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THE SPUR RANCH




The 439,972 acre Spur Ranch had its beginning in 1878 when Jim Hall brought 1900 head of cattle from the Gulf Coast and turned them loose below the Caprock in West Texas.

Headquarters for the Spur outfit were established in the vicinity of Soldiers Mound, which had been the supply base for Gen. Ronald McKenzie's Army during the campaign of 1871-72 and 1874-75, against the Comanches, Soldiers Mound had been fortified and protected by Major General Thomas M. Anderson, 10th U.S. infantry, and his battalion, composed of Companies A.C.I. and K.

Stephens and Harris bought the Hall castle and Spur brand in 1882. During this early period, the Spur cattle grazed the free range. Texas, however adopted a policy of giving large tracts to railway companies, an effort to stimulate the building of new lines; and alternating sections of the Spur range soon passed into the hands of the Houston & Great Northern Railroad Company.

Britton and Lomax bought out Stephens and Harris in the early eighties and founded the Espuela Land & Cattle Company. They begin to buy railroad lands and when possible, the intervening sections taken up by settlers. Lomax selected the Spur Headquarters about 1883.

Amoung the cowboys who worked for the Spurs in its early period were Jake Raines and Jeff D. Harkey, Harkey came up from the Gulf Coast with the cattle that Hall bought from Refugio County. He liked the country so well that he stayed and was the first Sheriff when Dickens County was organized in 1891, making his home in Dickens City for many years until his death in 1926.

Raines came from New Mexico with the Cross-L Hall stock and spent over 30 years with the Spur Ranch. The ranch changed hands five times but Raines, was always retained by the new owners. He was a line rider after barbed wire enclosed Spur Range. He held nearly every job on the ranch and eventually became an authority on cattle brands of the southwest.

There is a story, probably ficticous that he had the Spur brand tatooed on his left hip and wore his hair long to conceal the underlobe of his left ear. His more than 30 years in the saddle for one cow outfit unquestionably made him the top hand of this great ranch.

Fred Horsbrough became manager of the ranch in 1889, and continued the policy of expansion until the company owned 675 sections in Dickens, Garza, Kent and Crosby counties. A large percent of which was suitable for farming purposes. Henry Johnstone became manager in 1904, and held that position until 1907.

In 1906, the Spur ranch came to the attention of S.M. Swenson and Sons, and negotiations were begun for the purchase of the property with the idea of selling the more level portion to northern and eastern farmers for agricultural purposes.

Although the head offices of S.M. Swenson and Sons were moved to New York City, C.P. Swenson, who died in 1927, were both born in Austin, Texas.

Charles Adam Jones, who had been general purchasing agent for the Armour Packing Company in Kansas City, became manager of the Spur Ranch for S.M. Swenson & Sons and held that position until 1913, when he went to Freeport, Texas, to look after the sulphur interest of the Swensons. When Mr. Jones gave up the management of the Spur Ranch, he was succeeded by his son, Clifford B. Jones. He was manager for more than twenty years.

Source: History of Dickens County; Ranches and Rolling Plains, Fred Arrington, ©1971 p. 92
The Spur Ranch in West Texas was started by Jim Hall in 1877 and consisted at that time of a herd of cattle branded Spur sideways and upside down spur.

In the early eighties Hall sold to Lomax and others, and the ranch became the Espuela Land and Cattle Company, they in turn selling in 1885 to an English Incorporated firm and the name was changed in part and became the Espuela Land and Cattle Company Limited, of London, England.

Hall possibly never owned any land at all. The Espuela Land and Cattle Company of Fort Worth, Texas bought much land; as you might say, they conracted for much land but it was left to the English firm to clear of indebtedness and perfect title. Those features and changes are historical facts and have little concern here.

Most of the men who worked for Jim Hall and even the Espuela Land and Cattle Company of Fort Worth, Texas had departed the scene before my arrival and I only knew of them through others- Dick Hudson, Benton Chamption, Brooks Davis, Charlie Lanters, Bill Hosey and many others. While I did not Jeff Harkey, Bob Shields, Bill Stafford, Jake Raines, Henry Mitchell, John O. Wilkerson, Jess Pollard, Van Leonard, Joe Stokes and Handy Cole, Frank Leonard and Dee Keith, Frank Walker and John Jenkins.

In 1891 when I first came to the Spur range the following list of names were on the Spur payrolls: Fred Horsebrugh, Manager; Joe Stokes, Ranch Boss or General Superintendent; H.P. Handy Cole, Wagon Boss on the range, with Tol Merriman, Martin Palmer, Tuck Pendley, Sam Simms, George Bradley, English Bill Spillman, Long Jim Jones, Joe Humphries, John Day, Bill Sullivan Patterson, Hugh Lewis, Jess Pollard, Bill Bradley in his crew of men. Ed Tayloe was the cook. Bill (Scotch Bill) Elliot, Uncle Tom Gillmore and Nancy did the cooking at the headquarters. Jake Raines and Ben Britt were kept pretty busy keeping the Spur cows at home, as they did most of the outside work in those days. Louis Finwick did the staple driving in the fences of the small pastures around the ranch headquarters. Dic Smithers was the camp man at South Camp, John Self was on the head of McDonald Creek, and Ben Birdwell cared for the fences from the Camp at the mouth of Duck Creek. Cliff Abbott was the head man on the Spur farms with old man Barrow, Louis,, Ab and Charlie Sowell, Bill Bonner and a fellow by the name of Malone to help him, and Bill Baker. Ed Carter was the trail boss and he had in his crew Jim Gilmore, Will Young, Charlie Humphries, Big Sid Young, Ed and Jim Cogdill, Sam Hayhurst, and Jim Hendrix, with J.A. Jay Bird doing the cooking for them.

John Jenkins was the Spur scaper in those days. They had others of his ilk before and after him, but he was the Spur gunman when I arrived. Ranch hands were at all times somewhat like the quicksands in a river, forever moving and shifting, old hands dropping out and new men taking their places, so no list could be made that would hold true for any great length of time. Shorty Wilkerson ran the Spur store and Samuel G. Flook did the bookkeeping and wrote the pay checks to all employees.

That has now been forty-nine years ago, and if any names have been omitted, well just make due allowance for the fading of memory. Out of the list mentioned, so far as I know, those living today (1939) are Mrs. Gilmore, Jim Gilmore, Will Young, J.A. Jay Bird, George Bradley still living on the old Spur range, Jake Raines did up to 1938 when he had a stroke of paralysis and is now in a hospital in Sweetwater, Texas. Ed Tayloe lives in TN, Long Jim Jones was in NM, and a few others are scatteed everywhere, but most of them have passed up the long rail or hidden themselves in other climes, so their old pals and friends no longer know anything about them. Many of the men at that time had been on the ranch for years and were righthand bowers in all the work.

When Dickens County organized, it acted as a prelude to the breaking up of the old delegation, for some of the boys turned their hand to other lines of effort. Jess Pollard went into the refreshment business selling drinks at old Espuela to brighten the boy's ideas; Frank Walker made a butcher and furnished good beef out of the Spur herd; some did other things making room for new men who showed up at the ranch every spring.

Handy Cole knew how to handle a crew of cowboys and soon got other good ones, but a man had to know his business before he cut many cattle from Handy Cole's Spur roundups. After Cole took Joe Stokes' place and became superintendent, it was a different thing and became pretty rough at times for men as a rule fashion their effort pretty much after the wagon boss's way. If he is indifferently careless, his men will soon adopt the habit and work with no care as to the company's interest.

I do not go so far as to say Handy Cole was the best wagon and range boss in the country, but his outfit worked as smoothly as greased lightening, and they turned off the work with seeming ease. Cole himself under duress was as quiet and cool as a mountain trout in the depth of some icy stream. If and when he gave orders to a man, you might be sitting near and still not hear and he asked him in such a nice way, that he really felt he would be doing Cole a special favor in doing what he was told to do. Cole was nice to his men, but took few if any liberties with them, and when and if a fellow got out of line, it became just too bad, for Handy Cole could when necessary give him his walking papers. The boys all knew that and I honestly believe Handy Cole was the most universally-liked wagon boss I ever knew.
Source: p.376 and 377 "Ranches of West Texas."

Handbook of Texas


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