Legend has it that rancher Samuel Burk Burnett won the ranch in a high stakes poker game and that another player, out of money, had bet his ranch on his poker hand, only to lose to Burk Burnett’s hand of four sixes. It makes a great story, right? Burnett denied the story more than once. Nevertheless, the legend has endured and 6666 has been the ranch brand.
Burk Burnett came to Texas from Missouri, where he was born in 1849. In the late 1860s, he went to work as a cowboy on a trail drive up the Chisholm Trail to Kansas. The following year, encouraged by the experience, he headed up his own herd, losing most of the working horse herd to raiding Indians. So the cowboys made do with what they had, eventually driving the cows to market. Burnett was further encouraged by the limited success, despite the hardships of the trail drive and decided to try his hand at ranching, as opposed to cowboying.
He put together his first property near present day Wichita Falls, Texas, extending his holdings by leasing land in Oklahoma just across the Red River. Burnett built the core of his initial holdings while Indians still inhabited and controlled large amounts of grass land south of the Red River. Burnett was able to work out arrangements with some of them. The ranching business flourished, aided by the truce that Burnett and other large land holders like W. T. Waggoner had worked out with the Comanche and other tribes.
Waggoner and Burnett survived a tragic incident in late December, 1885 that might have caused the arrangement to fail when they invited Southern Arapaho Chief Yellow Bear (an uncle of Quanah Parker) and Comanche Chief Quanah Parker to come with them to Fort Worth for a social occasion. They were also planning to meet to settle overdue lease payments owing to the tribes. Electric lighting had not yet reached the city and the downtown Pickwick Hotel was lit by gas lanterns. Quanah Parker was out for the evening when Yellow Bear elected to retire for the night. Apparently when Quanah came into the room two hours later, he either blew out the flame to the light in their hotel room or perhaps just accidentally failed to turn the gas jet completely off. Some accounts attribute the accident to Yellow Bear having caused it. Quanah later woke, smelling the gas and tried to rouse Yellow Bear before losing consciousness himself, falling to the floor near a window. The next morning, when the room was opened, Quanah was revived, but Yellow Bear was dead. Tribal leaders initially thought that something sinister had happened, rather than it having been a simple accident, but Burnett was able to demonstrate to leaders how this might have occurred, and they were satisfied with his explanation.
Burk died in 1922, but not before acquiring more property, leaving the ownership to his son Tom, later having it pass to granddaughter Anne Valiant Burnett Tandy and great granddaughters Anne Windfohr Marion and Wendi Grimes. The town of Burkburnett was founded on the original ranch of about 30,000 acres. To this was eventually added a large tract near Guthrie, Texas, comprising about 200,000 acres, another 100,000 acres near Paducah, and another 100,000 or so acres in the Panhandle in addition to some smaller properties. At its peak, the ranch was comprised of around 500,000 acres and is still largely owned by Burk Burnett descendants. Oil was discovered at various times on many of the ranches, further assuring the economic success of the holdings that evolved from one cattle drive over 100 years ago.
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