The King Ranch lies between Corpus Christi and Brownsville and is currently the largest ranch in Texas. Historically, it was even larger when it was known as the Santa Gertrudis under a land grand from the King of Spain to José Domingo de la Garza. It was later conveyed to José Pérez Ray whose descendants conveyed it in turn to Richard King.
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This famous ranch was founded by Charles Armand Schreiner, who was born in 1838 in Alsace-Lorraine, an area that lay between Germany and France. He came to the still young United States of America with his parents and family in 1852, settling in Bexar County. In an unexpected turn of events, both of his parents died shortly thereafter. His father Gustav passed as the result of a rattlesnake bite within a year from their arrival, followed by his mother Charlotte’s death four years later. His family was dispersed at that point, with his only sister getting married, one brother leaving for California to find gold and two other brothers remaining in San Antonio where they had found employment.
(image credit: tshaonline.org)
The XIT was once one of the largest ranches in Texas, comprising 3 million acres along the Texas-New Mexico border in the Panhandle area of the state. In 1879, the State of Texas was looking for funds with which to build the Capitol building. The Texas Legislature appropriated the remote Panhandle acreage to a syndicate led by Illinois natives John and Charles Farwell in exchange for an agreement to build the Austin structure. The original cost of the Capitol building was projected to be $1,500,000 but wound up costing about $3.7 million with the syndicate funding all but about $500,000 that the state picked up.
The name of this ranch is a familiar one to many from West Texas. I grew up within about 20 miles of the ranch and several of my parents’ friends had either worked or lived on the ranch at one time or another. The eastern boundaries of the very oldest part of the ranch began around Brownfield, Texas and extended to the Pecos River across the current state line, almost to Carlsbad, New Mexico. It originated when a Scotsman named Kennedy learned of the availability of some open land. R. F. Kennedy was to acquire it for the estate of the Earl of Aylesford. The Earl had come to Texas to try and purchase ranch land and had been temporarily been residing in the Big Spring, Texas area. As agent for the Earl, Kennedy consummated the purchase from some local buffalo hunters, one of whom went by the name of “Peg Leg” Whalen, in 1885 using his own funds. However, before Kennedy could be reimbursed for the cost of the land, the Earl unexpectedly died, leaving the ownership in the name of Kennedy.
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.
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.
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.