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MALLET RANCH

MALLET RANCH. The Mallet Ranch was named for its peculiar brand, which resembles a croquet mallet. The brand was first used in the early 1880s by D. P. Atwood on his ranch, which straddled the Texas-New Mexico line. In 1885, as the Atwood interests were preparing to dispose of their land and cattle, David M. DeVitt and John Scharbauer purchased the brand and formed the Mallet Cattle Company, with home and business offices in Midland and later in Fort Worth. At first they ranched near Midland and Big Spring but soon established headquarters in southwestern Hockley County, where the brand was registered. Over the next several years the Mallet Company expanded its ranges into portions of Hockley, Terry, Cochran, and Yoakum counties. Much of this land was obtained from small homesteaders.

The Mallet Ranch was divided into four pastures, each of which was watered by windmills and tanks. During the winter months only a handful of cowboys, usually around six, were kept at the headquarters. These, along with the foreman, a windmill man, and his wife manned the five-room ranchhouse, at which the employees ate their meals. The windmill man's wife cooked. The headquarters also had several bunkhouses, sheds, barns, and corrals. At the start of the spring roundup, the foreman often went to the nearest towns to seek extra help. Dipping vats to prevent scabs were built in a pasture about six miles north of the headquarters, near the site of present Whiteface. The cowboys usually took six weeks in the spring to dip all the cattle designated to be sold. Pat Ross, George W. Green, and Wadkie Fowler served successively as foremen.

The Mallet's chief competitor was Christopher C. Slaughter's Lazy S Ranch. The rivalry nearly came to blows in the early 1900s as a result of a land dispute following Slaughter's purchase of 34,000 acres in Hockley County. Some of this acreage was being leased for grazing by DeVitt and his partner, Charles H. Flato. To curtail the Lazy S purchases, DeVitt and Flato filed lawsuits against the Slaughter interests for some of the county school lands. Slaughter sought a momentary compromise by suggesting that both ranches share the leased tracts, but in 1903 the Lazy S took possession of one of the disputed tracts and fenced it. Over the next three months the fence was cut at least six times. A small-scale range war nearly erupted when the Lazy S men blamed the Mallet cowboys and prepared for action. DeVitt obtained an injunction against the Slaughter occupation of the land, but the Lazy S cowboys refused to vacate it until faced with a contempt-of-court threat. Cooler heads prevailed in the end, and a Lubbock district court ruled in favor of the Mallet interests. Although Slaughter took the fight before a federal judge, he was unable to win a reversal, and his employees had to go around the five-mile stretch of DeVitt's land. Later, Slaughter attempted to buy for $26,000 some of the land the Mallet was using under lease agreements, but the Hockley County commissioners who owned the leases firmly retained their commitments to DeVitt. As a result of the controversy DeVitt incorporated his land into the Mallet Land and Cattle Company in 1903. Under the terms of the agreement the Mallet lands were to be held in common by the company, with W. D. Johnson as president. DeVitt retained controlling interest in the cattle and other livestock. That arrangement lasted for the next forty years.

Between 1905 and 1907 some 4,500 Hereford cattle bearing the Mallet brand grazed 200 sections in four counties. DeVitt kept most of his stock cows for three years at a time, selling only the calves annually, generally for twenty dollars each. At the end of every third year he sold the cows and started with fresh stock. In 1925 and 1926 about 6,000 acres of Mallet land were put into dry-land farming for cotton and feed crops. DeVitt's favorite feed came to be cottonseed cake, with which he fattened cattle before shipment. After the Santa Fe Railroad built through the area, he stored this feed in a warehouse at Ropesville. The ranch also had a large number of horses, which DeVitt kept in the pasture in honored retirement after they had passed their prime. By 1936 the Mallet Ranch was running some 3,000 cattle on 53,138 acres.

After DeVitt's death in 1934, his daughter Christine took over management of the ranch. The discovery of oil on Mallet Company lands in the late 1930s led to the dissolution of the corporation by 1944 in order to ease oil-tax burdens for DeVitt's heirs. After that, the Mallet lands were held in common by Johnson and DeVitt family members, while DeVitt's estate owned the cattle business. The Mallet Ranch covered nearly 45,000 acres in 1990, when it was still active.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Lillian Brasher, Hockley County (2 vols., Canyon, Texas: Staked Plains, 1976). Cattleman, April 1934. Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). Ranch Record, Spring 1984.

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, "MALLET RANCH," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/apm11), accessed November 26, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.