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ROCKING CHAIR RANCH

ROCKING CHAIR RANCH. The Rocking Chair Ranche Company, Limited, as it was designated by its British owners, encompassed northeastern Collingsworth County and extended into Wheeler County. The brand that gave it its name, however, was probably first used by Noah Ellis in South Texas during the early 1860s. It came to Collingsworth County in the fall of 1879, when John and Wiley Dickerson drove 2,000 cattle from the Llano River country to Dogwood Springs, on the South Fork of Elm Creek. By 1880 the Dickersons had established their headquarters at a site located south of a range of mesas subsequently named the Rocking Chair Mountains. In 1881 A. Conkle of Kansas City and John T. Lytle of Medina County acquired the brand; they registered it at Mobeetie on September 30. By November 1882 Conkle and Lytle had a herd of 14,745 head. The Rocking Chair Ranch was, however, without a legal home until February 17, 1883, when the partners bought 235 sections of former Houston and Great Northern Railroad land from the New York and Texas Land Company. On April 3 Conkle and Lytle sold their land, brand, cattle, and horses for $365,000 to Early W. Spencer and J. John Drew, who were seeking a suitable American cattle scheme for British investors. Drew, an Englishman, returned to England to promote the new syndicate. Within five months he resold the property to the Rocking Chair Ranche Company for $26,857. The principal owner was Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, first baron of Tweedmouth; after his death in 1884 his oldest son, Edward Marjoribanks, inherited both the title and company ownership. Another major stockholder was John Campbell Hamilton Gordon, earl of Aberdeen and later governor general of Canada, who in 1887 became joint owner of the Rocking Chair Ranch with Sir Edward, his brother-in-law.

The new owners sought to develop their vast holdings along the lines of a British estate. In December 1883 they purchased the HAY cattle from James R. Haynie and the OM herd from Sam and Joe White. Each of these small outfits owned a section of school land in Collingsworth County, which the "Rockers" also purchased; these later became known as the Hay Camp and OM Creek. In December 1885 a third section near the Wheeler county line was added to the Rocking Chair. This was the J Buckle range, owned by Dan Cole, whose cattle the syndicate also purchased. Cole had built a small, unpainted house on North Elm Creek in 1882, and it was here that the syndicate established its first "ranche headquarters," in deference to Texas terminology. By that time the investors had acquired a total of 1,600 additional acres and were leasing another 100,000 from the state. In 1889 the company laid out the town of Aberdeen as the nucleus of the ranch. John Drew, who resided with his family in Aberdeen, was appointed general manager of the enterprise, and Henry J. Nesper, who later became the first store owner and postmaster in Aberdeen, was hired as range foreman. Buck Julian trailed the first herd of Rocking Chair cattle to Dodge City in the fall of 1883. For an assistant manager and bookkeeper, the company appointed the second Baron Tweedmouth's youngest brother, Archibald John Marjoribanks, known among the cowboys as "Archie" or "Old Marshie." Uninterested in learning the fine points of ranching, Marshie drank and gambled in the Mobeetie saloons and hunted with purebred hounds. Nevertheless, he hired hands to build a corral, sought out high-grade horses, and spent much time at the North Elm Creek headquarters reading periodicals and writing detailed letters on everyday ranch affairs-all at a $1,500 annual salary. From 1884 to 1893 Drew and Marjoribanks managed the ranch. The high-handed extravagance and arrogance of the British investors caused considerable resentment among the cowhands and other area residents. Throughout his ten-year stay at the ranch, the "Honourable Archie" never mingled or rode with the cowboys.

Such social divisions resulted in the failure of usually honest people to condemn illegal actions against "Nobility's Ranche," as facetious Texans called it. Nearly everyone in the eastern Panhandle, with the exception of Marjoribanks, knew that the owners were being taken by rustlers and resentful cowboys who mavericked calves. Even Drew, who retained the loyalty of other ranch employees, was said to have obtained 100 cows for every one a nester stole. Often he reportedly shipped many more cattle than the records indicated. Troubles on the ranch were usually attributed to the attitudes of the resident foreigners. Though the Rockers profited for a time, the results of such chicanery eventually appeared in the financial reports. Deciding that a personal investigation was needed, Lord Aberdeen, Baron Tweedmouth, and other titled stockholders appeared one day unannounced at the ranch headquarters. To stave off potential embarrassment, Drew bluffed his way through the requested cattle census by hurriedly driving cattle around a hill and back again so that they were counted repeatedly. At each count, several hundred were added to the actual number. In the end, the "Lords of the Prairie" fell for Drew's bluff and left satisfied.

But mismanagement practices continued. Troubles on the ranch heightened with the heated battle between the Rocking Chair men and neighboring settlers over the location of the Collingsworth county seat in 1890. Resentment between factions increased after Rocking Chair cowboys unwittingly triggered the Great Panhandle Indian Scare in January 1891. At one time Drew and his family were involved in a shooting fray with irate neighbors over stolen cattle; fortunately, Texas Rangersqv were able to restore order before any killings occurred. Finally, on January 18, 1893, Archie Marjoribanks offered to sell the Rocking Chair. By then even he realized the extent of the cattle losses and the disastrous condition of the ranch's finances. When Lord Aberdeen and Baron Tweedmouth came again to investigate, they found the cattle count so low that they tried to sue John Drew, but no jury would rule in their favor. Drew was discharged, and George W. (Cap) Arringtonqv was hired to replace him. Through careful management, Arrington shipped cattle and paid off overdue accounts. The losses of the past decade could not be entirely recouped, however, so Arrington started screening prospective buyers while the company went into the hands of a liquidator. On December 22, 1896, the 152,320-acre Rocking Chair Ranch was sold for $75,200 to William E. Hughes's Continental Land and Cattle Company. Hughes added it to his Mill Iron Ranch and designated the old Hay Camp near Dodson as the headquarters of the Collingsworth County section. After the Mill Iron was broken up in 1913, the former Rocking Chair range was leased by the Crews brothers of Childress. Although the Rocking Chair brand was discontinued after its sale to Hughes, it was revived in 1914 by C. E. Deahl, a former Rocking Chair Company employee, for his cattle operation near Panhandle. John N. Janes also used a modified Rocking Chair brand from 1914 to 1930.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

John Clay, My Life on the Range (Chicago, 1924; 3d ed., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962). Thomas W. Cutrer, The English Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1985). Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). Laura V. Hamner, Short Grass and Longhorns (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). Estelle D. Tinkler, ed., Archibald John Writes the Rocking Chair Ranche Letters (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1979). Estelle D. Tinkler, "Nobility's Ranche: A History of the Rocking Chair Ranche," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 15 (1942).

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, "ROCKING CHAIR RANCH," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/apr01), accessed July 24, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.