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A. S. GAGE RANCHES

A. S. GAGE RANCHES. The A. S. Gage Ranches in Brewster and Presidio counties form one of the largest cattle ranching operations in the state. It began in 1883, when Edward L. Gage, a native of Vermont and the partner of E. M. Powell in a Dallas land firm, organized the Presidio Live Stock Company in what was then Presidio County. Powell and Gage had already begun ranching on their holdings on Maravillas Creek in the area of present Brewster County. In November 1882 they bought 2,000 cattle and the Running W Bar brand from George J. Reiger of Mitchell County. Powell remained in Dallas, while Gage moved to the Big Bend area to supervise the ranch. By March 1883 they had decided to dissolve their partnership, as Gage planned to devote himself wholeheartedly to the cattle business. He organized the Presidio Live Stock Company with a group of New England investors; he was president and his younger half-brother, Alfred S. Gage, was superintendent or manager. In May 1883 the company leased 68,000 acres of rangeland from Edward Gage and in November purchased his personal herd of 700 cattle and his Running W Bar brand. Shortly thereafter the company purchased an additional 5,000 head from Milton Faver and 9,000 more from ranchers in Goliad and Uvalde and from the Reed brothers in the Chisos Mountains.

The mid-1880s was a rough period for ranchers. Two years of severe drought followed the harsh winter of 1885, while the price of cattle dropped from thirty dollars a head in 1882–83 to five dollars a head in 1887. While many Presidio County ranchers were ruined financially, Presidio Live Stock hung on grimly. Seeking to improve the efficiency of its operation, the company put up fifty-four miles of drift fencing and constructed a concrete dam (which was shortly washed away in a flood) on Dugout Creek. To cut costs, the company returned six sections of leased land to Edward Gage because they were outside the fenced area. In an effort to find additional sources of revenue, the company also bought a mercantile store in Alpine, installing another of Edward's half-brothers, Seth Gage, as manager; contracted to supply Camp Peña Colorado with 500 cords of wood; and attempted an ill-fated farming project near Peña Colorado Creek. Despite these steps, however, the company's financial problems mounted.

In 1886 Edward Gage had organized another ranching concern, the Santiago Cattle Company. This company had leased 52,500 acres and was also experiencing difficulties. In 1891 Gage merged the two companies under a new charter for the Roscillo Land and Cattle Company in Colorado. He deeded 124,800 acres in Texas to the new firm, hoping that the Presidio and Santiago stockholders would exchange their shares in the older companies for shares in the new firm, but they proved reluctant to do so. In desperation, Gage decided to go north, hoping to sell some of the Roscillo stock. On April 21, 1892, apparently distraught over his inability to get his new venture off the ground, he killed himself in the washroom of a Chicago railroad station. Gage's death apparently brought home to Presidio and Santiago officials the serious nature of their problems. They determined to merge the two companies as Gage had intended and in the winter of 1892 bought the cattle and brand of the Presidio Live Stock Company. In 1893 they purchased 50,400 acres from Gage's widow, and in January 1897 they formally chartered the Alpine Cattle Company, with Alfred S. Hall as president and A. S. Gage as secretary and superintendent. With the exception of Gage, who owned seven shares, and director Louis Hess, all the stockholders were from the Northeast or Midwest.

Under A. S. Gage's management, the Alpine Cattle Company enjoyed great success. In 1900 the company contracted to purchase an additional 76,000 acres and also bought the personal herds of Gage and his mother, bringing its total holdings to 14,000 cattle and 130,000 acres of rangeland. Meanwhile, Gage himself bought two ranches to the east of the Alpine Cattle Company range and the remains of the old Dubois-Wentworth holdings in the Toronto Mountain area. By 1910 his personal operation was larger than that of the Alpine Cattle Company.

Three years later he had accumulated 35 percent of the stock in the company and determined to buy the rest. He paid off all debt within three years, thanks to the high cattle prices during World War I, and in July 1917 Gage dissolved the company, after selling the firm's holdings to himself for ten dollars. He dropped the Running W Bar brand in favor of his personal brand, called Lightning. At that time one could ride horseback from southeast of Marathon almost to Fort Davis on lands owned or leased by Gage, with only one railroad right-of-way and several roads, all of which had livestock crossings, intervening.

Before his death in 1928 Gage built up a total operation of 10,000 cattle on 503,000 acres; he owned 700 sections of land himself and leased an additional 100. His estate was divided between his two daughters, Dorothy Gage Holland Forker and Roxana Gage Negley Catto. The former continued to use the Lightning brand, and the latter resumed use of the Running W Bar. By 1936 the estate consisted of slightly more than 400,000 acres, usually running between 4,000 and 6,000 cattle. In the late 1940s the estate owned 500,000 acres extending along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks from Marathon almost to Marfa, with a total acreage of 368,026 within Brewster County and additional land in Uvalde and Kinney counties. In the mid-1950s the Gage ranches were the sixth-largest in Texas, with a total acreage of 398,314 acres in Brewster and Presidio counties. The ranch east of Alpine, 370,000 acres, was the fourth-largest in Texas made up of a single block of land.

In 1965 family members formed A. S. Gage Ranches, Inc., which was liquidated in 1986 and replaced by the A. S. Gage Partnership Ltd. In 1992 the partnership held 174,029 acres in Brewster County and 17,439 acres in Presidio County. The land was leased to the Paisano Cattle Company, also controlled by family members, which grazed 200 cattle on it.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Walter Roberts, Early Developments Leading to the Establishment of the A. S. Gage Ranches of the Big Bend-Davis Mountain Area of Texas, 1883–1917 (Senior thesis, Trinity University, 1957).

Martin Donell Kohout

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Martin Donell Kohout, "A. S. GAGE RANCHES," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/apaps), accessed August 01, 2014. Uploaded on June 9, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.