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Hansford County Ranches and Trails

Source: The Handbook of Texas Online




The Quarter Circle T Ranch, the second ranch in the Panhandle, was established in late November 1876 when Thomas Sherman Bugbee brought his family, trail hands, two wagons, and about 1,800 cattle to the Panhandle from the vicinity of what is now Lakin, Kansas.

An early blizzard caused the Bugbee cattle to drift south to the Canadian River breaks in an area that is now Hutchinson County, where the family decided to stay. The resourceful Mary Catherine Bugbee chose a spot in the earthen wall of a riverbank near the creek that now bears her husband's name. Here she constructed a "half-human," or family-sized, dugout of mud and pickets with deerskin windows and buffalo-hide carpets as a home for their two small children.

The cattle grazed on the abundant grasses in the sheltered breaks. Buffalo were still numerous in the area, and Molly, who was a crack shot, had no trouble supplying fresh meat. The buffalo also were a menace, however, and Bugbee was compelled to hire extra men to keep them away from his cattle and their grazing areas. He adopted his Quarter Circle T brand in 1876, and Tom Coffee served as range boss.

The Quarter Circle T made its own trail to Dodge City, a 200-mile, ten-day journey by wagon. All supplies were freighted by ox teams. This connection helped alleviate the family's isolation; as many as three months might pass without mail or news from the outside world. The nearest neighbors were Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight, seventy-five miles away in Palo Duro Canyon.

Mrs. Nancy Thompson, Molly's mother from Kansas, soon joined the young family. In 1878 the Bugbees hired two itinerant Portuguese stonemasons to construct a five-room ranchhouse from native stone quarried near the site. A milkhouse was erected over a nearby spring, with troughs where water could cool dairy products and trickle down to water a garden. Barns and corrals completed the Quarter Circle T headquarters.

In the new house, the Bugbees' third child, Ruby, was born, the first white child born in Hutchinson County. With proceeds from cattle sales Bugbee purchased more stock, and his herds rapidly grew. When the Prairie Cattle Company offered $175,000 for the ranch in 1881, Mrs. Bugbee persuaded him to wait for a higher price.

In December 1882 they accepted a $350,000 bid from the Hansford Land and Cattle Company. At that time Bugbee's cattle numbered 12,500. The Bugbees moved to Kansas City and later to Clarendon after he became involved in further ranching ventures.

The Quarter Circle T brand ceased to be used after the sale. The land and cattle were added to the Hansford company's Turkey Track Ranch. Cape Willingham, manager of this enterprise, moved his family into the stone house and made it the Turkey Track's main headquarters.

The house, located ten miles east of Stinnett, continued more than 100 years later to serve the Turkey Track's owners, the Whittenburg family, who preserved its original atmosphere. The portholes made to fire through during Indian raids and the porch from which Mrs. Bugbee shot buffalo are still prominent features. The spring that kept milk and vegetables cool for the Bugbees now feeds a concrete swimming pool.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: C. L. Douglas, Cattle Kings of Texas (Dallas: Baugh, 1939; rpt., Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1968). Laura V. Hamner, Short Grass and Longhorns (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876-1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981).

H. Allen Anderson


The Scissors was the first ranch established at the Adobe Walls site and the second in Hutchinson County, after Thomas Sherman Bugbee's Quarter Circle T. The ranch was founded in 1878 by William E. Anderson and named for its cattle brand, which resembled a pair of scissors. The brand was officially registered at Mobeetie in 1880. The 1880 census reported Anderson as owning 1,600 acres of pasture valued at $800.

He had 485 cattle, fifteen milk cows, fifty-four horses, nine mules, and 7,000 sheep, all valued at $25,265. In 1879 he sold forty cattle, lost fifty dead, strayed, or stolen, and had a calf increase of 100. With his sheep Anderson apparently suffered a severe setback, for in 1879 he lost 200 to disease and 1,000 more from "stress of weather." During that year he sold only 646 sheep, slaughtered 200, and had a lamb increase of 1,500.

He also clipped 4,200 sheep to get a total of 20,000 pounds of wool. Evidently Anderson had at least five men in his employ, since he paid out $1,500 for an estimated 260 weeks of employee time during 1879. Orville H. Nelson noted Anderson's ranching activities at Adobe Walls in 1879 while he was traveling from Kansas to buy cattle for the first time.

Anderson was a charter member of the Panhandle Cattle Raisers' Association in 1880. He was among the jurors summoned for Wheeler County's third district court in 1881. The occasion was the trial of John McCabe, accused of killing Granger Dyer, Charles Goodnight's brother-in-law. The jurors, among them Cape Willingham, Emmanuel Dubbs, and R. E. McAnulty, found the defendant not guilty.

In 1882 Anderson sold his holdings to the Hansford Land and Cattle Company, which was buying up ranches in the vicinity. It subsequently became part of the Turkey Track Ranch, and the Scissors brand was no longer used.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Millie Jones Porter, Memory Cups of Panhandle Pioneers (Clarendon, Texas: Clarendon Press, 1945). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876-1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981).

H. Allen Anderson


The Turkey Track Ranch began in 1878 when Richard E. McNalty arrived at the Texas Panhandle from Colorado with a herd of cattle bearing a brand that he called Turkey Track (though it was often called Rafter I). McNalty chose a rolling expanse of free grass on Moore Creek in what is now Hutchinson County for his new range, and by 1879 he reported 6,500 head of cattle and fifty-five horses on 7,000 acres of pasture, with about seven or eight employees on his payroll.

In 1881 McNalty sold this ranch to Charles W. Word of Wichita County, Texas, and Jack Snider, of Snider Brothers in Kansas City, and reportedly moved back to Colorado. Word and Snider began building up their herd, and in 1882 they helped other Panhandle ranchers construct a 200-mile drift fence to save their grass from the cattle drifting southward and to control the spread of tick fever.

In January 1883 they sold the Turkey Track to a new Scottish syndicate, the Hansford Land and Cattle Company. Its founder, Scottish-born James M. Coburn, who worked as a banker in Kansas City, had begun combining several northern Panhandle herds. He bought out Thomas S. Bugbee's Quarter Circle T for $350,000 and also William E. Anderson's Scissors Ranch near the Adobe Walls site.

With the addition of the Word and Snider holdings, the Hansford Company adopted the Turkey Track brand for all its cattle. The combined ranches thus covered northern Hutchinson and southern Hansford counties. A. H. Johnston, a former livestock agent for the Santa Fe line, was made general manager, with Coburn as secretary. Bill Hudson was the company's first range boss.

After Johnston was killed by lightning while riding up on the Cimarron, Coburn assumed the managerial duties. However, he was not suited by experience or temperament to run a cattle ranch.

It was thus a stroke of good fortune that Coburn obtained the services of Caleb B. (Cape) Willingham, former Oldham county sheriff, for the job. Willingham quickly won the respect and loyalty of the cowhands, and under his supervision the Turkey Track prospered for the next twenty years.

When drought threatened the Panhandle ranges, Willingham drove 1,500 steers to fatten for market on the Cherokee Strip in Indian Territory. Until 1887-88 he sent herds to the railhead at Dodge City, but after the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway built through, he shipped cattle from the new towns of Canadian and Miami.

During this time, Willingham and his family resided in T. S. Bugbee's old Stone House, and later they constructed the county's first frame dwelling nearby, out of lumber freighted in from Dodge City. Other structures at the headquarters included a three-room bunkhouse, a smokehouse, and various sheds and corrals. Coburn, in the meantime, continued to reside in Kansas City but brought his family out for annual summer visits.

By 1890 the Hansford Company owned 85,000 acres of land and leased an additional 350,000, with an average cattle count of 30,000 head. Among the ranch's prominent employees were Tom Coffee, former range boss of the Quarter Circle T, and his six nephews, all of whom stayed to put down roots in the Panhandle. One, Woodson Coffee, later succeeded Willingham as manager.

Another noted resident of the Turkey Track was William (Billy) Dixon, who became postmaster when the Adobe Walls post office was established in 1887. Dixon took up some subirrigated school land near ranch headquarters, planted an orchard, and moved to that site a two-room log house, which he used as his home and post office. In 1889 Dixon and S. G. Carter, who carried the mail twice a week from Canadian, opened a store in connection with the post office. Here Olive King Dixon first set up housekeeping after marrying the hero of Adobe Walls in October 1894.

In 1893 Willingham purchased a tract on the Pecos River near Roswell, New Mexico, formerly a part of John S. Chisum's range, intending to make it his main ranch later on. For the next few years, he commuted from one ranch to the other, looking after both. The difficulties of this situation, in addition to cattle thefts, persuaded Coburn to sell off a large part of the Panhandle herd and send the remainder to the Pecos range.

The land was sold to Mart Cunningham, a longtime Turkey Track employee, who paid $5,000 for the headquarters and bought 7,280 acres at $3.00 an acre, with 500 high-grade Hereford cattle. Subsequently, in 1903, both Cunningham and Dixon sold out to the partnership of Price, Patton, and Hyde. Price later bought out his partners and became sole owner. By 1916 the ranch had become the property of William Thomas Coble, a rancher who had settled on Moore Creek in 1899 and had begun expanding after building up his herd.

The Turkey Track brand, which Coburn and Willingham had taken to New Mexico, had been closed out by 1916, along with the Hansford Company, which had begun to sell out after 1900. Coble adopted the brand for his cattle and continued buying up several small ranches and farms. Over the next few years he accumulated a sizable spread of thirty-two pastures and hay meadows, 100,000 acres in all, on the very land where McNalty had begun the Turkey Track in 1878.

The Adobe Walls post office remained in operation until 1921. In the mid-1980s the Turkey Track Ranch was owned and operated by the descendants of Catherine (Coble) Whittenburg, W. T. Coble's only surviving child. Whittenburg cattle still bore the Turkey Track brand.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). Laura V. Hamner, Short Grass and Longhorns (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). John L. McCarty, Adobe Walls Bride (San Antonio: Naylor, 1955). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876-1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981). Jesse Wallace Williams, The Big Ranch Country (Wichita Falls: Terry, 1954; 2d ed., Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1971).

H. Allen Anderson


The Adobe Walls Trail, perhaps a subroute of the Jones and Plummer Trail, ran from Dodge City, Kansas, to the vicinity of Adobe Walls, Texas. The success of the buffalo hunters encouraged a group of Dodge City merchants in March 1874 to establish Adobe Walls as a trading center on the Canadian River in Hutchinson County. Their stores and stockade were located four miles east of Bent's Fort, the original Adobe Walls trading post.

A. C. Meyers, who hired Ed "Dirty Face" Jones to organize a caravan of thirty wagons, and Charles Rath, who used his own teams, freighted in more than $70,000 worth of goods. The route established by the merchants and other buffalo hunters, such as J. Wright and John Mooar, was heavily used by hunters and hide freighters even after Quanah Parker's raid. But after the buffalo hunting ended, the Adobe Walls Trail became primarily a cattle trail, while the Jones and Plummer, the Tascosa-Dodge City, and the Fort Supply trails were preferred by freighters and stage operators.

The Adobe Walls Trail ran due south out of Dodge City and crossed Mulberry Creek some twelve miles out, near the common crossing for all trails leading south from Dodge. It then veered southwest, gradually away from the more popular Jones and Plummer, and skirted Crooked Creek, which it crossed near the Meade-Ford county line.

The trail caught a corner of Seward County as it angled south toward the Cimarron crossing near the Price and Davies Ranch headquarters in Indian Territory. It traveled west of the Beaver River and entered Texas just east of Palo Duro Creek, then continued to Adobe Walls on a nearly straight line south through Hansford County east of Horse Creek. It entered the breaks of the Canadian River west of Adobe Creek and followed that bank to Adobe Walls, where it extended south a few more miles to connect with the east-west Tascosa Trail.

The trail varied as travelers picked it up at different points or branched off to travel other routes. The Adobe Walls Trail remained generally on the high, dry flats, which provided grass but limited access to water. Ranches were few, and landmarks were scarce. Though the trail was a somewhat quicker route to Dodge from the western Panhandle than the others, by the late 1880s it had been abandoned.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: T. Lindsay Baker and Billy R. Harrison, Adobe Walls: The History and Archaeology of the 1874 Trading Post (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986). Harry E. Chrisman, Lost Trails of the Cimarron (Denver: Sage, 1961). Frederick W. Rathjen, The Texas Panhandle Frontier (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973).

C. Robert Haywood


Tascosa, on the sandy flats above the Canadian River in Texas, and Dodge City, on the hills above the Arkansas River in Kansas, were the liveliest cowtowns in the West during the 1880s. The economic link that made them sister cities was the cattle trade; the physical link was the Dodge City-Tascosa Trail. Tascosa was almost totally supplied by freighters from Dodge hauling huge quantities of supplies for surrounding Panhandle ranches.

Each of the larger stores in Tascosa freighted in 25,000 to 50,000 pounds of merchandise each month. As late as 1888 the Tascosa Pioneer noted that 119,000 pounds of freight had been delivered during the previous week. The general configuration of this freight trail was determined by the location of Bob and James H. Cator's ranch.

Indians, Comancheros, buffalo hunters, and soldiers had moved southward across the plains, following old paths or their own instincts. There was no permanent route, however, until the Cators began making trips to Dodge City from their Palo Duro station. Their repeated use of the same tracks and crossings produced a fixed trail. The trail was divided into two distinct sections: the northern half through Kansas, which was, in fact, the Jones and Plummer Trail; and the southern leg from Beaver, Oklahoma, to Tascosa.

The trail started at Dodge City and ran south to Brown's Soddy, in Meade County, Kansas, just south of the city of Meade. It then crossed the Kansas-Oklahoma border near Hines Crossing on the Cimarron River. From there it turned southwest toward Beaver, Oklahoma. It crossed the Oklahoma-Texas border near Chiquita Creek in the northwest corner of Ochiltree County, Texas, and ran southwest to Cator's Zulu Stockade in the southwest corner of Hansford County.

The trail continued southwest to the Little Blue stage stand, which was located just south of the site of modern Dumas, Texas. At this point the trail branched. The northern branch led to Tascosa by way of Hartley County; the southern branch hit Tascosa after turning south and then west through Potter County. The isolation of Tascosa made the trail important to the town.

Although the physical difficulties of the trail were not as formidable as those of other Panhandle trails, the great distances between way stations and the absence of settlements made it a long, lonesome haul. The trip from Dodge covered approximately 240 miles. A stagecoach took thirty-four hours one way, and an ox team required from a month to six weeks for a round trip.

The trail remained in use as an interstate road well past the time when other freighting trails had been abandoned. The stage line from Meade, Kansas, continued in operation until the turn of the century. Although Tascosa continued to exist until World War I, its importance as a freighting center declined as the railroads bypassed the town.

First the Fort Worth and Denver City built its station on the south side of the Canadian River, opposite Tascosa, in 1887; then the Chicago, Rock Island and Mexico built elsewhere in 1901. Area ranchers began to receive their freight from Amarillo and Channing on the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway, and the Tascosa-Dodge City Trail was gradually abandoned.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Cator Family Papers, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas. J. Evetts Haley, The XIT Ranch of Texas and the Early Days of the Llano Estacado (Chicago: Lakeside, 1929; rpts., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953, 1967). John L. McCarty, Maverick Town: The Story of Old Tascosa (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946; enlarged ed. 1968). Josť Ynocencio Romero and Ernest R. Archambeau, "Spanish Sheepmen on the Canadian at Old Tascosa," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 19 (1946).

C. Robert Haywood