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"My Turn"

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 That is quite a historical document you own, dating back to the 1880's when a land investment company located in Chicago got financial backing from some wealthy investors in England and Scotland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 to spare.

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 abroad.

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 town.

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 1963.

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.

 

                 

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