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MASTEN, FRANCIS ORAL

MASTEN, FRANCIS ORAL (1890–1980). Francis Oral (F. O.) Masten, landowner and cotton farmer, was born on June 23, 1890, at Illinois Bend, Montague County, Texas, one of twelve children of William Cornelius and Mary Elizabeth (Fields) Masten, Jr. His father was a farmer. Masten had very little formal education and at the age of nineteen left home to seek his fortune in the cottonfields of the Quanah area. He had only five dollars in his pocket, a pair of knee pads, and a cotton sack. In those days cotton-pickers were paid fifty cents a hundredweight, and although the diligent youth was capable of picking as much as 416 pounds a day, he could expect to receive a mere $2.08 for the effort. At the end of the season Masten had made $126 and felt like a rich man. Afterwards he worked as a farmhand at twenty dollars a month. After two years he had saved enough to purchase four mules and rent a 160-acre farm in Hardeman County.

By 1918 Masten had purchased a small, worn-out farm at Chillicothe. By the 1920s he had begun systematically fertilizing his land with natural materials such as cotton waste, burrs, and manure, a practice that both conserved the soil and increased its yield. His method was at that time quite innovative; it was also highly successful. He was one of the first farmers in West Texas to conserve the sandy soil by deep-plowing. Masten put pneumatic tires on tractors at a time when large tracts were being put into cultivation. Because he found it difficult to hire efficient drivers, in 1946 he contrived a guide that would make it possible to have driverless tractors in the fields. The driverless tractors attracted the attention of Life magazine, which carried a two-page spread of photographs of the Masten place. The guide is still used in some applications, though manpower is needed to turn the tractor at the row ends. Masten soon built his own warehouses to store large quantities of cotton, sudan, and other crops until the market advanced. His warehouses were at Sudan, where he maintained a residence and administrative offices for more than forty years.

Admitting he was taking the risk of his life, Masten was high bidder in December 1946 in a federal government auction in Dallas of 24,000 acres in Cochran County. However, he exceeded this achievement in 1960 by buying the 111-section Trujillo Ranch of the Matador spread for $2 million. At the time of his death he had over a million dollars in Texas banks and owned 111,310 acres in seven Texas counties-Lamb, Oldham, Collingsworth, Bailey, Castro, Cochran, and Harris. Masten was interested in fostering 4-H Club students. He sponsored school affairs in the various communities where he had holdings, built sports stadiums, and took teams to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. He served on the first development fund of Abilene Christian College (now Abilene Christian University) as a cochairman and made frequent donations to the school, often in cotton bales. At his death, he left the school a portion of his estate. In 1938 the Progressive Farmer magazine honored Masten as one of the first "master farmers" in Texas. He was a president of the Master Farmers of Texas twice and of the Master Farmers of America once. He twice won awards in contests sponsored by the Dallas Morning News for the highest cotton yields on five-acre tracts and for the highest value grown on the five acres. Masten was a Methodist and an ardent Democrat. On August 28, 1913, he married Lilly B. McCorkle; they had one child, who died in infancy. Lilly died in 1967. Masten died of cancer on January 8, 1980, in a Lubbock hospital and was buried in Memorial Gardens in Wellington, Texas. A court battle subsequently developed between Abilene Christian University and Masten's heirs-at-law over his $50 million estate. After a year of litigation those involved reached an out-of-court decision to split the inheritance.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Jim Carroll, "Man of the Month: F. O. Masten, Dirt Farmer," Preview of Texas, August 1951. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 4, 1981. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, September 25, 1949, November 7, 1965, January 9, 1980. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Jeanne F. Lively

Citation

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

Jeanne F. Lively, "MASTEN, FRANCIS ORAL," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmada), accessed August 31, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on September 29, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.