Cattle ranches were big in the Old West. But the biggest wasn’t even owned by cattlemen. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even owned by Americans.
Following the Civil War, the Texas cattle industry started booming. “Get Rich Quick” books were written about all the money to be made raising and selling cattle. Some of the books drifted over to Europe. After reading one of these books, Englishmen John and Charles Farwell decided they wanted a piece of the action.
So, in the mid 1880’s they put together a syndicate headquartered in Chicago, known as the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company, and they purchased three million acres of land in the Texas Panhandle. The ranch was called the “Ten in Texas” ranch because it encompassed Ten Texas Counties. But, most people referred to it by its brand…the XIT.
To make sure cattle didn’t wander off; they surrounded the area with barbed wire. The XIT employed as many as 150 cowboys who rode 1,000 horses, herded 150,000 cattle, and branded 35,000 calves. One cowboy said that rounding the cattle up “was like a farmer in Massachusetts turning out a cow to graze and finding her months later in Delaware.”
But the XIT got even bigger. They put together a partnership with a ranch almost as big in Montana. With a corridor connecting the two ranches, they had lands in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. A cattle drive could go from Texas to Montana on private land. This made the XIT the biggest spread in the history of the West.
With a ranch owned by people who weren’t cattlemen, the investors’ sole interest was money. And as cattle prices dropped, and land prices increased, they started selling off the cattle and land. And on November 2, 1912 the last cattle left the XIT. By 1950 the largest cattle ranch ever to exist had control of only 20,000 acres.