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OX RANCH

OX RANCH. The OX Ranch, in Childress County, was established about 1880 by the brothers A. and J. Forsythe from Missouri. The brand was made with two irons, a bar and an O. It had been designed sometime between 1874 and 1876 in Denton County by George Merchant, but after three or four years he sold it to the Cairns and Forsythe Brothers firm in Gainesville. W. D. Shelton was hired to survey the ranchland, which covered the southern part of Childress County and extended south into Hardeman, Cottle, and Motley counties, 19,200 acres in all. The Forsythes trailed their herds to the north and south forks of the Pease River and turned them loose to graze in that fertile area. Their headquarters, said to have been the first house built in Childress County, was located north of the Pease about six miles from the site of present Childress. Between 1880 and 1902 the ranch grazed 12,000 to 15,000 cattle on 300,000 acres. Several smaller herds were often thrown in with the Cairns and Forsythe cattle, the most important of which were the MD herd belonging to the Swearingen brothers. During the early 1880s OX cattle were driven to market over the Palo Duro-Dodge City trail. J. W. Whitehead, who resided at the OX headquarters, served as the ranch's first general manager. Pat J. Leonard served for twenty years as a range boss for the OX.

Beginning in 1883 the Forsythes adopted a customary practice of filing on and gaining title to "lariat land," that is, certain sections on which ranchers would pay only a portion of the patent fee, thus ensuring themselves against any person's occupying the land. In this way the owners were able for a time to restrict the influx of nesters into their range and keep it open for grazing. All that changed, however, with the building of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway through the OX and the organization of the county in 1887. The establishment of Childress and other rail towns compelled the OX owners to do away with grazing rights in favor of the state land laws and to fence in their pastures.

Cairns seems to have sold his interest in the ranch during the 1880s, but the Forsythes held on until 1894, when they sold out to D. D. Swearingen, G. S. White, and C. R. Smith. Swearingen and White later bought out Smith, formed their own cattle company, and moved the OX headquarters south of the Pease to Swearingen. Beginning in 1905 the OX range was reduced by the sale of several tracts, some of which sold for as low as fifty-five cents an acre. Land for the 3-Bar, Buckle L, and Diamond Tail ranches was bought from the OX. During the 1920s Tom (Thomas L.) Burnett purchased 52,000 acres of former OX rangeland, including its old Dripping Springs pasture northeast of Paducah. White and Swearingen held their last big roundup in May 1925. Nevertheless, Tom and Matt Swearingen continued to run cattle and use the OX brand until about 1930. A sizable remnant of the once vast OX Ranch, located between Paducah and Swearingen, was later purchased by W. H. Portwood of Seymour and was still operated by members of that family in the mid-1980s.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Carmen Taylor Bennett, Our Roots Grow Deep: A History of Cottle County (Floydada, Texas: Blanco Offset Printing, 1970). Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). LeRoy Reeves, The History of Childress County (M.A. thesis, West Texas State College, 1951). 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

Citation

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

H. Allen Anderson, "OX RANCH," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/apo02), accessed December 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.