The Matador Ranch is unique in that for the first 70 years of its existence it was owned either by a number of people or a syndicate, rather than having been owned by one family or a partnership. The Matador Cattle Company was founded 1879 by five individuals: Col. Alfred Markham Britton, Henry Harrison Campbell, Spottswood W. Lomax, John W. Nichols, and a brother in law of Britton known only by the name of Cata. The ranch’s name was coined by Lomax, who is said to have had a keen interest in Spanish literature.
The purpose of the group was to acquire land in the area newly cleared of Indian presence to buy a large amount of acreage to raise cattle. By 1882, by purchase or lease, the group controlled 1.5 million acres of open range fed by the Pease River in the current counties of Motley, Floyd, Cottle and Dickens in northwest Texas. Its first headquarters was an abandoned buffalo hunter’s dugout located at Ballard Spring in Motley County a little southwest of the current town of Matador. The arrangement prospered and in the early 1880s it was producing between 15,000 and 20,000 head of calves per year. The ranch was sold in 1882 to a syndicate of Scottish investors for a reported 1.25 million dollars and supported some 70,000 head of Longhorn cattle. Over the next sixty years, the syndicate would expand to around 3 million acres of land in Texas, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota Nebraska and Canada.
(image credit: cartermuseum.org)
The towns of Matador and Roaring Springs, Texas were founded by the ranch. Bunkhouses and numerous other buildings were built. The ranch began fencing off the formerly open range in 1884, though some pastures might have been as large as 100,000 acres. In the early days, the owners built up the herd by selling only enough calves and cows to pay for the fencing, buildings, windmills and repairs in addition to dividends to the owners. Cattle were shipped by rail to Colorado City, Fort Worth and other markets. The ranch suffered along with the whole area when there were winter storms and drought conditions.
Notable individuals who were involved in the management were Alexander Mackay, Campbell, who stayed on after the sale, and Murdo Mackenzie, who was manager when the ranch acquired 200,000 acres of the XIT Ranch. After Mackenzie left to manage a ranch in Brazil around 1912, management was handled by his nephew John McBain who ran it for 10 years until his death in 1922. Moored Mackenzie, still working for the syndicate in Brazil returned to resume his management. During McBain’s tenure, a rail line had been extended east to west across the ranch, partly to encourage settlement of the area. Oil was discovered around 1920 and the ranch also prospered from the post war economy, which benefited the ranch due to the increased demand for beef.
The ranch suffered in the 1930s from the effects of the Great Depression and an extended drought. Murdo Mackenzie retired in 1936, and management was continued by his son John Mackenzie. Cattle production over the years had shifted from the initial Longhorn herd to the hardy and productive Hereford breed. Around 1940, management was taken over by John Stevens. The ranch continued to prosper and over the years, it had had become well known for its cattle bloodlines as well as prized horse herd and quarter horse stock.
Weathering the impact of World War II and participating in the prosperity that followed, the ranch remained virtually intact until 1951, when the mostly foreign shareholders voted to sell the property of around 800,000 acres. It was broken up into smaller ranches. A great portion of the memorabilia relating to the history and operation of the ranch was donated to Texas Tech University and some artifacts such as an original chuck wagon were donated to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. It marked the end of an era of foreign ownership for the Panhandle and West Texas. The core of the ranch still continues under the name of the Matador Ranch. Koch Industries owns and operates about 130,000 acres of it today.
© 2016, all rights reserved.