The Shoe Bar Ranch (1880s – 1980s)

The Shoe Bar Ranch name is believed to date back to the late 1880s when Leigh R. Dyer settled in North Texas with a herd of cattle. Some accounts say that the Dyer connection to the brand included Leigh Dyer’s brother Walter Dyer and their well known sister Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight, wife of Charles Goodnight.

Its early location has been described as being between the Prairie Dog Town fork and the Little Red fork of the Red River in Hall County. Early on, Leigh Dyer is said to have formed a partnership with L. G. Coleman.

These two brands are associated with the early days of the ranch. The upper one is the Shoe Bar brand. The lower one is LC, based on L. G. Coleman’s initials. Image credit: Amarillo Daily News, February 21, 1951, illustrating a one column article by John M. Hendrix giving a brief and condensed history of the ranch’s owners from Dyer/Coleman to Will Lewis.

Leigh Richmond Dyer (1849-1902) was the son of Henry J. Dyer and Susan Miller Dyer. He was born to the couple in Dyersburg, Tennessee. When Leigh was still a young boy, the family relocated to near Fort Belknap and later Fort Worth before father and mother both passed away in the 1860s. Mary Ann was the oldest child and took care of the younger siblings, all brothers, by teaching school. The Dyer brothers became acquainted with Goodnight and Loving working for them on various trail drives and a Colorado ranch for a number of years. Leigh and his brothers came back to Texas when Goodnight relocated to the Palo Duro Canyon area. Mary Ann married Goodnight in 1870. Her brothers Sam and Walter eventually went their own ways but Leigh was associated with Goodnight at various other times in his life.

Dyer and Coleman operated a cattle partnership for several years. Coleman is said to have registered the shoe bar brand in Texas in 1883. In a series of transactions Thomas Bugbee and O. H. Nelson acquired most of the interests of Coleman and Dyer, though Coleman remained active in the ranching business until his death in 1894. Coleman’s widow is believed to have conveyed their interest to J. K. Zimmerman who held his interest until his own death in 1898.

Thomas Sherman Bugbee was born in Maine in 1842. He served in the Civil War before relocating first to Kansas and later to Texas in the mid 1870s. He had considerable experience in the cattle business and came into part ownership of the Shoe Bar Ranch about ten years later. He was associated with the ranch for many years. Bugbee passed away in Clarendon in 1925. Orville Howell Nelson was born in Ohio in 1850. He is believed to have been associated with the ranch for about seven years.

The ranch had expanded significantly under the ownership of Bugbee and Nelson. Nelson sold out to Bugbee around 1886. At its peak, it was said to amount to as much as 450,000 acres that were either owned or leased and included pastures in Donley, Hll and Briscoe counties. At one point, the Bugbee interest was conveyed for a short time to an interim owner named Snyder who ultimately conveyed this interest to Zimmerman.

After Zimmerman died, per Mr. Hendrix’s article, the ranch was operated for the next eight years by his manager, a Mr. F. P. Neal, a Kansas City banker, until it was conveyed to Edward P. Swift of the Swift Packing House of Chicago in 1906. The natural assumption might have been that Swift would have operated the ranch as an integral part of the meat packing business, but instead over the next several years the ranch management began to break up the ranch into smaller parcels. Perhaps the largest single parcel was conveyed to Will Lewis.

Will Lewis had come to Texas at the age of fourteen. He learned his cowboy skills working for west Texas rancher Alfred Rowe of the R.O. Ranch. Mr. Rowe was actually British but was not an absentee owner. He lived on the ranch with his family until his untimely death. Rowe happened to be one of the 1500 victims in the April, 1912 sinking of the Titanic. During his tenure on the R.O. Ranch, Will worked his way up with Mr. Rowe to the point where he was considered to be a top hand. Will married Dallas native Willie Newbury in 1912 and his wife later wrote of his life in one of her books, “Tapadero, The Making of a Cowboy.” Willie stated that one of his jobs on the ranch was to get the cattle safely to market with the firm of Clay, Robinson and Company of Chicago and Kansas City. One of the principals in this firm was a Mr. John Clay, who called Lewis into his office after a successful cattle transaction. Clay complimented Lewis and called him the best cattle shipper that he knew. Clay added that he expected Lewis to go out on his own soon and when he did, Clay would be ready to help him.

Soon afterward, Will Lewis began buying and selling cattle, sometimes in partnership with others, and other times for his own account on land that he leased. Will became a respected cattleman. Early on, he executed a lease of the the Spur Ranch for five years beginning in 1910 when it was fifty miles long and forty miles wide. He made a success of this venture and in 1911 Lewis acquired a large part of the Shoe Bar Ranch. To these properties, Will added the R. O. Ranch which he acquired from the Rowe family after death of Alfred Rowe. Using these properties, Will conducted a successful cattle operation for almost fifty years. Will died in 1960 and his son Will, Jr. died the following year at the age of forty-five in 1961 after what was described as a long illness. Will, Jr.’s widow Vera continued to operate the ranches for a number of years until she passed away in 1981.

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