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HALF CIRCLE K RANCH

HALF CIRCLE K RANCH. The Half Circle K Ranch, known originally as the Bar O, was bought and patented by Thomas Richards and J. W. Sacra in 1882. It was a comparatively small outfit, 31,000 acres sandwiched between the ranges of the JA, the Diamond F, and the Quarter Circle Heart on the Salt Fork of the Red River, eighteen miles northwest of Old Clarendon in Donley County. Richards soon sold his half to E. C. and J. W. Suggs (or Sugg) whose land and cattle holdings included a vast range in the Indian Territory. The Sugg brothers and Sacra continued to use the Bar O brand. Fred Patching, a bronc-buster known by the sobriquet the Bar O Kid, was the ranch's most famous employee. Other Bar O cowhands included Pat Gormley, Dave Buchanan, Ed Johnson, Art Sherrod, Barr Brown, Don Blaylock, Clint Phillips, Boney the cook, and a black race jockey named Billy Freeman. Although the Half Circle K's life was brief, it was the proving ground of William Jenks Lewis, who gained valuable experience there in his gradual climb to success as a wealthy cattleman and eventual owner of the RO Ranch.

In September 1885 the Bar O brand was discontinued by Bill Koogle, who bought the ranch in partnership with his brothers-in-law. A native of Maryland, Koogle at the age of seventeen had left Gettysburg College to hunt on the buffalo plains in Kansas. From there he moved to Colorado, where he became involved with his older brother's tannery and was put in charge of its freighting operations. After making his way into the Panhandle, Koogle made the acquaintance of Charles Goodnight, who reportedly outfitted him to kill buffalo on the Palo Duro range. In 1882 Koogle and a partner were contracted by Goodnight to build the first barbed wire fences for the JA. After they ceased their partnership and divided their earnings, Koogle invested his half in the Sacra and Suggs Ranch. His brothers-in-law, whom he invited to move to Donley County, became his new partners in the venture. Charles J. Lewis arrived from Maryland with his wife, Hallie, and their children, and Ralph Jefferson came with his wife, Em, from Washington, D. C. Koogle stocked the Donley County spread with cattle bought in Tyler and the Half Circle K brand, chosen in his honor, was registered in the name of the three partners. Late in the summer of 1885 Koogle hired trail drivers but failed to hire a man to supervise them. Some of the yearlings were stolen on the way, and several calves died from neglect on the part of the trail drivers. The drivers also abducted a small black boy named Birl Brown, who had wandered from his home hear Tyler. Brown was subsequently adopted by Boney the cook, and he grew up to become a permanent cowhand. Koogle kept Fred Patching and other Bar O cowboys.

Koogle built a comfortable stone ranchhouse for his wife Carrie, from Kansas City. They had two children. Flamboyant and adventurous, he often drove a team of eight oxen yoked as one, whenever he was not traveling by his own Pullman railroad car. His partners differed from each other, as well as from him. Ralph Jefferson, who grew up in the high society of Washington, D.C., was a noted linguist, actor, and dilettante, and Charlie Lewis was a quiet, scholarly man who had done well as a merchant; neither possessed many of the qualities usually associated with frontiersmen. With such diverse personalities running it, the Half Circle K had its share of dramatic events. However, the venture was doomed to failure because of mismanagement and the elements. Although the ranch was an abundant grassland crossed diagonally by the Salt Fork, a severe drought in the summer of 1886 and blizzards the following winter took their toll. Moreover, Koogle's infant son died in January 1886, causing the griefstricken Carrie to spend most of the next two years in Kansas City. Bad investments and loans, plus a tendency to gamble, caused Koogle to go heavily into debt. The ranch declined after 1886. By 1890 Charles Goodnight and Johnnie Martin had purchased the Half Circle K and operated it as the Goodnight-Thayer Cattle company until 1900, when they sold it. Koogle, who was almost penniless and a heavy drinker, spent his remaining years in Clarendon, where he died around the turn of the century.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Virginia Browder, Donley County: Land O' Promise (Wichita Falls, Texas: Nortex, 1975). Harley True Burton, A History of the JA Ranch (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1928; rpt., New York: Argonaut, 1966). J. Evetts Haley, Charles Goodnight (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949). Willie Newbury Lewis, Between Sun and Sod (Clarendon, Texas: Clarendon Press, 1938; rev. ed., College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1976). Willie Newbury Lewis, Tapadero: The Making of a Cowboy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876–1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981).

H. Allen Anderson

Citation

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

H. Allen Anderson, "HALF CIRCLE K RANCH," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/aph05), accessed October 25, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.