friends formed an English company known as the Capitol Freehold
Land and Investment Company, Ltd. in London.
This company had nothing to do
with the raising of cattle; just cash, through the sale of bonds. Major
directors of the company were the Earl of Aberdeen, Quintin Hogg, The
Marquis of Tweeddale, governor of the Commercial Bank of Scotland, Sir
Wm. Q. Ewart, Sir Herbert E. Maxwell, etc. You will find all of the
above mentioned names on your property deed in the late 1880s up through
1909 when the company was dissolved, having served its purpose. They
raised $3.25 million to fund the building of the Texas capitol and $2
million more to get the ranch operating.
On March 2, 1885, the 49th
anniversary of Texas Independence, a granite cornerstone was laid for
the new capitol building in Austin. It was completed in 1888, with the
golden Goddess of Liberty reaching 30 stories into the air atop the
elaborate new state house which was built at a cost of $3,774,630.
In the meantime, our Chicago
businessmen began to tire of their venture into cattle ranching, and by
1902 they started to sell off large wholesale chunks of the land to
other development companies.
The George G. Wright Land Company
of Kansas City purchased 176,814 acres in Parmer and surrounding
counties at $5 to $6 per acre. George G. Wright's name also appears on
your property deed.
Most of you have heard how Wright
brought settlers on the train from other parts of the country and how he
laid out the town site, establishing Friona in 1906, intending it to be
the county seat. Bovina, the oldest town in the county, was already well
underway by then as a railway shipping point for XIT cattle.
In the "My Turn" column
dated September 2, 1995, I related to you how Judge James Hamlin, a
member of the Chicago syndicate and a close associate of the Farwell
brothers, established the town sites of Farwell and Texico and decided
to make Farwell the county seat by hook or by crook.
The Santa Fe Railroad was, at
that time, interested in establishing a division point in Parmer County.
Hamlin jacked up the price of property in Farwell so as to line his own
pockets from the sale of the land to the railroad. Santa Fe would have
none of this scheme and proceeded on down the road to establish their
operations center in Clovis, which then grew as an enterprising railroad
The XIT papers, consisting of
thousands of documents pertaining to the operation of the ranch, are
preserved in the archives of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on
the WTAMU campus in Canyon. Anyone wishing to research facts about the
ranch should check with the Museum in Canyon.
An exhibit entitled "XIT:
The Ranch That Built The Texas Capitol" opens February 25, 1997 in
Austin at the Capitol Complex Visitors Center located in the restored
1856-57 General Land Office on the grounds of our Texas Capitol which we
helped to build. The exhibit will run through July 12, 1997. After that,
it will be shown at the Museum in Canyon from August 8, 1997 through
January 5, 1998.
The exhibit will feature XIT
displays and documents concerning the construction of the Texas Capitol,
the operation of the ranch and the sale of ranch lands from 1901 to
If you would like to read about
the ranch, many books have been written about it. Two good books which
can be found at the Friona Library are "6,000 Miles of Fence"
by Cordia Sloan Duke and Joe B. Frantz, and "The XIT Ranch of
Texas" by J. Evetts Haley. Also read "The Flamboyant
Judge" which is Judge Hamlin's memoirs in his own words, as told to
historian William Curry Holden.
I hope many of you will plan to
travel to Austin this summer or to Canyon next Fall to view this exhibit
which pertains so vitally to all of us right here in the Bovina-Friona
area. In the meantime, you can tour through the old Escarbada Ranch
House anytime you wish, at Texas Tech University's Ranching Heritage
Center in Lubbock.
The Escarbada was one of seven
divisions of the ranch which were under direction of different foremen
who were in turn responsible to General Manager A.G. Boyce. The
distinctive old rock house that was the Escarbada was located a few
miles northwest of the border between Parmer and Deaf Smith Counties. It
was moved, stone by stone, board by board, and reconstructed in Lubbock
at the Heritage Center in 1974-75.
There is also an XIT Museum
located in Dalhart, which chronicles activities of the ranch in Dallam
and Hartley Counties.