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The Pitchfork Ranch



Photo by Linda Hughes

Pitchfork Ranch and Cattle Company is located along a fourteen-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 82, eighty miles east of Lubbock in Dickens County, TX. The ranch stretching across 165,000 acres of central West Texas includes 113 windmills, 80 pastures enclosed by more than 300 miles of fence, and 5,000 cows and bulls.

Known to the older generation as simply "The Forks", it is one of the oldest established ranches in West Texas. D.B. Gardner, founder of the ranch, came to this area when almost 21 in the year 1871. He was well educated and worked as a cowboy along the Brazos and trail drives to Kansas. He joined surveying parties for a couple of years locating land grants given to the Texas and Pacific Railroads. After working for D.W. and J.S. Godwin as a cowhand and eventually ranch boss, he became a partner with the brothers in the ranch. D.W. Godwin later withdrew from the partnership.

The Pitchfork Ranch, commonly known to older cowmen and cowboys of the Southwest, as THE FORKS is one of West Texas' oldest established ranches. It bears the distinction of being one of Two West Texas ranches granted fifty-year charters, without change in ownership.

It consists of approximately 163,000 acres lying just under the caprock in east-central Dickens County and west-central King County. It is twelve miles in width by 24 miles in length, and usually regular in outline. U.S. Highway 82 traverses it from East to West. The Geneva Fork of the Wichita River also crosses it from East to West. Between 2,000 to 4,000 acres in cultivation; approximately fifteen sections are "shinnery," affording excellent spring and summer grazing. This ranch has no income from oil or gas.

General administration is from a headquarters located near the center of the property on U.S. Highway 82. The location was made half a century ago, by D.B. Garner, founder of the ranch. Several camps strategically located according to the area they serve minimize travel and movement of equipment. All buildings, fences and improvements are new, modern and of the best construction.

The ranch has a unique distinction, in that it has never sold an acre of land since the original ranch was acquired. On the contrary, it has bought land steadily until its present size was attained. Another rarity is that it has never had an indebtedness against lands or cattle since its incorporation.

The story of its founding is refreshing and reveals the faith that two men had in each other, and of a business connection and friendship that endured so long as each lived. It tells, too, how this faith in West Texas and the future of its lands and cattle was handed down to the present generation, who hold the same belief as did their forebears.

In 1871, D.B. Gardner, son of a Mississippi planter came into the county and settled around Fort Griffith. Nearly 21 years of age, he was well educated and anxious to succeed in the new country. He worked as a cowboy for several years with the Brazos cow outfits, putting up and driving trail herds to Kansas and the far Northwest.

Then came a couple of years when he led and worked with the surveying parties engaged in locating land grants given the Texas & Pacific Railway Company as bonus for railroad building. In this work he had opportunity to study and locate the best grazing areas in the southwest, information that was to be of value later on.

His cattle experience prior to this employment had decided him to adopt it as his life calling. He left the surveying parties after a couple of years to work for D.W. and J.S. Godwin, who had a range and herds on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. Followed several years in which he worked as a cowhand and ranch boss for the brothers, finally becoming a partner with them in the ranch. After several successful years, D.W. Godwin withdrew from the firm and a new partnership was formed between Gardner and J.S. Godwin. They moved into King and Dickens counties, to purchase from Powers & Savage, who had started it, the PITCHFORK brand, cattle and such range rights as they laid claim to.

During the years he had been in Texas, Gardner had become acquainted with Eugene F. Williams of St. Louis, who was in the State in the interest of the Hamilton-Brown Shoe Company. Their families had known each other in Alabama and a warm friendship developed between the two men which led in 1881 to Williams buying and the interest of Godwin. So firm was his belief in Gardner that he refused to make the 200-mile drive from Henrietta, then railhead for the Fort Worth & Denver City Railway, to inspect the land and cattle, "I am buying Gardner", he said, "I believe what he tells me." It was on this basis that they did business as they lived.

In 1883 the Pitchfork Land & Cattle Company was formed in St. Louis, to deal in lands and cattle. A.D. Brown, was selected as president; Eugene F. Williams as vice-president; A.P. Bush, Jr., as secretary and D.B. Gardner as general manager. At the end of the first year Bush withdrew from the company and Gardner was made secretary in addition to his duties as general manager. The faith which Williams had in Gardner was communicated to the organization. Most of the date herewith has been taken from the records of the organization and minutes of its annual meetings.

For 46 years Gardner built up and managed the ranch, adding to it more range and cattle until it was one of the most valuable properties of its kind in the Southwest. He nursed it through the changing era, when it had to come under fence, through panic and blizzards, when prices fell and cattle died. Through each of these years, he made it pay a dividend most of which went to surplus. He bought good bulls when it was still an experiment to pay $45.00 per head for purebreds. Most of the 46 years were spent at the ranch headquarters on the Wichita. His wife, who before their marriage in 1889, was Sula Pope Ellison, only lived two years after they were married. To them was born one son Sula, who died in Fort Worth in the late thirties.

Mr. Gardner maintained an excellent library at the ranch and found perfect contentment with it, and the ranch he had developed. At the time of death, in June, 1929, Pitchfork cattle had reached a standard in breeding, equal to the best.

In developing the ranch Mr. Gardner became rather a sage, his advice going sought by old and young cowmen alike. His interest in the industry was as consistent in his last years as in 1877, when he rode into Graham on horse-back, from the ranch on the Clear Fork of the Brazos to attend the initial meeting of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raiser's Association, Inc. He was an officer in the organization for many years. After the adjournment of a Cattle Raiser's Convention years ago, Gardner paused to shake hands and bid farewell to Callan for another year, "Come out to the ranch sometime, Jim," he said, and added, "It's not much of a country but will show it to you and treat you the best I know how." Holding to his friend's hand, Callan replied sincerely, "Any country that is good enough for Dan Gardner is good enough for me."

Under him worked, during the years he managed the ranch, a number of excellent wagon bosses to whom he gave credit for it successful operation. In their order they were John McKenn, Med Gardner, Dick Germany, Press Goen and W.H. Bryant. Goen came to the ranch in 1885, at the age of fourteen, remaining until 1910. He left and bought a ranch six miles northwest from Dickens. V.V. Parr became manager in 1931, succeeding O.A. Lambert, who managed the property following Mr. Gardner's death, in June 1929. Parr managed the ranch in 1931. Rudolph Swenson was manager until March 12, 1942 when he got killed by a train in Benjamin. Then D. Burns came to the ranch in 1942 and managed to July 1, 1965. Jim Humphrey was named manager at that time.

Source: History of Dickens County; Ranches and Rolling Plains, Fred Arrington, ©1971
The Ranch's general managers has been a short one in its 119th year history. They are as follows:
Dan Gardner
O.A. Lambert
Virgil Parr
Rudolph M. Swenson
D. Burns
Jim Humphreys
Bob Moorhouse
Dickens County History Book of Pitchfork Ranch
Link to...Pitchfork Ranch Official Website
Link to...Southwest Collection of Records
Link to...Weather and Maps ~ Pitchfork Ranch


Photo by Linda Hughes

The Pitchfork Museum




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