This historic ranch was started in 1881 as a partnership of D. B. Gardner and Col. J. S. Godwin. The holding company Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company was formally organized in Missouri in 1883 and the founding shareholders were A. P. Bush Jr., Sam Lazarus, D. B. Gardner, W. H. Carroll, E. F. Williams and A. D. Brown. Gardner and Williams had been boyhood friends from Mississippi. Prior to the 1883 formation of the holding company, Williams had been a sales manager for Hamilton Brown Shoe Company, and Gardner had been a surveyor in Texas.
Shortly after Godwin and Gardner got together on the arrangement, partner Godwin developed other pressing financial commitments, so Gardner sought out his old acquaintance Williams to take Godwin’s place. Williams and Gardner were able to acquire Godwin’s share and the enterprise continued. The ranch breeding stock began with a purchased South Texas herd of 2,600 longhorns that already bore a brand resembling a pitchfork, so they selected the pitchfork as the ranch brand and named the ranch after it.
Gardner was selected to be the first manager and remained in that position for almost 50 years. The original spread was in King and Dickens counties around Guthrie, Texas. Its headquarters consisted of an early dwelling known as the Centerfire Dugout until the first above-ground ranch house could be built. The King and Dickens county properties remain the core of this enterprise.
Williams lived until 1900 and Gardner until 1928, but Williams’ sons continued in the business. The ranch eventually grew to about 180,000 acres including the largest portion near Guthrie and other acreage elsewhere. Since its peak, properties have continuously been bought and sold, but all recent reports have given the total size to be at least 165,000 acres. It is now a well known cattle and horse breeding operation and has been recognized for its knowledge and ability to produce fine cow horses.
For many years, cattle production was the main source of income. The longhorn herd gradually gave way to Hereford and “black baldies” (a Hereford and Angus mix). Income also comes from the sales of horses. Its own developed horse, the “Pitchfork Gray” is a gray horse with a black tail and mane. Suitable land was put into cultivation, raising crops such as winter wheat and oats for feeding when needed. The ranch buildings include the usual barns and bunkhouses along with feed mills to facilitate its own grain production. A swine operation was added years ago. Oil was discovered in the last century and the ranch now offers hunting in certain areas featuring guided hunts for deer, game birds, bore and other animals in season.
Helicopters, 4-wheelers, radios, trucks and other modern devices are now used to assist the cowboys in running the ranch, but the day to day operation still relies on the cowboy and his string of horses, just as it did when the Pitchfork Ranch began over a century ago.
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